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Monday, 21 October 2002
Page: 5533

Senator BOLKUS (6:28 PM) —I rise to speak on this matter before the chamber. Twelve years ago, as Minister for Administrative Services, I was responsible for introducing, and having carriage of, the legislation that Senator Faulkner talked about—that is, the Parliamentary Entitlements Act. Twelve years ago this parliament accepted the definition of spouse—de jure and de facto. Surprisingly, Senator Abetz, the world has not collapsed, the roof has not fallen in, promiscuity has not run rampant through the streets—

Senator Faulkner —Or the parliament.

Senator BOLKUS —Or the parliament, as far as we know. The fact of the matter is that it is an obscenity, a waste of time and an abortion of priorities for this government to be coming in at this particular stage of the parliamentary process, in the context of major national and international issues, and insisting on perpetuating on the Parliament of Australia some antiquated view of the world held by one.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m.

Senator BOLKUS —This is the morality of one being sought to be imposed on the body politic in this country, and what a morality of one it is. Life is a bit fortuitous in a sense. I was just having dinner during the break—though the service was so slow I did not have any dinner—and I was talking to a couple of friends. I asked them how long they had been married. They said, `We have not been married. We have been together for 27 years'—and for four years before that in their relationship. For 27 years—and they have a 13-year-old child and a 10-year-old— they have been living in an enormously harmonious family. I had to say to them: `Do you know that Senator Abetz thinks that you and your spouse should be second-class citizens? It is not just Senator Abetz who thinks that. The tail has wagged the dog. Senator Hill also thinks that you should be second-class citizens and that you should not have the same rights as people in de jure marriages. Senator Vanstone, Senator Payne and Senator Scullion think the same. That Alan Missen generation of Liberal, Senator Alston, also thinks that you should be second-class citizens. You may have been together for 27 years, you may not have had an argument in that time and you may have brought up two wonderful little kids, but Senators Abetz, Hill, Vanstone, Payne, Alston, Coonan and Knowles all think that you should not have the same rights as people living in de jure spousal relationships in our society.' They said, `Why is it the whole government?' How do you explain to people like that that the tail is wagging the dog?

Senator Abetz has intimidated everyone else who is in opposition to this archaic and anachronistic moral view of the world. The morality of one is imposing his will on the body politic in this country. They understand that people like Senator Minchin, Senator Heffernan and Senator Abetz may have that Queen Victoria view of the world that seems to permeate their closed minds, but they cannot for the life of them understand what people like Senators Hill, Alston, Coonan, Knowles, Vanstone, Payne and all the others on the other side are doing marching in line with Senator Abetz on this one. This is the morality of one; this is anachronistic, this is not modern Australia; this is the old John Howard picket fence view of the world. Surprisingly for this parliament, society in this country has moved on. But you cannot explain it, as I say, to those constituents of mine who have been together in a de facto relationship for 27 years.

What sense of priorities does this government have? Is it that the wedge is so important, so paramount in national political affairs, that it will apply it anywhere? Last week the hapless Attorney-General was talking about the power of proscription and how we have got to pass his legislation which has been condemned by all sides of the parliament. His answer to the international terrorism problems is to go back to the past. You can understand them wanting to play wedge politics on that. You can understand wedge politics being successful for them. But, again and again, the world is in the grip of international terrorism. This country has suffered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, acts of violence perpetrated upon it in its own backyard, and what does this government want to do? It wants to perpetuate a debate which takes us back to 10 years ago. In 1990 I introduced this legislation. The Liberals then were much better people, much more tolerant and much more sensitive, than they are now. Did they oppose it at the time? Did they fight against it and rail against it in the way that Senator Abetz rails against it now, or did they face the reality of modern Australia and recognise that people can have genuine, longstanding, rich spousal relationships that are not de jure? Of course they did. The legislation was passed. The parliament did accept it.

Blind morality and prejudice drive the minds of those who bring this issue back into the parliament now. May the modern day Queen Victoria smirk as Senator Abetz writes his notes, but what sort of perverted, antiquated mind is it that brings these sorts of issues into this place to waste the time of this parliament when there are so many more important issues? What a rudderless government. I would like to know who put the lunatic in charge of the asylum. Is there no-one at the core of the government at the moment saying, `Listen, this guy is on a frolic. Let's put the leash back on him'? No, there doesn't seem to be.

Just before the break we had this moral indignation: no-one can reflect on the religious views of Senator Abetz. He got up and raised a point of order saying, `Senator Faulkner is reflecting on my religious views.' Senator Abetz, your religious views are no more important to me than the morals and attitudes of many others in this society. I will not have you force them on me, and nor will I have your view being forced on so many other Australians. Smirk and laugh as you may, I will tell you what: your colleagues, the Hills, the Vanstones and the Paynes, do not go back to their electorates and say, `We do not recognise de facto spousal relationships.' Of course they do not. Let them go back to those inner suburbs that they belong to, to their friends, and explain to them why, tonight, they are supporting your move to reject the legitimacy of de facto relationships.

As I say, what a sense of priority, what a distorted mind, what a rudderless government and what a mind full of fantasies! I was just amazed on the weekend. I picked up the paper and there was the allegation: `Legislation may lead to menage a trois.' Says who? Says Senator Abetz. Well, what do you dream of at night, Senator Abetz? That is what I would like to know. What sorts of fantasies drive your mind? What sorts of fantasies drive your politics?

Senator Abetz —I never said that. You know I didn't.

Senator BOLKUS —`I never said that,' he says. We have had this legislation in place for 12 years now. As I said, it was accepted by the parliament in 1990 when I introduced the legislation. If there had been a rort on this level, don't you reckon the department would have woken up to it? And, Senator Abetz, do not look at us and say that this is the side of immorality. Had there been a menage a trois it could have been on your side. Which colleague are you reflecting on? Let us get back to some basics on this. Let us get back to some reality. The reality is that the position the Senate has taken is one which fits very much in line with contemporary Australia.

Then we are told that section 53 is invoked here and as a consequence we may have constitutional problems. What about the Clarence Darrow of Tasmania—section 53 of the Constitution and all the gravity you can deliver that argument with? Well, Senator Abetz, legislation has been amended in this place time and time again and no-one has raised that spurious argument. It is incredible that on an issue like this the government is not just wasting the time of the parliament and the nation, ignoring important issues, it is also trying to press the rewind button on social engineering. That is what it is all about: press the rewind button and go back to the fifties and pray that no-one lives in a non de jure spousal relationship. I must admit, Senator Abetz, you have taken it much too far this time.

One looks at the profile of Australian relationships and Australian marriages; much research is done on that. Almost one in 10 couples in Australia live in a non de jure relationship situation. They have kids; they live together; they own property. Our legal system recognises it; our family law system recognises it; many of our legal institutions recognise it. But for some reason in comes the time warp, in comes the rewind button, and Senator Abetz wants us to go back to the fifties and sixties—or I should say the fifties, not the sixties.

Senator Crossin —The thirties even.

Senator BOLKUS —The thirties and the fifties—a time when he and his leader, the Prime Minister, would have been at their most comfortable. But the fact is that this country has moved on. And the fact is that most people in this country think that the debate should have moved on. The fact is that after 12 years of trial, if you want to call it that, under existing legislation, those sorts of fears, paranoias and inner thoughts—those dark inner thoughts that Senator Abetz is motivated and driven by and concerned about—have not come to realisation. We are actually responsible enough in this place. You will not, Senator Abetz, get your menage a trois, quatre, cinq and whatever that you might be concerned about. The system is in place to ensure that you do not.

Let us get over this fanciful indulgence of the minister. This is an issue that should not have been brought back to the parliament tonight. This is an issue that should have been dispensed with last week. This is an issue on which the minister should have acknowledged that he got it wrong. They should have let it go through to the keeper. This is an issue on which the government should have acknowledged that one in 10 Australians lives in a de facto relationship. This is an issue on which the minister should not have been allowed some pursuit of enforcing his Queen Victoria style of morality on the rest of this country.

I am concerned about entitlements and how they are used. The legislation was put in place 12 years ago. That legislation acknowledged the reality of Australian society 12 years ago. Australian society has not pressed the rewind button to the 1930s and 1940s. Australian society lives on quite happily. What is most concerning to me is not what is in Senator Abetz's mind, because I gave up worrying about that quite some time ago. What is of major concern to me, Senator Abetz, is what you have done to your colleagues.

Senator Abetz —Very gracious, very gracious.

Senator BOLKUS —I am not gracious. I face reality. When you are faced with a concrete block you know you really cannot etch away at it and try and dismember or dismantle it. What we have in your sense of morality in this society is a concrete block. What I want to know is how you have intimidated your leader. Who ticked off on this in the Prime Minister's office? Who ticked off on this in Senator Hill's office? Is the caring face of the government, Senator Vanstone, not concerned about this definition of spouse? Is Senator Payne not concerned about it? In the lower house are people like Brendan Nelson, Christopher Pyne and so on not concerned about what you are now defining family as? Are they asleep at the wheel, are they distracted or are they just gutless? Are they gutless in the face of intimidation by this minister? I do not know. What I do know is that the parliament should bounce this back to the House of Representatives and the House of Representatives should grow up. Thank you.