Wednesday, 24 September 2008
Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws — General Law Reform) Bill 2008
Once again, I am pleased to rise in support of a bill brought in to meet, as the member for Port Adelaide said, the Rudd government’s commitment to abolish in Commonwealth law discrimination against gay men, lesbians, same-sex couples and their children. First we had the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—Superannuation) Bill 2008, which was introduced in May and which, as the excellent new member for Port Adelaide pointed out, is stuck in a useless Senate committee—for what purpose we do not know. I am sure the Greens and Senator Xenophon will not let it lie there forever. I am sure their constituents will be very critical of them if they do and if the Senate is involved in another power grab in trying to assert its importance by reviewing all of these laws. This law, as the member for Port Adelaide points out, is long overdue business that this House should have dealt with years ago.
Last month we had the Family Law Amendment (De Facto Financial Matters and Other Measures) Bill 2008, which I spoke on in this House, and now we have the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—General Law Reform) Bill 2008. And they said it could not be done. Many people were cynical that this promise would be kept. I must say that I never doubted it, because I know the Prime Minister and, above all, the attitude of the Labor Party and we made this commitment in the election campaign. Once again, on behalf of the many people of Melbourne Ports whose lives will be improved by these bills, I want to thank the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General and the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government for bringing these bills forward in such a timely manner.
This bill amends 68 pieces of Commonwealth legislation, spanning 19 different government departments. It seeks to remove from all of these pieces of legislation language which discriminates against same-sex couples and their children. The acts amended by this bill include such diverse and unlike acts as the Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry Act, the Bankruptcy Act, the Proceeds of Crime Act, the Defence Force (Home Loans Assistance) Act, the Seafarers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act, the Civil Aviation (Carriers’ Liability) Act, the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act and even the Members of Parliament (Life Gold Pass) Act. So, whether you are a farmer, a bankrupt, a criminal, a member of the ADF, a seafarer, a pilot, a businessperson or even a former member or senator, you will know that, whatever other fate might befall you, you will now not be discriminated against because you have chosen to enter into a same-sex relationship, nor will your partner or your children or the children of your partner for whom you have responsibility.
Some of these changes might seem trivial, and it might be the case that the language in some of the more obscure pieces of legislation affected by this bill has never actually been used to discriminate against any person or couple, but together these amendments send a powerful message to the Australian community that this parliament will no longer accept or tolerate discrimination against our fellow citizens on the grounds of the choices they make in their personal lives no matter in what area or under what pretext.
But this bill is much more than symbolic in its importance. One of its most important practical benefits will be to prevent discrimination against children of same-sex couples. The member for Cowan pooh-poohed this bill because he said it affected so few people. But obviously if a small number of people are discriminated against, it is as bad as if a large number of people are discriminated against. The principle is the same: children should not be penalised because of life choices made by their parents or guardians. This bill will ensure that legislative provisions which extend rights and duties to children and relatives will also extend to children of same-sex relationships.
As I said in my remarks on the Family Law Amendment Bill, I am pleased that the opposition has decided to support this package of bills. I have seen the comments made by the new Leader of the Opposition on this point. I commend him for his firmness in his opposition to homophobia, which I hope continues with the opposition supporting this bill. As I said last month, the reason we have had to wait all these years to see legislation of this kind is that, unfortunately, the former Prime Minister chose to play populist politics and pander to homophobia rather than accept the position now taken by the new Leader of the Opposition. It is also true that in Victoria the Liberals made promises they did not keep, and it took a Labor government to bring in legislation of this kind.
I know how important this bill is to members of the community in my electorate. I have received many passionate emails from people expressing their gratitude to the new Labor government for fulfilling an important promise that has been delayed for more than a decade. It is with great pleasure that I commend this bill to the House.