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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26512

Senator BOSWELL (Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (2:33 PM) —It is ironic that each side of the debate will be heard one after the other. It would be no surprise to anyone in this parliament or anyone who is listening that the National Party believe there is no stronger union and no stronger bond than that between a man and a woman in marriage. We support that wholeheartedly.

I would like to mention the 1,200 people who turned up to support marriage. They did not turn up to vilify gays. They turned up, at a great cost—many came from right around Australia on very short notice—to support marriage because they believe very firmly in it. The organisers of the National Marriage Forum should be congratulated. The forum attracted about 1,200 people to Parliament House last week to defend the definition of `marriage' as being between a man and a woman. The forum provided the public pressure that forced the Labor Party to address this bill. Unfortunately it did not do the same for the Democrats and the Greens. Nicola Roxon stood up in front of those 1,200 people and committed the Labor Party to marriage. One wonders whether we would be debating this today if those 1,200 people had not turned up and cornered the Labor Party.

The Democrats and the Greens seem intent on removing marriage as an important thread of the Australian social fabric. Most Australians recognise that marriage is a sacred union, the most basic building block of society and the foundation of a family. It is a union in which children can be created and brought up in a loving, secure environment. This has been clearly illustrated during the recent Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee inquiry into this legislation, which, according to the web site, received around 12,000 submissions—a record for this kind of committee—overwhelmingly supporting the government's position.

It is not the government's right or role to interfere in the bond of marriage. However, it is our responsibility and duty to ensure the institution of marriage is not ambushed by minority groups keen to create their own definitions of it. I am disappointed that the Labor Party did not support this bill immediately when it was introduced into the Senate. They cited the lame, hoary excuse that they had not put it through the required `process'. I ask: how much process do you need to define what is right and what is wrong?

The government showed good faith in making changes to the original legislation submitted to the parliament, removing the clause which the opposition claimed was their concern—the clause regarding gay adoption of foreign children—and still there was no support forthcoming for the Senate to protect the sanctity of marriage as being between a man and a woman. Let me make it clear that the government did not want to make any compromise on gay adoptions at all. It was not our preferred position but we did it to get this vital piece of legislation through. It is our view that same-sex relationships cannot be equated with marriage. That is what the majority of Australians believe and that is what this legislation enunciates.

The coalition government was forced to legislate the beliefs of the majority to protect this sacred institution against the personal agendas of the minority after the possibility was raised that same-sex marriages entered into overseas could be recognised as holding marriage status in Australia. As it stands, the Marriage Act 1961 contains no definition of marriage but includes a statement on the legal understanding of a marriage. So it was not a wedge issue. It was perpetrated by a decision taking place overseas. In fact a group of people on this side of parliament signed a letter asking the Prime Minister to address this issue. I am quite proud to say I was one of the signatories. The amendments contained in this bill will make it absolutely clear that Australia will not recognise same-sex marriage solemnised in other countries. Same-sex couples will understand that if they go overseas to marry it will not be recognised here.

Marriage between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others voluntarily entered into for life is what my party are proud to stand up for and proud to declare as part of our beliefs. It is a union designed to provide a loving environment in which to create and nurture children. Children have the right to be born into a family with a mother and a father. As members of society we have responsibilities to do whatever we can to ensure that children are created in a stable, loving and secure relationship. Our society has a responsibility to protect the institution of marriage. In order to protect our children, marriage undoubtedly provides the best environment for raising those children. Society must shelter kids in a secure environment and allow them to develop their own views and belief systems. Children should never be held up as trophies in an attempt to justify or enhance a lifestyle choice. Australian families are not the place for social experiments. Adults who participate in homosexual behaviour make that choice. That is their choice. As I said, I do not condone it; I do not condemn it. They make the choice for themselves but have no right to include children in that choice. A union, regardless of how loving, that is biologically incapable of procreation is not a marriage. In this respect the union must be between a man and a woman.

Some senators in this chamber will cite love as being above all things—that if two people love each other, regardless of gender, no-one or no government has the right to stand between them. The same senators quote divorce rates and the incidence of domestic violence and abuse as reasons why love should be the only criterion in any definition of marriage. But this is unrealistic. If love is the only criterion then all forms of unions could be defined as marriage. Consenting adult homosexuals would be the thin edge of the wedge. This is not what Australians believe; this is not what The Nationals believe; this is not what I believe. Marriage is about love—I have had 40 years of it—but it is also about commitment, about creation and about providing the right environment for nurturing children.

Through this legislation, the government are reconfirming society's commitment to marriage, its commitment to families and its commitment to our children and grandchildren. We are recognising that marriage is a public good, not just a private benefit. However, we must remain vigilant. The commitment from all parties must be that there is no alternative to marriage. This is not a subterfuge, and Australians want to know the details of any plans afoot to bring in something else to get around it. A newspaper article in Wednesday's Australian confirms that the Labor caucus have now agreed, through an amendment to their policy, to examine `options to achieve more consistent national treatment of all de facto relationships'. The article goes on to say that this will open the door for gay unions to be registered officially if Labor wins government. This amendment was moved by Mark Latham. What are the details of this change of policy? The silent majority want to know and Australian voters want to know. As the alternative leader of this nation, Mark Latham has a responsibility to come forward and explain what this means.

The warning is out that Labor have a plan to subvert marriage. If this is to be Labor's policy, they should enunciate it to the Australian people here today so that people can judge them on that basis. Labor have got to come clean on that amendment. Are they considering similar legislation to New Zealand's Labour government, which has introduced a Civil Unions Bill to enable the application of legal rights identical to those of marriage to same-sex relationships? On 24 June, the New Zealand parliament voted 66 to 50 for the Civil Unions Bill to pass its first reading. New Zealand's legal recognition of relationships bill was passed by 77 to 42 votes on 29 June. It will change around 1,000 clauses in over 125 acts to treat all relationships the same as marriage. Both New Zealand bills have been referred to the Justice and Electoral Select Committee for public submissions, which closed on 6 August. New Zealand's Labour Prime Minister, Helen Clark, says the new legislation will take out any discrimination, so the Marriage Act will not have any practical effect. This will produce a counterfeit marriage, with identical rights but none of the responsibilities of a real marriage.

We have got to know what Labor are now advocating—the creation of civil unions and the levelling of marriage that will further damage society and the next generation? Any argument that a civil union serves heterosexual couples by providing a non-religious alternative to marriage simply does not wash. The Marriage Act is itself civil and secular in nature. A civil union is simply a marriage by another name, the only difference being that it is open to the gay and lesbian community. I will oppose that, and I will oppose any move to introduce that into parliament. The challenge today for the Labor Party is to come clean on their plan to introduce civil unions. If they are going to do it, they should say so. If they are not, they should say they are not. As we front up to an election the people deserve to know what that amendment is, what it means and how it will be carried out in legislation. I am proud to stand in this chamber today as the leader of The Nationals in the Senate and support the bill, to thank the Labor Party for their belated support of it and to say to those senators on the crossbenches who continue not to support it: you are not acting in the interest of the majority of Australians.