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Monday, 18 August 2003
Page: 18674


Ms PLIBERSEK (12:53 PM) —I am reintroducing the Australian Citizenship for Eligible De facto Spouses Bill 2003. I originally introduced this private member's bill, at the same time last year, but its time expired. I want to reintroduce it because I believe that this is a very important piece of legislation. It does not affect a huge number of people, but it picks up an anomaly in the Citizenship Act where de facto spouses in both same sex and heterosexual couples are discriminated ag-ainst in comparison with married couples. I am very disappointed by the delay in dealing with this legislation. I did write to the Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs and the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs at the time. The minister for citizenship wrote back saying that he would investigate the matter, and I have not heard anything further. I urge the minister for citizenship to continue to look at this private member's bill.

I think that it is important to say to both same sex and heterosexual de facto couples that they have the same rights under the law that married couples do. Indeed, in our social security legislation and migration law generally, the definition of `spouse' includes both married and de facto couples, and provision is made for same sex interdependent couples usually in migration law. The Citizenship Act was originally written in 1948, so we can excuse the fact that, at that time, the drafters of the legislation had not given enough consideration to de facto couples. But in 2003 it is difficult to justify why this discrimination continues. Indeed, I fear that this legislation probably is in contravention of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984. The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 has a specific prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of marital status, and I believe that this legislation, if anybody bothered to challenge it, would fall under that provision.

This was first brought to my attention when a de facto couple came to me. A man in my electorate had lived for very many years with a woman who was originally from Indonesia. She was a permanent resident of Australia. Her citizenship was due to come through within six months, but she was contacted by her mother, who was very ill in Indonesia. The travel documentation that the woman originally had from Indonesia had expired some years earlier and the Indonesians were not prepared give travel documentation, obviously, to someone who was an Australian permanent resident. The fact that they were a de facto couple meant that they could not apply to the minister for him to use his discretion. If they had been legally married, the minister would have been able to use his discretion and I think in these sorts of compelling cases would most likely have granted a speeding up of the citizenship process—a waiving of the requirement of a two-year waiting period—and this woman would have been able to visit her sick mother when she needed to, instead of unfortunately having to wait many months to be able to do so.

That story has a happy ending. The mother survived for her daughter to go and visit her. But I am sure there are many cases —not just in relation to visiting sick relatives. The other sorts of examples are people who apply for jobs in the Australian Public Service or people who wish to represent Australia on the sporting field and who have to wait for their citizenship requirements to come through, when if they were legally married to an Australian citizen they would not need to do that.

I know this bill, when it was originally taken to the Labor Party caucus, received the support of the Labor Party caucus. I believe the government, if they spent any time at all looking at the discrimination in this legislation, would understand that it is just a historical anomaly. It does not attack the fabric of society. The Prime Minister is always talking about gay marriage—I am not arguing about gay marriage. I am just seeking to fix up an anomaly in the citizenship legislation that discriminates against de facto couples.

Bill read a first time.


The SPEAKER —In accordance with standing order 104A, the second reading will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.