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Wednesday, 16 October 2002
Page: 5240

Senator FAULKNER (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (10:41 AM) —Senator Murray, in moving his amendment to the Members of Parliament (Life Gold Pass) Bill 2002, makes the argument for consistency. One of the difficulties is that there is no consistency between the definition that Senator Murray proposes and what currently exists in the Parliamentary Entitlements Act, though I do accept the point that he makes about the procedures that operate within this chamber itself. That is a valid point to make and I acknowledge it. The opposition, like Senator Murray, Senator Brown and the Senate committee, have concerns with the definition that is proposed in this legislation. If the definition of spouse as proposed in the bill were to stand, we would have this antiquated definition; we would have an anomaly between this legislation and the Parliamentary Entitlements Act. I think the same definitions should apply, though I have said, and I want to restate it, I am very reluctant to propose an amendment—which it appears may have some chance of success; I think it is unlikely that Senator Murray's amendment will succeed. I have moved an amendment reluctantly, because I think these things are better dealt with elsewhere. But I do not think the chamber can establish such an anomalous position as it would be doing if it allowed the inconsistent definitions between what is proposed in this bill and what exists in the Parliamentary Entitlements Act to stand. That is an issue for the chamber to give consideration to.

In the broad, I accept the spirit of what has been said by other senators in relation to the application of these definitions to same sex partners. I think that is a view that has been espoused quite broadly by the opposition in relation to these issues when they have come before the parliament. The difficulty we have here is dealing with this in an individual piece of legislation as opposed to dealing with it in a broader, whole-of-government approach. That is how we would prefer it to be dealt with, and I think that is the sensible way for the issue to be dealt with and managed by government. I said similar things when we looked at the entitlements of the Governor-General.

The weakness here is applying to, say, a Governor-General—not in this bill; in this legislation it is parliamentarians—more generous standards than apply more broadly in the community. The way we ought to deal with this is obviously to have it dealt with in a whole-of-legislation approach. I still believe that is the appropriate course of action, although I support the spirit of what Senator Murray proposes. But even with Senator Murray's definition there is still a difficulty in terms of consistency, something which he himself put forward as a primary concern in looking at this issue.

The opposition has proposed an amendment that in effect would mean that the definition of spouse would be the same as exists in the Parliamentary Entitlements Act. I think that is the best course of action for the committee and the Senate to adopt, and to look at the broader issues as soon as is practical. I commend that alternative approach to the committee—albeit, as I say, I am reluctant to move any amendments here because of the principles that I outlined in my speech at the second reading stage.