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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26569

Senator FAULKNER (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (5:16 PM) —I did listen intently to Senator Greig's contribution on this matter, and I commend to the committee the statements that have been made by Senator Ludwig, who has been able to address this matter in a very diligent and sensible way. I also am very happy to admit that I would be concerned by any legislation that might inflame prejudice against any group in society. I would freely admit that, as a result, I was very concerned when I first heard of the government's proposals in this area, but upon my seeing the legislation it did not take me long to realise that this was a pretty pathetic attempt at wedge politics by the Prime Minister.

I think it is fair to say that the Marriage Amendment Bill 2004 is more about rhetoric and political posturing than about making a substantive change to the law. Many have found it hard to get hot under the collar over a bill which confirms the existing common law. I am pleased that the response that the federal parliamentary Labor party has made to the bill has been strong and very clear in its commitment to removing discriminatory provisions from Commonwealth legislation on the basis of sexuality. I think that the Labor Party position, as adopted by the caucus of our parliamentary party, makes it very clear that we believe Australians are entitled to respect, dignity and the ability to participate in society and receive the protection of the law regardless of their sexuality or gender identity.

We have said—and we mean it—that if we are elected to government we will work with all groups to reform federal laws to recognise the diversity of legitimate relationships in the Australian community. We have also said and made it very clear—and my colleague Senator Ludwig has put forward our position in a very forthright and thorough way—that we will not be redefining marriage. That has governed our approach to this bill. We have indicated we will support the bill that is before the chamber without amendment. But we have also said that we will work to eliminate discrimination against Australians in same-sex relationships across a range of federal laws including taxation, superannuation, immigration, family law, industrial relations and government benefits. I think that position is well known to the committee. I understand that it does not find favour with Senator Greig, just as sometimes the approach of the opposition does not find favour with the Australian Democrats. On this occasion there is a different approach to dealing with amendments to this bill, but I commend the opposition's approach to the committee. We have also said that, as part of our consideration of measures to eliminate discrimination against Australians on the grounds of sexuality, we will examine options to achieve a more consistent national treatment of—

Senator Brown —Mr Temporary Chairman, I rise on a point of order. I do not want to interfere with this speech by Senator Faulkner, but he did vote for the guillotine and there is a very short amount of time left for this debate and some very important amendments to come. I hope he will consider that.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —There is no point of order.

Senator FAULKNER —We will have to check the division lists on that, Senator Brown. If you are suggesting because there is a short amount of time left that you would like to make a comment, that is fine. You could have passed me a note, as is the normal procedure. I respect that; you know I do. I try to cooperate with senators in the chamber, so I will cooperate with you. There is no need to take a spurious point of order. You know—as you do, Mr Temporary Chairman—that my general approach to these things is to try to fit in with colleagues. Because Senator Brown and perhaps others want to make a contribution and time is short, I will conclude on this point. I said that we would be examining options to achieve more consistent national treatment of all de facto relationships, and I think we have also made it clear that we will look at the recommendations made by the Senate inquiry into the Marriage Amendment Bill 2004. I respect Senator Brown's interest in making a speech at this point in time, and I will cut short my remarks to allow other senators to make a contribution. I commend to the committee the approach of the opposition.