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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2338

Mrs SULLIVAN(8.34) —I see that the Minister for Social Security (Mr Howe) is indicating that he has some anxiety about the length of the debate. I will not, I hope, unduly prolong it. There are some matters to which I would like to refer. I support the comments that have just been made on behalf of the Opposition by the honourable member for Barker (Mr Porter). I want to refer to some of the comments that the Minister made, both in his response to the amendment and earlier during his reply to the second reading debate. It seems to me that when the Minister said that this change to the entitlement is `simply to correct a problem which has arisen in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal', the answer to that is to fix the determination of the AAT. If a car has a flat tyre, one does not adjust the car's steering. The problem has arisen because the Administrative Appeals Tribunal gave a ruling which was contrary to previous practice of the Department of Social Security. Instead of bolstering the previous practice legislatively, to put it beyond doubt, the legislation before us totally legitimises an option of the AAT and goes far past it, because the AAT's opinion was based on provisions of the Marriage Act. One might as well tear up those sections of the Marriage Act which relate to minimum ages for marriage and special provisions for those under the minimum age. One can forget them.

Mr Webster —Now you can.

Mrs SULLIVAN —Now one can, if this government change is passed. Why would a 15-year-old who wanted to marry someone and who was denied permission by her parents, unless it was for an extraordinarily determined reason, go down the path of approaching the courts over it? All that such people have to do is live with the person that they want to marry until they mature to the age whereby they do not need their parents' consent. One can forget the provisions of the Marriage Act if this goes ahead.

I say to the Minister: It is real; there are many parents who would have a real fear about this. Since I spoke in the debate this morning, several of my colleagues have said `My God! I have a 14-year-old daughter', or `I have a 13-year-old daughter. This could apply to her'. If the Minister wants to be facetious, I will admit that on paper the words open themselves to that facetiousness. But I hope that the Minister accepts the genuineness of it.

The Minister also said that this change is to ensure that the practice of paying benefits to someone who is under the age of consent is within the law. The practice has only arisen since the Administrative Appeals Tribunal chose to rule that way on an appeal to it. There was no great objection or hardship in the previous practice. We know that some of those who would become de facto spouses under this definition may currently be eligible for a special benefit or a supporting parent's benefit. What we are talking about here is not eligibility for a supporting parent's benefit; we are talking about the definition of `defacto spouse'. That is the point of the Opposition's amendment-it does not concern anyone presently eligible for supporting parents' benefit or special benefit. Our amendment will not make any difference to that. The Minister says that the Government is trying to cope with an anomaly. I ask him seriously to consider the implication for the Marriage Act of the anomalies of the Government's amendment.

The Minister made a statement, which I am prepared to take seriously, that the amendment I have moved does not make sense. It makes sense to me, but he says there are some problems with it. I reiterate: If the Minister supports the thrust of the amendment and says that the reason for not supporting it lies in some drafting detail, the procedure is very simple. He could suggest that we report progress, that we adjourn the debate, in effect, at this stage. When his draftspeople have had a chance to look at it, they can come back with a change to the Bill that would meet the objectives that the Opposition has, as well as the unnamed objections of the Government to the amendment I have moved. That can be done. It is not a frivolous point. It is a very fundamental point. In regard to social arrangements, the concerns of parents, and our concern for young people, particularly in cases in which they may be entering into a family situation, are real. It is not just a matter of adjusting a piece of legislation to meet the realities; it is a matter of the Government saying to young people: `This is the standard that the national Parliament sets; this form of behaviour is okay, there should be no minimum age limit for entering into a marriage-type relationship'. However, it is not okay and I am not prepared to say that it is. I think that the Minister knows that it would be the view of many good, decent Australian people that his change should not be introduced. So I appeal to the Minister to take the course suggested, to report progress and come back with his own amendment to the Bill to achieve the desired effect-however long that takes.

Question put:

That the amendment (Mrs Sullivan's) be agreed to.