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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2334

Mr PORTER(8.04) —The Opposition supports the amendment moved by my friend and colleague the honourable member for Moncrieff (Mrs Sullivan) to prevent the Government from paying married rate welfare benefits to under age de factos involved in an illegal relationship. We do not support the Government's actions. I can tell the Government and the Minister for Social Security (Mr Howe) now that we will be pursuing our opposition to the Government's legislation in support of our amendment and we certainly intend to divide on the amendment. In plain terms, the Social Security Amendment Bill allows a benefit to be paid to someone who is committing a criminal offence under a State or Territory law. That, of course, is the case where a de facto relationship is established with someone under the legal age of consent. The Opposition will not condone, or indeed encourage as this new payment of benefit policy does, the recognition of under age de facto relationships.

As the honourable member for Moncrieff has set out in very clear terms, the Minister has said that this does not in any way change the rules that apply in relation to the Marriage Act. That is right, but certainly by implication the new rules of payment change the Commonwealth's view in relation to acceptance of de facto relationships. The Marriage Act is quite clear. It states that legal marriages will only be able to be undertaken between a male person once he has attained the age of 18 or a female person once she has attained the age of 16. There are some exemptions in exceptional circumstances but, in order to have those exceptional circumstances accepted in law, certain procedures have to be undertaken. For example, males aged 16 or 17 who wish to marry must obtain the consent of their parents plus the authorisation of a judge or magistrate. Females aged 14 or 15 must obtain the consent of their parents plus the authorisation of a judge or magistrate. Females aged 16 or 17 require the consent of their parents.

The Minister is saying to us and to the Australian nation that, for the purposes of the payment of social security benefit and for an acceptance of de facto relationships, we must sweep all that out the window. All those quite strict requirements for a legal marriage are set down in law. But with a de facto relationship the Government does not care about ages; it will accept whatever age the person happens to be. The Minister for Social Security says that this amendment to the social security legislation is merely administrative. I say to the Minister that it is not. It is a very serious change to the payment of benefit under the social security administration. It permits the payment of benefit in situations where I do not believe any benefit should be payable, and I mean that very seriously. Let me put to the Minister a couple of examples.

Mr Howe —What about supporting parent benefit?

Mr PORTER —The Minister says: `What about supporting parent benefit?'. I put to him a case involving a 30-year-old male who seduces a 13-year-old girl. Despite the parents' lack of consent and the illegality of the action under the State criminal law, the Minister and his Department are asking this Parliament to support the payment of married benefit to that couple. I do not believe that that female is entitled to any benefit; she should be back with her parents. The Minister is suggesting that not only is she entitled to leave her parents for the couple to enter into an illegal arrangement, but benefit will be paid to them at the married rate. The male might be entitled to unemployment benefit or some other benefit, but the Minister is saying to the Parliament that they should be paid doubled that, namely, the married rate. I put it to the Minister that the Opposition will not support such action. We strenuously oppose this legislation. We strongly support the amendment proposed by my colleague the honourable member for Moncrieff. She has set out, both in her second reading stage speech and in addressing this amendment, clear and concise reasons why we will be supporting this amendment and opposing this legislation. We will do so with all the vigour we can command.