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Wednesday, 4 June 2008
Page: 4518

Mrs MARKUS (7:30 PM) —With all due respect to the member for Kennedy, can I clarify that those of us who are standing in support of the intention of the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—Superannuation) Bill 2008 with a proposal for an amendment and referral to a Senate committee actually have the capacity to stand for principle but at the same time stand for what is just, right and fair for those this bill applies to. This debate is about fairness. It is about the balance of what is just and what is right.

I say at the outset that the dignity and value of every individual is critical to this House and also to the people we represent. Respect for all Australians and their capacity and their right to choose how they live their lives, while respecting the rights of others, is paramount. Laws and legislators have the responsibility to place value on all humanity.

The introduction of legislation that focuses on fairness in financial and work related entitlements and benefits for all Australians is to be commended. Adults in dependent relationships including but not limited to same-sex relationships—and people within those relationships who wish to ensure that dependants, including children, are rightly entitled to be treated fairly in Commonwealth law—are to be supported. Aspects of fairness that are presented in this bill to eliminate discrimination against same-sex couples and the children of same-sex relationships from the several acts affected by this bill—I will not list them all tonight—are worthy of support.

However, there are a couple of things that I am concerned about. In my view, the revision of the existing definitions of ‘spouse’ and ‘child’ and creation of new definitions not only errs on the side of devaluing marriage but also puts at risk the rights of children. The bill provides for the removal from various bills of the phrase ‘marital relationship’, to be replaced with the term ‘couple relationship’, and for the removal of ‘husband’ or ‘wife’, to be replaced with the term ‘partner’. With all due respect to the House, I fought for marriages for many years when I worked as a social worker, and marriage is indeed one of the bedrocks of our society and ought to be supported and strengthened in all legislation.

Item 17 of the bill refers to the child as being a ‘product’. With all due respect again to the House and to members opposite, referring to children as products is somewhat impersonal and again devalues the significance of children. As has already been noted by members on this side, children are valuable human beings. The potential for unintended negative consequences is yet to be thoroughly explored. It is important that children dependent on adults who care for them ought to be entitled to the Commonwealth benefits referred to in this bill, but the detail needs to be further explored.

In my view, the preference for children to be raised by a father and a mother—a male and a female—ought to be strengthened and supported. While I have respect for those who, through circumstances and/or choice, live in various and different family relationships and circumstances, it is my view that it is important to strengthen and add value to marriage and to children being raised in a home where both parents are present. I urge the government to adopt the coalition’s amendments, which will enable the removal of barriers to fairness, which is the intention of the bill, and will place equal value on marriage and protect the rights of children. It is the language of this bill that needs to be reviewed and changed.

Prior to the election, the Australian Labor Party noted its lack of support for legislation to recognise same-sex marriage or civil unions. The Labor Party also agrees with the Australian Christian Lobby that:

… same-sex couples should be able to share their finances and property with each other and in addition supports the removal of discrimination in areas such as taxation, superannuation and social security benefits.

The Labor Party stated that it:

… does not support legislation to recognise same-sex marriage or civil unions or to make changes to the definition of marriage.

I think that changing the definition of what a couple is in this legislation would question its commitment to that.

Earlier this week I received a letter from the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, and I will refer briefly to their comments:

We commend the government for addressing some of the inconsistencies in current legislation as well as some of the legal and administrative impediments that are imposed on same-sex couples, which in effect deny them access to various financial and work related benefits that others in the community enjoy. However, there are two aspects in this area of law reform that particularly concern us.

Our first concern is that many of the benefits which we understand are to be extended to same-sex couples may be equally applicable to other types of caring, interdependent relationships—for example, elderly siblings or disabled family members. We can see no reason in principle why other categories of caring, interdependent relationships should not also enjoy those benefits which are not dependent upon the relationship being a sexual relationship. Our second concern relates to the apparent removal in relevant principal legislation of any reference to marriage as a separate and distinct category of relationship. We understand the terminology proposed to be used in amending legislation will cover married couples. However we are concerned that, for the sake of drafting expediency, the special place that society has traditionally accorded to marriage will be hidden by these reforms.

While I support the principle and intent of this bill, I strongly commend the amendment to the House.