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Monday, 15 November 2010
Page: 2289

Mr RUDDOCK (8:30 PM) —The motion that we have before us needs to be read with the remarks of the honourable member. It is quite clear that the honourable member is seeking support for fundamental change to the law of Australia in relation to marriage. The opposition has a clear position on that question, and that is that it believes that marriage is a union between a man and a woman and that the opposition does not support any change to Commonwealth law that would diminish the institution of marriage and will continue to oppose any action that would alter that status.

Having said that, let me make it clear that over a period of time there has been consideration of this issue. There was consideration by the High Court of Australia. It looked at the question as to what we mean when we refer to marriage. The court opined—and I notice that people pay great respect to the views of our court—that marriage is between a man and a woman. In fact, in May 2004 when I was Attorney-General I introduced the Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill to prevent any possible further court rulings allowing same-sex marriages. The law was amended accordingly and it put beyond doubt the definition: marriage is a union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others voluntarily entered into for life.

There have been other times when the matter has been the subject of discussion. The states have recognised that you can establish a basis for civil unions for same-sex couples in which there is a recognition of the union between people that is very similar to the union that many others make—that is, a de facto relationship, which does not involve a marriage but which does carry certain rights and responsibilities. A de facto relationship would to all intents and purposes be for a same-sex couple very similar in its genesis in terms of the rights and responsibilities.

I have often been asked why it is that there is so much emphasis upon a union being between a man and a woman. It is seen that marriage has been ordained over a long period of time as a basis for ensuring that a union that can give rise to the procreation of children is the subject of some regularity and order, particularly when the ongoing care of those children becomes relevant when there might be differences of view as to whether or not the relationship should continue. It is in that context that we have law dealing with marriage break-up and law which primarily has as its focus the issue of how children are dealt with.

There has been a view over a long period of time in this country that in relation to children, while it cannot always be the case—for example, if there has been a death or other similar circumstance—that it is desirable that children have the role model of both a father and a mother available to them and influencing their upbringing and that is the preferable model for this country. It is self-evident that same-sex couples are unlikely to have children other than by the adoption of a child of one of those people in the union by another party or, if adoption to a same-sex couple over a man and a woman was permitted, which would generally would be seen as being less desirable in the context of the law dealing with adoption, where there are so few children available. I make the point that there are arguments that have carried a great deal of weight over a period of time that marriage should be for a man and a woman only and it not be available to same-sex couples. But it should not be seen that the arguments that I put mean that I believe that there should be overt discrimination against same-sex couples.

In fact, I have overseen a great deal of the work that gave rise to the development of the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—Superannuation) Act 2008. A lot of that work was done initially under the Howard government when the Law Reform Commission was looking at these matters. The Howard government wanted to see how we could progress the elimination of all those forms of discrimination which had been in place over a long period of time. I ought to make it clear that I supported very strongly the relevant legislation that brought about those changes in 2008. It brought them about in a number of areas: taxation; superannuation; defined superannuation benefits; social security and family assistance; the PBS safety net and the Medicare safety net; aged care arrangements; child support, where that was relevant; citizenship and veterans’ affairs. Even in relation to immigration, I played a very early role in supporting measures that enabled same-sex partners to be reunited in Australia in circumstances where one partner was a resident and the other was not in Australia.

Those changes, while they were not recognised on the basis of marriage or a de facto relationship, were like for same-sex couples as for the others. So I make the point that this is not a suggestion that we should have discrimination against same-sex couples in the wide range of other areas. I thought it was important that we were able to reform private-sector superannuation arrangements to ensure that same-sex couples could receive reversionary benefits. Similarly, I thought that for defined superannuation benefits, death benefits should be able to be conferred on same-sex partners. I think it was appropriate in the public sector. The best known case was that of Justice Michael Kirby. Changes were made so that his partner was able to benefit from the judges’ pension arrangements.

Equally, in relation to social security and family assistance, reforms were initiated that ensured that same-sex couples were recognised as couples and consequently would receive benefits on the same basis that opposite-sex couples, as the explanatory memorandum referred to them, received them. Likewise, the PBS safety net and the Medicare safety net arrangements, whereby same-sex couples previously could not access Medicare or pharmaceutical benefits as a family, were amended.

So I want to put beyond doubt that this is a measure that, if opposed, accommodates a view that people are opposed to same-sex couples being able to access benefits and other programs in the same way as married or de facto couples do. This is a very narrow issue that relates to the way marriage is defined. It is not designed to stop those who are described as being in love from being in a de facto relationship in the same way as other de facto couples are. All it does is recognise that marriage has always been seen to be different and that that basis ought to be kept, primarily because marriage deals with issues that arise when children can possibly be conceived. (Time expired)