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Wednesday, 4 June 2008
Page: 4512

Mr HAWKE (7:02 PM) —Consistent with other speakers and I believe the vast majority of our community, I support the intentions of the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—Superannuation) Bill 2008 and will support the bill as amended by the opposition leader. The intention to deal with areas of discrimination in tax treatment and payment of superannuation benefits for members of same-sex couples and the children of these individuals is a good intention. It is an intention that I believe should also be extended to include non-sexual interdependent relationships. However, the government is taking the broad consensus that I believe exists in our society and risking division if it is not clear in the specific provisions and statutory language of this legislation.

The role of marriage between a man and woman in our society is central. Whether members opposite accept it, like it or not our society has been structured around marriage for thousands of years. There are proven reasons for supporting marriage as one of the foundations of our social fabric and cohesion. I want to put on record my support for the unanimous agreement between the current Prime Minister and the former Prime Minister prior to the November 2007 election that marriage is between a man and a woman and that we ought not to move down the path of gay marriage. This is an election commitment that I believe is important for the Labor Party to uphold.

I have some concerns with the language of the bill. The attempt to replace the term ‘marital relationship’ with ‘couple relationship’ and the removal of terms such as ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ clearly concerns a lot of members of this place. There are those who do seek radical change to the way our society is structured. It could be argued that a change to marriage could be one of the most radical changes in the way our society has functioned for some time. Some members have come in here, spoken on this bill today and I think driven people further away from the intention of this bill. In particular, I would note the contribution of the member for Brisbane, who referred to anybody with a different view on this matter as ‘extreme’. It is not extreme to be a Christian, it is not extreme to support the central role of the family in our society and it is not extreme to support marriage as between a man and a woman—lest we hark back to the Keating era and ‘the politics of intolerance masquerading as the politics of tolerance’, as Paul Sheehan aptly defined it.

No bill should attempt to make radical change in statutory language or in its provisions that will have undesirable effects that can be prevented. I am concerned that the term ‘marital relationship’ is to be replaced with the non-specific term ‘couple relationship’. I am further concerned about the definitions of children and that this does not disadvantage children in de facto relationships. The Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Procurement just made a contribution on international law relating to the children in same-sex couples relationships. He may also want to consider the international law that would prevent discrimination against children in de facto relationships and other forms of relationships as well.

I also concerned that in enacting this legislation we do not create the very discrimination and inequity members are attempting to prevent against other interdependent relationships. I am concerned that the intention of the government is not to include non-sexual interdependency. Like so many other members of this place, I am aware of so many real and no less deserving interdependent relationships that exist in our community: mothers who live with their sons for a long time or two friends that have lived together for 40 or 50 years. These relationships are real. They have nothing to do with sexuality but there are no less valid reasons why they should not be discriminated against in our society and in law. In fact, I would remind members of this House that the Prime Minister and others went out of their way prior to the election in November 2007 to state that the government would not be seeking any change to the status of marriage or other arrangements.

Government members have come into this place to express concern about the opposition’s amendment to send this to a Senate committee—what I regard as due diligence and care in examining this legislation. We ought to realise and recognise that this does not need to be made political, and I would say to government members who have come in here and attempted to portray this as a result of the Howard government that that is a very unfair characterisation. Indeed, those members who have come in here and said that the discrimination has occurred because of the Howard government, or that somehow the Howard government did not act, disregard that there were Labor governments prior to the Howard government. The Keating government did not implement this legislation, the Hawke government did not implement this legislation and the very radical Whitlam government did not implement this legislation. I do not think there is any value in politicising this topic or this bill today.

Society takes time to change. The opposition have the right to carefully examine legislation on behalf of the 48.5 per cent of the two-party preferred vote that put the opposition here. We have been presented with 22 bills this week to examine with very little or no notice and we have not had the right to ask for further scrutiny of this legislation. There is no other attempt to delay or hinder this legislation, as I said at the beginning of my speech today. I support the intention of this bill; so do many members on this side. I will repeat it for members of this House: we support the intentions of this legislation. We are asking the government to please allow some scrutiny to ensure that there is not a radical change that follows on from the removal of terms such as ‘marital relationship’ or ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ in this legislation.

The member for Port Adelaide said that there was a time pressure in relation to same-sex couples and that inquiries and committees would cause a major issue. The shadow Treasurer came in here just now and recorded for the House’s benefit that this legislation can be backdated. The government can, if it seeks to, set a time where this discrimination can be removed and that can be done retrospectively. The member for Port Adelaide also put remarks on the record that I thought were very unpleasant about the fact that people in homosexual relationships may die before 1 July—which is why we should not delay this bill. But he then said that the issue of people in interdependent relationships could be referred to the inquiry that the government has set up to consider those interdependent relationships. It is an odd position for the government to take: that it cares about one set of relationships where people may die before 1 July but not about another set of relationships—nonsexual interdependent relationships—where people may also die before 1 July. If it is good enough for these matters with respect to one set of people to be referred to a committee to be examined further, it is a strange and unconvincing argument that we have to rush for another set of people who may die before 1 July—taking into account the very serious nature of those matters that the member raised.

I say again: there is no need to take broad agreement on the intention of this bill and turn it into division. The House has the right to seek clarification about the statutory language of this bill from the government, its implications for marriage and the definitions of children. We do not want to see this legislation used to weaken the institution of marriage or as a precursor to gay adoption or gay marriage. I support the opposition leader’s call for the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs to inquire into this bill—not to delay it, not to hinder it, but to ensure that it is achieving its intentions and only its intentions. As a Christian and as a Liberal, I support the equal and non-discriminatory treatment of people in law. However, I appeal to the members opposite—to those on the government benches—to drop the politics out of this issue, to take the agreement and consensus that exists for the intention of this legislation and to end this injustice but to not seek to make radical change without seeking the approval of the people of the Australian electorate. This legislation and its potential impacts require further scrutiny, and it is right and proper for the House to ask the Senate to do so.