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Thursday, 18 August 2011
Page: 4786

Senator CORMANN (Western Australia) (10:24): This bill is another example of the Green tail wagging the Labor dog. It has nothing to do with wanting to improve the self-governing arrangements that apply in the territories. This started in 2006 when the Howard government decided to exercise section 35 of the ACT act to disallow the ACT Civil Unions Bill. That is what got this process underway. If you look at this bill as it was originally introduced by the Greens, it did not then mention anybody other than the ACT. This had nothing to do with wanting to improve self-governing arrangements for the territories in Australia; it was entirely and exclusively driven by the Greens' desire to stop the then Howard government and subsequent governments preventing the ACT government legislating for civil unions in the Australian Capital Territory. In 2006 the Howard government made that decision and, as Senator Humphries indicated, Kevin Rudd as the then Prime Minister in 2009 took a very similar view. Because he had good relations with the then ACT Chief Minister, Jon Stanhope, no doubt they were able to organise these things behind closed doors and did not have to run through the whole process. But the effect was the same.

I want to correct something that Senator Lundy said. Senator Lundy suggested this is somehow about restoring territory rights, as if it were going to take things back to somewhere they had been before. The capacity for Commonwealth governments to make the sorts of decisions that the Howard government did in 2006 has been in this relevant legislation as part of the self-government arrangements since the word go. This is not new; this is not just something that came out of nowhere in 2006. The Howard government exercised an existing section in the existing act. As Senator Brandis and Senator Humphries have said, and as I am sure Senator Scullion will say, the coalition is very supportive of having a comprehensive look at how self-government arrangements can be improved. But this is not what is driving the Greens. The Greens are being driven by their social agenda in relation to same-sex marriage, euthanasia and other bits and pieces for which they cannot get support, despite repeated attempts, in any of the state parliaments.

As Senator Humphries indicated, it is not as if the Greens are consistent on this. There have been times when Senator Brown has wanted the federal government to overturn the state government of Tasmania on some­thing happening in that state. And when it came to mandatory sentencing laws in the Northern Territory Senator Brown was quite happy to see the Commonwealth override the Northern Territory legislation at that point in time. This has got nothing to do with a genuine commitment to improving the rights of territorians; this is entirely and exclusively driven by Senator Brown's desire to see legislation on civil unions and same-sex marriage and euthanasia become more achievable in the sorts of parliaments where he thinks that this sort of legislation has a chance to get up.

I just reflect on the fact that in 1997 this parliament voted to overturn the Northern Territory euthanasia laws. Whatever any­body's views on the substance of that matter, it was no doubt at the time a divisive debate. I was not involved as it was before my time. However, the Commonwealth parliament voted to overturn the Northern Territory euthanasia laws. No doubt that would have been a time when there would have been some robust debate inside the Northern Territory, among the good people of the Northern Territory, about how it could be that the Commonwealth parliament could do this. It was the year after the Commonwealth parliament here in Canberra made a decision about laws enacted by the Northern Territory in relation to euthanasia that the proposition of the Northern Territory becoming a state was put to a referendum. History shows that the people of the Northern Territory decided that they did not want to become a state at that point. I hear what Senator Crossin is saying and no doubt Senator Scullion will have similar views, and I know there is a bipartisan effort in the Northern Territory to continue the path towards statehood. I wish them very good luck with it. But right now the situation is that it is the Northern 'Territory'. The reason that is still the situation is because the people of the Northern Territory in 1998 voted against statehood. I was drawn to the additional comments that were made by former Labor Senators Forshaw and Hutchins, who were part of the inquiry into this legislation. I have to observe here that the fact the Australian Labor Party has decided to support this legislation is a very sad reflection on the current state of the Labor Party. The Labor Party once had courageous senators, like former Senators Hutchins and Forshaw, who were able to assess legislation as they saw it. I will just read from their comments:

This Bill should not be passed in its current form. It is flawed.

I could not have put it better. The quote goes on:

It will not achieve its stated objects. If enacted, this Bill will produce disparities between the legislation governing each of the territories and with the Commonwealth and the States.

Towards the end of their comments. Senators Hutchins and Forshaw observed:

It is not surprising that this Bill is technically flawed. Both this bill, and a previous bill proposed by Senator Brown in 2006, originally applied only to the ACT. They are clearly a reaction to the Howard Government's decision to use Section 35 of the ACT Act to disallow the ACT Civil Union's Bill. The proposed amendments to include the NT and Norfolk Island appear to have been an afterthought without any consideration of the consequences detailed above.

They recommend:

The Bill should be either withdrawn or not passed by the Senate.

Their final recommendation is:

We recommend that the Bill not be passed.

Former Labor Senators Forshaw and Hutchins do make the observation that the territories are not states. During the inquiry, the Northern Territory Chief Minister expressed support for the bill as it would be a 'small but significant step towards statehood.' As they observe:

This is not the expressed intention of the Bill. Any move toward statehood should be approach­ed in a serious and considered manner not piecemeal nor as a reaction to a particular decision.

That is exactly what Senator Humphries mentioned and what he is trying to address through the second reading amendment that he has moved.

I read in the media earlier this week that the Labor caucus—I should say the Austra­lian Labor Party caucus because we now have a true Labor senator among us in Senator John Madigan representing the Democratic Labor Party—decided to back the territories' autonomy because Australian Labor Party MPs, and I quote from an article in the Age on 16 August:

… received assurances that the bill would not lead to legalisation of same-sex marriage in the nation's capital.

A bit further on it says:

Caucus yesterday adopted the bill ''without controversy'' with members assured it was not about same-sex marriage.

But then:

A spokeswoman for ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said it welcomed the decision of federal Labor but declined to comment on whether the territory would pursue same-sex marriage.

Why is that? If it is not about that, if they have got no intention of pursuing it, why wouldn't she just say so? I think that Senator Farrell has been sold a pup. I think that Senator Farrell should try and show a little bit of courage like former Senators Hutchins and Forshaw did. He is now part of an Australian Labor Party that will facilitate either civil unions legislation or same-sex marriage legislation in the Australian Capital Territory. If Senator Farrell's intention is not to see that happen then he should support an amendment to rule it out in the legislation here today. I can see that he is distracted and is not prepared to listen to the debate that is going on, even though he is here represent­ing the government. Hopefully somebody back in his office is taking clear note.

This bill is about the Greens tail wagging the Labor dog. This Australian Labor Party is totally captive to the Greens. The Greens are driving their agenda. This has not been initiated by the Australian Labor Party government. This has been initiated by the Greens and the Labor Party is just hopping in and backing it up. Why? If you are serious about improving self-government arrange­ments for the ACT and the Northern Territory, go about it in a serious way. Go about it in a strategic way, support a proper review, support a proper approach that does not sort out these things in a piecemeal fashion just because Senator Brown was upset that the Howard government exercised section 35 of the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act to disallow civil unions in the Australian Capital Territory. Senator Farrell, you might have been given assurances in the ALP caucus that this would not lead to legalisation of same-sex marriage, but the Chief Minister's office refused to rule it out when they were asked about it:

A spokeswoman for Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said it welcomed the decision of federal Labor but declined to comment on whether the territory would pursue same-sex marriage.

We used to have a Prime Minister in Kevin Rudd who was prepared to stand up to the ACT government in relation to this issue. Now we have a Prime Minister who is too weak. She is captive to the Greens. The Greens have bullied her into supporting this bill. Senator Mark Bishop, Senator Collins, Senator Farrell, Senator Stephens—where are they? At least former Senators Hutchins and Forshaw were prepared to stand up and be counted and call this legislation for what it is—a flawed bill that should not be passed.

If people like Senator Farrell on the Labor side were serious about representing true hardworking Labor voters, they would seriously reflect on what they are doing with this because there is now an alternative in the marketplace called the Democratic Labor Party. There are going to be people across Australia who are going to reflect very seriously on whether they should support the Greens-wagged Australian Labor Party or whether they should go to a true Labor party. I suspect you will find that people will turn away from the Australian Labor Party because of their support for bad pieces of legislation like this.