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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 2082

Mr PEARCE (3:16 PM) —My question is addressed to the Attorney-General. Would the Attorney-General update the House on the government's efforts to put beyond doubt the definition of marriage—that is, that marriage is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life. Are there any alternative approaches?

Ms Gillard —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. This question was asked yesterday. It has been fully asked and answered. There can be no update over the last 24 hours, because the matter has not changed on the legislative program.

Mr Abbott —Mr Speaker, on the point of order—

The SPEAKER —Very early in question time I warned the member for Brisbane. I have heard persistent interjections subsequently. He will excuse himself from the House.

The member for Brisbane then left the chamber.

Mr Abbott —Mr Speaker, I have consulted the Hansard and today's question is quite different from yesterday's question. It specifically asks for an update.

Ms Gillard —The effect of the question is exactly the same as yesterday's. Maybe the member for Aston could clarify by telling us what has changed in the last 24 hours.

The SPEAKER —I do not have the sort of photographic memory that would enable me to know precisely what yesterday's question was. I know the member for Lalor is right in that a question similar to the question just asked was asked. However, since it is not identical, it does not fall outside the standing orders.

Mr RUDDOCK (Attorney-General) —I thank the honourable member for Aston for giving me an opportunity to given an update about some of the developments that have occurred in relation to this matter in the last 24 hours. Let me first affirm that the vast majority of Australians agree that marriage is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life. For this reason, and to remove any concern, the government is determined that amendments shall be passed which will enshrine this definition in legislation.

I am aware of multiple commitments that seem to have been emerging from the Australian Labor Party. The Australian Labor Party seeks to assure the Australian public that its policy is one and the same with the government's policy—that is, to protect the sanctity of marriage. I will not repeat again the statement made to the National Marriage Forum by the shadow minister, save to say that one would have thought that it was an unambiguous and clear position. But a day is a long time in the Australian Labor Party, and when the pressure is on out come the weasel words and the backdoor deals.

From today's media reports, it is clear that the Labor Party has been promising one thing to one audience while leaving the door open to review policy after an election. According to the Australian today, in the face of the backlash—as we are told it is—from the Left, the opposition leader has promised a review of gay relations. The article in the Australian says:

... Labor will examine “options to achieve more consistent national treatment of all de facto relationships”.

Labor Left MPs said the amendment moved by the Labor leader “opened the door” for gay unions to be registered officially if Labor won government.

What we have is a new commitment—one that I think is ill conceived—wheeled out on the run to deal with the heat of this argument in caucus. The leader obviously has little knowledge of the nature of our Constitution and where powers are contained in relation to these matters. The one question the leader ought to have asked is where he would get the power to set up such a national register. Where would the power come from? It certainly would not come from the marriage power, because what we are saying is that the marriage power relates to unions between a man and a woman. It could not come from the matters that have been referred to the Commonwealth by the states—and there have been some matters referred to the Commonwealth by the states. The Commonwealth has received powers to deal with issues relating to the regulation of de facto relationships—that is, where there are children of a de facto relationship or property in relation to a de facto relationship—but that certainly does not go to giving the Commonwealth powers to establish a national register.

All I can assume is that there must have been something in the statement issued yesterday by Mr Rodney Croome, when he said that Nicola Roxon broke Labor's promise not to vote on the Howard government's marriage bill before the Senate inquiry had reported and he called for stronger commitments to reform in other areas. That seems to be the genesis of this. It is an ill-conceived, ill thought out proposal—where there is no power. It certainly indicates what the Labor Party has been about to date, and that is deliberately delaying this matter so that it would not be dealt with by the Senate in a timely way.