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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31460

Ms ROXON (9:55 AM) —This is extraordinary. Not only does the Attorney want to use the processes of this House to get around procedures that have been agreed to in the Senate—which is of course something that we have come to expect from the Attorney—but it seems that the government cannot even manage the order of business in terms of the debate today. The parliamentary secretary cannot be here for the debate when he was meant to; the Attorney cannot agree to a procedure which he has agreed to. We really have a complete procedural shemozzle when it comes to the way the Attorney treats the processes in this House, and I think the people at large would agree. Obviously, it takes away proper opportunities for the consideration of these measures.

As the Attorney rightly points out, the measures that have been introduced in this new Marriage Amendment Bill 2004 are measures that the Labor Party have indicated that we would agree to. But we object strenuously to the process that is being used by the Attorney. We object strenuously because the Attorney knows that the content of this bill, along with its other provision, has been referred to a Senate committee. There have been several weeks during which negotiations could have been held about the way the bill was to be treated or about its referral to a Senate committee. It is not appropriate to receive a phone call at 9 o'clock the night before, to be told that this bill is going to be introduced and then to be expected to agree to whatever procedure the government thinks suits it at the time. We can be sure of one thing with the Attorney—that is, whichever portfolio the Attorney is in there will be a crisis. It does not matter if it is immigration, it does not matter if it is Attorney-General's, and it will not matter after this which shadow ministry he is responsible for, because there will be a crisis.

The Attorney would have us believe, in the comments he has made, that the reason for needing to urgently press ahead with this matter is that, if we do not, there would be a major crisis in this country. This is because two applications have been filed seeking to have gay marriages recognised, but they are 99.9 per cent likely to be rejected by the courts. I have no doubt that the Commonwealth will appear in these matters and make its views known. Frankly, I have no doubt that it is most likely that they will be rejected. It is just not credible for the Attorney to come into the House and say, `Unless this bill is passed, the world as we know it will come to an end.' We are sick of dealing with an Attorney who thinks that crisis is just a way of life. He has manufactured a crisis out of this matter. There is no crisis. The Labor Party are quite happy to deal with the content of the bill, but we respect the parliament; we respect the Senate. We believe that a process has already been partly undertaken. The community are entitled to have an opportunity to have their say on the provisions of this bill. That is the process that has been set up in the Senate. The government missed its chance, if it was genuine about this, to negotiate with us or to negotiate with the Senate about the time frame, about the process for reporting from the Senate committee or about separating out different provisions of the bill, if that is what it wanted to do.

We know that we do not have the numbers to stop the Attorney doing whatever he wants to in the House. The reality is that, if those of us on this side of the parliament seek to object to the process, we ultimately cannot stop the Attorney pushing it through the House. The content of the bill is something that we do not have an objection to, and obviously we will not be voting against the bill. But we object strenuously to the process which is being used. We do not believe that there is any legitimate argument for this to be treated as an urgent matter. The Senate has already determined its program for the rest of today, in consultation with the government. It seems that the Attorney is not prepared to talk to his colleagues in the Senate to ensure that, if this is such a matter of national crisis, it will be put on the program and that there will actually be time for it to be debated in the Senate. That has not happened, and the Attorney should not expect that he will have cooperation from the Labor Party in the Senate to deal with this matter when the program has already been fixed.

I might, for the benefit of those of us in this House, indicate some of the matters that are going to be debated on the last sitting day for this session in the other place. The Attorney needs to be able to mount an argument—which I do not think he can successfully do—that this is a more important matter for the future of our nation than the national health amendments, pharmaceutical budget measures, superannuation budget measures, tax law amendments, higher education legislation amendments, Treasury legislation amendments relating to professional standards, trade practices amendments for personal injuries and death, the Energy Market Bill announced as part of the government's package several weeks ago, electoral reforms, the sex discrimination amendment and antiterrorism bills.

Really, if the minister is seriously saying that it is more important to deal with these provisions—which simply confirm the existing law, for goodness sake—and that he has to stop all of the other matters being debated in this House and in the Senate, then he is not going to get our cooperation to just tip everything upside down because he has decided that there is a crisis. As I say, there is one thing that we are really sure of with this minister: wherever he is, there is a crisis. We have now learnt that that does not mean there is a crisis; it just means the minister happens to be there. We will not be supporting speedy passage of this bill through the Senate and we object strenuously to the process which has been undertaken by the minister.