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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 12082


Mr KEENAN (Stirling) (18:01): The coalition has always been a strong proponent of the rights of people who live in the territories and, in particular, the rights of people who live in the three territories affected by this bill: the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory and Norfolk Island. We note that the Northern Territory has resumed a movement towards statehood. That is a movement which, in the 1990s, although ultimately defeated, was strongly supported by the then coalition government led by John Howard.

Coalition members of this parliament—and in particular I would like to acknowledge Senator Gary Humphries, a former Chief Minister of the ACT and his predecessor, Senator Margaret Reid—have been ardent advocates for the rights and interests of the citizens of the ACT. The issue of statehood for the ACT does not generally arise in these discussions, though, because of the peculiar nature of the ACT's constitutional position.

Respecting the rights of citizens who live in Australia's territories, particularly the two territories that are directly represented here, is an important part of the federal philosophy of the Liberal and National parties. This bill purports to bring about a fundamental constitutional change to the status of those territories and the relationship of those territories to this parliament. Those of us who take the interest of territorians seriously have grave concerns that, because of the piecemeal haphazard and sloppy manner in which this bill has been presented to the parliament by the Greens, passage of the bill in this form will in fact retard and set back the recognition of the rights of territorians—in particular, having regard to the fact that the process in the Northern Territory is proceeding towards statehood in a methodical and careful way. Those who would like to see statehood for the Northern Territory do not want this bill in this form.

This is by no means easy. We do not enjoy the luxury—that the Greens have—of pontificating about issues without having the responsibility to put our views into effect. If the Greens had met with voters who were seeking to prosecute the case for Northern Territory statehood, they would understand better how constitutionally and politically difficult it is. Those who seek to advance the cause of Northern Territory statehood do not need a gratuitous intervention like this, so the opposition will not be supporting this bill.

We support the wisdom of the observation made by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee when it reviewed the legislation and cautioned against the piecemeal approach to the issues of self-government. My good friend the member for Solomon will shortly be moving a second reading amendment addressing this issue and elaborating further upon what the Senate committee report found.

There is another reason we in the coalition oppose this legislation. We rightly look with a very sceptical eye over anything that comes from Senator Bob Brown and the Greens. With this deeply sceptical eye we follow through the media the debate about same-sex marriage, which has divided the Australian Labor Party, and the concerns expressed—in particular by two Labor senators, former Senator Mike Forshaw and former Senator Steve Hutchins, reflected by way of their dissenting comments for the committee report—that this bill, although on face value a constitutional bill, is being sought for use as a vehicle for same-sex marriage to be introduced in the Australian Capital Territory.

On the purpose of the bill, we have been informed by comments from former Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory, Jon Stanhope, in the context of this debate. He made it perfectly clear that he would use this legislation, were it to be passed, as a vehicle to introduce same-sex marriage in the ACT. Mr Stanhope revealed the purpose of his thinking, which is the thinking that is behind this bill. It is not clear whether that purpose is continued by the current ACT Chief Minister, but at the time this bill was being shaped in the mind of Senator Brown and the Greens we know what Mr Stanhope thought it would lead to and what he wanted it to lead to.

We know that on the issue of same-sex marriage the Labor Party is deeply divided between those who are proponents of this issue and those, particularly from the more conservative elements of the Labor Party, who are trenchantly opposed to it. We on this side of the House have no division on our side about what we believe and we continue to wholeheartedly support the Howard government's amendments to the Marriage Act. We do not support same-sex marriage. We are not having an argument on this side of the House about same-sex marriage at the moment.

Everyone who thinks that there are not some in the Labor Party who see this bill as a step towards the enactment of same-sex marriage within the ACT is either completely deluded or dishonest. There are many in the Australian Labor Party who do see this bill as a pathway to that outcome. We do not accept the good faith of Senator Brown's public assurances that this bill is purely about the rights of territorians, and the member for Solomon will have something to say later about the consistency of Senator Brown on the issue of territory rights. So, on the face of it, this is a constitutional bill and a bill of general application, but what we know is that it is part of a move to achieve an outcome in relation to the Marriage Act to which we in the coalition remain trenchantly opposed. For this reason the opposition will be opposing the bill and we will be supporting the second reading amendment that I foreshadowed earlier.