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Thursday, 14 June 1984
Page: 3080

Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General)(9.53) —This legislation appears to be quite uncontroversial except for the matters raised by Senator Harradine. I thank honourable senators accordingly for their expedition in dealing with it. In relation to the particular issue of de facto spouses which has been raised by Senator Harradine, although as he has indicated he will not push the matter to the point of a Committee amendment, it ought to be appreciated at the outset that nothing in relation to de factos is being changed by the terms of this legislation. All that is happening is that, quite outside the framework of this amending legislation, but in accordance with the procedures under the existing parent legislation, the Special Minister of State (Mr Young) has written to the Remuneration Tribunal, asking it to give consideration to making a determination so far as certain entitlements are concerned and, in particular, possibly to extend to de facto spouses certain privileges in relation to overseas travel that are presently expressed by the determination to apply only to members of the family properly so described.

It is the case, as Senator Harradine acknowledged, that elsewhere in other determinations it is provided that de facto spouses can be beneficiaries in one way or another, so the principle to that extent has already been recognised. It seems simply to be the putative or possible hypothetical future extension of it that is exercising Senator Harradine. As such, I do not believe this is an issue that ought to detain the Senate for very long on this occasion, but perhaps a couple of quick points can be made. The concept of a de facto relationship is essentially that of a bona fide domestic relationship-

Senator Durack —Are you shadow-boxing, or something?

Senator GARETH EVANS —What is that supposed to mean?

Senator Durack —There are no amendments now.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I do not know whether Senator Durack had a good dinner tonight, but the reality of the situation is that this is the Parliament of the nation. A member of this Parliament has raised points perfectly seriously and he deserves a serious reply. He is getting a serious reply and there is no necessity for that kind of interjection to be made.

Senator Walters —Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. We put up with a lot from Senator Evans in this place and he overrode the bounds of acceptability in his previous statement. I ask him to withdraw it. I take strong exception to what he said to Senator Durack and I ask him to withdraw his statement.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I wish to goodness Senator Walters had a good dinner on occasions; she might be a bit more tolerable in this place than she is at the moment. But if the remark is offensive to Senator Durack, I withdraw it. I will continue, if I may, with what I hope is my reasoned and moderate response to some reasonably and perfectly understandable points made by Senator Harradine, even if I and, I suspect, the majority of honourable senators fundamentally disagree with him. The reality of the matter is that de facto relationships, defined one way or another, but most commonly as bona fide domestic relationships, are recognised not just in odd bits and pieces of social security , income tax or Public Service legislation. On the quick review that my Department has done, they are recognised in at least 48 Acts of the Commonwealth Parliament, not to mention innumerable pieces of legislation at State level. Moreover, as a practical matter, the evidence is, as acknowledged in particular by the very substantial and thorough report on de facto relationships recently prepared and brought down by the New South Wales Law Reform Commission, that there has been a very substantial increase, whether or not anybody is taking notice of parliamentary pacesetting in this respect, in de facto cohabitation.

The New South Wales figures for 1971-76 indicate something of a four-fold increase. Figures for 1976-82 indicate a doubling again of de facto cohabitation relationships known to exist and which were capable of being sampled and reported upon by that New South Wales report. As the New South Wales report points out on the basis of surveys and things that it did, this increase has been accompanied by quite evidently changing community attitudes. There has been in recent years a much greater community acceptance of de facto cohabitation, again for better or worse, than has been the case in the past. More particularly still, and perhaps explaining some of these considerations I have just mentioned , there is evidence that a very significant proportion of de facto relationships these days, perhaps more than previously, are a prelude to either marriage or remarriage.

There is the further point that it has been recognised by this Parliament-again , I suppose, as a response to what has been perceived to be changing community attitudes in this respect-by the passage of the Sex Discrimination Act that there should not be discrimination in the provision of public goods and services and so on on the grounds of marital status, which includes its negative, the absence of a formal marital status.

I simply conclude with these remarks. A de facto relationship may not be a sacrament of the kind that would be acknowledged by someone such as Senator Harradine. It may, however, in a great many instances, bear a lot closer an approximation to Senator Harradine's vision splendid that he shared with us than a formal, solemnised, marital relationship in which one partner is in the habit, for example, of battering the other and in which a variety of very unhappy relationships may exist.

We take the view that there is nothing which ought to put parliamentarians in a position that is different from that of members of the community generally. There are some, like Senator Harradine, who would rather wistfully take the view , perhaps, that we ought to be standard bearers or pace setters for some particular vision or view of morality. The point is that parliamentarians are and should be a cross-section of the community at large. They should not be disadvantaged by the application to them of standards, rules or principles which are simply not applicable to the rest of the community as a whole, in terms of either actual attitudes or the way in which the statute law presently relates to them.

For all those reasons, I suggest that the points raised, whilst they should be taken seriously, ought not to be pursued at any stage, even when we resume, to the extent of some formal leglislative prohibition on these matters. With those remarks, I commend the Bill and wish it a speedy passage.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.