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Wednesday, 4 June 2008
Page: 4497

Mr PERRETT (6:04 PM) —I am pleased speak in support of the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—Superannuation) Bill 2008 because I believe all Australians are entitled to be treated equally, regardless of their sex, age, disability, race, religion or sexuality. It is a sad fact of life that many Australians have been discriminated against for too long by Commonwealth laws, and I will tell you the tale of two families and how these laws affect them.

This bill amends the relevant superannuation and taxation acts—that is, 105 discriminatory Commonwealth laws—to ensure a new standard of fairness and consistency for same-sex couples and their children. Under current reversionary superannuation laws, only a surviving spouse or child can receive a reversionary benefit upon the death of a scheme member. In other words, same-sex partners or children of such relationships would have no entitlement to receive reversionary death benefits even if the couple had been together for 10 years, 30 years or even 50 years. This bill will amend the definitions in the acts to make death benefits available to de facto same-sex partners of scheme members and their children. This bill will enable reversionary death benefits to be paid to same-sex partners and the children of same-sex couples. This will be achieved by adding a new concept of a couple relationship, which includes same-sex partners.

As I have said, the bill also allows for the equal recognition of children who are the product of same-sex and opposite-sex relationships. A child for this purpose is the product of a couple relationship, where one partner is linked biologically to the child or where one partner is the birth mother of the child. By applying this definition, opposite-sex and same-sex families are treated equally. This is not an assault on any families. Instead, it is the triumph of common sense.

The new definition will also solve the problems arising from some surrogacy arrangements where even children of an opposite-sex relationship may currently fall outside the defined benefits legislation. By way of example, I inform the House of a particular couple who will benefit from this legislation. To protect their identity, I could call them Dick and Dora from Victoria. However, as their situation has already received much media attention, I will instead call them Senator Stephen Conroy, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, the Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, from Victoria, and his wife, Paula Benson—and their lovely livewire daughter, Isabella. I have seen Isabella cutting a swathe through the Canberra airport and she seems like quite a child.

Unfortunately, Isabella’s mum was unable to conceive, because she was an ovarian cancer survivor. Thankfully Ms Benson and Senator Conroy received help from two family friends, one of whom donated an egg that was fertilised via IVF using Senator Conroy’s sperm, while the other good friend carried Isabella to term in her womb. Such surrogacy arrangements were illegal in Victoria at the time so Senator Conroy and his partner had to decamp to New South Wales so that they could experience the joys of parenthood. The reality is, as I am sure everyone in the House knows, that Australian families come in all different shapes and sizes and it is appropriate that this House recognises every single one of them. You would have to have a heart of stone to look Senator Conroy, Ms Benson and Isabella in the eyes and argue that they are not a normal family and therefore should not be treated the same before the eyes of the law. This would be a very skewed view of justice. The example of Isabella confirms that these amendments before the House are long overdue. They are only the first step in delivering the Rudd government’s election commitment to remove discrimination against people in same-sex relationships in a wide range of laws and in doing so they provide equal recognition for same-sex couples and families.

I assure my constituents, especially practising Christians and Catholics and people from any other religion, that this legislation before the House is not an attack on marriage. Rather, it is about restoring fairness and equality by ensuring that superannuation and the like is available to all Australians. Same-sex relationships will be treated equally with all opposite-sex de facto relationships. Unfortunately, the media and those opposite have informed us of the opposition’s plan to delay this legislation by referring it to a Senate inquiry and they have proposed an amendment. I do not want to be overly critical of this strategy, but I am very agitated that this will prolong what is basically a simple case of restoring equality to Australian law. I hope that these delaying tactics from the opposition do not deprive same-sex couples of their entitlements for one minute more than is necessary.

The Commonwealth has already been slow to remove all forms of discrimination from legislation in terms of the history of Australia. Meanwhile state and territory governments have stolen a march on us by already doing so. Not only is this legislation promoting the right thing to do, but in certain cases it is actually an international prerequisite for the Commonwealth of Australia to live up to our international obligations under various human rights treaties. I am very proud to rise tonight to support this bill because I know it will make a real and practical difference for many Australian families.

I know that this legislation is a little bit confronting to some people. Particularly for those of faith, it might be a little troubling; it might be even a little confronting. For this I apologise. I do not wish to offend anybody, especially those people in my electorate. I might even cop a bit of a hard time at my own church on the weekend. I had a lovely conversation with Archbishop John Bathersby last Thursday night. He spoke glowingly about my deceased aunty Judy Jones and my uncle Lionel Jones, who he went to school with, and also my mother. In fact if I recall correctly, he might have called my mother a ‘living saint’. So there you go: despite all my prayers with the sisters of St Joseph’s, Mum got the jump on the blessed Mary Mackillop.

To return to the legislation before the House, I look forward to sitting down with anyone who has concerns about this legislation and explaining why I feel compelled to speak in support of this law. To all those people who will insist on quoting the Old Testament to me, I say two things. Firstly, I am pretty sure there was actually a sequel to the Old Testament. Secondly, I ask you to invite me to your church, temple, mosque or local hall to talk about this legislation. Do not condemn me until you have had a chance to have a yarn and understand my motivations. Hopefully it will not end up like that line from Yeats:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

The last family I wish to refer to in support of this legislation is one that is very close to home—my own family. I grew up in a family with 10 kids, seven of them boys. One passed away when he was young but the other six boys and three girls all grew up in a small country town. Like most country towns in Australia, footy was king and netball was queen. Despite the examples set by all of his older brothers, my youngest brother, Nick, never really played footy. Not surprisingly, he came out of the closet even before he had finished high school! I say this tongue in cheek but that is the reality. Coming from a country town, it was difficult to come out of the closet but that is what my youngest brother did. There were prejudices in my youth in terms of looking at people who played footy. Nick will no doubt give me a hard time when he reads this speech, which he has given me permission to make, but I hope that one day my darling brother, Nick, will be the beneficiary of the legislative changes we have placed before the House.

I wish to also talk about another brother, my older brother Simon, who did play footy, just to confuse the stereotypes. In fact my brother, Simon, made the Queensland Schoolboys Rugby League team as hooker even though he was only in grade 11 and lived 600 kilometres west of Brisbane. He was the best footballer by far in my family. Nevertheless, the town of St George had to recalibrate its manliness criterion when my brother Simon also came out of the closet much later. Simon has been in a relationship with Michael Threlfo for over 10 years. Michael, or ‘Comrade Darling’ as I and his friends call him, is a very good Catholic boy. If you are listening tonight, Archbishop Pell, please close your ears! Michael goes to church with my mum whenever he is up in Queensland. Why should Michael and Simon and my brother Nick be treated differently to me and my wife? Michael and Simon are fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means and warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as any Christian or any other member of our community. If you prick them, do they not bleed? If you tickle them, do they not laugh? Well, maybe not Michael! But my question remains: why should Michael and Simon be discriminated against?

I stress again that we are not suggesting any tinkering with the Marriage Act. The Rudd government is simply talking about introducing fairness and removing discrimination in laws pertaining to superannuation, taxation and social security. Unfortunately, there will be some people in the community who will argue that we should maintain the status quo and should continue and protect the discrimination. I ask you to please look in your hearts. Please think of the consequences of such negativity. Think of Isabella, Simon, Nick and Michael. How could you not but change? To quote the great Australian poet Bruce Dawe:

How to go on not looking

despite every inducement to the contrary

…            …            …

How to subdue the snarling circle of ifs

by whip-crack, chair-twirl, seeming to look each steadily

in the eye while declining to unwrap

the deadly golden bon-bons of their hate ...

This is not the time for hate. I hope that my brothers, Nick and Simon, are the beneficiaries of this legislation. For too long this wrong has been ignored. Now is the time for all fair-minded Australians to speak out in support. I proudly commend the legislation to the House.