I only have a few minutes left in which to speak, so I will be very quick. I think we need to allow a conscience vote across the parliament, because that is the best way to achieve marriage equality. People know that I used to not support marriage equality and that, over the years, I have changed my views and my mind on that issue. I now support marriage equality, but I do not think that the way to achieve it is by having a plebiscite. If the Prime Minister would only allow his members and senators a free vote on marriage equality, we could pass a bill by the end of this year. The numbers are already there in both houses; all we have to do is bring on the vote.
It would be a much better approach than having an expensive and wasteful plebiscite—one that is going to cost taxpayers $160 million minimum, plus the additional $7.5 million each, given to the yes and no cases for their campaigns. I say $160 million minimum, because that is a very conservative estimate. There have been estimates of up to $250 million for the cost of a plebiscite, before adding another $15 million in public funding for the associated campaigns. For many years now, we have been lectured by those opposite—in fact, we were about 40 seconds ago—about financial responsibility, about the debt and about the need for the government to tighten its belt. Well, those opposite, who have added more than $100 billion to the national debt and more than tripled the deficit, ought to look at the numbers around this.
After all the lectures about responsible spending, now the Turnbull government wants to waste hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayers’ money on the most expensive national opinion poll in history. It is a poll that does not even bind any members of parliament to its outcome, so what is the actual point of it? The fact that many members and senators have said they will not be bound by the results of a plebiscite makes this exercise a joke and a complete waste of taxpayers’ money. Not only is it a waste of money, but it will serve as a platform—which is of concern to me—for the hateful and divisive comments that call into question the value and legitimacy of same-sex relationships.
How can those opposite convince the Australian people of the need for this taxpayer-funded opinion poll when they are divided on the detail? We have heard about Senator Brandis, the Attorney-General, being rolled by the conservatives in the cabinet on the issue of public funding, and Senator Paterson, who recently spoke, said quite openly in a doorstop—