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Tuesday, 4 September 1984
Page: 396

Senator HARRADINE —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Communications and relates to the widespread justifiable public outrage over the decision of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to extend entitlements, including relocation expenses and privileges appropriate to spouses and families of staff members, to homosexual partners. Does the Board of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation take the view that homosexual relations are equivalent to marital relations and if that is the fact will the Minister enlighten the Board about the birds and the bees? If that is not the Board's basis does its decision place a homosexual household in the same category as a family? If that is so, will the Minister draw the attention of the Board to the view of the democratically elected representatives of the Parliament, enshrined in legislation, that marriage and family life have been fundamental to the strength of society for a long time and that families are the fundamental group units of society? Does not the Minister view the decision of the Board to equate a homosexual household with a family as meaning that it regards families as just one other of many social phenomena, with no more significance than any other? Finally, has the Board, in choosing to treat homosexual relationships as if they were marriages, become a propagandist for a type of social change, the logical extent of which is the destruction of society? I ask the Minister directly whether the Government asked the Board to review its decision and to reverse it.

Senator BUTTON —I will of course address Senator Harradine's question to the Minister to endeavour to obtain some of the details which he requires in relation to factual matters. However, I remind Senator Harradine that it is not the province of the Government to tell the ABC in any particular respects relating to employment how it shall conduct its business.

Senator Harradine —You appointed the Board.

Senator BUTTON —Yes, we appointed the Board. However, while Senator Harradine, in preparing his question, has taken great care to read other legislation and to draw rather tortuous conclusions from that legislation, he has not bothered to read the legislation concerning the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. I would have thought that was fundamental.

Senator Harradine —I certainly have.

Senator BUTTON —If that is so, Senator Harradine has not read it very well. The point is that it is not the Government's concern to instruct the ABC in relation to that matter. If honourable senators are concerned to grandstand on these issues then they will turn questions into speeches. If honourable senators turn questions into speeches they will get into the sort of situation which Senator Harradine got himself into when he asked factual questions of me. On the basis of assumptions made as to the answers he then put forward some rather strange hypothesis. I am not prepared to follow him down that tortuous route. I will try to obtain information on the factual matters to which Senator Harradine has sought answers. As soon as I do that I will provide answers to him.

Senator HARRADINE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I have read the legislation. Is it not a fact that the legislation provides for a charter for the ABC to contribute to a sense of national unity and to the cultural enrichment of Australian society? In what way did the Board's decision in respect of homosexual relationships, by equating them with marriage, do just that? I ask that the Minister respond directly as to whether the Government--

The PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator is now getting outside the range of a supplementary question.

Senator HARRADINE —Mr President, has the Government asked its hand picked Board to reverse that decision or not?

Senator BUTTON —Senator Harradine says that he has read the Act. He has clearly read the wrong section of the Act. I suggest the honourable senator try again in terms of reading the Act and that he read the section of the Act which defines the independence of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Senator Harradine —Do you say that the Government cannot ask?

Senator BUTTON —I am not going to debate that issue with the honourable senator now. He should go away and read the Act and then come back and ask a question if he wants to. Insofar as the second part of the honourable senator's question is concerned, he asked me by way of continued grandstanding whether the Government has indicated its attitude to the Board of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Three minutes ago he asked whether these things happened and I undertook to get the honourable senator factual answers, but on the basis of an assumption about the answers he then asked me a question about what the Government's response has been. There has been no Government response because there is no factual agreement before the Senate and before the honourable senator.