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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31765

Mr BARTLETT (11:14 AM) —Last week I did not have the opportunity to speak on the Marriage Amendment Bill 2004 so I want to take this opportunity to put my views on the record. Marriage and the family are the bedrock of our society. They provide the loving, secure and stable environment necessary for building the self-worth, the esteem and confidence of children from the early formative years through to and including adolescence. They are also important in the essential role of building values, understanding right and wrong, and the development of social skills, responsibility and direction. Yet, sadly, the institution of marriage has been under attack in Australia, as it has been around the world, over recent years. In Australia, there are over 50,000 divorces each year, with the projected divorce rate at 32 per cent of all marriages. Twenty-one per cent of Australian children under 15 years are in single-parent families—this figure was 14 per cent just 15 years ago. Marriage provides structure and stability to our society.

The Marriage Act Amendment Bill is necessary to alleviate the growing concerns in Australia at the erosion of the fundamental institutions of marriage and the family. My office has received numerous pieces of correspondence from people in my electorate and other electorates commending the government for this important bill—commending the government for acting decisively, for responding to the needs of Australia and for protecting families and the concept of marriage shared by the vast majority of Australians.

The bill contained two key amendments. Firstly, the bill codified and provided formal definition to the understanding of marriage held by the overwhelming majority of Australians. Under this bill, section 46 of the Marriage Act formally defines marriage as:

... the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.

This definition has the effect of prohibiting same-sex marriages within Australia and prohibiting Australian legal recognition of foreign same-sex marriages. This definition provides stability to the concept of marriage for all Australians and helps prevent the institution of marriage being eroded—at least in this sense. The concept of marriage held by the majority of Australians, including me, is of an exclusive union between one man and one woman. I believe this is the correct and only definition of marriage.

The second key amendment made by this bill is a continuation of the government's opposition to adoption by same-sex couples. The government has previously expressed its fundamental opposition to the adoption of children by same-sex couples, and this bill reinforces that position. The bill will prevent same-sex couples from adopting children from overseas under international agreements through bilateral and multilateral treaties. The vast majority of Australians support the government's position that all children have the right to be nurtured, all other things being equal, by a mother and a father. Both mothers and fathers are critically important to the upbringing of children. For a variety of reasons, obviously things do not always work out this way. However, we ought to be doing all we can to start from the premise of what is optimal or what is ideal.

The Labor Party's response to this bill has been very disappointing. In the Senate, the Labor Party have demonstrated their intention to play political games with the Australian people. The opposition parties have had the bill referred to a Senate committee, where it will sit until after the election. The Labor Party is now courting the minority same-sex marriage lobby by promising to conduct a full audit of all Commonwealth laws on the basis of sexuality. With one breath they are trying to placate the majority of Australians by claiming that they support this bill, but with the next breath they are leaving their options open to throw it out. I want to make the point that this legislation is not in any way aimed at discriminating against homosexual couples. Indeed, the government's other legislation to remove discrimination regarding superannuation makes it very clear that it is not homophobic. The government is committed to equal rights wherever that is possible but, equally, the government is clearly committed to doing all it can to retain the institution of marriage as the bedrock of families in our community.

In summary, marriage and families are foundational institutions for Australians. We cannot always prevent families breaking down, but we have to do everything we can, in whichever area we can, to reinforce the basis of marriage for our families. The government is committed to protecting this institution through this important bill, by providing clarity to the definition of marriage and reinforcing restrictions on the adoption of children. I am pleased that this bill has been introduced and supported by this government.