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Wednesday, 3 December 2003
Page: 23645

FRAN BAILEY (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence) (4:18 PM) —I move:

That the amendments be disagreed to.

The government is committed to promoting equity, diversity and non-discriminatory practices in the workplace, and these practices are integral to the ability of the Defence Force to maintain operational capability and effectiveness. The Senate has proposed amendments to the Defence Legislation Amendment Bill 2003 that would recognise same sex couples for the purpose of eligibility for the Defence Home Owners Scheme. Existing Australian Defence Force policy prohibits discrimination and harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation. Accordingly, applicants for the Defence Home Owners Scheme are not asked about their sexual orientation, and sexual orientation is not taken into consideration when determining an individual's eligibility for the Defence Home Owners Scheme.

The existing policy arrangements across most government programs for the recognition of a member's spouse are based on two pieces of Commonwealth legislation. The first of those, the Marriage Act, provides that marriage according to Australian law is the union of a man and a woman. The second, the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, defines a de facto relationship as being with a person of the opposite sex. The amendments proposed by the Senate take an ad hoc and overly simplistic approach to this issue. Any decision to recognise same sex couples for the purpose of eligibility for government funded financial benefits would need to be taken in a whole-of-government context. At this time, there are no plans to extend recognition to same sex couples.

The Defence Legislation Amendment Bill 2003 contains many important measures that are intended to: reform and revitalise various actions in the defence portfolio, such as the improper use of service decorations and falsely representing service personnel; ensure the application of contemporary standards of judicial independence and impartiality in the military discipline system; and modernise the name of the Australian Defence Force cadets. These measures have enjoyed bipartisan support, and the passage of the bill should not be delayed for further consideration of these ad hoc amendments. Accordingly, the House should not accept these amendments.