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Wednesday, 16 June 2004
Page: 30513

Mr PEARCE (1:52 PM) —More than ever before, Australians are concerned about their lives and their futures. They yearn for acceptance, security and surety that their quality of life and that of their families will be enhanced and protected. As society evolves, the increasing trend to question our traditional foundations has continued unabated. From the outset, I want to make it clear that I consider this process of questioning and debate to be positive. It is always good to review, discuss and examine issues. From this process, we then have the potential to help deliver a renewal of values which can in fact help shape and, indeed, strengthen our community into the future. Regrettably, the opportunity for the civic renewal of values is often tempered by the ever increasing threat, advocated by the vocal minority, of moral equity. This vocal minority espouse the notion that as a society we should not uphold a particular set of values. Rather, they say we should acknowledge equally all sets of values that exist regardless of their genesis, merit or, more importantly, their morality. This push for so-called moral equity has implications not just for societal institutions such as marriage but also for political and legal institutions such as parliaments and the courts.

As the member for Aston I rise today to strongly argue for and to defend the institution of marriage. Without question, the widely accepted Australian understanding of marriage is that it is an institution between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others. The Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2004 has three key provisions: the first relates to the definition of marriage and the second and third provisions uphold that definition in relation to the recognition of marriages conducted overseas and adoptions proposed under an international agreement or arrangement. I strongly support all three provisions.

Given that it is the first provision which guides the others, it is this provision that is paramount in this debate and sits above the others. In considering this bill, it is important to recognise why it has come before the House at this time. As many Australians would be aware, marriage in Australia is regulated by law, as it is in many countries that share our legal traditions. Whilst this is nothing new, recently there have been increasing attempts by those opposed to current marriage laws to aggressively seek to have those laws changed by judicial interference. Of particular concern, courts in Canada and the US have recently ruled in favour of the recognition of same-sex marriages under law. The judicial activism reflected in these judgments is not unique or isolated to these countries alone. It is exactly this kind of judicial activism that must not be countenanced in Australia. It is therefore paramount and necessary that the Australian parliament acts to uphold our marriage laws in the face of potential judicial activism and interference.

In doing this, it is important to note that the parliament is fulfilling one of its most important tasks: the task of reflecting the values of our society. So, when people hear some parliamentarians and others questioning the need for this bill, they should consider one crucial question: is the institution of marriage worth upholding and, indeed, reinforcing? I believe, as most Australians do, that the answer is a crystal clear yes. So with the understanding of why this parliament must act now to strengthen the institution of marriage, let me now turn to the benefits that will flow.

In modern Australia, marriage as an institution is becoming less popular and less successful in producing happy and healthy families. The question is: should we accept this decline as inevitable or are there changes that we as a community can make that might reverse the downward spiral by encouraging more successful and enduring marriages? The fact is that during the past 40 years the dynamics of Australian families have changed dramatically. A recent report by the Centre for Independent Studies revealed increases in the rate of divorce, the number of children living in single parent families, the percentage of children living apart from their natural parents and the number of births outside marriage.

In fact, the proportion of married natural parents raising children together as a family is now at the lowest level in our entire history. The social ramifications of these changing characteristics have included increasing rates of depression and suicide, lower levels of educational achievement, greater behavioural problems among children and rising levels of parental neglect and abuse. At the same time, a US research report titled Why marriage matters has identified definitive benefits that marriage provides for all members of the family. The report reveals that children who live with both their natural married mum and dad enjoy better physical health on average than children in other family structures. Furthermore, the report shows that marriage reduces the risk that children and adults will be either perpetrators or victims of crime.

Not only does strengthening marriage support the individuals involved, it also has the potential to underpin broader societal improvements. An area of great concern is the decline in the birth rate over the past four decades. With the close correlation between the declining birth and marriage rates, encouraging more longer-lasting marriages can help address these fast-approaching demographic challenges. Given these potential social, economic and health impacts on adults and children, governments have a responsibility to act in the best interests of the nation. This means supporting the institution of marriage. Importantly, whilst initiating and supporting practical policy measures, the government should always be careful not to be intrusive or authoritarian in their approach. Governments must achieve a sense of balance in this regard. I believe that the necessary balance can best be achieved by promoting marriage through positive policy initiatives and law-making as the ideal.

The SPEAKER —Order! It being 2 p.m., the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 101A. The debate may be resumed at a later hour and the member for Aston will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.