Jeff Kennett: Let’s lighten up and end this gay marriage discrimination

IT is said 4.5 per cent of the community are gay. They are not terrorists, but in the main law-abiding citizens.

We should fear terrorists and be prepared to use the full force of the law against them as they ignore our laws to cause harm. But sexuality is not something we choose, it is something we are born with. So why should we deny those who love each other, regardless of their sex, the right to marry?

Two issues have been aired over the past week. Firstly, that the government, if re-elected, will quickly hold a plebiscite so the public can decide whether people of the same sex can marry.

That will cost between $158 million and, if you believe the PwC economic modelling, $525 million. What an abject waste of public money. It seems when politicians are spending our money, they have no qualms about wasting it. We have deficit and debt problems, and this preparedness to waste our money is contrary to Canberra’s message about reducing spending and eliminate waste.

I read an article over the weekend by journalist Paul Kelly who I respect, complaining about the teaching of the Safe Schools program. I agree such instructions should be voluntary and principals should be confident teachers are sufficiently trained in the subject and do so in a factual manner.

But at its core, the Safe Schools program is to educate children against discrimination. Beyondblue supports that. And shouldn’t all politicians argue against discrimination? If so, ending discrimination against those of the same sex marrying fits into this broader campaign.

My life won’t change if people of the same sex marry. The Earth is not going to shake or change for me. But I know it will for those Australians who want to marry their partner but are prohibited from doing so in this country.

Yes, they can marry in other countries, but they should be able to marry in the country of their birth, among family and friends.

The second issue was Victoria’s deputy premier, James Merlino, saying publicly he had changed his position on this issue. Merlino is a Catholic, but questioned his stance, thinking if one of his three children were gay, would he want them to live the fullest and happiest life possible, including marrying his or her partner? The answer was clearly yes.

Well done, James. It’s a big decision, but the correct one. You have landed at a place I arrived at some years ago. What right do I have to deny another law-abiding Australian the same happiness, the same opportunities I have enjoyed all my life? This is not a question of Right or Left but of fairness, of equality and of reducing discrimination in our society.

And it should not be an issue that comes at a financial cost to the community. It should be decided by a vote of the parliament.

I understand individuals have differing views and I respect their right to them. But if a free or conscious vote on the issue was to be lost in the parliament, each of the five pieces of legislation dealing with discrimination should be repealed. You simply can’t argue against discrimination and yet enshrine it against a minority.

Governments are a reflection of the majority of the community, but parliaments must represent minorities, too. The gay and lesbian community is a minority. But they have higher suicide rates than other Australians, not because they are gay, but because of the discrimination against them.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has always supported gay marriage. I have not but, as a result of my work with beyondblue, I have done for some years. I have seen the pain and the deaths of those discriminated against.

Turnbull should introduce a Bill into the parliament and allow all members a conscience vote. We don’t need a plebiscite. It’s a deplorable waste of money.

So I say lighten up. This is not a matter of the Left winning an argument. With the passage of time, and greater understanding and tolerance, I am certain it is time to change the laws preventing same-sex marriage.

Talking of lightening up, last Friday I did my 7.10am cross for Channel 7’s Sunrise program from the banks of the Yarra. After the cross, I went for a stroll in front of the boatsheds. It was a hive of activity. Young people, mostly schoolchildren, were rowing or taking their craft from the river and returning them to storage.

If anyone doubted the future of this country, you only had to look at that group: young, healthy, enthusiastic and no doubt well educated. As a more experienced fellow, I felt exhilarated by what I saw — and maybe a tinge of regret that I was not one of them.

But there was a great sense of pride that whatever else is happening in our community, there are forces at work building the next generation of leaders.

How fortunate we are, that however one generation may mess up things, another is developing which will accept the challenge to try to address our failings.

If we accept the challenge to eliminate discrimination, Australia will be an even better place.

Jeff Kennett is a former premier of Victoria and chairman of beyondblue