I think spending $122 million on a postal survey on same sex marriage is a ridiculous waste of money that could be spent on so many better things in regional Australia. But with ballot papers hitting letter boxes this week, it’s time to think about the risks and opportunities ahead.
For regional Australia, I see this as an opportunity. An opportunity to send a message to the cities and the rest of the world that we welcome diversity.
I count myself in those who've changed their thinking on this issue. When I was first elected to Parliament, this issue wasn’t in my priority list.
But when I focussed on it, I could see that it was about equality which ticks a box for me. The simple reason being, I’m opposed to treating people differently because of gender, race, religion or sexual preference.
When the ALP changed its policy in 2010, I got on board and introduced a private members bill to give effect to this. My bill was ultimately unsuccessful but since that time, more and more Australians have come to accept the equality argument.
For me, if two consenting adults in a loving relationship wish to get married then it's not for government to say no.
Marriage is an important institution in our society. It is a special relationship where two people say to each other and to the rest of the world that they agree to be bound together in love, exclusive of all others, for life.
There are some who, on theological grounds, believe that to celebrate marriage of two men or two women is an affront to their religion. I have thought carefully about this objection, and I cannot help but think that the real objection here is not to the marriage but to the relationship.
We can be thankful that we live in a society in which those who hold this view are as free to hold it as I am to say, respectfully, that l do not agree.
There are others who argue that same-sex marriage is an affront to tradition. I have more sympathy for this argument. Tradition is often the stuff that binds us together, but it can also be the stuff that excludes and impedes genuine progress.
Let’s consider the economic case for this change. There are plenty of reasons to believe a strong regional yes vote will also be good for regional economies, particularly those with a tourism industry.
Towns like Broken Hill with a rich cultural scene have turned the international notoriety gained from the 1990’s hit film Pricilla Queen of the Desert into an annual “Broken Heel” festival. It’s a three-day Mardi Gras in the desert which brings in visitors and money from across the world.
There is strong interest from regional leaders in boosting economic performance by attracting new industries and businesses – economic diversity.
Research by US Professor Richard Florida has found that centres with higher numbers of creative workers, IT workers and professionals have higher economic growth and are more resilient to economic downturn.
Professor Florida has found that the very industries that regional Australia wants and needs, the industries of the future, have a higher number of LGBTI workers. Florida also finds that knowledge-based workers are more mobile and are more likely to choose to live in an accepting and diverse town or city.
This is an unprecedented opportunity for regional areas to demonstrate they are as progressive and welcoming as any city in Australia.
Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that same-sex couples are more likely to live in large cities than in rural and regional areas. At present, same-sex couples make up only 0.2 per cent of all couples in rural and regional areas.
This is an opportunity to show Australia and the rest of the world that regional communities are warm, welcoming and positive places to live and work. This is an opportunity to tell same-sex couples you are welcomed in regional Australia and encourage them to consider living and working in one of our fantastic regional centres.
As these ballots arrive, I urge everyone to consider how and why a strong endorsement of marriage equality is important for their family, friends and community.
I’ll be voting yes to marriage equality because I believe it’s a fundamental matter of fairness. I also believe it will be good for regional Australia’s long term prosperity and future and I urge regional Australians to do the same.