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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26562

Senator GREIG (4:54 PM) —by leave—I move Democrat amendments (1), (2) and (4) on sheet 4392:

(1) Schedule 1, page 3 (after line 4), before item 1, insert:

1A Title

Repeal the title, substitute:

An Act relating to relationships

(2) Schedule 1, page 3 (after line 4), before item 1, insert:

1B Section 1

Omit “Marriage Act 1961” substitute “Commonwealth Relationships Act 2004”.

(4) Schedule 1, page 3 (after line 8), after item 1, insert:

1D After section 51


51A Relationships recognised by the Commonwealth

(1) The Commonwealth recognises two adult people who live together, in accordance with the conditions in this section, to be in a relationship.

(2) For the purposes of this Act, a relationship is a relationship between two adult persons:

(a) who have a relationship as a couple; and

(b) who are not related except as provided by this section.

(3) In determining if two persons have a relationship for the purposes of this section, all the circumstances of the relationship may be taken into account, including but not limited to the following matters so far as they are relevant in a particular case:

(a) the duration of the relationship;

(b) the nature and extent of the common residence;

(c) whether or not a sexual relationship exists;

(d) the degree of financial dependence or interdependence, and any arrangements for financial support, between the parties;

(e) the ownership, use and acquisition of property;

(f) the degree of mutual commitment to a shared life;

(g) the care and support of children;

(h) the performance of household duties;

(i) the reputation and public aspects of the relationship;

(j) whether the relationship is regarded in a law of a State or a Territory as:

(A) a de facto; or

(B) a domestic partnership; or

(C) a significant personal relationship.

(4) This Act confers the same rights and entitlements, and imposes the same obligations, on a person in a relationship with another person of the same sex, or when either or both are transgender or have an intersex condition, as is recognised or imposed by Commonwealth law for a person in a de facto relationship.

(5) This Act enables two adult persons of the same sex, or when either or both are transgender or have an intersex condition, to be registered in accordance with the registration provisions of this Act as if the relationship were a marriage.

Democrat amendments (1) and (2) combine to amend the title of the Marriage Act 1961 to make it consistent with subsequent Democrat amendments that recognise a broader range of relationships within the scope of the act. Amendment (1) amends the title of the act to read `An Act relating to relationships'. Amendment (2) renames the Marriage Act 1961 to read `Commonwealth Relationships Act 2004'.

Debate on whether same-sex couples should be afforded equal relationship recognition to heterosexual relationships, whether through marriage, de facto recognition or some other form of civil union or registry, has been the subject of much debate over recent years not only in Australia but across the globe. The shadow Attorney, Nicola Roxon, says that the Labor Party supports the ban on same-sex marriage because marriage has only ever been between a man and a woman, and at any rate consultation with the gay and lesbian community has always focused on de facto recognition, with no particular consensus on marriage.

It is true that the domestic debate within the gay and lesbian community has, for the most part of the last decade, focused on the extension of equal recognition of de factos. In many ways, this has been because it has been expedient to do so. Advocates recognised that, in order to achieve relationship recognition at all, state and territory campaigns that were focused on achieving equal de facto status for same-sex relationships were more likely to be successful—and they were, at least at a state level. Each state and territory in Australia now recognises same-sex relationships in one form or another—with South Australia still lagging behind as the last state to implement broader reform—and has ensured that the very serious discrimination experienced by people in same-sex relationships and their children has not yet been addressed.

To argue, however, that a focus on de facto recognition as part of a federal relationship reform campaign or an apparent lack of lesbian and gay community consensus on marriage justifies a ban on marriage is just absurd. It is true that there is little consensus within the broader lesbian and gay community on marriage. Some same-sex couples desire to marry; others do not. Some community members believe marriage maintains its position as a relevant institution in a modern society, while others have equally deeply held convictions about the institution's inherent worth. This divergence of views is no reason to prevent lesbian and gay couples who do want to get married from being able to do so. No-one would seriously suggest that, because some heterosexual people do not want to get married, or believe that marriage is outdated, no heterosexual person should be able to marry. It is clear that lesbian and gay communities are united in their views about marriage in a number of other respects, most specifically with the notion that it ought to remain an option. Our amendment goes to the heart of that.

In Australia, Tasmania has gone down the path of its Relationships Act, which I note was not only introduced by a state Labor government but also endorsed by a Liberal coalition. That act, which governs the whole of the state, has removed from all Tasmanian legislation any reference to `spouse', `husband', `wife' or `de facto'. Instead, the Tasmanian legislation recognised a very broad range of significant relationships—caring relationships, personal relationships and family relationships—and created a voluntary relationship register scheme to recognise the validity of all those relationships.

I am particularly pleased with the Democrats' role in negotiating the terms of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee inquiry and including the notion of interpersonal relationships. We look often to the Tasmanian model as a way forward. Regardless of what these debates about relationships have highlighted, the recognition highlights that there is a very urgent need for a variety of means by which different relationships may be recognised, and there is a growing willingness—and, more importantly, a readiness—to address the issue. The law must respond flexibly to the diversity of people's experiences by ensuring that significant personal relationships, in a variety of forms, are validated, supported and accorded the same access to the rights, benefits and obligations of any other form of relationship.

In pressing forward with our suite of amendments which go to the heart of recognising same-sex relationships, it remains our desire to bring about the sweeping reform which Labor sometimes indicates but has in no serious way ever progressed from opposition. I know that many Labor speakers have said today that a Latham Labor government would move forward in these areas. My experience, though, as an activist and advocate in this area, has been that I have heard all that before. I heard it during 13 years of Labor governments—and Labor did absolutely nothing in 13 years of government in the area of national antidiscrimination laws and partnership recognition, despite so often promising to do so. I know that Labor has promised an audit of all discriminatory legislation if elected to government, but I have to say that, from speaking to people in the gay and lesbian community, that policy position seems rather pathetic.

The promise of having an audit of legislation if elected to government ignores the fact that, firstly, you can do the audit now; secondly, you need not be elected to government to initiate such an audit; and, thirdly, the Parliamentary Library could probably quite happily do that for you if you put a phone call through to them. So the promise of antidiscrimination laws, partnership recognition and antivilification laws following an audit is somewhat hollow given that we Democrats have had bills which would do those three things on the Notice Paper for nine years. My best efforts just to get the opposition to support a debate on those bills have met with failure. There is deep cynicism within the lesbian and gay community about the promises of the alternative government, because those things that are being promised are also opportunities to be grasped now but which never have been.

To get to the heart of the issue, it is our hope and aspiration with this suite of amendments to recognise same-sex relationships and rights and responsibilities, and to get moving in this area of reform rather than holding out in vain hope that a future government, be it Labor or otherwise, might embark on this course. It is the view of the Democrats—being in a position of never being in government—that the way to bring about reform is to engage the parliament and not to wait for the expectation that you must only ever be in government to bring about change. We have proved on a number of occasions that you do not need to be in government to bring about change. While I heard Senator Ludwig wax lyrical a little earlier today about what he claimed was Labor's policy to reform superannuation and how great it was that Labor got that achievement, the fact is that we Democrats did that, in cooperation ultimately with Senator Coonan and the government, and that Labor had voted against those particular amendments on same-sex couples and super on 11 occasions before they finally supported them.