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Thursday, 2 December 2004
Page: 29

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (11:12 AM) —I thank Senator Greig for his comments. I think there is a technical difficulty with his amendment, but I do not want to hide behind our concern about that because, quite frankly, we were not going to vote for it even if it was technically correct. I have been very straight with Senator Greig about that. I was also a bit surprised that the amendment was limited to a particular subset affected by this bill—it is not a sort of general same-sex amendment but is limited to a particular group. It has become clear that Senator Greig is pursuing an outcome following Mr Young's court case and its impact on veterans.

I want to put on the record that Labor went to the last election with a policy framework which involved a commitment to undertaking a comprehensive review of same-sex law reform—a commitment that we were going to audit all Commonwealth legislation with a view to trying to remove discriminatory provisions. I agree with Senator Greig's comments yesterday that discrimination is unsupportable. We have always opposed the piecemeal approach of trying to amend a particular bill at a particular time. I know that provides frustration for Senator Greig, but we think that if the Commonwealth is going to change its position on the issue of same-sex couples and their entitlements under social security, tax and other laws then it needs to do it in a comprehensive and consistent way. That is not an attempt to hide from the issue, but one thing we all know about social security legislation is that one minor amendment has numerous flow-on implications and generally creates more trouble than it is worth. Particularly in the area of social security, I know that same-sex law reform will be both beneficial and disadvantageous for various couples—it will depend on how they are affected by that change—because of their current living arrangements.

Certainly we took to the last election a policy that in government we would undertake a full audit of Commonwealth legislation and that we would not support piecemeal amendments but try to deal with the issue in a comprehensive and proper way. I was very strongly committed to that. I certainly was aware of the discrimination in the defence forces against same-sex couples. My personal view was that that was unsustainable in terms of a whole range of measures—transfer allowances, superannuation, living allowances, et cetera. A number of Defence Force personnel had raised with me what they thought was unfair discrimination on the basis of their sexual preference. It is an issue that has to be addressed and my personal view is that it ought to be.

In terms of dealing here today with the Democrat amendments, firstly we have the technical problem. Secondly, we have always opposed trying to deal with this issue on a piecemeal basis in legislation. Thirdly, Labor is committed to passing the bill. We are not going to hold up the bill by sending it back to the House of Representatives because we know the government has not changed its position—unless the parliamentary secretary is going to leap up and suddenly change government policy. He certainly would make a name for himself in his debut as a parliamentary secretary if he changed the government's position, so perhaps I should not pre-empt his contribution. But I suspect that the government's position has not changed and I suspect that the change will not be led out of Tasmania if it does occur. Nevertheless, our view is that there is an important issue here of discrimination which we do not support. But we are not going to support the Democrat requests for amendments on this occasion for the reasons I have advanced.

In terms of Labor's longer term position, I think it is fair to say we are still coming to terms with our electoral loss and we have not got our heads around how we are going to deal with this issue over the next three years. I think the current policy is to maintain the policy we took to the last election, but clearly there will be a lot of reassessment inside the Labor Party about how to respond, given that the prospect of government for us is now at least three years away. The policy that we took to the election sustained us through these debates in the year or so leading up to the election. Whether we continue with that for another three years or look at some other policy is a matter for consideration by the Labor Party over the next little while. For the reasons I have outlined Labor will not be supporting the Democrat amendments.