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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26558

Senator STOTT DESPOJA (4:44 PM) —I rise to support the comments of my colleague. Rather than unnecessarily dragging out this debate by speaking in addition to Senator Greig, I have sought permission from other members of the chamber to incorporate my speech notes that encapsulate some of my views. They would have been much broader and longer had there not been a guillotine in place today. I seek leave to incorporate my notes on the amendments and the Marriage Amendment Bill 2004.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

I wish to incorporate some of my views about the proposed amendments to the Marriage Act contained in the Marriage Amendment Bill 2004, although due to a guillotine I did not have the opportunity to speak to this legislation.

Clearly, this is a Bill the Government considers to be of national importance, originally listing it for debate prior to an Anti-Terrorism Bill, the Telecommunications (Interception) Bill and the Surveillance Devices Bill. So important is it to the Government that Gay and Lesbian couples not be able to marry or adopt, that they have swept aside other legislation to deal with this Bill. And, unfortunately, as I feared, the Labor Party have helped them do it. In fact, so willing are the Labor Party to help the Government get their agenda through the Senate that they have agreed to a guillotine on this legislation to ensure it passes before the Senate rises, potentially for the last time before a Federal Election.

This Bill has already been before the Senate. The Senate decided the Bill required further examination and sent it to Committee. This Committee has received an extraordinary number of submissions, and members of the Committee have been working through them over the past months. The Committee was due to report on October 7, now it would seem that this Committee's work has been a waste of time.

Content to subvert the democratic process, the Labor Party have allowed the Government to bring this Bill before the Senate today, and at the conclusion of debate, they will renege on the Gay and Lesbian community and support this Bill. Sadly, for the third time today, the Labor Party will capitulate and support a Bill which is not the in the best interests of Australia.

At a time when many parts of the world are moving forward, and recognising that relationships and families come in all shapes and sizes, Australia is moving backwards. This Government is seeking to enshrine in law the nuclear family, to the exclusion of all others. It speaks of supporting families, but means only some kinds of families, and only some of the time.

This Government has shown itself willing to amend the Marriage Act 1961 in what they purport to be the best interests of families, yet they have made absolutely no effort to introduce Paid Maternity Leave, or other measures that would genuinely help Australian families. This Bill isn't about protecting families it is about discriminating against gay and lesbian couples. It is a blatant attack on gay and lesbian relationships, an indication that while gay and lesbian relationships may be tolerated, they certainly are not entitled to the same rights, privileges and protections as heterosexual relationships. It is legislative proof that Gay and Lesbian couples are second class citizens, and signals to the community that the Australian Government that this kind of discrimination is acceptable, and even sanctioned.

As Ms Ruth Thompson, convenor of Equal Opportunity Practitioners in Higher Education Australasia noted

`My organisation has a particular interest in ensuring that education and employment in the higher education sector is free from discrimination and harassment, and provides inclusive work and study environments. The proposed legislation is divisive and sends the wrong message to the public on what constitutes acceptable community standards'.

I should clarify though, not all members of the Government are as apparently gung ho about this regressive and discriminatory attitude to gay and lesbian couples. The Hon. Trish Worth, member for the seat of Adelaide in my State of South Australia, has apparently opposed these amendments. As The Advertiser reported on July 5, Ms Worth apparently spoke in the Party Room in opposition to the Prime Minister's efforts to ban same sex marriage, fearing that it would cost her votes. The seat of Adelaide is one of three key marginals in South Australia, and a seat held by the merest margin of .62 percent.

In an effort to avoid this backlash, Ms Worth contacted concerned constituents via a letter which said she believed the move to be `completely unnecessary' and stating that, in her view, `the Government does not need to take such a heavy handed approach to an issue that...does not need to be fixed'. She further said while she saw no real need for same sex marriage, she understood `meaningful same-sex relationships and respect those relationships as I would any other relationship'. If only this were an attitude shared by her Government colleagues, and the Opposition. Unfortunately, it's not. They are willing to create a hierarchy of relationships which exalts heterosexual marriage for the continuation for the species and which utterly disregards other relationships. This is 2004, in a pluralistic society. This when other nations are embracing the modern family. This when other nations are proactively supporting happy healthy relationships, and legislating to ensure that gay, lesbian, transgender and intersex people enjoy the same legal rights as all other people, the legal rights that international instruments guarantee them.

Perhaps it should not come as a surprise that this Government is willing to enact legislation which breaches international instruments, including the Hague convention and other human rights instruments. They have shown repeatedly that international law and international instruments are not worth the paper they are written on. They have shown time and time again a willingness to erode, and tear down principles of law constructed over decades, and sometimes centuries.

I am not surprised that this Government has pursued this agenda. They have shown again and again over their 8 years in Government a willingness to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples. However, I thought better of the Labor Party. For all their supposed commitment to the GBLT community, the Labor Party's legislative record in this area is woeful, and today they will soundly demonstrate where their loyalties lay in populist politics, rather than with the groups who they claim to represent.

At a time when our country is crying out for leadership, not poll-driven populism, and not the `isn't wasn't my fault you were misled, I don't have an obligation to ensure the information I provide the public is accurate, well there aren't any weapons, but there might have been', politics we have seen over the past few months from this Government, the Labor party have capitulated. As many of the emails I received said, the Labor Party should be showing their credentials as an alternative Government, not as a Party willing to do whatever the current Government wants for fear of public backlash.

Ms Thompson, also appropriately said,

`At a time of deepening community divisions due to the Iraq war, the Marriage Bill is a diversion which non-government parties should place squarely in perspective. As the alternative government, the Labor Party should show genuine leadership by: 1. not pre-empting the Senate enquiry, 2. demonstrating a public commitment to building inclusive social values'

Let me remind Labor Party members in this Chamber, in the lead up to a federal election, of the poor record of this small target strategy. If they are wanting another three years on the Opposition benches, their continual kowtowing to the Government's agenda will ensure it.

This has been a shameful week in the Senate. It began with the news that our High Court will allow as Constitutional the locking up, potentially for life, of detained persons who have done nothing wrong. It ends in Friday the 13th with a guillotine designed to thwart any democratic debate on the issues before us. Shame.

I note that I am the only South Australian Senator opposing this move by the Government.