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Thursday, 16 October 2008
Page: 6261


Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) (4:46 PM) —The short answer is that the substantive rights are not gavelled by the amendment being proposed. The substantive point is this: this amendment to the Family Law Act changes the nature of what a parent is in some people’s minds. What the government says, though, is that the amendment may be motivated by the discomfort of some members opposite towards gay and lesbian parenting. Let us be clear about this: the changes will affect not only gay and lesbian couples but also heterosexual couples who use ART to have a child, and they form the bulk of couples using ART. It is one of those areas where you either agree to remove discrimination from legislation or you do not. There is difficulty with this question: what is the difference between saying that a child is a child of a married couple but is to be deemed to be the child of a heterosexual couple or same-sex de facto couple? Think about that for a moment.

Let me rephrase it. I have the Child Support Agency within my portfolio and I have Centrelink, which deal with married couples and marital breakdown. They also deal with de facto couples. They deal with about 6.5 million customers. What you are saying to certain people is that their child will be deemed to be either the child of a heterosexual couple or a same-sex de facto couple. Very quickly that becomes the nomenclature that attaches to these people. The message that it sends is, quite frankly, not the message that you would want to be part of. The message it sends to children of couples is that they do not really believe that you are their parent but, for the sake of the law, they will deem you. In this legislation, in the family law area, language is very important to people. It is one of those areas where it could be categorised as an example of the opposition wishing to perpetuate discrimination that they are committed to removing. I do not want to ascribe that to the opposition but it really stretches me as to why they cannot accept the word ‘parent’.

I know that children will regard them as parents, not as ‘deemed heterosexual or same-sex de facto parents’. It is a long piece of language to subscribe to someone, so either you agree or disagree. Substantive provision will not be unchanged by that—I think that is right—but it is a simple statement about whether these people are parents. What the opposition is proposing with this amendment is to remove the word ‘parent’ from a section that confers parental rights and responsibilities and to reintroduce discrimination between married couples and de facto couples, both heterosexual and same-sex.

The substantive effect of the section will not be changed by the amendment. However, as members of the opposition have stated time and time again in relation to this bill and related bills, language is important. Language is important, and that is why we do not agree with Senator Brandis’s position. We do not agree that we should accept the amendment. We do not accept that the word ‘deeming’ should be in the legislation in that way. The position of those opposite might be motivated by a range of issues in respect of gay and lesbian parents.

Let us be clear about this: the changes affect not only gay and lesbian couples. They also affect heterosexual couples who use ART to have a child—the bulk of those who use ART. It also ignores the fact that for the past 20 years the Family Law Act has treated married couples and de facto heterosexual couples in the same way when children have been born by artificial conception procedures. What is the difference between saying that a child is a child of a married couple but is deemed to be the child of a heterosexual or same-sex de facto couple? It sends the wrong message, quite frankly, and language in this act is important. The Family Law Act deals with a whole range of family law matters that will be dealt with by suburban solicitors right through to senior counsel. When you then use the phrase ‘deemed to be the child of the heterosexual or same-sex de facto couple’ the message is wrong, quite frankly. You either agree that they are parents or you do not. I do not think there is anywhere in this debate where you can say that you can walk both sides of the street.

It sends the message to children of such couples that we do not really believe that those couples are the parents, but for the sake of the law we will deem them to be so. That language then gets used in guidelines and procedures, by Centrelink and Medicare in dealing with a whole range of issues, and by the Child Support Agency. Why? Because it is in the legislation and we have to follow the legislation and use the language that is contained within it. Therefore that is what you are perpetuating if you accept the amendments moved by Senator Brandis.