A bill allowing same-sex marriage was voted against in the House of Representatives a short while after Liberal senator Cory Bernardi resigned as a parliamentary secretary over comments linking gay marriage with bestiality.
LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: Marriage equality has been roundly defeated in the Federal Parliament by 98 votes to 42. Along the way it claimed a scalp of a controversial Coalition frontbencher. Senator Cory Bernardi resigned for saying passage of the bill could lead to bestiality one day being recognised as marriage. His departure was designed to send a broader message to Coalition troops that the leader won't tolerate anything that diverts the party from its main game. Political editor Chris Uhlmann reports.
CHRIS UHLMANN, REPORTER: There is no more conservative warrior in Parliament than South Australian Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi.
CORY BERNARDI, LIBERAL SENATOR: At that stage, I was one of many that said this was another step that would undermine marriage.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Last night he stepped up to speak for tradition in the same-sex marriage debate.
CORY BERNARDI: And today we see the next step taking place. It is another push, and it's not the first one. It won't be the last one, I'm sure - another push for same sex marriage.
CHRIS UHLMANN: The trajectory was clear.
CORY BERNARDI: What is the next step? The next step, quite frankly, is having three people that love each other should be able to enter into a permanent union endorsed by society, or four people.
CHRIS UHLMANN: But it was the conclusion that caused the difficulty.
CORY BERNARDI: There are even some creepy people out there, and I say creepy, who are afforded, unfortunately, a great deal more respect than I believe they should, who say that, you know, it's OK to have consensual sexual relations between humans and animals. And, you know, is that - will that be a future step? Will that be one of the things that say, well, you know, these two creatures love each other, you know, maybe they should be able to join in a union.
CHRIS UHLMANN: By morning the Greens were demanding his head.
CHRISTINE MILNE, GREENS LEADER: I am calling on Tony Abbott to disassociate himself from the views that are being expressed by Cory Bernardi and to sack him.
CHRIS UHLMANN: And they weren't alone.
MALCOLM TURNBULL, SHADOW COMMUNICATIONS SPOKESMAN: It's more than hysterical, it's bizarre, and it's incredibly offensive.
CHRIS UHLMANN: There's history here. When he was leader, Malcolm Turnbull sacked Cory Bernardi for a blog attacking fellow South Australian Christopher Pyne and Mr Pyne and Senator Bernardi's hatred for each other is legendary.
MALCOLM TURNBULL: And I don't want people to think that they represent the views of the Liberal Party. They do not.
CHRIS UHLMANN: The effect of Malcolm Turnbull's intervention was to lift the pressure on Tony Abbott to act, and on 891 ABC Adelaide, the senator was compounding the problem. He rang in to defend his comments, interrupting a regular segment that involved Christopher Pyne.
CORY BERNARDI (on ABC Radio 891): Well then there are any number of people who will feel disgruntled and concerned that their lifestyle choices are not being accepted. And already we've had ...
RADIO COMPERE: Including if your lifestyle choice, if you could describe it as that, is to have sex with animals? Are you seriously suggesting that?
CORY BERNARDI: Let's just deal with polyandry for a moment. We've had ...
RADIO COMPERE: Well, no, you raised animals though as well.
CORY BERNARDI: Yeah, indeed, and I'll get to that in just a moment.
CHRIS UHLMANN: It was all over by lunch time.
TONY ABBOTT, OPPOSITION LEADER: Last night Senator Cory Bernardi made some ill-disciplined comments to the Senate. He compounded the offence by repeating these comments on radio today. I had a conversation with Senator Bernardi. As a result of that conversation, he offered his resignation and I've accepted his resignation.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Cory Bernardi supporters say he could have survived the speech, but not interrupting Christopher Pyne on Adelaide radio. They believe he offered an opening his opponents had long been looking for and that he would have been sacked if he hadn't resigned. They also believe he was an easy target for the leader to make a broader point.
TONY ABBOTT: Well I think it's pretty clear that I have sent a very strong message to every member of the team that ill-discipline is unacceptable. I think it's pretty clear that if you want to freelance, you can do so on the backbench, but you can't freelance from the frontbench.
CHRIS UHLMANN: The sacking cleared the way for Tony Abbott to elevate two talented backbenchers: John Howard's former chief-of-staff, Arthur Sinodinos, and South Australian Jamie Briggs.
TONY ABBOTT: I am very proud to be putting both of them into the full ministry. I know they're gonna make a very strong contribution and I do have an even stronger team as a result of these changes.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Tony Abbott finished to the sound of the bells calling him to the Lower House to vote on the same-sex marriage bill. With the Coalition bound to vote against it, the result was never in doubt, but a large part of Labor's caucus, including the Prime Minister and Treasurer, cast their conscience vote against the bill.
SPEAKER: 42-98. You won; they lost - OK?
CHRIS UHLMANN: So this bill would have failed even if the Coalition had been given a conscience vote, but from the Greens' world-view, the House of Representatives isn't representative.
SARAH HANSON-YOUNG, GREENS SENATOR: Rather than accepting that this is a issue that Australians want to see us deliver on - they want to see this reform happen, they want to see equal love recognised - the parliamentarians and their political parties and the factions failed.
CHRIS UHLMANN: The dismay of those who had fought so hard for change was palpable.
SHELLEY ARGENT: It doesn't matter as a parent how much you can provide your children love, security, education and stability as when you have a gay child, you realise that that child is seen as second-rate in its own country and that is not fair, not fair at all.
CHRIS UHLMANN: There are moves afoot to bring a civil unions bill before Parliament.
MALCOLM TURNBULL: I haven't got a plan to bring it forward myself, but there is - there are a number of other members who I am in very close touch with - I think Warren Entsch, you're familiar with Warren's initiative there and I'm sure that if - that when, as I suspect, the gay marriage bill - for want of a better word - is defeated, I think the civil union legislation, I'm very hopeful will then be considered and I hope passed.
CHRIS UHLMANN: But activists are now pinning their hopes on the states, with Tasmania due to vote on a same-sex marriage bill next week.
SHELLEY ARGENT: We're not giving up. If something's worth having, it's worth fighting for. We'll see this reform happen state-by-state and territory-by-territory and that'll continue to put pressure on the Federal Government.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Today also marked the return to Parliament of the Prime Minister after a week away with her family mourning the death of her father and then attending the funerals of two soldiers.
JULIA GILLARD, PRIME MINISTER: We've been overwhelmed by people's kindness. We've been particularly overwhelmed when attending funerals in the last few days that people who have lost someone so young would take the opportunity to offer their condolences on the loss of my father.
CHRIS UHLMANN: It's all too easy to forget that our politicians are human, but the Prime Minister bade farewell to her father, revising Dylan Thom's famous entreaty.
JULIA GILLARD: But I grew up, as a result, listening to Dylan Thomas saying to his father to rage and rage against the dying of the light, to not go gentle into that good night. The last thing my father taught me was in the life of a man, there is a moment to go gentle into that good night, and so it was. Thank you.
CHRIS UHLMANN: And just for a moment hostilities paused.
TONY ABBOTT: Could I again acknowledge John Gillard, who has done his country proud in producing such a daughter. It is a remarkable parent who produces a prime minister of this country.
CHRIS UHLMANN: It would be good for everyone in Parliament and in the nation if we saw the human face of politics more often.