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Wednesday, 16 June 2004
Page: 30555


Mr DUTTON (4:50 PM) —I rise this afternoon to support very strongly the Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2004. I open my remarks by saying that, if anybody ever wishes to see a demonstration of hypocrisy in action, all they need do is come to the House of Representatives and watch the member for Grayndler making one of his hypocritical speeches—and this afternoon was no exception. In listening to the member for Grayndler's speech, you would have thought he was going to oppose and vote against this bill. But, in all the nonsense and rubbish that was spoken during the speech of the member for Grayndler, what he did not tell this House was that he is going to vote for this bill when it is put to a vote.

The hypocrisy that has been demonstrated this afternoon by the member for Grayndler, representing the Australian Labor Party, is really breathtaking. It has to be put on the public record this afternoon that, if the member for Grayndler has any shred of decency in this place, if he is about what he says he is about this afternoon, he will vote this bill down. He is no different from the member for Werriwa, who has one view on one day and a different view on another day; he has one view for a particular audience and a different view for the second audience that he addresses the following afternoon. It is a disgrace for the member for Grayndler to come into this parliament this afternoon to talk down this initiative by this government and then turn around when the vote comes and vote for this piece of legislation. The Australian people and those in the member for Grayndler's electorate should recognise that he has embarrassed himself this afternoon and exposed the Labor Party for the hypocrisy that it continues to demonstrate on this bill.

One of the reasons that the bill has come before this House is that the Howard government believes very strongly that the definition of marriage should not be left to the High Court or to the other courts of Australia to determine. There is a very real prospect that because the definition does not exist in the current Marriage Act 1961 a test case could be taken, and quite probably will be taken, to the High Court, and the definition of marriage would then be left to the judges. In my view, the Australian people want very strongly for the legislators, for their elected representatives in this country, to implement the laws that apply to the Australian people. By and large, they do not want the High Court, the Federal Court or the other courts of this nation to impose court-made law on them. So we are in the position where we want to provide strong leadership and strong government to the Australian people, and this is another demonstration of the way in which we will do this.

This government make no apology for the fact that we strongly support the very solid institution of marriage in this country. That is not to say that we exclude those people who may be in same-sex relationships or people who determine that they wish to partake in same-sex relationships. That is a matter entirely for them. What we say today is that the institution of marriage, the cornerstone of Australian society, does need to be protected. If the Australian Labor Party is not prepared to stick up for the majority of the Australian people, then once again the Howard government will do it. In this country, according to the 2001 census, 0.5 per cent of marriages were of same-sex couples. In my own electorate, in the 2001 census 53 couples were identified as being in a same-sex relationship. I do not take issue with those people. I do not suggest to them how they should run their lives, and I do not suggest to them that this government should do that. Certainly, that is not what we are doing through this legislation. What we are saying to the Australian people is that we believe the government need to enshrine the definition of marriage in legislation.

Quite rightly, in my view and in the view of this government, we need to represent the current, as well as the historical, legal understanding of marriage in Australian law. This will become the formal definition of marriage in legislation governing all marriages in Australia, including for those married overseas. This will ensure that the marriage of a couple of the same sex will not be possible in this country. Australian law generally recognises marriages entered into under the law of another country. However, under this bill, marriages between people of the same sex are not recognised as valid. The government proposes to amend the Marriage Act 1961 to ensure that marriages between people of the same sex, including those married under the law of another country, are not recognised in Australia—and that is an important point to emphasise as part of this debate. This will stop the courts extending the definition of marriage to same-sex couples. Importantly, the bill also amends the Family Law Act 1975 to make it clear that the adoption of children from overseas by same-sex couples, under either bilateral or multilateral arrangements, will not be recognised in Australia. All other things being equal, children have the right to have the opportunity to be raised by a loving mother and a loving father, and it is for this reason that the Howard government is fundamentally opposed to same-sex couples adopting children.

Another one of the disgraceful representations made by the member for Grayndler this afternoon was that the highest incidence of sexual assault perpetrated on children in this country is by natural fathers. That is a lie; it is a misleading of the parliament, and it is a deception of the Australian people that needs to be highlighted as part of the debate today. One of the very clear facts out of the tragedy of child abuse, which nobody in this place or any right-thinking person in the Australian community would ever condone, is that there is a misnomer that natural parents, biological fathers, are responsible for the majority of sexual abuse towards their biological children. In actual fact, the point that the member for Grayndler quite necessarily glossed over in his speech was that most of the sexual assaults that sadly occur within family units are perpetrated by males introduced into relationships. That is a sad fact of the debate, but it is one that needs to be highlighted as part of today's discussion because of the deception perpetrated and the deliberate misleading, in my view, by the member for Grayndler in this chamber this afternoon.

To the extent of its direct responsibility under the external affairs power, the government has decided that it will legislate to prevent adoptions by same-sex couples under these international arrangements being recognised in Australia. It is important to note as part of the debate today that under the Constitution the Commonwealth does not have the ability to restrict state-made law in relation to same-sex couples adopting children. It is interesting to note that over the last weekend, during its Labor Party conference, the Beattie government ruled out that Queensland would be introducing legislation to allow same-sex couples to adopt children—as the Labor Party has done in other states and territories, including the Australian Capital Territory. From my perspective, the Beattie government should be congratulated for that position. In that particular debate, I think that they represent the views of the majority of Australians.

Part of the balance of this bill will see amendments made to both the Income Tax Act 1986 and the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993. Same-sex couples who reside together and are interdependent, but who may not be recognised under the current rules, will be eligible to receive superannuation benefits tax-free upon the death of their partner.

My view is that that is an important measure within this bill. I do not think that a government of any persuasion has the ability to dictate to people how they should bequeath their assets or some benefit of a financial nature which is given to the estate of a particular person. It does demonstrate, as part of this debate, that the Howard government has a commitment to families and to people in relationships, but it does not believe that same-sex couples should enjoy the same recognition that marriage between heterosexual couples has enjoyed over generations.

Importantly, this change will also include other interdependent people such as two elderly sisters living together or mentally handicapped people who might not have lived with the deceased but whose relationship was interdependent in its nature and who would not have been eligible for the tax-free death benefit. This proposal will provide greater certainty for the payment of death benefits between adults in an interdependent relationship, including members of same-sex relationships. However, amending the definition of `dependent' will not alter the definition of `spouse' and will not specifically recognise same-sex relationships. This proposal will provide people with greater scope to make a binding death nomination and determine who will receive the superannuation death benefits. However, the Howard government will recognise only heterosexual relationships with relation to the institution of marriage, as I alluded to a moment ago.

By amending the Marriage Act, the Howard government is demonstrating its continuing strong ongoing commitment to the institution of families in this country. The last 8½ years that this government has been in power certainly stand in stark contrast to the 13 years when the Labor Party were in government. The Howard government has been about providing support for Australian families wherever possible to let them succeed and achieve—supporting them in any way it possibly can. When we examine the way in which this government has continued to support families—and, in my view, it will continue to support families for decades to come—it stands in stark contrast to the Labor Party and people like the member for Banks, who sits at the table thinking that this debate is quite funny as if we talk about the support of Australian families in some sort of jest. I think it reflects on the member for Banks and, indeed, the Labor Party in general for their failure in relation to Australian families over the last 20 years or so.

In my view it is appropriate in this debate today that we look at the support that this government has been providing to families. The recent budget is one demonstration of that support. This government is committed to protecting, securing and building Australia's future. To achieve this the coalition has consistently demonstrated a willingness to put Australia's national interest first. Families are the basis upon which our Australian society has been built, and that is the basis upon which the Australian community will continue over many decades to come.

In the recent budget this government announced that the family assistance package would be the largest package ever put in place by an Australian government, being worth an estimated additional $19.2 billion over five years. It includes more generous family tax benefit arrangements, which will significantly help families with the costs of raising children and improve the rewards from working. Two million families will benefit from an increase of $600 a year in the maximum and base rates of family tax benefit part A for each dependent child, and each family receiving FTB part A in 2003-04 will also receive a lump sum payment of $600 per child before the end of this month. That is a demonstration, as this bill is, of the government's commitment to continue to support Australian families. The budget did not stop there, because, in addition, the withdrawal rate between the maximum and base rates of FTB part A will be further reduced from 30 per cent to 20 per cent. Families receiving FTB part B will benefit from a reduction in the income test withdrawal rate. There is a new maternity payment, and the expansion of outside school hours child care and family day care places will assist families balancing work and family commitments. The changes to FTB will help women re-enter the work force after having children.

The Howard government also wants to enhance the superannuation co-contribution scheme and reduce the superannuation surcharge, boosting incentives to save for retirement and continuing the theme of supporting families. Another demonstration of the lack of support that the Australian Labor Party has for families is its intent to block that legislation in the other place. The Howard government has provided ongoing reform in Australian family assistance and the tax system. More Help for Families is a further major instalment to this reform. It is helping Australian families raise their children, helping them to balance their work and family responsibilities and improve the rewards from work.

The opposition recently admitted that the top-up FTB payments delivered to Australian families would be scrapped under Labor. It is important as we approach the election—whenever it may be in the coming months—that we recognise the fact that Labor have every intention of scrapping that particular measure. We need to recognise that and highlight to the Australian people and Australian families whenever we can that that is what Labor intend to do. Under Labor 500,000 families would lose $848 in payments. They admitted that they would abandon many payments and refused to guarantee that Australian families would not receive less family benefit under Labor. Where are the Labor policies that we keep hearing about? Of course, we have received the details of none. We have received the details of none because, like Labor economic policy in the past, we know that they are unfunded—they are incapable of being paid for—and Australian families would have more of the same. The coalition government believes in supporting families because they are the most important building block in society. The coalition government will continue to deliver to Australian families.

The shadow Treasurer claims that Labor will collect less tax, spend more money and have a bigger surplus at the end, as well as set aside an intergenerational fund to fund tomorrow, but in some way, strangely, it will still have more money in the pot at the end of the day. It is a fraud. It is another Labor fraud. It is another Labor Latham fraud on the Australian people—like the support for this bill by the Labor Party in this place at this point in time. Make no mistake about it: the Australian Labor Party may voice support at this time for this bill, but it is fundamentally opposed to the introduction of this legislation. For its own cheap political points it has decided at this point in time to back this bill, and—as the member for Grayndler said before—it would be of a mind to repeal the legislation if it were ever voted into government.

If we are to continue about the government's belief and support for families, I think we need to look at the benefits that the Howard government has provided over the last eight years in terms of the economy. The member for Banks can scoff and look in amazement at the way in which this government has been able to provide support for families, because he knows that this government has been able to keep inflation low. The Labor Party knows that the federal coalition government has been able to keep unemployment below six per cent, the lowest it has been in 23 years.

Let us face it: if we were going to help families in this country, how would we do that? We would put the families, wherever they were able to do so, back into work. We would have people support their families. We would have them assist their children through good education. We would have them assist their families with good food, clothing and housing. And that stands in complete contrast to what the Labor Party would offer Australian families. The Australian Labor Party has a policy—in so many areas—that would destroy jobs and that would stand in contrast to the way in which this government has been able to provide for and support Australian families.

It must be said that by the end of the current financial year a total of $70 billion of Labor debt will have been be repaid. That is only $26 billion shy of the $96 billion that they left us when we arrived here in government in 1996. It is very important to highlight again, as part of this debate, that the sad state in which the Australian Labor Party left the economy when they had governed for 13 years would be the same way that they would leave it if they were ever given the economic keys to this country again.

I want to conclude my speech today by saying that we as a government—the Howard government—continue our very strong support of Australian families. We have demonstrated that through this bill today. We in this parliament, in this country, are not about discriminating against people who are in same-sex relationships, but we are about preserving the institution of marriage. We are about saying to the Australian people that we believe that marriage should be between heterosexual couples and that, if we are about providing a solid future for the children in this country, we should identify the need to support that institution. As I say, that is what we are doing today. But the Labor Party stand in stark contrast to that, because they say that they support this bill, but the fact of the matter is that if they had any political guts they would vote against it. (Time expired)