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Superannuation Legislation Amendment (Family Law) Bill

About this Item
SubjectsMembers of Parliament: Salaries Pensions and Allowances; Police: New South Wales; Public Service: New South Wales; Family Law; Superannuation
SpeakersDella Bosca The Hon John; Pearce The Hon Greg; Chesterfield-Evans The Hon Dr Arthur; Moyes Reverend The Hon Dr Gordon; Rhiannon Ms Lee; Nile Reverend The Hon Fred; Tsang The Hon Henry
BusinessBill, Second Reading, Motion

Page: 5109

    Second Reading

    The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA (Special Minister of State, Minister for Commerce, Minister for Industrial Relations, Assistant Treasurer, and Minister for the Central Coast) [9.14 p.m.]: I move:

    That this bill be now read a second time.

    I seek leave to incorporate my second reading speech in Hansard.

    Leave granted.

    The Superannuation Legislation Amendment (Family Law) Bill 2003 proposes to make a number of amendments to legislation governing the New South Wales judicial, parliamentary and public sector employees' superannuation schemes. Most of the proposed amendments stem from Commonwealth reforms that provide for the division of superannuation on marriage breakdown under the Family Law Act 1975. In general terms, the new Commonwealth laws make superannuation part of the marital property and prescribe a range of processes to facilitate superannuation splitting where that is appropriate.

    First, the legislation prescribes the information that trustees must give to the parties on request to help them make decisions. Second, it sets down detailed methods for the court to value superannuation interests. In some cases, the Federal Attorney-General is able to approve other methods for valuing entitlements where this is appropriate. Third, the legislation sets out the processes for the couple or the court to either defer the decision about the split by using a payment flag, or to allocate all, or part, of a future benefit entitlement to the member's spouse. Fourth, the legislation provides the rules which will bind the trustee to pay out the spouse's entitlement in certain ways when the member's benefit becomes payable.

    The Commonwealth has been able to rely on its constitutional powers to achieve the immediate physical splitting of certain classes of benefits. These are accumulation interests in superannuation funds which are regulated under the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993. If an order or agreement provides a member's spouse with an entitlement in a regulated accumulation scheme, that person can request the trustee to create a separate benefit in the plan or move the benefit to a different plan. Even if the member's spouse has not made such a request, the scheme's governing rules may empower the trustee to set up a separate account or transfer the spouse's entitlement elsewhere.

    The New South Wales First State Superannuation Act 1992 governs the accumulation scheme covering New South Wales public sector employees. It was amended during the spring sitting of Parliament last year, as honourable members would recall, to replicate the framework set out by the Commonwealth for family law entitlements in accumulation schemes. The bill proposes to enable the creation of separate interests in all the public sector defined benefit schemes, wherever this is appropriate. The amendments proposed will also facilitate compliance with the requirements of family law. The Acts to be amended are the First State Superannuation Act 1992, the Judges' Pensions Act 1953, the Parliamentary Contributory Superannuation Act 1971, the Police Association Employees (Superannuation) Act 1969, the Police Regulation (Superannuation) Act 1906, the State Authorities Non-contributory Superannuation Act 1987, the State Authorities Contributory Superannuation Act 1987, and the Superannuation Act 1916.

    As might be expected, the legislative amendments are more substantial for defined benefit schemes. This is largely because the design and structure of each of these schemes is unique and the accrual of interests is more complicated to quantify. The impact of the proposed amendments will be to pay the family law superannuation entitlement to the spouse or transfer it to another superannuation fund as soon as possible. At the same time as the entitlement is paid from the fund, there will be a corresponding reduction of the member's superannuation entitlements. The amendments include regulation-making powers to deal with matters of detail. These will include making elections, the composition of payments, periods of payment, calculation of entitlements, calculation of the value of superannuation interests, additional circumstances for payment and the reduction of benefits.

    Members of the House will be aware that amendments can be made to the Parliamentary Contributory Superannuation Act 1971 only after the Parliamentary Remuneration Tribunal has first certified that the amendments are warranted. I am pleased to advise the House that the Hon. Roger Boland, constituting the Parliamentary Remuneration Tribunal, has issued a certificate approving the proposed amendments in accordance with the requirements of the Parliamentary Remuneration Act 1989. The tribunal's determination was gazetted on Friday 7 November 2003. In summary, the proposed amendments will complement the Commonwealth's family law superannuation splitting framework and implement the creation of separate interests wherever possible in the New South Wales public sector defined benefit schemes.

    The bill includes also miscellaneous amendments to deal with three issues of a minor nature. These amendments will enable some superannuation changes previously made to be applied consistently across all New South Wales public sector schemes. The first set of amendments will allow pensions paid under the Transport Employees Retirement Benefits Act 1967 and the New South Wales Retirement Benefits Act 1972 to be adjusted in line with the consumer price index in years when the index is less than 1 per cent but more than 0 per cent. The same changes were made to the State Superannuation Scheme, the State Authorities Superannuation Scheme and the Police Superannuation Scheme in late 2000. The changes will mean that all New South Wales public sector pensions can be adjusted to reflect small increases in the index in the year in which they occur.

    The second set of miscellaneous amendments extends the definition of "spouse" in the Local Government and Other Authorities (Superannuation) Act 1927, the Transport Employees Retirement Benefits Act 1967, the New South Wales Retirement Benefits Act 1972 and the Public Authorities Superannuation Act 1985 to include de facto partners and same-sex partners. De facto partners were included in the definition of spouse in most New South Wales superannuation schemes in 1993, while same-sex partners were included in the definition of "spouse" in 2000. The proposed amendments will mean that heterosexual and same-sex de facto partners of pensioners will be eligible for a spouse pension in the same circumstances as married spouses. This will bring the definition of "spouse" in these schemes into line with other New South Wales public sector schemes.

    The final issue to be addressed is the provision of spouse benefits in the Transport Employees Retirement Benefits Act 1967. The proposed amendments extend the circumstances under which a spouse benefit is payable. This new benefit can be paid when a relationship commences after the member's retirement and there is, or has been, a dependent child of the relationship. The full benefit is available if the relationship existed for three years prior to the member's death. Benefits are reduced on a pro rata basis when the relationship existed for less than three years. The proposed amendments reflect amendments made to the other New South Wales public sector pension schemes in the spring sitting of Parliament last year. Unfortunately, these were unintentionally omitted from the Transport Employees Retirement Benefits Act 1967. I commend the bill to the House.

    The Hon. GREG PEARCE [9.15 p.m.]: I lead for the Opposition on this bill, which I indicate at the outset the Opposition will not oppose. The bill, which is rather lengthy and amends quite a number of Acts and superannuation schemes that are relevant in this State, was introduced in the lower House on 12 November and is yet another bill that has come to this House in a relatively short time after its introduction in the other place. No explanation has been offered for the urgent need to proceed with the bill and its detailed amendments. The purpose of the bill is to amend various public sector superannuation schemes to bring them into line with private superannuation schemes—so we have been told by the Government—particularly relating to orders made under the Federal Family Law Act concerning spouse entitlements to superannuation in property settlements. That sounds a reasonably simple intention. But the bill comprises 59 pages of quite complex amendments to a great many Acts. While I am reasonably familiar with this type of legislation, for those not familiar with its complexities and technicalities it is a tall order for them to have to deal with the bill on such short notice.

    By way of background, the Commonwealth law governs superannuation schemes for private sector employees, with which many of us have been involved and with which some members will continue to be involved. The law in New South Wales refers to various categories of State employees. A number of New South Wales Acts cover different public sector superannuation schemes which, in many cases, have different bases and which were developed at a time when Commonwealth superannuation scheme legislation might have been different from what it is now. In New South Wales the various schemes and legislative arrangements reflect not only variations in time that occurred as Federal legislation and superannuation schemes changed; they reflect also the different employment arrangements and categories of State employees that have been and are covered in superannuation arrangements.

    What schemes will be covered by this legislation? I will refer honourable members to a number of provisions in the bill. However, before doing so, I will refer to a number of Acts that will be amended by this bill to give some idea of the complexity of the superannuation schemes that are being run by the State, the broad spread of those schemes and the complexities with which we are faced in dealing with such a large number of different schemes. I refer, first, to the amendments to the First State Superannuation Act 1992. The explanatory notes to the bill state:

    Under the amendments made to other public sector superannuation Acts by the proposed Act, a person to whom payment is made under those Acts of an entitlement under the family law superannuation legislation may nominate a superannuation fund or retirement savings account... into which the payment is to be made. If no nomination is made, the amendments provide for transfer of the payment to the First State Superannuation Fund.

    That is one of the machinery provisions in this bill. The amendments include machinery provisions that provide for the receipt of payments that deal with the person on whose behalf the payments are made, in the first case, to the First State Superannuation Fund. They also have to provide for machinery matters such as the establishment of accounts, the crediting of payments to those accounts and all the other administrative processes that must occur to enable a payment to be made. The amendments incorporate new provisions that will allow for the levying of charges relating to administration and other costs arising out of family law superannuation legislation and the payment of those costs by a fund.

    As I said earlier, I am attempting to help members understand the breadth of necessary changes that have to take place if we are to give effect to the purpose of this bill. A number of different superannuation schemes will be amended and affected by this legislation. I will refer to them in the order in which they appear in the bill. The bill will amend, first, the Judges' Pensions Act 1953. The bill will insert provisions relating to family law superannuation legislation into the Judges' Pensions Act, including various provisions relating to former judges and persons entitled to receive superannuation benefits. In the case of the Judges' Pensions Act, the Minister has to determine entitlements for the splitting of payments among more than one beneficiary, if that is the case.

    There are also provisions relating to machinery matters, such as the setting up of accounts, rollover arrangements, transfer arrangements and—an important aspect of this legislation to which I will refer in a moment—the valuing of entitlements or payments that are still to be determined under regulations to the principal Act. I said that I would refer to that issue later as it is important when splitting and transferring benefits, which is what this legislation is all about. One of the technical issues concerning amendments to the Judges' Pensions Act relates to future benefits. The explanatory notes to the bill state:

    Proposed section 15D enables the Minister to reduce a future benefit (including a deferred or preserved benefit) payable to or in respect of a member spouse whose superannuation entitlements are affected by a splitting order or splitting agreement if an amount is paid or payable...

    We have to get used to the terminology used in Federal family law superannuation legislation. That provision will also enable the Minister to reduce a benefit payable to or in respect of a spouse or de facto partner of a member spouse. The amendments also specify the accrued benefit multiple for the calculation of superannuation entitlements and other financial aspects of superannuation. As we go through each of the funds we find that various provisions have been inserted to deal with those aspects of the law. There are also technical and machinery provisions that relate to elections, the composition of payments, the periods of payment, the calculation of entitlements, the valuation of superannuation interest and additional circumstances for payment and reduction of benefits to those who continue to receive superannuation benefits.

    The bill will amend the Parliamentary Contributory Superannuation Act 1971, which applies to members of Parliament. Without going through all the provisions relating to the Parliamentary Contributory Superannuation Scheme, I note that the Parliamentary Secretary in the other place when referring to the parliamentary scheme indicated that a certificate was required from the Parliamentary Remuneration Tribunal approving the proposed amendments in accordance with the requirements of the Parliamentary Remuneration Act 1989.

    The certificate was issued by the Hon. Roger Boland, constituting the Parliamentary Remuneration Tribunal. That tribunal's determination that the proposed amendments are in accordance with the Parliamentary Remuneration Act was gazetted on Friday 7 November 2003. In summary, the proposed amendments are designed to complement the Commonwealth's family law superannuation-splitting framework and implement the creation of separate interests wherever possible in the New South Wales public sector defined benefits schemes.

    This bill is another of those passed by the lower House before the Legislation Review Committee had the opportunity to review them. Today we received the committee's report on the bill, and I commend to honourable members its useful summary and discussion of the bill. The report gives the background to the bill and discusses the amendments in two groups. Group one amendments are intended to set out the rules and procedures by which the administrator, usually a trustee, of a superannuation scheme may pay out a family law superannuation entitlement. The object of these amendments is to facilitate arrangements for payment of splits under the family law superannuation legislation and to provide for family law superannuation payments to or in respect of non-member spouses. The effect of these amendments is that the payment of benefits to member spouses is no longer liable to be split for the purposes of the family law superannuation legislation. I do not think it is necessary to outline the committee's report in detail as it is available to honourable members to read and to use when examining the bill.

    The second group of amendments relates to certain closed superannuation schemes under which deceased members received a pension. The report points out that these amendments extend the right to a spouse pension under the relevant superannuation scheme to a de facto spouse of a pensioner under that scheme. I refer honourable members to paragraph 15 of the Legislation Review Committee's report as I know that several of them will be interested in the bill's definition of "de facto spouse". The amendments in this bill come at a time when we ought to be a little concerned about the management of superannuation liabilities in this State. It is necessary in this bill to deal with a raft of New South Wales employee superannuation funds. As I said earlier, that is partly because over time different superannuation funds were put in place that conformed with different State Government policies and different Federal superannuation regimes. That is one reason for the relative complexity in this area. A second reason is that over time different superannuation schemes were put in place for different categories of State employees.

    The bill amends the Police Association Employees (Superannuation) Act 1969 to apply family law superannuation legislation provisions to officers of the Police Association of New South Wales who contribute to the Police Superannuation Scheme and other persons who are beneficiaries of that scheme. It also inserts similar provisions in the Police Regulation (Superannuation) Act 1906, and sets out various machinery and other provisions that are quite complex if one is not experienced in dealing with the language and the technicalities of superannuation. I think many honourable members will take some time to understand the purpose of the splitting arrangements and their impact on the roll-over provisions and technical matters such as elections, the composition of payments, payment periods, the calculation of benefits, the value of superannuation interests and the reduction of benefits.

    This broad fruit salad of bills to be amended includes the State Authorities Non-contributory Superannuation Act 1987, into which family law provisions are inserted. The bill also amends the State Authorities Superannuation Act 1987, the Superannuation Act 1916, the Local Government and Other Authorities (Superannuation) Act 1927 and the Transport Employees Retirement Benefits Act 1967. There is some concern about the commencement date of the bill, and that is highlighted by the Legislation Review Committee. The principal reason for this concern is delegating power to arrive at valuation mechanisms. I note that the New South Wales Government and other State and Territory governments are currently awaiting the Federal Attorney's advice for approved methods to be dealt with in the Federal context, so that does not seem to be a great issue.

    As I indicated earlier, there should be some concern in relation to the management of the superannuation liabilities in this State. The most recent Auditor-General's Report, Financial Audits, Volume Four, Total State Sector Accounts, has noted that the liability for unfunded superannuation has increased from 1997-98 to 2002-03. The increase in unfunded superannuation for New South Wales rose from $4.1 billion in 1998 to $15.5 billion in 2003. Whilst there is no great urgency, it should be noted that the unfunded superannuation liabilities have to be met by the State as the employer if there is a shortfall. Given the way that the State is being managed, the fact that this Government has been collecting record revenues but not spending on important infrastructure and on maintenance obligations, and the fact that this Government has had such a record of wasting money, one should be concerned about the State's unfunded superannuation liabilities. As I mentioned at the outset, the Opposition does not oppose this complex and lengthy technical legislation, which is designed to implement effectively the Federal family law superannuation arrangements, and other matters.

    The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS [9.42 p.m.]: Superannuation is a frightening and frustrating prospect for most people. Our very survival when we are 85 and sucking our gums might depend on superannuation, but that fact does not make the subject any more comprehensible. Understanding superannuation requires immense effort. It is like reading for hours and hours the worst novel one could ever read. Fortunately my staff researched the topic, and I read the Government's briefing paper, but the clearest elucidation was found in the Legislation Review Digest. The Legislation Review Committee offered a good summary of the options.

    I must confess that when the Legislation Review Committee was created by the Government I thought it was a half-baked option. I wanted more evidence for and against Government legislation. That, I wanted evidence-based legislation. I wanted a committee that would review the origin of legislation and the evidence on which it was based. The Legislation Review Committee does not do that but merely defines legislation and measures it against various selected indices, one of which is the delegation power. That power is the only one that is questionable. There are three aspects to the legislation. The first is in relation to the rules for splitting benefits if the member who is the beneficiary of the scheme separates from their partner. The second is who may benefit—the de facto or the same-sex partner, who is now included—if the scheme member dies. That is Australian Democrats policy. We are keen to see same-sex partners included. I congratulate the Government on introducing the legislation without fuss.

    The Hon. Don Harwin: It is nothing new unfortunately. We did it last term.

    The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS: Yes, we did it last term. There is no issue, and it is included in the legislation. That is the way it ought to be.

    The Hon. Don Harwin: Let me make it quite clear. It is not new. We did it last term.

    The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS: That is true, it is a matter of routine, which is how it should be. I say that is a good thing. The third aspect is that the valuation of the super-backed scheme relies on Federal methodologies. Obviously consistency is necessary between Federal schemes State schemes. As the Hon. Greg Pearce said, the legislation incorporates many other bills. Obviously this was a complicated but worthwhile drafting exercise, and I support the bill.

    Reverend the Hon. Dr GORDON MOYES [8.44 p.m.]: The Christian Democrats support in general the Superannuation Legislation Amendment (Family Law) Bill. The object of the bill is to amend the various Acts and a regulation regarding public sector superannuation schemes. There are some amazing anomalies to which I will refer. A number of amendments to legislation governing the New South Wales judicial, parliamentary and public sector employees superannuation schemes are proposed. It has been said to us that the proposed amendment stems from Commonwealth reforms. I should point out that in a couple of areas it does exactly the opposite to what the Commonwealth intended. The Minister's incorporated second reading speech states:

    The bill also includes miscellaneous amendments to deal with three issues of a minor nature.

    It is to one of these minor matters to which I want to refer, and I believe it is no minor matter. In fact, the Government is out of step with public opinion. The speech mentions that in 2000 de facto partners were included in the definition of a "spouse" in most of the New South Wales superannuation schemes dating back to 1993, while same-sex partners were included in the definition of a spouse in 2000. It is interesting that in the bill something quite different is mentioned. Some of these schemes, of course, restricts "spouse" to a widow or widower, including opposite sex de facto partners when there is no widow or widower. Somehow or other the Government indicates that the bill includes same-sex partners retrospectively, indicating the bill that was passed in 2000.

    Without referring to the passing of that bill, which is a matter of history, I make the point that the inclusion of same-sex partners devalues marriage and the commitment of married couples. The Government, in seeking justice for a few, denies the commitment of the many. People may live together but that does not make them spouses. In fact, the definition of "spouse" in each of the bills mentioned means a legally married spouse or someone who was. There is no reference anywhere in any of the bills to "same-sex". Each of the bills or Acts previously before us, under the definition, mentions "spouse". For example, amendment to the Parliamentary Contributory Superannuation Act 1971, into which we all pay money, says that a spouse means "a person who is or was married to that person".

    The definition under the amendment to the Police Association (Employees) Superannuation Act says that the "spouse of a person means a person who is or was married to that person". It is not possible in Australia for a same-sex person to be married as that is against the law. The amendment to the State Authorities Non-contributory Superannuation Act 1987 again states that the "spouse of a person means a person who was married to that person". One cannot be married in a same-sex relationship. Two people can live together, as a couple of pigeon breeders might decide to live together, but they are not married. It is against the law for people of the same-sex to be married, and the various Acts point this out. If one goes through the Superannuation Legislation Amendment (Family Law) Bill, where does it say that this will also involve same-sex couples? The fact is it does not. It only refers to spouses.

    The Commonwealth Government's changes to the Family Law Act have been mentioned as the main reason for the changes proposed by this bill. In fact, the Commonwealth Government did not agree to include same-sex couples in the definitions it provided for in those legislative changes. Although that definition was inserted in the Senate, it was removed when the bill again came before the House of Representatives. In any of the acknowledged dictionaries—including those used here in Parliament, either the Macquarie or Oxford—"spouse" means a wife or a husband, but it does not mean two people of the same sex. No dictionary includes as "spouse" a person who merely cohabits with another. In fact, the Oxford dictionary goes into the Latin origin of the word "spouse", and gives the definition of a person of the opposite sex.

    The Labor Party has not accepted same-sex marriages—I give emphasis to the term because there is no such thing—elsewhere in Australia. The measure in the bill is a move by stealth to provide more support for same-sex relationships. I believe this was part of a sleight of hand by a former Attorney General. The proposed change does not represent public opinion. It is bad law. As I said, the definitions rule out same-sex partners as spouses. We do not want to hold up the entire bill because of this matter, but we make the point that the Government is quite wrong in regarding persons in same-sex relationships as spouses who should share superannuation entitlements.

    Ms LEE RHIANNON [9.51 p.m.]: The Greens support the Superannuation Legislation Amendment (Family Law) Bill and particularly welcome some of its provisions. We certainly believe it is about time the remaining superannuation schemes were altered to recognise same-sex relationships. I have spoken on this matter on a number of occasions in this House, and it is something that we will continue to work for. This is an overdue reform, and the Greens strongly support it. We are also pleased to see reform that will allow the payment of benefits to spouses to satisfy property settlement agreements and orders made under the Commonwealth Family Law Act 1975. This is an important issue of social justice, particularly for women, in our society.

    In the great majority of cases the male partner in a marriage or a de facto relationship is the higher wage earner over the period of their working lives, and therefore ends up with most of the superannuation entitlements. We would all have heard of cases of considerable injustice following the separation of couples because fair distribution of entitlements is not provided for under the law. This disparity in income is caused by a number of factors: unequal pay rates, discrimination, lack of services such as child care, and the fact that in most cases it is women who stay at home with children—work which, in our society, is undervalued in a financial sense, therefore reducing women's earning capacity.

    It has been an accepted principle of family law for many years that a spouse who has contributed to a relationship by raising children and maintaining a household should be entitled to an equal share of the assets of both partners. It is a very important principle, and one that I hope all honourable members support. This bill effectively extends that principle to superannuation, which has been protected from property settlement orders. There is absolutely no reason why superannuation should be treated differently from any other form of property. With regard to the sections of the bill that extend the definition of "spouse" to include de facto partners and same-sex partners in six Acts, those reforms are long overdue. It is outrageously discriminatory to exclude de facto or same-sex relationships. To do so would be simply to ignore reality and to devalue the lives of many people. I acknowledge that similar legislative provisions have been passed before. The Greens were pleased to be able to support that legislation, and are pleased to support this all-encompassing bill.

    Given that Labor has been in power for 8½ years, one has to wonder why Labor has allowed such discrimination to continue for so long. I must put on record that it is a disgrace that Labor took that amount of time to make these reforms. Yes, it is good that they are now before us, but it is disturbing that they took so long. Nevertheless, today is a positive day for those in same-sex relationships in New South Wales, and that is something to be celebrated. This bill will recognise, legally, many relationships that have previously been denied that recognition. The Greens welcome these changes, and we call on the Government to continue this process by removing discriminatory provisions from the Anti-Discrimination Act and the Adoption Act, amongst others.

    Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE [9.54 p.m.]: The Christian Democratic Party, as Reverend the Hon. Dr Gordon Moyes said earlier, supports the Superannuation Legislation Amendment (Family Law) Bill, but wants to put on record our opposition to the promotion of the same-sex spouse concept. The bill appears to be quite confused. In fact, from our study, the bill itself makes no reference at all to same-sex spouses. In fact, everywhere one looks at the definitions in the bill the same meaning is given. For instance, on page 18, where the bill deals with amendment of the Parliamentary Contributory Superannuation Act 1971, the definition states that, for the purpose of this legislation, "spouse of a person means a person who is or was married to that person". Legally, that excludes same-sex partners, because legally they cannot be married. The same comment applies to the amendments to the Police Regulation (Superannuation) Act 1906, in respect of which the definition is contained at page 26. There it says "spouse of a person means a person who is or was married to that person". Each page of the bill repeats that definition; that is so because it is dealing with the same category of persons who are in a superannuation scheme, including State employees. At page 36 the definition is again that "spouse of a person means a person who is or was married to that person".

    However, as has been pointed out already, the second reading speech that has been supplied to members of this Chamber says that same-sex partners were included in the definition of a spouse in 2000. Further, according to item 15 on page 46 of the Legislation Review Committee's Legislation Review Digest No. 6 of 2003, "de facto spouse" is defined to include same-sex partners. In the second reading speech delivered in the other place the Parliamentary Secretary said that the term spouse includes same-sex partners. However, that definition is not included in the bill. We are not unhappy about that, because I intended to move an amendment to remove such same-sex provisions from the bill. But we cannot find any reference to same-sex partners in the bill.

    Also, to show how time changes, when I picked up the dictionary in this Chamber to look up the definition of "spouse" I found my notes from 2000 still in that very page of the dictionary! It says that "spouse" means husband or wife; and the Latin origin is the word sponsus, which literally means "betrothed, married". So the Labor Government may want to hold back the waves at the beach, or turn night into day, but it cannot change the meaning of words—even if it tries to do so in legislation. Interestingly, the Federal Coalition Government, led by Prime Minister John Howard—who is a very strong supporter of the traditional family and traditional marriage—will not accept any same-sex amendments. Up until now, in spite of every effort by the Greens and the Australian Democrats in the Senate to move such amendments and to make amendments to bills to move them in the same direction, and despite those amendments being passed in the Senate, when the bills go back to the House of Representatives the Coalition Government rejects them.

    In the past few weeks amendments about same-sex relationships were passed only because for the first time in the Federal Parliament the Labor Party voted for them. What has happened at the Federal Labor level to bring about a major change in Labor Party policy? At the State level I know that the Labor Party has a different view. The Federal Labor Party has always adopted a more conservative position than the Labor Party in New South Wales and the other States—it is more pro marriage and more pro family. Other speakers have referred to discrimination, but we object because it is nonsense to suggest that one can have a same-sex spouse. It is simply illogical because it is impossible. We object also because to give same-sex relationships the same recognition as marriage would undermine the importance of marriage in our society. We do not oppose the bill because we cannot find any reference to same-sex in it. We support the bill.

    The Hon. HENRY TSANG [Parliamentary Secretary] [10.01 p.m.], in reply: I thank all honourable members for their contributions to the debate on the bill, which I commend to the House.

    Motion agreed to.

    Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.