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Wednesday, 16 June 2004
Page: 30551


Mr ALBANESE (4:30 PM) —It is the Australian way that all people should be treated equal. I too was raised as a Christian—as a Roman Catholic—and my upbringing taught me to give respect to each and every individual, and to give particular respect, in the Christian tradition, to those who were discriminated against, to those who were minorities. I believe you judge a society not by how it looks after the majority but by how it deals with and gives respect to minorities. That is why I believe the Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2004 is an extraordinary bill and I rise to support the Australian Labor Party's very important amendments to this bill.

The previous speaker, the member for Aston, spoke about the importance of marriage. I got married a few years ago and indeed it was a wonderful occasion, with my family, the family of my wife, Carmel, and our closest and dearest friends. But we had been in that relationship for some time before the marriage, and the relationship between us as a de facto couple was as significant as it has been since we got married. Ceremony is important, but we should not pretend that marriage is an institution that has been around forever, because it has not. It is an institution that has evolved, just as relationships evolve and just as today it is recognised that couples in de facto relationships should have the same rights as married couples. That was not the case decades ago; that is something that has historically evolved.

There are many relationships, both heterosexual and homosexual, that are committed, loving relationships. It is not up to me to judge whether the relationship between a particular man and a woman is more important, more significant or more loving than a relationship between a man and another man or between a woman and another woman. It is certainly my experience that some of the most committed, loving relationships are those of gay and lesbian friends.

This bill is about what this government is always about: dividing Australia—bringing in a wedge between a perceived majority and a perceived minority. Why is there a need to affirm what is a common-law definition of marriage? The Marriage Act 1961, it is true, has no specific definition of marriage, but in section 46 it prescribes that celebrants must use the following words, `that marriage is a union between a man and a woman'. It is there. The Family Law Act 1975 says the court must have regard to:

... the need to preserve and protect the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others ...

I believe that this is a bill which is not necessary and one which has caused great distress in the community, and I want to read some quotes from constituents of mine who feel offended by this government's actions. Lachlan Murray of Newtown wrote:

These changes are a step backward towards a more discriminatory, less tolerant society.

Grea Korting of Stanmore wrote:

Belgium and the Netherlands have legalised gay marriage. Germany, Denmark and France have legislation allowing for state-recognised civil unions. Clearly no damage has occurred to these more progressive societies as a result of their basic support of civil rights.

Graham Ware of Petersham wrote:

The Bill sends a strong message that same sex relationships are second class relationships and suggests that gay men and lesbians are not good parents. This flies in the face of all credible research that suggests that it is family processes, not family structures, that determines a child's health and well being.

Marj O'Callaghan of Sumer Hill wrote:

I support the institution of marriage but fail to understand how allowing gay and lesbian couples to gain legal recognition through marriage is any threat to it.

Irene Gale, not a constituent but from Kensington Park in Adelaide, wrote:

What sort of craziness suggests that banning `gay' marriages will strengthen “the Family structure”?

Is it thought that `gay' people will suddenly say, “Oh! I must find someone `straight' to marry!”

Alternately, is it suggested that that `straight' people will suddenly begin marrying `gay' people?

It is quite clear that legalising `gay' marriages will make absolutely NO difference to “the Family structure”.

Indeed, there has not been a considered debate in this country about gay marriages. The Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby and other organisations that I have consulted over the last eight years have not said to me: `I want you to do something about gay marriage.' It has not been a priority for them. Their priority has been to achieve equal rights. There is no consensus within the gay and lesbian community about the marriage issue, but what has caused offence is why the government has rushed in this legislation in what is possibly the last fortnight of parliamentary sittings. This bill is a result of 30 bigoted backbenchers who want to press buttons out there in the community.

I am of the view that what is needed as a priority is the policy which Labor adopted last year. I pay tribute to the former shadow AttorneyGeneral, the member for Barton, for the work that he did in developing that policy and now to the member for Gellibrand for carrying it on. That policy has three key components to it. The first principle is that Labor believes that Australians are entitled to respect, dignity and the ability to participate in society and receive the protection of the law regardless of their sexuality or gender identity. The second principle is that Labor in government will work with all groups to reform federal laws to recognise the diversity of legitimate relationships in the Australian community. The third principle is that Labor will not be redefining marriage but will work to eliminate discrimination against Australians in same-sex relationships across a range of federal laws, including taxation, superannuation, immigration, family law, industrial relations and government benefits.

That early policy development in consultation with the community made our response to this government action very easy, because we had had the debate internally and we had had the consultation with the community. We want to move forward to a situation whereby upon coming to government—and it is recognised in the amendments moved—we will have a full audit of all government legislation so as to remove discrimination so that gay and lesbian couples have the same rights as de facto heterosexual couples. That is our position, and Labor made it clear when we adopted that position that we would not be making any changes to the Marriage Act. Indeed, it was accepted by the community that that was not a priority. I stand by Labor's principled position on that issue in moving the debate forward, because it is important in areas of social change that the community moves forward as one. And the community has changed. The community has indeed moved a long way, to the point where the government is now saying—it is not doing it, but it is saying—that there will be some change made on the superannuation issue. That is quite remarkable. It is an example of agitation inside and outside this parliament to convince people of the need for change.

I first raised the issue of equal entitlements for same-sex couples with regard to superannuation in a speech in December 1996. I raised it again in 1997 and throughout that year. In April 1998, I wrote to the Prime Minister asking for a bipartisan approach to this issue. I did that with, to their credit, the support of some of the members opposite, including the member for North Sydney and the member for Bradfield, who supported equality on this issue. On 25 May 1998, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Mr Chris Miles, the then member for Braddon and a member of the Lyons Forum, wrote back. He said:

The government is not inclined to amend the superannuation and taxation legislation at this time to recognise same sex partners as dependants and spouses for the purpose of superannuation death benefits.

So on 22 June 1998 I introduced into this House, for the first time, the Superannuation (Entitlements of same sex couples) Amendment Bill. It lapsed when the election came around, so I introduced it again on 7 December 1998. Again the government would not allow debate on it but, thanks to the support of the then whip, the member for Watson, we actually got to a second reading stage on that occasion. That was on 7 June 1999. We introduced it again on 22 November 1999, and last week, on 2 June, we tried to introduce it into this House again.

I have raised this issue in the House of Representatives 21 times. Suddenly, when the Prime Minister is asked whether entitlements to superannuation for same-sex couples will happen, he says, `I wouldn't do it if I didn't believe in it.' It took a long time for that conversion. However, there is a problem with how the government has done it, because it is not actually changing the definition of spouse, which is the appropriate way to do it. What it is doing is moving to interdependency, which will continue to have a discriminatory impact. Same-sex couples will be required to prove financial interdependence and emotional interdependence. They will also be excluded from some benefits of superannuation in the tax system, such as the spouse contribution rebate, because, whilst the government said that this was the other side of the equation, it was not prepared to make the acknowledgment that same-sex relationships can be as legitimate as heterosexual relationships. It was not prepared to do that.

I will be giving the government that opportunity. I foreshadow that I will be moving the following amendment to this bill, under schedule 3 of the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993:

1 Subsection 10(1) (definition of dependant)

Repeal the definition, substitute:

dependant, in relation to a person, includes the spouse, de facto partner, and any child of the person or of the person's spouse or de facto partner.

2 Subsection 10(1) (definition of spouse)

Repeal the definition.

3 Subsection 10(1)

Insert:

de facto partner, in relation to a person, means a person who, whether or not the same gender as the person, lives with the person on a genuine domestic basis as a partner of the person.

4 At the end of subsection 52(2)

Add:

(i) not to discriminate, in relation to a beneficiary, on the basis of race, colour, sex, sexual preference, transgender status, marital status, family responsibilities, religion, political opinion or social origin.

I intend doing that to give the government the opportunity to really grant the same rights to same-sex couples as heterosexual couples have. The government has had those provisions for six years as part of my private member's bill. Not only has it not voted for it; it has failed to even allow a debate on it—much to its shame.

Labor will also be moving amendments to exclude the provisions in this bill which seek to ban intercountry adoption by same-sex couples. We do that because that is a change in the law. We think it is best left to states and territories to look after provisions relating to adoption issues. What message does the government want to send? It sends the message that gay parents are bad parents.

I believe very firmly that the best parent is a loving parent; that it is best for children to grow up in a caring, loving environment regardless of whether they have a single parent, a father and mother, two men, two women, or whether the child has been adopted. Whatever the situation, surely the critical issue is whether someone grows up in a loving environment. I want people on the other side to really think about who is hurt by the message that is being sent out. It is the children who are hurt.

I was raised by my mother in an incredibly loving environment. My mother essentially gave up her personal life to raise me—as a lot of women do. A special bond exists between a mother and her child. I certainly agree that the ideal circumstance is for a child to have a male and female person to relate to. I think that is the ideal in an ideal world. But I do not pass judgment, because I know what the most important factor is. There are so many bad parents out there doing terrible things to their children. Most sexual abuse occurs within the family between fathers and young girls. And the government comes in and lectures us about the morality of people who have made a conscious decision to have a child. They really want to love and cherish a child—and they do.

I have seen a lot of bad parents. I have not seen bad same-sex parents. I do not know very many, but every same-sex couple I know really wants their child and loves their child. That should be respected—not this supposed moral nonsense. Fancy the marriage bill being debated in the House of Representatives of all places! This is a place where divorce is more common than marriages sticking together. Yet we have people here attempting to lecture this nation about the appropriate structure of the family. (Time expired)