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Tuesday, 14 October 2008
Page: 59


Senator JOYCE (Leader of the Nationals in the Senate) (7:15 PM) —I rise tonight still in a quandary as to exactly what is best in this issue. It is fair to say that it is none of my business whether a couple is heterosexual or gay. However, where children come into play, then this parliament, and I as part of this parliament, do have a role.

Tonight I have heard predominantly—though not exclusively—about the rights of the couple. I have heard such terms as ‘the partners’, ‘the heterosexual couple’, ‘the co-habitants’, and ‘co-mothers’. I have heard a whole range of terms in respect of the rights of the adults, but there has been very little attention paid to the rights of the children. I would love to say that the world is a wonderful place, that it has changed incredibly and that everything now is different, but I think the world remains remarkably the same in how cruel and intolerant it can be. We have to bear in mind that we must not make children a social engineering exercise. We must not make children a product of our aspirations, making ourselves the primary instrument and children the secondary instrument. Once you have them, children are your foremost responsibility. Your job is to try and make their lives as unaffected and as real as possible, not to foist on them your wishes of how the world should be. When you decide that the way you wish the world to be is what you foist on your children—and it is the way that they have to live their lives—it is incredibly selfish. I do have close knowledge of people with children who are in gay relationships so, without bearing a value judgement, I do think that the life of such kids becomes a little bit tougher than it is for most other kids—in some cases, exceedingly more tough.

If this were just about a property issue then I think it should be a no-brainer and it should go straight through. However, I have been listening to the debate from the word go, and so many of the speeches tonight seem to be about the proffering of a social engineering exercise. It has gone beyond just an issue of what is right for the child to an aspiration of the way the world should be. It is a property rights issue standing in proxy for a social engineering exercise. You can water down everything that surrounds marriage so much that in the end marriage itself does not mean anything. If you take away all that marriage stands on but say, ‘We are not touching marriage,’ you have still ultimately touched marriage. You have changed everything that surrounds it, so ultimately you have affected it. I think it is a bit insincere to say, ‘We are not making a statement about marriage, but we are going to change everything that pertains to it and is closely associated with it and in all other circumstances is to be deemed part of it.’ When you do that you are changing marriage. You might not be changing it in form but you are changing it in substance by the things around it that you have decided, and that you have legislated, will be affected by it.

I have heard Senator Feeney give an exposé of today’s financial rescue package—and that is his endorsement of this bill. I fail to see the relevance between the two issues. I think it is an avoidance of the issue. This debate is supposed to be about what would be a reasonable unfairness in property rights issues affecting same-sex couples, yet we got a discussion piece about the financial rescue package put forward by Mr Rudd today. That in itself, coming across the chamber, rather appears to be a statement of insincerity. Senator Feeney also talked about pitching to a pool of ‘venal political intolerance’. But people are not pitching to a pool of venal political intolerance, they are pitching to what they actually believe in. They are pitching to what they sincerely believe in from the depths of their being. It might be different to what others believe in, but they are not out there trying to canvass votes—in fact, I would say that this would generally be a vote loser for the conservative side of this debate. So you cannot say that it is political opportunism and that you are going to broaden your voting base by daring to err on the side of caution on this issue. I think Senator Feeney’s statement on that issue is unfair—as are the others, on both sides, that have gone down that track.

If this is about property and maintenance then, from what I can see, it all hangs on an amendment to section 60H of the Family Law Act. For this to have substance in any form, section 60H needs to be amended. But we are going to see two opposing amendments come up. I have seen the amendment put forward by the coalition and, to be honest, like many of my colleagues, I have serious concerns even on that one. But we have at least come to an agreement to have good intent for this legislation while keeping all people on board.

I think this legislation is about an inch and a half away from being a conscience vote, because it does drag out some fundamental beliefs that people on both sides of the chamber hold dearly. This skirts around the edges of what is fundamentally the essence of how they see life and the structures and rules by which they would like to see life lived. The structure of society is not malleable to all desires and ideas. It is an unfortunate reality that certain lines in society are ever present. Whether we legislate for them or not, they exist. When you ignore their existence then you end up hurting yourself and, more importantly, hurting others who have not bought the ticket that you bought. I think that is the big issue: when your decision is going to hurt somebody else who has not decided to buy a ticket for the ride that you are on. That is really what people are looking at in this legislation: are we foisting onto children something about which they are in no position to make a judgement but, if we are honest with ourselves, of which we know what the effect will be?

The expansion of the recognition of co-mothers by a more liberal interpretation of an amendment to section 60H does have ramifications that start to firmly progress the agenda of the destruction of the institution of marriage. I have not been convinced tonight that that is not going to be the case. It is really going to revolve around how the definition of section 60H will be dealt with. I note from the whips’ meeting that there will be no votes and divisions tonight. So I imagine that the greater part of the committee work will have to be done at a different time if there are going to be any divisions on the issue.

But this debate will go on, and the attention that I give to the discussion pieces and what people say on both sides will also go on. Children’s rights, I believe, are best served by a mother and a father—if they are lucky enough to have them. That is a belief that I have. I know that other people have a different belief. I will go on fighting for the family structure to have a mum and a dad—not because of mum and dad but because of the kids. And others will go on fighting for something different. That is the crucial issue. It will really come down to whether this issue is a stalking horse for a social engineering exercise or whether it is a genuine attempt to try to bring about a fairer outcome in the inevitable breakdown of any relationship, whether it is between a man and a woman or between members of a single-sex couple.

I will give my attention to the proposed amendment that will be put forward by the government and to the alternative amendment proposed by the opposition. How the chamber decides on that amendment will have an effect on my vote. It is vitally important. If you start putting aside everything you believe in then there is really no point in being here; you are really just compromising yourself and everybody else; you are doing it for the money. If that is the case then there are better people to take our place in here. I have serious concerns about what inspires this legislation. I looked for a genuine approach to resolving what we were initially discussing. I was part of a committee last year that talked about getting equal property rights for single-sex couples. I am on the conservative side on this issue—I make no bones about that—but I agreed with that, and I put that in writing in the committee’s report. But the rider was always that, when it starts to involve others, predominantly children, I entirely reserve my right to withhold my agreement to that. If you do not want to stand up for kids and for what you truly believed in when you first came into this place, then it just confirms that you have evolved into a piece of political fluff.