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Thursday, 17 June 2004
Page: 30727

Mr PRICE (10:08 AM) —I do not intend to make a long contribution to this debate on the Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2004. The contribution made by the member for Macarthur is one that I might have made when I was first elected to this place. But the reality is far different from what the honourable member for Macarthur was advancing in this House. The first thing I would say is that, in relation to marriage, this bill makes no difference whatsoever. It will not change one union in the future. The reason is that the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act is based on case law, or common law. The current definition that applies in Australia is that it is the voluntary union, for life, of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others. That definition was provided by Lord Penzance in Hyde v. Hyde and Woodmansee, and that is what the courts have been operating on. So the people of Australia have to understand that, by passing this legislation, the only difference we are making is changing from common law, or case law, to legislative law. In terms of the circumstances of individuals and citizens in this country, it is not making one whit of difference.

The honourable member for Macarthur talked about the sanctity of marriage. Let me say that I do not think that this House, or even the Senate—or the two houses together—can confer any sanctity on anything. When I got married it was not the civilian bit of paper that conferred sanctity upon the union; it was the receipt of the sacrament of marriage. That is what was important to me. For those who see the sanctity of marriage as being important, it is not what happens in this House, in the Senate or in the parliament but what happens in the church, in the mosque, in the temple, in the synagogue that confers sanctity. It is not the business of the state to interfere in what goes on there. I might say, though, that my electorate's namesake, Ben Chifley, was not able to receive that sanctity, because of prejudices that operated during the day.

Other speakers have commented that the Prime Minister, in announcing this legislation, indicated that he was going to rectify something that has been an outstanding injustice for a long time, and that is the inability of same-sex couples to legally access superannuation. Not that the census is the best way of identifying people who are in same-sex de facto arrangements—

Mr King —What's happening in your electorate?

Mr PRICE —I do not get the point of that interjection.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—The honourable member should ignore the interjection.

Mr PRICE —I am happy to respond, although it may be a tad disorderly.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I understand the honourable member for Chifley's desire to have interventions in this chamber, but they are not allowed.

Mr PRICE —Thank you. According to the census, we are talking about 37,800 same-sex couples. This injustice in relation to superannuation is longstanding. More than the recognition of those unions, this is something that has been a very high priority of the gay community. It is an absolute tragedy that there is no legislation accompanying this bill to rectify that.

I also need to stand up and say how very much I regret a past action. When I was involved in looking at child support in the mid-1990s, child support in relation to same-sex couples was clearly an issue. Given the controversy of the report and the matters that we were dealing with, I took the view that dealing with same-sex relationships, and particularly with respect to child support, was one bridge too far. Having seen how the report was by and large ignored, I have lived to regret that decision, and I would not make the same decision again. The point I am trying to make is that, whether we like it or not, there are same-sex unions and it is ridiculous for this parliament to ignore them. It is really disappointing that, having promised relief on superannuation, this bill has betrayed the aspirations of those people.

We have seen some legislation come into this place that is not really designed for the betterment of Australia and Australians and that has been clearly identified as a wedge for a forthcoming election. The classic example before this was the bill that was rushed in to amend the Sex Discrimination Act so that the Catholic Education Office would be able to provide scholarships for 10 male teachers. What a farce and a fiasco! As I commented then, I have never seen such an outpouring of concern and distress from coalition backbenchers. And where is that bill in the wash of things? It has disappeared into the ether.

This bill, as the member for Wentworth opposite knows, makes absolutely no change to the situation of same-sex couples in Australia. Prior to this bill they were not able to be married and after this bill they will not be able to be married. The current situation is based on case law, and we are merely institutionalising that with this change. I will be interested to hear from the member for Wentworth because, whilst all members of parliament have constituents who are in same-sex relationships, he probably has more than most. I will be most interested to hear whether or not the member for Wentworth is concerned about the betrayal on superannuation and whether or not he will argue that this gross injustice in relation to superannuation should be overcome.

There is one other issue I want to raise, relating to the contribution from the member for Macarthur about the sanctity of marriage. From memory, something like 45 per cent of couples are living in a de facto relationship. They are choosing not to get married. I have a profound belief in the institution of marriage, but I do not think it is right for me as a member of parliament—or even the parliament itself—to impose that belief on others. A huge number of young people today are choosing not to be married, not to have a civilian bit of paper that says that they are a union or living within the sanctity of marriage. I am not sure how this bill is embracing this current phenomenon. If we wish to speculate about the future, I do not believe we can suggest that these numbers are going to diminish and that we are suddenly going to have 98 per cent or 99 per cent of all Australians living in a marriage. I think the reverse is true. I think this trend of increasing numbers of de facto relationships is going to increase.

I understand people have very strong views on this subject. But those strong views emanate from what happens in churches, temples and mosques. This bill does not interfere with what happens in those instances. But I predict that in the future we will have to revisit this legislation, because we cannot ignore realities. The realities are that significant numbers of our fellow Australians are living in long-term, meaningful and—in the words of the member for Macarthur—loving relationships. We cannot afford to turn our backs on the reality of that, pretend that they do not exist or pretend that there are not children of those unions. I have said what I want to say. If Mr Howard was again looking for a king hit in terms of wedge politics, he has missed out with this legislation. It would be far better for the Prime Minister to take forward a program of future action for his fourth term, rather than try to play politics of the lowest common denominator. As Prime Minister of Australia, he should do better.