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Monday, 29 November 1999
Page: 10980

Senator GREIG (9:59 PM) —I rise tonight to speak about the very great disappointment, frustration and disbelief within Australia's gay and lesbian communities over the refusal last week of the Labor Party to specifically recognise same sex couples within Senate standing orders. When I came into the Senate and gave my first speech on 1 September, I talked in particular about my desire to move towards a more tolerant and inclusive Australia and, in particular, what that meant for gay and lesbian citizens and same sex relationships. In part, I said in my first speech:

As a consequence of this conspiracy of silence, gay and lesbian youth live in an environment of denial and rejection, with no support, counselling, validation, or role models.

I also said:

Each time a piece of legislation comes before the parliament and touches on human rights and human relationships but excludes gay and lesbian people and denies our relationships—

and the key point there is `denies our relationships'—

it perpetuates this culture of invisibility.

To this end, I forwarded a motion through the Senate in which I asked the Senate to refer to the Procedure Committee the notion that the term `partner' as it relates to partners of senators should be defined as follows:

`Partner' means a person who is living with another person as the partner of that other person on a bona fide domestic basis although not legally married to that other person, and includes members of the opposite and same-sex couples.

It is very important to me, to the Democrats and to the gay and lesbian communities around Australia that the specific, deliberate reference to same sex couples is in there.

When that motion went to the Procedure Committee, the Procedure Committee determined that it would not do that but instead it would come up with a form of wording which was, it argues, `inclusive'. The point I make is that it simply perpetuates the very invisibility of our relationships about which I spoke in my first speech and have spoken many times since.

It was a matter of great disappointment that Senator Faulkner said recently in the chamber that that agreement within the Procedure Committee was unanimous. That is not entirely true. When that particular wording was formed, contrary to that which I advocated, Senator Bourne suggested that I would be unlikely to have a problem with it. She was not to know otherwise. But as soon as she did draw that to my attention I explained my particular problems with it. She urged me to write immediately to the members on the Procedure Committee outlining my concerns and urging them not to proceed with what they were advocating, which I did.

In a six-page letter to the members of the Procedure Committee I outlined my particular arguments, which were in four specific points. Firstly, I argued that in my view the wording being advocated by the Procedure Committee was legally wrong. I still believe that to be the case in many instances. I argued that it was socially wrong. In particular, I said in my letter to the Procedure Committee that I feared that the proposal—that is, the wording it had come up with—to not specifically recognise same sex relationships within the standing orders may be rooted in this culture of invisibility, which I spoke about in my first speech. In my closing words in my letter to the committee I argued strongly and stated:

In closing, I wish to reiterate that the Democrats will not support any `watering down' or `sanitisation' of the original proposed wording to acknowledge same sex couples within Standing Orders.

However, that was the wording that was pressed ahead with.

When it came to the floor and the debate and the vote I argued strongly against it and I voted strongly against it. I did not call a division because I knew it was clear from the arguments in the house that both the government and the Labor Party were not going to support the Democrats in their preference for specific wording. If any Labor member doubts that, then I challenge them now to support my call to go back to it from the beginning, put the motion again and divide on the vote. Shortly after that vote, journalist Margo Kingston from the Sydney Morning Herald described it as pathetic, and she was right.

I would also draw to Labor's attention the fact that, despite its claims that its wording had the support of the gay and lesbian community, it was roundly condemned in the gay press, and I wish to read into Hansard the following from the front page of the Sydney Star Observer in New South Wales from the 29th of this month:

The defeat of the republic referendum earlier this month has propelled our federal members of parliament to support "a broader trend toward disregarding the interests of minorities", lesbian and gay rights advocates have claimed.

Contrary to their policy supporting the elimination of "discrimination on the grounds of sexuality in Australian society", Labor Senators supported Federal Coalition members in defeating a motion put by Democrats Senator Brian Greig.

. . . . . . . . .

The Australian Council for Lesbian and Gay Rights—

the peak gay and lesbian rights body in this nation—

has called the move a defeat for the lesbian and gay human rights movement.

They went on to say:

"Since the republic referendum both major federal parties have moved to appease rural, outer urban and blue collar voters by dumping minority groups" . . .

I concur. I also want to make the point that Senator Faulkner tried to argue that there was no difficulty with Labor supporting same sex couples.

In fact the member for Grayndler, Mr Anthony Albanese, is attempting to do just that in the House of Representatives. And how is he attempting to do that? By specifically acknowledging same sex couples within superannuation. His private member's bill specifically acknowledges same sex couples. It does not move towards vague, inclusive, gender neutral terms. It is therefore a nonsense for Mr Albanese to argue, as he did in the pages of the Sydney Star:

"What we consider best is, inclusive, not exclusive" . . .

I am sorry, but that is an utter and absurd contradiction. He went on to say:

"It certainly wasn't a [Labor] backdown. I actually think it was the best possible result."

If that is true, let's see him amend his private member's bill to be couched in the same terms.

Senator O'Brien —Now he's trying to rewrite history.

Senator GREIG —Senator O'Brien interjects and claims that I am trying to rewrite history. I simply reiterate the fact that as from the day of my first speech I made my intentions entirely clear: I said what it was that I wanted to do, I moved that to the Procedure Committee, I wrote to them and argued against what they had advocated, I set out my arguments and said precisely why, I gave it to them in four key points, it came to the chamber, and I was clearly rolled when the Labor Party and the government decided not to support me. Senator Faulkner made that very clear to me when he came and sat by my side, prior to suddenly springing his amendment, and said, `What do you think of this? This is what we're doing.' I said that was not acceptable to me because it did not specifically recognise same sex couples. That is the history. Anything else is not the truth.

I will close by yet again quoting from Mr Rodney Croome, the head of the Australian Council for Lesbian and Gay Rights and a prominent person in the Tasmanian gay and lesbian rights movement. He said:

What it shows—

and he was referring to Labor's position on this—

is that there are people in the Labor Party that haven't grasped the real meaning of that policy. And the real meaning is a disenfranchised minority.

The policy to which he was referring was the professed policy of the Australian Labor Party, which claims to believe in the rights, equality and same sex partnership recognition of gay and lesbian couples but, when push comes to shove, can never actually do it. It was very clear to me right from the start that the coalition was never going to support me with the specific reference to same sex couples within standing orders or anything else for that matter, but I genuinely believed and hoped that I would have support from the Labor Party, which for some years now has claimed to be standing up for lesbian and gay citizens. But it is not the case.

Senator O'Brien —Tell us what is in the Hansard .

Senator GREIG —Senator O'Brien calls out about Hansard . I am glad he raised that because I did a search of all the times the Labor Party have voted against the recognition of same sex couples. I can refer to four. I did not have time to go too far back into the Hansard , but I note that on 20 November 1996 on the income tax rates amendment—(Time expired)