RELATIONSHIPS REGISTER BILL 2010
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS (Attorney General, Minister for Citizenship, Minister for Regulatory Reform, and Vice-President of the Executive Council) [8.02 p.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard
On 23 February this year the Keneally Government announced it would introduce legislation to create a relationships register, making it easier for unmarried couples to prove they are in committed or de facto relationships and to access legal entitlements.
The Government has fulfilled that commitment by bringing this bill before the House today.
The Labor Government has a strong record on ensuring intimate relationships of all hues are given the respect and acceptance they deserve under the laws of this State.
Under the leadership of Neville Wran, Labor introduced the De Facto Relationships Act in 1984.
This was a landmark piece of legislation. It was the first in Australia to give clear statutory rights to people living in de facto relationships to seek court orders for an adjustment of property interests when their relationships broke down.
In 1999 the Carr Labor Government introduced further reforms to relationships legislation amending the definition of de facto spouse to include same sex cohabiting couples in the parts of the Property (Relationships) Act 1984 that deal with adjusting property interests when a relationship breaks down as well as for a number of other purposes in NSW law.
Most recently in 2008, this Government introduced a suite of same sex relationship reforms including providing for a consistent definition of "de facto partner", including same-sex partners, across most NSW laws.
As a result of these reforms, de facto couples have access to a wide range of legal rights and entitlements.
Today, this Government has taken another step forward in relationship reform by introducing legislation that will create a formal mechanism to recognise relationships through registration.
The bill also aims to create an option for couples in such relationships to demonstrate their 'de facto' status more easily when dealing with various bodies, including government agencies and service providers in order to access their rights and entitlements.
The register will also ensure that NSW is in line with Commonwealth Government moves to remove discrimination against unmarried people in heterosexual and same-sex relationships.
The Commonwealth has amended its Acts Interpretation Act 1901 (Cth) to define a "de facto partner", for Commonwealth legislation which adopts this definition, to include a partner in a registered relationship under a prescribed law of a State or Territory. The Government is working with the Commonwealth to have this bill added as a 'prescribed law' once passed by the NSW Parliament.
Establishing a relationships register for NSW will ensure that NSW citizens have the option of being automatically recognised as de facto partners for the purposes of Commonwealth legislation as well as NSW legislation.
The intention is that partners in registered relationships should be able to more easily access certain Commonwealth benefits to which they are entitled and should, for example, have the right to be treated as a family covered by one pharmaceutical benefits safety net concession card.
This bill also brings NSW in line with other jurisdictions that have relationship registers, including the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and Tasmania. Statutory schemes recognising de facto relationships have also been enacted in Canada, New Zealand, the USA and parts of Europe.
This bill recognises that people in NSW choose to enter diverse forms of relationships. Unmarried couples, whether in heterosexual or same sex relationships, will be able to register their relationships, receive a certificate of registration, and know that their relationship is respected and recognised in NSW. The register provides an option for such couples to express their commitment to each other in a dignified and legally recognised way.
Registration will mean that couples will be recognised as "de facto partners" for the purposes of most legislation in NSW. As the NSW Law Reform Commission has pointed out, one major benefit of a relationship register is that it creates a mechanism to provide certainty in terms of identifying parties to a relationship.
This reform respects the dignity of unmarried couples. It does this by creating a mechanism by which couples who register their relationship will, for the purposes most NSW legislation, have access to rights and entitlements as de facto partners without having to establish each time that they are in a genuinely committed relationship. This will make the process of seeking to access entitlements and assert rights easier for such couples, and will also provide greater certainty of outcome.
For example, a certificate of registration could be presented to a court, or to a hospital, as evidence that the parties are de facto partners. In relation to medical treatment, this will mean that someone in a registered relationship should in most cases be able to consent to medical treatment for their partner if their partner cannot consent, without having to argue about the nature of their relationship. For same sex couples in particular, this should prove a useful tool for countering any possible reluctance to recognise their relationship.
However, registration will not replace the existing framework for recognising de facto relationships. The current system will be preserved as an alternative, based on a requirement that couples live together and an assessment of the nature of their relationship and the degree of their commitment, amongst other factors. For those who choose not to register their relationships, this will not count against them when it comes to establishing de facto status on the existing test.
A registered relationship is not, of course, a marriage. The NSW Parliament has no constitutional power to legislate in relation to marriage, which is defined by the federal Marriage Act 1961 (Cth) to exclude same sex couples. However, the bill does recognise the freedom of individuals to choose to enter relationships in diverse forms, and provides legal recognition and support for that choice.
I turn now to the key features of the bill.
The object of the bill is to provide for the legal recognition of persons in a relationship as a couple, regardless of their sex, by registration of the relationship.
The register will be administered by the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages.
Registration will be voluntary. A couple must apply to the Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages in order to have their relationship registered. As pointed out by the NSW Law Reform Commission, this recognises individual autonomy, with partners voluntarily choosing to register their relationship and to be bound by the legislation.
Clause 5 of the bill provides that a relationship will be eligible for registration where the parties to be relationship are:
adults, at least one of whom resides in NSW;
in a relationship as a couple;
not married, in another registered relationship, or in a relationship as a couple with another person; and
not related to each other by family.
As with the ACT, Victorian and Tasmanian schemes, it will not be a requirement for registration that couples live together.
The Government considers that people may be genuinely in a committed relationship even though they do not live together. This may be for reasons relating to employment, convenience or personal choice. For example, a person's partner may work for long periods interstate, or a same sex couple living in a conservative community may decide not to live together for fear of discrimination.
The registration of a relationship will be void under clause 14 of the bill if registration was prohibited when it was registered— that is where the person or persons did not meet the eligibility requirements.
The registration will also be void if the agreement to registration was obtained by fraud, duress or other improper means or if, at the time of registration, either party was mentally incapable of understanding the nature and effect of registration.
Clause 14 also empowers a court to declare a registration void.
Clause 6 deals with applications for registration. To apply, both members of the couple will need to sign a statutory declaration stating that they meet the eligibility requirements and that they wish to register the relationship. They will also need to provide evidence of their identity and age.
A fee will be payable with the application to register, and the amount will be set by regulation.
As with the ACT, Victorian and Tasmanian schemes, couples will not have to prove any particular form of personal or financial commitment.
The effect of clauses 8 and 9 is that, on receipt of a valid application and after a 28-day cooling off period, the Registrar must register the relationship. The cooling off period is designed to ensure that the decision to register a relationship is a considered one. Either party may withdraw their application during the cooling off period.
Clause 10 provides for automatic revocation of registration if one of the parties dies or marries. There is also provision in clause 11 to revoke a relationship in cases where a relationship has broken down. The Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages can revoke the registration of a relationship on the application of one or both of the parties.
If only one partner wishes to have the registration revoked, he or she will have to demonstrate that notice has been served on the other party. The Registrar can dispense with that notice requirement if satisfied that it is not reasonably practicable to give notice as required. This ensures that no person should have to remain in a registered relationship if they do not wish to, while recognising the right of the other person to be duly informed.
To ensure that registrations are not revoked lightly, and also to encourage people to think carefully before entering into registered relationships, clause 12 creates a 90-day cooling off period before a registration can be revoked.
The bill also allows for the potential recognition of interstate registered relationships. Clause 16 provides that regulations may declare a class of relationships registered or recognised under a corresponding law of another State or Territory are 'interstate relationships' for the purposes of the proposed Act.
This will ensure couples that register their relationship in another jurisdiction and then move to NSW do not have to re-register their relationship in this state. The Government is discussing the implementation of reciprocal arrangements with the ACT, Victoria and Tasmania.
I will now turn to the definition of a "de facto partner".
Schedule 2.2 of the bill creates a new definition of 'de facto partner' to be included in the Interpretation Act 1987. This definition will become the standard definition for most NSW laws and will achieve greater consistency in determining who is a de facto partner in a range of contexts.
This definition of "de facto partner" will recognise two different types of relationships. The first type will be based on the test for establishing a "de facto relationship" which currently applies in most NSW legislation, that is, by reference to the definition in the Property (Relationships) Act 1984.
Under this test, a couple will be taken to be in a de facto relationship if they have a relationship as a couple living together and they are not married to one another or related by family. The relevant provision sets out the circumstances that can be taken into account when determining whether there is a relationship as a couple, including the duration of the relationship, whether a sexual relationship exists and the degree of mutual commitment to a shared life.
The second type of de facto partner will be a partner in a registered relationship or interstate registered relationship. This will mean that couples who register their relationship will not need to demonstrate how they meet the list of factors just mentioned in order to meet the definition of de facto partner under most NSW laws.
Schedule 3 of the bill makes consequential amendments to over 120 pieces of NSW legislation. Most of these amendments apply the new Interpretation Act 1987 definition of "de facto partner". This ensures that for most NSW legislation including, for example, certain superannuation and workers compensation legislation, partners in a registered relationship will be recognised as de facto partners.
For some pieces of legislation it is important that a cohabitation requirement be maintained. In these cases, reference is made only to "de facto relationship", based essentially on the existing test which requires that couples live together. Reference to registered relationships is not included in such Acts since cohabitation is not required for a couple to register their relationship. This has been done, for example, with the Landlord and Tenant Act 1899, since the rights provided under that Act are aimed at situations where couples live together.
Further, some NSW legislation will retain its own specific definition of "de facto relationship" or "de facto partner". In these cases it is intended that the Interpretation Act 1987 definitions of these terms will not apply. This is the case for Acts which deal with specific issues where a tailored definition is appropriate, such as the Adoption Act 2000 and the Duties Act 1997.
This bill is an important step towards removing discrimination for unmarried couples, whether they are in heterosexual or same-sex relationships. It provides a mechanism for demonstrating their shared commitment and facilitates the recognition of such relationships for practical purposes. It also demonstrates a respect for different relationship choices and promotes a more inclusive society in NSW.
I commend the bill to the House.
The Hon. MARIE FICARRA [8.02 p.m.]: The objects of the Relationships Register Bill 2010 are to provide for the legal recognition of relationships of couples, regardless of sex, by registration of the relationship and to recognise registered relationships, and interstate registered relationships, as de facto partnerships for the purposes of State legislation. Unlike the Labor Party, the Liberal Party has afforded its members in this House a conscience vote on this important matter.
As I have said in this place before, I am here to contribute to the making of good legislation, not legislation for political spin or political outcomes. I am here not to participate in making law that a government wishes to promote as achieving something when it really achieves nothing at all. As a member of the Legislative Council representing the Liberal Party, I believe in less law and less regulation, not more. New South Wales is already choking from the red tape that Labor has introduced over its 15 years in power. I sincerely believe this bill is nothing but political spin. I am here to represent what the community wants, and to help legislate on issues that are of public importance and will enhance the lives of members of our community.
I support equality. However, I do not believe this bill has anything to do with equality. The rights that same-sex couples currently have will not be enhanced by this bill. All the bill does is create a paper register of de facto relationships. A relationship recognised by inclusion in some sort of register cannot, by definition, be de facto. The term "de facto" refers to a relationship established by an examination of the facts. The register actually involves a de jure relationship: if it were a de facto relationship, it would not be in a register.
Honourable members would be well aware of legislative changes over the last decade that give equality to same-sex couples. Indeed, those changes are fully supported. The term "de facto relationship" is defined in the Property (Relationships) Act 1984, and over the last 10 years has been amended and indeed widened to cover all relationships between two adults over the age of 18 who live together as a couple and are not married, and are not siblings or a parent or child of each other.
It is therefore clear that, pursuant to those legislative amendments, homosexual couples are already covered under the definition of de facto couples and receive the same benefits as any other couple—and rightly so. Most laws—for example, those addressing taxation, social welfare, pensions, and the like—already treat de facto marriages in the same manner as marriages that are recognised under the Commonwealth Marriage Act. I do not believe that State governments should be in the business of registering relationships. State governments should concern themselves with regulating financial relationships or fiduciary relationships, not personal relationships.
Some say this bill is about same-sex marriages. I believe the bill is an insincere effort on the part of Labor to look like it is doing something when the bill, in substance, is just an assortment of opaque words. The only place in which a debate about same-sex marriages can take place is the Federal Parliament, as section 51 (xxi) and (xxii) of the Commonwealth Constitution are the relevant provisions governing marriage and give the Federal Parliament the power to administer the Commonwealth Marriage Act. This bill does not change legal rights of citizens and it fails to ensure equality. I believe that legislation such as this further erodes the institution of marriage and family—the solid rock base of our society in this country.
Thankfully, under the bill there will be no ceremonial aspect to these registrations, and no civil unions, and no ability or extensions to same-sex adoptions. However, it reflects on the growing secularism in our society, and as a legislator I continue to reflect the values of the mainstream community that elected me as its representative. Concerns about the bill have been expressed in the community, and I believe the Government needs to take those concerns into consideration if it is to do justice to this legislation and its so-called intent. In particular I note the following expressed concerns. Mr Chris Meney of the Life, Marriage and Family Centre for the Sydney Archdiocese of the Catholic Church has made an interesting point. Mr Meney stated:
There seems to be a deliberate reluctance by some senior parliamentary representatives to incorporate provisions for "caring" relationships as recommended by the NSW Law Reform Commission and as reflected in legislation in Tasmania and Victoria.
This would seem to suggest that this Bill is not really about enabling persons who have shared mutual interests to have their relationship acknowledged.
Dr Peter Jensen, Archbishop of the Anglican Church Diocese of Sydney, recommends that if the register is to be adopted, it should be extended to include "close personal relationships". Dr Jensen argues:
I note the bill does not incorporate provisions for the registration of "caring" or interdependent relationships despite such measures being in place in other jurisdictions in Australia, namely Victoria and Tasmania.
I note the Property (Relationships) Legislation Act 1984 already includes a category of "close personal relationships" which incorporates caring interdependent relationships. However, the breadth of legislation under which "close personal relationships" are recognised is very narrow. This has created unfairness.
For example, presently the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 only recognises a married or de facto relationship for the purposes of carer discrimination. Should not an interdependent couple be given the same protection from carer discrimination so that they can care for one another at a time of need? A number of other examples of unfairness concerning civil and property benefits could also be cited.
It is inequitable to allow the registration of "de facto relationships" with NSW Births, Deaths and Marriages and to not also allow the registration of "close personal relationships" when both categories of relationship are presently recognised for the purposes of the Property (Relationships) Legislation Act 1984. Why continue to put those in "close personal relationships" to the trouble of having to prove their relationship for the purpose of each government service or entitlement when machinery is being proposed to allow the creation of a relationship register?
To reiterate: If the Government is to honour the intent of the bill, the legitimate concerns raised by Mr Meaney and Dr Jensen in pursuing equality should be taken into consideration and the amendments put forward by Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile should be supported. Rabbi Shimon Cowen, the Director of the Institute for Judaism and Civilization, Victoria, and author of the essay titled "Social policy: core and symptom", spoke at a breakfast held at Parliament House this morning on behalf of the Ambrose Centre for Religious Liberty. In his essay titled "The needed political agenda: strengthening the human core" Rabbi Cowen wrote:
Politics must now be concerned with the human centre, which is the reflection upon, and the affirmation of, the highest values which civilisation possesses. It must return to basic relationships and institutions, to the ideal of marriage and family and the value of the effort, commitment and self-giving which make relationships work and endure; to a culture of responsibility and self-control; to the value of human life including pre-nascent human life; to the knowledge that economic relationships are human relationships and cannot be governed by deception and greed; to the value of social stability, which means the abhorrence of violence and wariness of the cultures which undermine it.
The life of the human spirit, which has been made a matter of embarrassment through a culture of ongoing secularisation, must be recognised again. Arguably there is no greater succour, no greater inner resource a young (or old) person can possess than the strength of the spirit and the power of self-transcendence, responsibility and commitment to altruistic ideals. The value that is ideal in our society has been helped into decline because the family which transmitted it has broken down and because it is starved of education. People who come from stable homes, and homes which moreover communicate a self-transcending vision, will most likely not take drugs, not practice violence on the streets, not steal, not treat those with whom they are in business with deceit. They will not be wasteful of resources or cruel to animals, because these are deliberate works of their Creator. They will more likely not be afraid, not be depressed, they will embark upon and embrace a life worth living. The relationship to core values must become the key criterion and consideration of social policy and legislation.
My opposition to this bill is based on its nebulous basis of value as worthwhile legislation and its targeting of the secular minority section of our society. I remain supportive of genuine relationship commitment within the framework of marriage and family as the basis of a healthy society. I vote with reason but equally as important I vote in accordance with my conscience. Our community, the state of New South Wales, and indeed our great nation, would be better served if instead of a register of relationships we put more effort into assisting and supporting relationships based on love, care and commitment to each other and respect for our fellowman.
Ms LEE RHIANNON
[8.14 p.m.]: The Relationships Register Bill 2010 is welcome, and whilst the New South Wales Government has been slow off the mark introducing this legislation, its significance is not reduced as a result. New South Wales needs a relationship register. The bill is modelled on existing legislation in Tasmania, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory. It could be said that tonight the New South Wales Parliament is catching up with public opinion. At the start of the twenty-first century we have witnessed an enormous increase in support for formal recognition of a range of relationships, and indeed acceptance that people's love and intimacy can be expressed in a variety of ways. Tolerance and respect have become the hallmark of how so many people live their lives and interact with each other. So the Greens support the bill.
There is both a social and political context to the bill. The social context is that there is now a wide acceptance of people having significant relationships outside marriage. Our work tonight is to finalise legislation that gives legal recognition to those relationships. The Parliamentary Secretary noted in his agreement in principle speech in the lower House that marriage cannot be legislated at State level. Marriage provides the political context for this issue, and there is wide political acceptance of marriage and quality. The result of a galaxy poll conducted last year was that 60 per cent of Australians support marriage equality.
Understandably Labor is coming under increasing criticism for its failure to legislate for marriage equality. In some ways I was pleased that the debate of this bill was postponed last night until tonight; overnight I was given a leaflet that is being distributed about the city by Australian Marriage Equality, and I would suggest that members consult that organisation's website if they want to know more about this issue. The leaflet is titled "Labor does not support equality. Do You?" It sets out a number of concerns expressed by people working on this issue, and I congratulate this organisation for the voice it is bringing to an issue that is troubling more and more people.
Sooner or later Australia will have marriage equality legislation reform, and when that day comes many of us will join together in celebration. It is important to keep in mind that it is only a matter of time—hopefully it will be sooner rather than later. Many people see this bill as a cover for Labor. Months out from Federal and State elections Labor is working hard to manage what some people regard as controversial issues in its various constituencies, and the way that Labor has handled this bill has strengthened that view. The key intent here is to manage what some senior Labor people see as a difficult issue for them: marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples. That perception could have easily have been laid to rest if this bill had been used by New South Wales Labor as a means to call on its Federal counterparts to do the job properly and to change the Federal law to grant marriage equality. That could have been so easily done.
The agreement in principle speech in the other place should have put the case for marriage equality. All that was needed was a couple of sentences recognising that the relationships register is no substitute for marriage equality and that New South Wales Labor backs marriage equality. That is what we needed to hear, but that has not come through in this debate. A gentle call from the Minister to his Federal colleagues to change the marriage legislation would have given much encouragement to those backing a change in the law, such as Australian Marriage Equality and the thousands of people who gather at the many protests and rallies that are being held about this issue.
Such a statement from senior Labor figures would show that New South Wales is truly behind the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community. Many Labor members—and many of them are members of this House—hold a similar position to that of the Australian Marriage Equality and the Greens on this issue, but unfortunately officially Labor, as a party and a government, has adopted a go-slow approach to reform. That is the only way one can describe it. Many people think that key Labor leaders are not supportive of marriage equality. Labor members should be aware of the political perceptions around this issue, which the Government is feeding by the direction it has taken with this legislation.
The Minister, in his second reading speech, gave an example of a number of countries that have relationship registers. Unfortunately, the Minister did not mention the number of countries that have marriage equality within their statute books. It is nine countries, as well as a number of States of the United States of America. I was interested to know how long the countries have had this legislation in place. The Netherlands was the first country to introduce the legislation in 2001, then Belgium in 2003. Legislation was passed in Spain in June 2005 and marriage equality became legal on 3 July 2005, amid great celebrations. In 2005 Canada introduced marriage equality under the Civil Marriage Act. A matter of fascination for many people, on 1 December 2005 the constitutional court of South Africa ruled unanimously that it was unconstitutional to prevent same-sex couples marrying when marriage was permitted for people of the opposite sex. That was most significant. Norway legislated marriage equality in 2008 and Sweden in 2009.
Then it was introduced in Mexico. I am unsure whether that applies to the whole country or only Mexico City. However, it is still significant that the jurisdiction has moved forward in such a progressive way. Argentina joined its Mexican brothers and sisters and then it was introduced in five States in the United States, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, with that shift in legislation starting in 2003. The shift is occurring around the world with more countries considering marriage equality. Australia has to catch up. The Minister made a mistake in his second reading speech in the lower House. He drew a distinction between relationship registers and civil union schemes. On my understanding, that is a false construct. Relationship registers, civil partnership schemes and civil union schemes, whilst they are different terms, are in fact the same concept.
At the many rallies I have attended in support of marriage equality, I have been struck by the passion of the people. The rallies are dominated by young people in their twenties. They are not only gay and lesbian couples. When they first become politicised about this issue, they are shocked that the law is unequal. They think because it is the twenty-first century it has all been worked out: we all have equality. When they find out that is not the case, that their brothers and sisters in different relationships are unable to get married, they become irate. This movement has become a driving force. It is a big deal to them that people are denied a legal right to marry. It should not be a big deal. People should be allowed to marry, irrespective of who they fall in love with. The Greens welcome this legislation. There is a perception that this law is more than it appears on paper and that the Government has another agenda. Even if that is the case, and I believe it is, the Greens still welcome this legislation. We look forward to celebrating marriage equality legislation in this country and call on more Labor and Coalition members of Parliament to back the campaign.
The Hon. TREVOR KHAN
[8.24 p.m.]: It will come as no surprise that I support the Relationships Register Bill 2010. It is one of those days when I can say it is a pleasure to sit in this House and in the New South Wales Parliament. That is not a view that will be shared by all members in this Chamber. From the Coalition and crossbench members we are seeing a true expression of views. They are not all the same views but they are heartfelt and thoughtful. Members are entitled to a diversity of views on this issue. I may not agree with all of them, but they are heartfelt and genuine. I hope that every member pays the appropriate respect to those who do not share the view of others in this Chamber. That was demonstrated last night in the other place.
On the Coalition side we saw a diversity of views, which was demonstrated by the two leaders of the Opposition parties. When the Leader of the Coalition, Barry O'Farrell, and the Leader of The Nationals, Andrew Stoner, led the decision that Coalition members would have a conscience vote, there was no doubt that they knew there would be a difference of view. It came as no surprise that Barry O'Farrell supported the legislation and equally of no surprise that my leader did not. Both expressed heartfelt and considered views, but they expressed different views. I congratulate them both on their preparedness to express their view and to vote according to their conscience. As members know, only two of the three leaders of the major political parties in this State chose to vote on this issue. It was important that they spoke to the bill and vote, even if they had a different view. It was sad that the leader of the New South Wales branch of the Australian Labor Party went missing. Apparently having championed this legislation, she was incapable of coming into the House, speaking to the bill and voting on it.
I am certainly prepared to speak to the bill, and I know that many of my colleagues are equally prepared to speak passionately on this issue. I hope they do. This matter is deserving of debate. Members should be entitled to express their views freely. I will come back to that issue. The lead-up to this debate has been interesting. I compare it with the debate on ethics classes. There has been an avalanche of letters and emails on the ethics class debate. As of yesterday I had received over 250 emails in favour of ethics classes and about 150 opposed.
The Hon. Christine Robertson:
Have you answered them all?
The Hon. TREVOR KHAN:
I have. It shows the strength of people's views and their concerns on that issue. In relation to this bill I have received so far in the order of a dozen emails—a dozen opposed, but a mere dozen. I would have thought this matter was of equal importance, at the very least, to the ethics class issue, yet it has generated only a dozen emails. There are websites on the issue and people on Facebook have promoted the writing of emails to local members. Yet I have received only a dozen emails.
One would be entitled to ask why this has not generated the same passion as the ethics classes. I suggest that there is a simple explanation: It is the nature of the Australian psyche. In Australia our ethics are built on the concept of a fair go. Our ethics are built on the very fundamental foundation of tolerance and decency, and I believe that that is the basis upon which there is the difference. If one looks at some of the responses on Facebook in relation to debates on this matter, the question keeps being asked: Why should there be any difference? Why should people not be entitled to the same rights? It is fundamental to the question of why that has stopped the avalanche of emails that otherwise would have happened. It is a question of why do we discriminate against a section of our community. I believe that this bill is on safe ground because it reflects the fundamental ethos of a fair go.
I referred to emails that I have received and answered in respect of this matter. It is reasonable that I provide at least part of the answer that I have given to people who have written to me. I will read one of my replies:
Prior to entering Parliament, I practised as a lawyer for over twenty years, spending a good deal of time in the Family Law jurisdiction.
From my years of practice, I was left with an overwhelming sense that the institution of marriage is not threatened by the distant possibility that some day gay and lesbian couples may gain the right to marry. It is my view that the institution of marriage has demonstrated itself to be a very robust institution that has withstood, and will continue to withstand, the challenges of our modern society.
Nevertheless, I have seen the institution of marriage repeatedly tested by the behaviour of heterosexual couples towards one another as they battle within, and following divorce, outside the confines of marriage.
The Relationships Register Bill will mirror to some extent similar legislation that has already passed in Victoria and Tasmania. The Bill will effect only modest procedural amendments to the Property Relationships Act. The Bill will create a mechanism, not to create a new form of relationship, but rather simply provide for registration of de facto relationships (whether that be heterosexual or homosexual couples). It will allow these couples to undertake a range of transactions that married couples take for granted.
Whether it be in the area of superannuation, or medical treatment, schooling, banking or claiming social security benefits, a document that evidences the existence of a de facto relationship will simplify and facilitate the task not just for the couple, but also third parties.
I will deal with one final argument advanced, and that is that allowing the registration of gay and lesbian relationships will encourage young people to adopt a similar lifestyle.
There are two things to say in response:
Firstly, there is no compelling evidence, and indeed extensive opposing and thorough research, to support this concern. Put another way, to be gay or lesbian is not a lifestyle choice. People are born gay, lesbian or transgender and are entitled to the acceptance, respect and support of the wider community; not condemnation and discrimination.
Secondly, the sad reality is that many young gay, lesbian and transgender people suffer considerable loneliness and isolation in our community as they become aware of their sexuality. In some cases this loneliness and isolation is profound and leads to a range of self-destructive behaviours.
In that regard, my beliefs on this matter do not allow me to support policy which will facilitate feelings of ostracism from the wider community.
I will support the bill. I say to members of this House, colleagues and, in some cases, friends, that I do not believe that our children should be segmented into two groups—one that is perhaps 90 or 95 per cent and the other that is 5 or 10 per cent—and that, as some would have it, we say that in order to save the 90 or 95 per cent we sacrifice the smaller group. All are entitled to our love, all are entitled to our support and all are entitled to equal treatment. We can achieve it and, indeed, we will achieve it. We will achieve it in a non-discriminatory way. This bill is a small step along the way to achieving appropriate non-discriminatory behaviour for all people in our community. I encourage it and I thank the Attorney General.
The Hon. JOHN AJAKA
[8.35 p.m.]: I speak in support of the Relationships Register Bill 2010. I note at the outset that this bill is not about the sanctity of marriage; it does not threaten to subvert the institution of marriage, nor does it in any way create any effect, adverse or otherwise, that impacts upon the rights of a man and woman under the Commonwealth Marriage Act. In addition, the bill does not undermine the rights of any couple, adult individual or children to a loving family life. To suggest otherwise is completely wrong. This bill should not be dealt with according to one's moral beliefs. As members we must look purely at the provisions contained in the bill on the basis of what is best for the people of New South Wales. Our decision should not be based on the premise of what might happen in the future with some other bill if this bill is passed. Any other bill that may or may not come forward in the future should be dealt with at that time on the basis of the provisions of that particular bill.
I will now look specifically at the objects of this bill. The objects of the bill are to provide for the legal recognition of relationships of couples, regardless of sex, by registration of the relationships; and to recognise registered relationships, and interstate registered relationships, as de facto partnerships for the purposes of State legislation. The bill seeks to achieve these objectives through providing a framework for registration, eligibility criteria and revocation.
I turn now to a brief overview of these provisions. The Relationships Register Bill 2010 seeks to enable de facto partners to register their relationships, on payment of a fee and in a prescribed form, with the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. In order to be eligible for registration both parties must be adults—that is, over 18 years of age—and in a relationship as a couple, regardless of their gender; at least one of the parties must reside in New South Wales; the parties cannot be related by family; the parties cannot be married; neither party can be registered under this Act, or under a corresponding law, as being in a registered relationship or an interstate registered relationship; and neither party can be in a relationship as a couple with another person
An application for registration of a relationship is to be made in the form approved by the registrar and must be accompanied by a statutory declaration by each person in the relationship stating that the person wishes to register the relationship and that the person satisfies the eligibility criteria for registration; evidence of the identity and age of each person in the relationship; the fee prescribed by the regulations; and supporting documentation. Each application for registration is subject to a 28-day cooling off period, during which either party may withdraw his or her application, and at the conclusion of which the relationship may be registered.
The establishment of the register will enable de facto couples to be automatically recognised as de facto partners for the purposes of both Commonwealth and New South Wales legislation, enabling access to entitlements and coverage by legal rights. The relationships register also creates a mechanism to provide certainty in identifying parties to a relationship, to address any doubt that the relationship exists for legal purposes.
The registration of a relationship does not affect the existing framework for de facto relationships. According to the agreement in principle speech, the current system will be preserved as an alternative based on a requirement that couples live together and on an assessment of the nature of their relationship and the degree of their commitment. For those who choose not to register their relationship, this will not count against them when it comes to establishing de facto status on the existing test. A registered relationship is not a marriage.
The bill provides for new definition of "de facto partner" to be included in the Interpretation Act 1987. This definition will become the standard for most New South Wales laws. It will recognise two categories of relationship: First, those who have had their relationship registered either in New South Wales or interstate; and, secondly, those who have not registered their relationship but who still meet a list of criteria used to determine the existence of a relationship. The bill provides for automatic revocation of registration if one of the parties dies or marries and the parties, together or individually, may apply to revoke the registration of the relationship following a 90-day cooling off period. If only one partner wishes to have a registration revoked, he or she will have to demonstrate that notice has been served on the other party where it is reasonably practical to do so.
As I said in my inaugural speech three years ago and as I have said on many occasions subsequently in this place, I am firmly and passionately opposed to any and every form of prejudice. I find it wrong and abhorrent. I have fought prejudice my entire life. Sadly, even now, at 54 years of age, I still find that I must continue to fight prejudice, both within this Chamber and outside it. That prejudice is based on ethnic origins, sexuality, religious belief and other beliefs. Who am I to judge another adult couple who wish to show their love and commitment to each other? Put simply, to deny a couple the right to have their relationship recognised by way of registration—whether that couple comprises a man and a woman, two men or two women—is another form of prejudice. I recall concluding my inaugural speech with a quote from one of my heroes, Martin Luther King, who said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." As I said, I will not tolerate prejudice and I support the bill.
The Hon. JOHN ROBERTSON
(Minister for Industrial Relations, Minister for Commerce, Minister for Energy, and Minister for Public Sector Reform) [8.42 p.m.]: I support the Relationships Register Bill 2010. The bill proposes very important practical reforms that affect the day-to-day lives of many couple across this State. The bill provides a single system for the recognition of de facto relationships, including same-sex relationships. Couples will be able to record their relationship on a single register that is accessible by all relevant agencies. Some of the benefits that the register will provide to de facto couples include recognition as family for the purposes of Medicare and superannuation and recognition in situations requiring medical consent and in judicial processes. The register may help to smooth the way at critical times for de facto families—that is, at times when proving the existence of a relationship is the last thing couples want to have to do.
Yesterday we received the sad news that our former colleague and Labor luminary Jeff Shaw passed away. I can think of no better way to honour his memory than by continuing with the reforms that he began during his time in this place. This bill does that. Jeff was committed to equality under the law. In 1999 he introduced the Property (Relationships) Legislation Amendment Bill, which incorporated same-sex couples into the definition of de facto relationship. The Relationships Register Bill 2010 continues in that tradition by creating a central register for same-sex couples. This bill requires same-sex couples to register their relationship only once rather than having to prove their relationship status each time they contact a government agency.
This Government is committed to achieving real and practical reforms for New South Wales residents, including those in same-sex relationships. Since 1991 it has introduced a series of laws that, among other things, provide same-sex couples with rights in regard to superannuation, IVF and artificial insemination. Family now means many things to different people. The traditional family unit is extremely important to contemporary society, but the traditional model is not for everyone. Modern families can take many shapes and we are a better society for recognising that diversity rather than ignoring it.
I speak tonight as a parent about the circumstances in my own family. I have a courageous young son who last year told us that he is homosexual. I would like to think that my son will not suffer discrimination and that as a Parliament we do whatever we can to reduce discrimination and to ensure justice and equality. My son is the same person he was before he revealed his sexuality and he always will be. The person he is and the values that we hold dear in our family have not changed simply because he has said that he is gay. It was difficult for him to raise the issue of his sexuality, but he did it with courage. He is a confident young man who in his last year of school is known to be homosexual. He is proud of it and my family and I are very proud of the fact that he is still a very good, decent, confident young man who is comfortable with who he is. As a society we should respect people for who they are and not discriminate against them because of their sexual preference, colour, race, religion or anything else. This legislation is a step towards ensuring that we continue to pursue that equality. We must ensure that everybody is treated with dignity and respect. In the same way that members who express different views in this Chamber tonight will be treated with respect, we should respect people who decide to live their lives in a manner that some people find confronting. That should not be a reason to deny them their rights.
I am reminded tonight of discussions I had in years gone by with Johno Johnson. I used to talk to him about Parliament not sitting. He would say, "Be thankful we are not sitting because generally when we are we are removing people's rights." Tonight we are doing something positive as a Parliament and giving people rights. We have recognised that those rights should be delivered and we are delivering them in this legislation. This is a very important bill and it should be passed. We should feel proud that we as a society have determined that we will respect people irrespective of their sexual preference.
The relationships register recognises the reality of modern society and the significant role that de facto relationships play in contemporary Australia. This bill will also play an important role in strengthening community relations. Having a relationship register will not create new relationships but will simply recognise those that already exist. This Government will not stick its head in the sand or make assumptions about how people should live. As such, this bill does not represent an attempt at social overhaul but it is an acknowledgement of the status quo.
I have received some emails in recent days, some of which I found slightly confronting. They contain judgements about my role as a father and the fact that my son is homosexual. They suggest that somehow my relationship with my son is the cause of his homosexuality. I actually feel sorry for the person who sent those emails. I love my son and he loves me. I feel that I am closer to my son because he is so comfortable with his emotions and that he can hug and kiss me publicly. I feel very proud of that.
I feel sorry for the people who are compelled to write emails containing judgements about circumstances of which they know very little and who use that as a basis on which to suggest how members should vote on this legislation. This bill is not about passing judgement; in fact, its premise is that rather than judge people we should give them the rights that many of us take for granted. This bill typifies the Government's commitment to real outcomes for New South Wales. It is a well considered and necessary move for New South Wales and I commend it to the House.
The Hon. CATHERINE CUSACK
[8.49 p.m.]: Edmund Burke once said, "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle." This bill is an important opportunity for good people to associate, to modernise our laws, to ensure the best interests of all our citizens, and to give effect to the strong egalitarian values that define Australia as a richly diverse, inclusive and fair society. For dispassionate as well as passionate reasons the case for reform is overwhelming. We know that society is best served by stable, loving homes, where the standing and rights of each citizen are respected, where every loving relationship is respected and valued as first class, and nobody is being treated as or made to feel second class. It is unfortunate that our laws currently provide for some relationships to be treated as second or third class or not even family relationships at all. Reforming this painful flaw in the statutes is welcome and overdue. It is necessary and it is what we have been elected to do.
I do not wish to reflect, as others have, on the politics in the bill tonight, but I empathise with the remarks of an earlier speaker, who said that young people today are astounded when they realise that this inequity even exists in our laws. I suppose I am surprised and a little disappointed that the bill seems to me so modest. I feel something more ambitious would have had the support of the community and of Parliament. I reject, as ever, the use of religion as a platform to persecute our fellow citizens or as a shield to block out rational argument or as an escape from our collective responsibility for the consequences of bigotry. I am proud to associate my name in support of the bill and I extend my best wishes to my fellow citizens who feel that their situation may be improved or their life may be better for its passage.
Dr JOHN KAYE
[8.51 p.m.]: At the commencements of my remarks I have to say that I cannot match the integrity, the emotion or the value of comments made by many speakers before me. I am in awe of the honesty and compassion they brought to their speeches. I congratulate Mr Khan, Mr Ajaka, Mr Robertson, my colleague Lee Rhiannon and others on quite remarkable speeches.
This bill represents one quite small step towards full equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. This march to equality is unnecessarily long with unnecessary opposition at every step of the way from people for whom the rights of gay and lesbian people are simply none of their business. Inevitably, the understanding that each and every one of us is a human being, that love is love, that sexuality is sexuality and that relationships are relationships regardless of the gender of the people involved, will triumph. That understanding will inevitably become what we base our society on. That will happen, because there is no argument that says relationships between people of opposite sex are in any way less valid or more valid than those between people of the same sex. Relationships are relationships. Their validity is based on beauty, not on the gender of the people involved. Their validity is based on the essential human instinct that causes us to feel attraction to each other and to feel bonding.
This legislation creates a halfway house between marriage and de facto relationships. It is a compromise outcome that is certainly better than nothing at all but nowhere near the honest, decent solution—which is full and complete equality. If anything, I hope this is transitional legislation that enables us as a society—not just our political leaders but all of us, every single member of society—to make the emotional transition to understand the inherent truth of a relationship being a relationship regardless of who is in it. In the spirit of moving the debate on, despite the lack of courage that stops both major parties from going to the complete program and creating full equality, the Greens will support the legislation. We wish all of those who avail themselves of it a long, happy, loving, satisfying, exciting, nurturing and growing relationship. If registration helps that wonderful outcome, let us support registration. If marriage supports that wonderful outcome, let us support marriage.
The arguments advanced in opposition to this legislation are spent arguments and are ill founded. I mean no disrespect to those who find this legislation not to their liking, but I mean complete disrespect to the arguments they advance. If this bill in any way threatens the institution of marriage between two people of the opposite sex one can say only that that institution is in and of itself weakened. There is no evidence to say that allowing relationships between people of the same sex to be put into a register will in any way undermine the relationship of marriage or the institution of marriage.
As Trevor Khan said, this will not encourage young people to change their sexuality any more than the institution of heterosexual marriage encourages young people who are homosexual or lesbian or bisexual to change their sexuality because they see other couples who are straight getting married. It simply is not the nature of sexuality. It is not the nature of those people who have had an honest examination of where their sexuality comes from. As with the ethics debate, what business is it of those who feel uncomfortable with same-sex relationships to stand in the way of formal, legal recognition of those relationships? It simply is not the business of those who are uncomfortable to stand in the way of a full, happy and loving life for other people.
I conclude with one last reason for voting for this bill. If everything else I have said is irrelevant or does not strike a chord I ask members to consider this one last issue. I ask them to think of the young man, probably in rural or regional New South Wales, or the young woman in rural or regional New South Wales, who is depressed, lonely, alienated and contemplating taking their own life. They are doing so because what they see around them and the messages they have seen that have been sent to them by the society around them are so discordant with what they understand of their own emerging sexuality that they cannot see a life for themselves.
If this legislation does nothing more than send a message to those young men and women who are in such a desperate situation that, yes, we as legislators care, we as legislators believe that your lifestyle and your feelings are as valid as those of the person next to you, this legislation is worth voting for. I urge each and every one of us to think beyond our own experiences and our own lives, even to think beyond our own belief systems, and to think about that young man or that young woman and ask yourselves: What message will our vote send to them about the validity of their lifestyle and about their role in our society? I commend the bill to the House.
The Hon. HELEN WESTWOOD
[8.57 p.m.]: I am pleased to speak in support of the Relationships Register Bill 2010. The bill will provide for the creation of a relationships register, making it easier for unmarried couples to prove they are in committed or de facto relationships and to access legal entitlements. Whilst it is for all unmarried couples, there is no doubt that it will be couples in same-sex relationships that make greatest use of it. Importantly, particularly for me, it is another step on the long road towards equality for those of us in same-sex relationships. This bill represents another plank in the suite of reforms to remove discrimination against gays and lesbians, reform that has been brought about by Labor governments at both the State and the Federal level.
This is an opportunity to restate that it has been Labor governments that, brick by brick, have dismantled the tower of discrimination that gays and lesbians faced throughout the history of our nation. Although not completely demolished, it is no longer a tower. But hurdles remain, and they need to be removed before we are considered and treated as equal citizens under New South Wales and Australian laws. Despite the fact that gays and lesbians still do not have complete equality, the record of Labor governments speaks for itself. I am pleased to state that for the record.
In 1984 it was the Wran Labor Government that decriminalised homosexual activity between consenting adults. From 1995 to 2010 the New South Wales Labor Government has eliminated discrimination and provided legal recognition of same-sex de facto couples in more than 100 pieces of State legislation. It was the New South Wales Labor Party that amended the Anti-Discrimination Act to ensure equal protection for lesbians and gay men caring for their partners, changed State superannuation laws to recognise same-sex couples, equalised the age of consent laws, and provided legal recognition for both partners in lesbian couples with children as the legal parents of their children.
It is also worth remembering that it was the Whitlam Labor Federal Government in the early 1970s that first included sexual preference as a ground on which workplace discrimination could be investigated. From 1983 to 1996 the Hawke and Keating governments added sexual orientation anti-discrimination protection to the Public Service Act, recognised same-sex couples for immigration purposes, passed sexual privacy laws and declared anti-gay discrimination in the workplace to be a breach of human rights. In 2008 the Rudd Government legislated to remove discrimination against same-sex couples from 85 pieces of Federal law and recognised the children of same-sex couples for the first time.
It will be a Labor government that removes the last vestiges of intolerance and discrimination that deny lesbians and gay men equality. It will be a Labor Government that removes the remaining discriminating laws and brings about a society in which we have real equality. I hope it will be the current Labor Government; if not, I know it will be a future Labor government that delivers this important reform.
The purpose of this bill is to allow for the formal recognition of relationships, to recognise partners in registered relationships as de facto partners for the purposes of most New South Wales legislation and to provide a mechanism to New South Wales residents to have their registered relationships recognised for the purpose of Commonwealth laws. As other members have stated, this will bring New South Wales in line with Victoria, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory. The bill provides for the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages to register a relationship on receipt of a valid application from both parties, after a 28-day cooling off period. It provides that a relationship can be registered if the parties are adults, at least one of whom resides in New South Wales; they are in a relationship as a couple, neither is married, in another registered relationship or in a relationship as a couple with another person, and they are not related to each other by family.
Consistent with the Victorian, Tasmanian and Australian Capital Territory schemes, the bill does not require that couples live together in order to register their relationship. The bill provides for applications to be accompanied by proof of identity and age, and statutory declarations from both partners stating that they meet these requirements. It also provides for the revocation of registration on death or marriage of one partner or on the application of one or both partners, with a 90-day cooling off period, and that relationships are void if obtained by fraud or duress or if, at registration, one party was incapable of understanding its nature and effect. The bill allows for the potential recognition of interstate registered relationships.
The bill includes a new definition of "de facto partner" in the Interpretation Act 1987. Other members will repeat some of the substance of the bill, but it is important to place this on record because certain elements address some concerns raised during debate in this place and the other place. The Commonwealth has inserted into the Commonwealth Interpretation Act 1901 a definition of "de facto partner" that includes relationships registered under prescribed laws of a State or Territory. The New South Wales Government is working with the Commonwealth to have the New South Wales law listed as a prescribed law upon passage of the bill through the Parliament.
Some of the important advantages under Commonwealth law to which parties to registered relationships may be entitled are: being recognised as a couple for the purposes of social security legislation, and being recognised as a family for the purposes of the Medicare safety net and the pharmaceutical benefits safety net. Also, private sector superannuation trustees will be able to provide for partners in registered relationships to be eligible for death benefits since they will be treated as a spouse and a dependant. The Commonwealth also enacted the Family Law Amendment (De Facto Financial Matters and Other Measures) Act 2008. This Act took up the referral of power that New South Wales made to the Commonwealth in the Commonwealth Powers (De Facto Relationships) Act 2003, so that, since 1 March 2009, financial disputes between same-sex and opposite-sex de facto partners can be dealt with by the Family Court.
The definition of "de facto relationship" for the purpose of the Family Law Act will mean that a person is in a de facto relationship with another person if they are not legally married to each other, if they are not related by family and, having regard to all the circumstances of their relationship, they have a relationship as a couple living together on a genuine domestic basis. Whether a relationship is or was a registered relationship under State or Territory law is one of the circumstances that will be taken into account in determining whether the relationship is a de facto relationship for the purposes of the Family Law Act. Consequently, the establishment of a relationships register in New South Wales will assist de facto couples in gaining access to the Family Court when a relationship has broken down. One of the key objectives of the bill is to enable de facto couples in New South Wales to take the best advantage of the Commonwealth's law reforms in this area. Without this reform New South Wales citizens would be left without the option of easily establishing their de facto status to Commonwealth agencies through the process of registration.
I was interested to read the contributions of members during the passage of the bill in the other place. It is clear from those contributions that we are becoming a more tolerant and inclusive society. Members in this Parliament express views that are generally reflective of our respective communities and electorates. Any historical analysis of parliamentary debates on the issue of reform to remove discrimination against gay men and lesbians tells the story of changing attitudes, of the acquisition of the values of inclusiveness and embracing of difference. Of course, there are still those who resist those values. In fact, I shared the lift with three of them earlier this evening as they joked about holding strong, being true and doing the right thing by voting against the bill. These three heterosexual men were either unaware or uncaring of the fact that the person they were sharing the lift with was someone in a same-sex relationship. I realise that they can joke about it because they will never have the experience of being discriminated against on the basis of their sexuality. They will not have the experience of being denied the rights that most other Australians take for granted, as they should. We should take those rights for granted, but so should gay men and lesbians.
I am sure it has never occurred to those members that in exercising their right, as they see it, to a conscience vote to uphold discriminatory laws they deny other Australian men and women rights afforded to all Australians not in same-sex relationships. It is also worth reflecting on the human worth of members of our society. Again, I read their contributions and I find it astounding that there is no acknowledgement of the contribution of gay men and lesbians to our society, no acknowledgement that they do great things as members of our community. Their contribution makes positive differences to our communities and to society. They are willing to judge us on the basis of our intimate relationships. In fact, they think our intimate relationships give them the right to deny us rights afforded to all other Australians. I certainly look forward to the day when we are measured for our human worth and contributions in the same way as other Australians who are not gay or lesbian.
I return to the substance of the bill. The bill recognises that people choose to enter diverse types of relationships. Unmarried couples, whether in heterosexual or same-sex relationships, will be able to register their relationships, receive a certificate of registration and know that their relationship is respected and recognised in New South Wales. The register provides an option for such couples to express their commitment to each other in a dignified and legally recognised way. Registration means that couples will be recognised as de facto partners for the purposes of most legislation in New South Wales. As the New South Wales Law Reform Commission has pointed out, one major benefit of a relationships register is that it creates a mechanism to provide certainty in identifying parties to a relationship. This reform respects the dignity of unmarried couples.
This bill is an important step towards removing discrimination against unmarried couples, whether they are in heterosexual or same-sex relationships. It provides a mechanism for demonstrating their shared commitment, and facilitates the recognition of such relationships for practical purposes. It also demonstrates a respect for different relationship choices and promotes a more inclusive society in New South Wales. Like so many other same-sex couples, my partner, Lauretta, and I will make good use of this reform and will register our relationship as soon as possible. I commend the bill to the House.
Reverend the Hon. Dr GORDON MOYES
[9.10 p.m.]: I deeply appreciate the contributions made by previous speakers and the respect they have been shown for their differing opinions on this very important matter. The purpose of the Relationships Register Bill 2010, to which I speak on behalf of Family First, is to provide for the legal recognition of relationships of couples, regardless of sex, by registration of the relationships, including those registered interstate, as de facto partnerships for the purposes of State legislation. The membership of Family First has been very vocal on this issue. Hundreds of people have contacted me and I am pleased to represent their views as strongly as I can. I do respect the views of other members who hold different beliefs.
Under this legislation homosexual couples and unmarried heterosexual couples will now be able to register their relationships so they can access and receive all the same legal entitlements currently given to traditional, male-female, married couples. Some time ago I discussed the personal, moral and legal issues over lunch with former High Court Justice Michael Kirby—whom I am pleased to call a friend—and I thank him for his insight, gained from his personal experiences as well as from his vast legal repertoire. The New South Wales Government is simply introducing legislation modelled on other jurisdictions, such as the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and Tasmania.
The proposed Relationships Register will help remove discrimination faced not just by unmarried heterosexual couples but also by those in same-sex relationships. The New South Wales Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages will administer the Relationships Register, as I believe is quite appropriate. I am glad there is no provision for legal celebration of same-sex relationships, although there are no restrictions on celebrations separate from the registration of their relationships. To be eligible to register a relationship on the Relationships Register couples must be in a committed, exclusive relationship, not be married or in another relationship that is registered or registrable, be 18 years of age or older, and one person must be a resident of New South Wales.
I note that in a survey of 7,862 homosexuals the 2003-04 Gay/Lesbian Consumer Online Census in the United States of America found that of those involved in a "current relationship" only 15 per cent described their current relationship as having lasted 12 years or longer. Relationships are notoriously brief in the homosexual male lifestyle, and are rarely exclusive even then. The lifestyle choices and patterns for lesbians differ but lesbians still go through many changes of partner during a lifetime, according to the census.
Dr Timothy Dailey, a senior fellow at the Centre for Marriage and Family Studies of the Family Research Council, found that even in so-called "committed" homosexual relationships commitment typically does not include sexual fidelity. It is clear that when homosexuals talk about "marriage" they are not talking about what society has traditionally defined and valued as marriage—being based on a foundation of a lifelong commitment and the expectation, more often than not, of raising a family. Such marriage is a social good of great value. Society rests upon the strength of its marriages, families, homes, and preparation of the new generation. Homosexuals, generally speaking, are not talking about that at all.
Although we in Family First support the removal of many barriers faced by unmarried and same-sex couples, our primary concern is for the welfare of the traditional family unit. Children have a right to be raised by a mother and father, not just two adults of the same sex, no matter how loving they may be. Marriage between a man and a woman is the most sophisticated of all human relationships. It is understandable that many couples cannot sustain such significant, close intimacy.
We believe that the Government is sugar coating this move by saying that it will remove discrimination and injustice for same-sex couples. I wish, for the Government's sake, that it were as easy as that. But there is already adequate protection for same-sex couples' rights under all the laws protecting de facto relationships, whether of same-sex or different partnerships. Having the New South Wales Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages administer the Relationships Register is, I believe, just a backdoor attempt at marriage. I recognise that many members of this House want to be seen to be supporting this legislation because they want society to be fair to homosexuals, lesbians, and transgender and intersex people. I want society to be fair primarily to children—and marriage is the only guarantee of fairness and justice for children. That is why Family First does not support this bill.
The Hon. LYNDA VOLTZ
[9.16 p.m.]: I support the Relationships Register Bill 2010. At the end of the day, I really do not care whether people are gay or straight. What I want people to tell me is whether they are happy. I think happy people make very happy families, and I believe an important role of government is to provide people with the ability to be happy. I do not see it as government's role to make people and their children unhappy, and this bill goes some way towards assisting in making people's lives easier. For those who do not believe that people should be happy, I remind them that the American Constitution states:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
I support the bill.
The Hon. PENNY SHARPE
(Parliamentary Secretary) [9.17 p.m.]: I support the Relationships Register Bill 2010. This bill represents another important step down the path to full equality for same-sex couples in this State. The path to equality for same-sex couples has been a long one, and it is still not complete. It was the Wran Labor Government that first decriminalised homosexual activity between consenting adults. It was the Wran Labor Government that introduced the De Facto Relationships Act in 1984. That legislation was the first in Australia to give legal rights to people living in de facto relationships to seek court orders for an adjustment of property interests when their relationships broke down. It was 1999 when Jeff Shaw stood in this place as Attorney General and said in his typically understated way:
The Property (Relationships) Legislation Amendment Bill recognises that contemporary society has developed to a point where laws that regulate the division of property on the failure of a broad range of intimate relationships are necessary and desirable.
It was the step that meant that same-sex couples in de facto relationships could be recognised as the spouses they are. Since that first tranche of legislation, all New South Wales Acts have been examined and 100 laws have been amended to reflect a definition of spouse that includes all de facto couples, regardless of whether they are same-sex or different-sex couples. As members of the House would be aware, same-sex couples in New South Wales are now treated equally in all areas of the law except for adoption. It will surprise no member in this Chamber to hear that I hope that the issue of adoption is resolved as soon as possible.
As a Labor member of this House, I note—and am very proud of the fact—that it has been Labor governments that have made these reforms. I recognise the ongoing contribution from the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex community, which has been campaigning for equality before the law for many, many years. I also acknowledge the contribution that members of this House from the Coalition and the Greens have made to advance equality for our gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex citizens. Some have pursued equality under great pressure from within their own party. Some of the reforms that have been made over the past 10 years could not have happened without their support.
I am extremely disappointed, however, that the Coalition has been unable to support this particular piece of legislation fully. Instead, the Coalition has left it to Labor to show leadership and advance equality, while Coalition members pander to those in their own party who have not supported, and will never support, equality for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex citizens in New South Wales.
Over the past 24 hours the Leader of the Opposition has spent much time on Twitter trying to ignore this fact. The simple fact is that this bill is before the Parliament as a Government bill: it would not be here without the support of the Premier and the Labor caucus. To pretend otherwise is a disingenuous ploy to try to hide the lack of support for same-sex couples from many of his own members of Parliament. If the Coalition were to support this bill fully, its passage would be guaranteed. The Leader of the Opposition has failed to give the bill that support.
This bill is quite unremarkable. I know that many in this Chamber would like to see it go much further. It creates a process whereby couples who are committed to one another and who either cannot or do not wish to get married can access legal entitlements as de facto couples, as they are entitled to do under New South Wales and Commonwealth law. It would be difficult for de facto couples to prove their relationship for the purpose of accessing government services, entitlements or records. This legislation will enable couples to register their relationships and be provided with one document that helps to prove their relationship and that spares them the frustration of constantly having to supply agencies with copious amounts of paperwork. Registered relationships will be considered to be on par with de facto relationships. This bill is important for couples in New South Wales who are seeking to access Commonwealth law changes.
The Hon. Trevor Khan is sensitive because Barry O'Farrell was unable to get everyone to support the bill. However, I listened to his contribution in silence and I believe that he should listen to my contribution in silence.
Order! I remind all members that interjections are disorderly at all times. Thus far this debate has proceeded without interruption, and I would hope that members display like restraint for the remainder of it.
The Hon. PENNY SHARPE:
This bill is important for couples in New South Wales who are seeking to access Commonwealth law changes that now recognise same-sex couples. It means that a lesbian couple with a child with a chronic illness can access the Medicare safety net more easily. It means that when one partner in a couple is seeking to immigrate they can prove their bona fides as a couple. It means that partners of veterans in same-sex relationships can demonstrate their relationship and therefore be eligible for the appropriate support if the unthinkable happens and the partner is killed in the line of duty. At this point I acknowledge the role played by Edward Young. Some members will know of Edward Young—the man who took the Howard Government to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. Edward had been with his partner, Larry, who was a veteran, for more than 50 years but when Larry died Edward was unable to access a veterans' affairs pension. We recognise that Edward Young's 10-year struggle has made a difference.
The register will make it easier for people who love and care for each other and who are in a relationship to have that recognised for government support and programs to which they are already entitled. What could possibly be wrong with that? While I was pondering this question I received some emails from people suggesting that it would be wrong to support this bill. The argument fell into two categories. The first category suggests that a relationships register somehow undermines heterosexual marriage and therefore will bring Australian society to its knees if passed. In response to that argument I note that relationships registers have been implemented in the Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania and Victoria. Society in those States seems to be holding up just fine. I also point out that marriage is an issue for the Commonwealth.
I guarantee to members in this House who are concerned about this issue that the passage of this legislation will have zero impact on anybody's marriage. I fail to understand why recognising unmarried couples, whether gay or straight, somehow undermines existing relationships when people have decided to marry one another. I also note that, despite the current law, there are same-sex couples in Australia who have been legally married in other countries. I observe that Spain, the Netherlands, Canada, Norway, Sweden and South Africa do not seem to be collapsing under the weight of same-sex couples committing to one another through marriage. It is important also for members to realise that many couples have chosen to have a marriage-like ceremony, despite the lack of legal recognition, and to declare in front of their friends and families their love and ongoing commitment to one another. I again ask the question: What could possibly be wrong with that?
Law reform in this area has stalled and these couples should have legal recognition. In the meantime, I continue to work with those seeking to have the Federal law changed. Given some of the contributions to the debate so far, that reform will be hard fought—and I suspect it is probably a little way off. That leads me to the second category of arguments that were put to me about this bill. The only people to oppose this legislation from whom I have received emails are those who do not wish to support equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex citizens. Those people who do not support equality make their arguments in a number of ways. I respect people's right to have their own opinions and views, but after looking at some of the emails that I received about this bill I found that if I scratched the surface it did not take long for the arguments to turn very ugly.
I have received emails relating to this bill that have suggested that homosexuals are immoral and perverted; homosexual relationships are unstable and destructive; homosexuality is a lifestyle choice; homosexuals can and should be cured; homosexual relationships are rarely mutually exclusive; and, of course, homosexuals are a danger to children and should not be encouraged, or indeed allowed, to have them. I wonder whether those who sent these emails ever contemplated that a member of Parliament who has been in the same relationship with another woman for 17 years and has three beautiful children would be reading them. These arguments are factually wrong. These arguments are intended to spread prejudice and they must be dismissed out of hand.
The best way to stand against homophobia—in a small way—is to support this bill. Tonight this Parliament takes another step forward for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex law reform. I am proud to be part of the Keneally Government that has introduced this legislation. I am disappointed that someone who seeks to be Premier of this State was unable to bring his own team with him to support the bill. I thank those who have rejected the pressure from within their own parties and who will support this legislation. I thank all those in the community who will not rest until our gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex friends, families, workmates and citizens have full equality before the law, regardless of whomsoever they love. I commend the bill to the House.
Mr IAN COHEN [9.26 p.m.]: I was not prepared to speak in debate on the Relationships Register Bill 2010. However, after listening to the debate so far I found it extremely interesting—even vital. I felt that I should comment on this important issue from my perspective, recognising the existence of these human rights issues. I congratulate all those who promoted this issue and developed a sense of equality and rights for an important and productive minority tradition in our society. Tonight I refer primarily to same-sex relationships but also to those people who have chosen to live a life that is a bit different from the norm. Many subcultures go into making up a society that does not necessarily embrace the idea of the nuclear family comprising a mother, father and children—although of course that is a majority view and a sweet way to be when it is working appropriately and properly.
A number of speakers in this debate have said that a relationship is a union between two people—human beings cemented together by love and shared beliefs, and those beliefs can be many and varied. No-one, and certainly no group in society, has a monopoly on how to organise the best society. When I hear people say that a mother, father and children in a religious-based relationship are somehow the superior way to go, I have to disagree with them. There are many different ways in which people can seek out a life—so far as I am concerned, we have a guarantee of only one—find fulfilment, give generously to others, develop and be creative. There are many ways in which we can do that, which makes all relationships—straight, gay, living alone and being creative—legitimate and appropriate. I wish all those people who live a productive life the best as they move forward in society.
I have heard the rhetoric about the standard nuclear family from those who are strong exponents of that way of living. They say it is our duty to society to have that style of family. Look at the amazing creativity that comes from people who are in different types of relationships, or who are on their own, which is a driver of society. Often people in different relationships—for example, gay people—are amazing leaders in society, leaders in this Parliament and leaders in the judiciary. These people, who are living successful lives, are creative and productive in the community, regardless of their sexual preferences.
I recall reading many years ago in what might have been a student magazine an article that expressed a point of view that certainly was not the be all and end all of the development of sexuality through the ages. It talked about the Christian Judaic tradition, which is very powerful in our society, and that other buttress of our civilisation, the Greek tradition. It explained quite convincingly for me that people in Christian Judaic society lived in a very alien environment, in which warlike tribes and well-known throwers of rocks—and this is still the case—either populated or perished. Such societies passed laws that provided that the purpose of sexual intercourse was primarily for procreativity in order that warring tribes could build up their defences. We had that very powerful driver for modern-day Judaism, Christianity and the Muslim religion. It is reasonable to say that these beliefs grew out of sociopolitical necessity, and that is how we see society developing today.
On the other hand was the Greek society—contiguous nation states, limited available land, a burgeoning population and a positive attitude to the cult of homosexuality as a consequence of sociopolitical necessity at that time. One society was as legitimate as the other. Both have flourished, both have suffered in various ways, and both have been great contributors to the culture, knowledge, education and traditions of our modern world. It is important to recognise the contribution of all people in our society. Fundamentally, when we talk about relationships we ask: Is there love? Is there sharing? Is there success in the relationship? No one relationship has a monopoly on what is right and what is wrong.
Many relationships, heterosexual or homosexual, are unsuccessful and do not last and in many families children are not well treated and are unhappy. Surely the basic bottom line for any judgement of a relationship is that those in the relationship are fulfilled, happy and productive members of society. It should have nothing to do with one's chosen sexuality or choice of partner. It is essential that we move beyond the old prejudices. We should break away from old habits and embrace everybody for their beauty. If you see a man and a man or a woman and a woman walking hand in hand along the street, you should say good luck to them. It is obvious that there is love there, and that is an absolutely beautiful thing. From that point of view I feel quite comfortable in strongly supporting the Relationships Register Bill 2010. I hope that it will move attitudes in our community that small incremental step forward towards a just, tolerant and respectful society for all.
Ms SYLVIA HALE [9.33 p.m.]: Like my colleagues and other members of this House I support the Relationships Register Bill 2010. It proposes to recognise not only homosexual, or same-sex, relationships, but also heterosexual relationships. When I married about 40 years ago, it was after a period of what was then quietly termed "living in sin" for some years. Shock, horror! That was back in the late 1960s. We married at that time because we were particularly concerned about any stigma that would attach to any children of our union. At that time any children of a couple who were not married were stigmatised as bastards or illegitimate and were subject to all sorts of social and legal discrimination. It was those considerations, rather than any desire to formalise a relationship, that sent us off to the Registrar General.
I am now in a position wherein both my children have entered into non-married heterosexual relationships and from those relationships four children have been produced. Interestingly, if this bill passes I doubt that either of my children, or their partners, will be in a hurry to register their relationships. And the reason for that is that most of the discrimination that we feared 40 years ago would be experienced by our children has now disappeared. These days no-one turns a hair when people move in together before they marry, and no-one is particularly concerned if people do not marry. There is no discrimination against them and many of the legal, economic and social obstacles that such children might once have faced have been removed.
What we have seen over the past 40 years is a general acceptance by the community that not everybody wishes to conform in the same manner, and that not everyone wishes to go down the path of a conventional marriage. We all welcome that diversity. It is absolutely irrelevant to the quality of life that those people live, and their contribution to the community, whether or not they are married. It has no impact either on their children whether their parents are married. That is fine for heterosexual couples. That situation has been arrived at slowly over a period of 40 years. However, the keenness that my children may have not to register their relationship will not be displayed by homosexual or same-sex couples because they are still the victims of discrimination and they still suffer from those impediments.
The good thing about this bill is that it attempts to at least clear away some of those impediments. For that reason I welcome the bill, and I hope by its passage that it sends a very strong signal to the rest of the community that now is the time for that tolerance and that acceptance of diversity that have characterised relationships for heterosexual couples, to be extended to same-sex couples. Having said that, I would like to echo the reservations that were expressed by my colleague Lee Rhiannon. If we cannot expect genuine leadership and courage from this Parliament, why should we expect it from any other section of the community? I endorse the remarks of Lee Rhiannon when she said at the very least we might have expected the Government to send a message to Canberra that it is time to legalise marriage between consenting adults regardless of their sexuality if they so wish.
The Government should have sent another message on 6 January this year when Linda Burney,
as the Minister for Community Services, responded on behalf of the Government to the report of the Standing Committee on Law and Justice into adoption by same-sex couples. The Minister said all the right things in this report, but when it came to actually doing something concrete she squibbed it—and so did the Government. In the report the Minister said:
It is acknowledged that the issue of same-sex adoptions has been considered by a number of expert committees both within NSW and in other Australian jurisdictions. Mostly, these have made recommendations in favour of allowing same-sex couples to adopt. The NSW Government has noted that in NSW currently a single gay person is legally able to adopt although a gay couple cannot.
She acknowledged the absurdity of the existing situation. She continued:
It is also acknowledged that there are many same sex couples who foster children on behalf of both government and non-government agencies. The Government notes that permanency planning is an essential aspect of effective out of home care and the ability for children to be adopted by their carers is an important aspect of permanency planning. For this reason I believe that the Committee's response to this issue is not without merit.
Again she said the right thing, but then we get to the point of the whole report. She said:
However, this is a complex and sensitive issue that tests deeply held personal values and beliefs; therefore it is important for the Government to continue to listen to the views of the wider community before deciding upon a final policy position.
That is political cowardice and the complete abandonment of a principled position. Whilst I acknowledge that this is another step along the way—a phrase repeated by most members today—I suggest that it is time we reached the destination. The Government should put its money where its mouth is and do something effective, and I do not mean just passing this Relationships Registered Bill. It should remove all examples of real discrimination that same-sex couples face.
The Hon. DAVID CLARKE
[9.41 p.m.]: I oppose the Relationships Register Bill 2010. The Coalition has resolved, as it does in matters that raise issues of conscience, to allow its members a free vote. I will exercise my right of conscience to vote against this bill. It is a shame that the Government does not see fit to allow its members to vote according to their consciences on such a matter. I know that a number of Government members would, if given the freedom to do so, express their concerns about this bill and vote against it. But they are unable to do so. They have been muzzled, and that is regrettable. This bill will, through the backdoor, continue the process of elevating same-sex relationships to equality with the institution of marriage.
Marriage has an exalted status as an institution in Australia throughout the community and within the law. The institution of marriage has been enshrined in Commonwealth law with the support of the major parties on both sides of the political spectrum as an institution comprising the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others. Marriage is a unique institution; it has a special status in law. The majority of Australians believe that marriage should have that special status as the union of a man and a woman. But what Federal law with its exclusive jurisdiction in this area rejects—namely, same-sex marriage—the New South Wales Government is enabling to be circumvented through its Relationships Register Bill.
The bill blurs the demarcation line between federally defined marriage and same-sex unions, which are increasingly being given the trappings of marriage. The bill is facilitating that by morphing same-sex unions into de facto marriages through this registration process and bestowing marriage-like attributes on same-sex relationships. A not too distant step thereafter probably will be agitation for formal recognition of these proposed registered relationships as legal marriages, which has been the position in Norway since January 2009. It is the salami technique: one slice at a time.
A same-sex union formalised through registration on a registrar maintained by the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages is, to my mind, getting close to being a marriage in everything but name. No wonder it has been labelled as "marriage-lite". This morphing process has more or less been acknowledged by the Sydney Star Observer
, which advertises itself as Australia's leading gay and lesbian newspaper. In a front-page article in its 5 May 2010 edition this newspaper said of this bill:
This is a step forward in relationship recognition. It is not a substitute for marriage but in the interim some tangible recognition is a step forward. We have expressed concern over the lack of ceremonial options for couples to have during their registration though.
I note the Sydney Star Observer
's categorisation of the bill as "a step forward in relationship recognition". Presumably this newspaper views the bill as a means to an end, and not the final end in itself. I note also its reference to the bill as "not a substitute for marriage equality" but something that is "in the interim". I note further that the Sydney Star Observer
regrets that the bill "does not give ceremonial options for couples to have during their registration". Does this signal that the next step will be for such ceremonial options to be added to future relationship registrations so as to give them the formal trappings of a marriage? What then will be left to distinguish such relationships from marriage at all?
The truth of the matter is that throughout Australia same-sex couples are recognised already as de facto couples with more or less the same rights as those enjoyed by cohabiting heterosexual couples. Same-sex couples have the same rights as heterosexual couples in such areas as social security, aged care and taxation. If there are gaps wherein such rights have not yet been recognised for same-sex couples, then let the Government introduce specific legislation to rectify those gaps. This bill is not such legislation. In fact, it is a further step forward to enshrine a relationship that for all intents and purposes is a parallel institution to marriage and that mimics legal marriage. It formalises same-sex unions so that it has almost all the attributes of marriage.
Why should such relationships not be given this status so as to make them indistinguishable from marriage? Why should marriage in its historic, current and universally recognised form of a union between a man and a woman be kept as a unique relationship distinct from all other relationships? I believe that Greg Smith, the shadow Attorney General provided, part of the answer when he said in the other place:
Because of its public value, marriage is not just a private affair. Society has a stake in the maintenance of those family structures that have over time been tried and proven to be the most fruitful for the raising and education of future generations. That is why the State has made laws relating to marriage, its formation and how to manage the process in the unfortunate event of a breakdown.
I support the right of people in same-sex relationships to be able to make legally sanctioned property, financial or other arrangements with each other. Indeed, I have voted in support of such legislation in the past. But those objectives are attainable by other legislation and do not have to be achieved at the expense of the institution of marriage. Reason and conscience leads me to oppose this bill, which undermines that institution. Accordingly I will vote against it.
The Hon. DON HARWIN
[9.49 p.m.]: As the Hon. John Robertson said earlier, there is a certain symmetry to debate on the Relationships Register Bill 2010 taking place this week, a week in which we paid our respects to the late Jeff Shaw. As previous speakers have noted, as Attorney General Jeff Shaw was a key architect of the Property (Relationships) Act. In large part, this bill is a logical extension of that Act, providing a capacity to register the type of relationships recognised by that Act. The Property (Relationships) Act was the first division on a bill in which I voted as a member of this House. Compared to that landmark piece of legislation, this bill is of somewhat less significance but, nevertheless, it is a small step in the right direction.
Liberal and Nationals members have a conscience vote on this issue. The views I will express are my personal views. Conscience votes have been traditional on moral and social issues where members of Parliament are not expected to vote along party lines. The Liberal Party has always allowed conscience votes on a wider range of issues than has Labor. We see it as a strength of our party that we can debate issues respectfully, disagree and then vote according to our different points of view. After all, conscience votes reflect the differences of opinion in our society. I was a little disappointed about some of the remarks the Hon. Penny Sharpe made about conscience voting. Many important reforms have been passed with conscience votes exercised by members of Parliament. I correct the record in relation to her contribution, as well as the contribution of the Hon. Helen Westwood, which was defective in several respects.
Those members described the decriminalisation legislation as an achievement of the Wran Government and the age of consent legislation an achievement of the current Government. They were not Government bills. It is wrong to assert in this House that they were. Everyone knows that the decriminalisation legislation and the age of consent reform were private member's bills. Anyone who bothered to look at the historical record would know that both bills would have been defeated if it were not for the support of Liberal members of this Parliament. That is simply the fact. I am a little disappointed about their remarks, but I will not allow it to distract me any further from the bill before the Chamber.
There are some practical benefits from the capacity to register a de facto relationship. As the Parliamentary Secretary in another place has explained, establishing a register will ensure that people in de facto relationships in New South Wales have the option of being automatically registered for the purposes of Commonwealth legislation and therefore able to more easily access Commonwealth benefits to which they are entitled. Our register will conform with Commonwealth legislation. The register will also provide an additional degree of certainty that de facto couples need to prove their entitlement to various existing entitlements and rights under State legislation. There can be few objections to a register that merely records relationships already recognised by the law. For a man and a woman there is a choice. Some marry; some choose a relationship without a marriage. With this legislation they now will have the option of registering their relationship.
However, for some same-sex couples a de facto relationship under this and other State and Commonwealth legislation is the only option. They cannot express the love they have for each other and the commitment they are prepared to make to each other by marrying, with all of its burdens as well as its benefits. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer
is an important work of faith but also one of the most beautiful examples of written English. One of its greatest passages is the service of marriage, where it talks about those burdens and those benefits. The clergy asks those to be married to be pledge themselves, "To have and to hold, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, forsaking all others till death us do part."
This is the essence of marriage: a lifelong commitment by two people who care for one another, recognised and supported by society. Many same-sex couples make this commitment. Those who do are deserving of the same legal recognition of their relationship. As a social good, marriage should be available to all Australians regardless of their sexuality. That is my personal view. It is increasingly clear that the majority of Australians agree with me. Ms Lee Rhiannon referred to a study conducted by Galaxy Research on Australian marriage equality in May 2009. The poll has been criticised by the executive director of the Australian Christian Lobby as being tainted by framing bias. Having read a poll or two, I believe those claims are overblown. It was a telephone poll of 1,100 respondents. I believe it was a very good scientific sample.
The findings of the poll were that three in five Australians—as Ms Lee Rhiannon said, 60 per cent—agreed that same-sex couples should be able to marry in Australia. Only 36 per cent disagreed with that proposition. It was found that 68 per cent of females agreed and 53 per cent of males agreed. The most interesting aspect was the age gap. A surprising 45 per cent of Australians aged over 50 thought that same-sex couples should be able to marry. That has moved a long way from earlier polls. In the 35- to 49-year-old age range the level of support was 68 per cent. It rose to 71 per cent of those aged between 25 and 34 years. That shows the level and strength of support amongst young Australians, a matter that has been commented on by a number of members.
It can be argued that the Australian community is ready for the reform of Federal marriage legislation. It is what the majority of Australians want. For the sake of so many of my good friends in same-sex relationships, I wish I could vote today in this Parliament to make this change. Of course, that is wholly a matter for the Federal Parliament and one I hope will be revisited with a more positive outcome sooner rather than later. I do have concerns that some people see this form of recognition for same-sex couples as the last word on this matter and that no other form of recognition can be supported.
Some gays and lesbians say that this sort of bill or any legislation that would institute civil unions or civil partnerships should be opposed as an impediment to marriage equality. Others argue that this bill is just a cynical move by State and Federal Labor designed to appease their base with a semblance of reform and that, in fact, it achieves very little at all. There may be some validity to those concerns. However, on balance, I believe passing this legislation is the right thing to do. I will vote for this bill. I hope that one day there will be marriage equality for all Australians.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE
[9.58 p.m.]: I speak to the Relationships Register Bill 2010. I apologise for not being in the House during all of the debate. I have been hosting the annual Christian Democratic Party dinner in the dining room. I have drafted amendments to the bill. I put on the record that I oppose the bill and will vote against it. As previous speakers have said, I regret that the Australian Labor Party has not allowed its members to have a conscience vote on this very important bill. I congratulate the Coalition—the Liberal Party and The Nationals—on allowing its members to have a conscience vote. In Victoria Labor members were allowed to have a conscience vote on similar legislation. It is a regrettable trend in New South Wales that an iron fist is being applied to members of the Labor Party when there are Labor members who do not support this type of legislation. Despite all the talk about caring for others and being tolerant, it appears that within the Labor Party the majority are not tolerant of the minority. In other words, Labor members do not practise what they preach. If they have the numbers, they force their will upon the minority. That is regrettable.
The Hon. John Hatzistergos:
No-one actually asked for it. No-one asked for a conscience vote.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE:
Do they have to ask for it, when other parties have been granted a conscience vote? The normal tradition is that when one side of Parliament permits a conscience vote, so does the other side.
The Hon. Helen Westwood:
No, that is not right.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE:
That is the usual tradition.
The Hon. Peter Primrose:
Did you ask for a conscience vote for your party, Fred?
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE:
That is the usual tradition.
The Hon. Helen Westwood:
That is not correct.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE:
Our party policy is to permit a conscience vote on everything.
The Hon. Peter Primrose:
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE:
That is in our constitution, which I drafted after watching the Labor Party at work in this House. I insisted that our constitution provide that all members have a conscience vote.
Order! Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile should confine his remarks to the bill and refrain from responding to interjections.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE:
When reading the Relationships Register Bill 2010, background papers and the second reading speeches that were made in the other place, I often asked myself whether in some way we were dealing with a phoney marriage bill. This is a phoney marriage bill because it will allow two men or two women to register their same-sex relationship with the Registrar for Births, Deaths and Marriages. I ask members to note the word "Marriages" in that title. If members who are promoting the bill, including the Attorney General, want some registration of the relationship, the registration could have been lodged with some other government department, such as the Department of Community Services or the Community Relations Commission, and kept right away from the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. I understand that without the bill, the registrar would strongly object to being asked in any way to acknowledge those types of relationships. The proposal is totally opposed to the whole concept of what historically the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages does as part of the responsibility of that department to the Government.
An impression has been given that the bill caters not only for same-sex relationships but also for heterosexual relationships, which somehow makes the legislation more reasonable. I have not received a single letter or phone call from any heterosexual couple urging me to introduce or support a bill of this nature. The only movement that is lobbying for this type of legislation, and lobbying to go beyond this legislation, is the homosexual community. When I say "go beyond this legislation", I am referring to at least two Greens members who spoke during the debate, Ms Sylvia Hale and Ms Lee Rhiannon, and to the Hon. Don Harwin who have said that really what is required—and what we should accept—is same-sex marriage.
This legislation is a temporary step towards the big achievement of same-sex marriage. That is the final objective. That is quite clear from all the reading I have been studying over the past 20 years or more, not just from what I have read over the past 12 months. That has always been the Mount Everest, if I may use that metaphor, for the homosexual community, whose objective has always been to have their relationships recognised as a legal marriage. That is intended to force the State to endorse their lifestyle. Whatever that does for their self-satisfaction or conscience is a matter for them to decide. I know that other homosexuals argue that they do not want to get involved in the heterosexual institution of marriage. They feel insulted that they are expected to move in that direction. There is a diversity of views among members of the homosexual community. There is also a lot of dissatisfaction among the homosexual community regarding the bill because they regard it as a partial achievement only of what they really want to achieve. The Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby's convener, Benjamin Keats, has said:
A registration scheme for both heterosexual and same-sex couples provides a tangible and documented form of relationship recognition. However, it still lacks the symbolic and universal recognition that comes with marriage.
If the Labor Government thinks that this legislation may satisfy the homosexual lobby group and that they will all go away and go to sleep, it is sadly mistaken. Debate on this bill has illustrated that the bill in no way will stop those demands. It is a pity that the Australian Christian Lobby, for which I have great respect, suggested, "Well, Fred, if we give them this, then they will go away. We will not have to worry about same-sex marriage." I disagree with that strategy. I do not believe it will accomplish that outcome at all. The whole campaign for same-sex marriage will in fact be further encouraged by this legislation.
If the Labor Government and the Labor Party were sincere in not wanting to have same-sex marriage—and obviously there are members of the Labor Party who want it—and thought that this legislation may prevent that from occurring, I believe they are sadly mistaken. The Federal Australian Labor Party Conference changed its policy over matters such as the same-sex relationships register, and states in its policy that the Labor Party will not allow anything that will "mimic" marriage. The policy specifically uses the word "mimic", but the problem is that this bill mimics marriage.
The Government says that Labor Party policy is against mimicking marriage and has stated that there must be no marriage or wedding service as a result of this legislation. How can the Government stop a marriage service or wedding as a result of this legislation? What would stop two male homosexuals, once they register their relationship with the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, arranging for a sympathetic, certified marriage celebrant to conduct a marriage service, even though it will not be recognised by Commonwealth law as a legal marriage under current Federal marriage legislation? The Government has said that there is to be no marriage service, but how can a marriage service be prevented from occurring? Will the Government have some sort of penalty for two homosexuals who take part in a marriage service after they register their relationship? Obviously, as members know, even without this bill, homosexuals and lesbians are going through a form of marriage service in Australia and overseas.
I believe that this bill will undermine marriage and will provide a legal basis for the homosexual lobby to lobby for the next change, which is to legalise and recognise same-sex homosexual marriage between two male homosexuals or two lesbians. I say that because they will contend that, in principle, we have accepted the relationships. They will say, "When the bill is passed, you have accepted the relationship. So on what basis can you now, as the next step of debate in this Parliament, object to an amendment to the marriage Act?" That will not happen in this Parliament, but it may happen in the Federal Parliament. They will say, "What is your legitimate legal basis for your argument?" I believe that this bill undermines legal opposition to same-sex marriage. That has been my concern from the time it was first proposed.
I am sure very clever lawyers will argue that the bill has given legitimacy to the same-sex marriage debate. Although it does not mention marriage—and a number of speakers have mentioned same-sex marriage—I believe the proposed legislation is directly linked with same-sex marriage, which I still believe, despite some quotes from surveys, the majority of Australians completely oppose. People are sometimes misled if they are asked the simple question: Should there be equality in relationships? People do not understand the implications of that survey question. But if the question is made absolutely clear I believe the majority of people would say that they do not want to change the institution of marriage here in Australia.
There is a lot of evidence available—in fact, it has increased dramatically because of changes in society—to show why we should not proceed down the path of same-sex marriage, for which, as I said, this bill will provide a platform. There are many science-based arguments against same-sex marriage. I will not go through them in detail but I will just mention some points: that children hunger for biological parents; that children need fathers; that children need mothers; that the evidence on parenting by same-sex couples is inadequate; that evidence suggests that children raised by homosexuals are more likely to experience gender and sexual disorders; that same-sex marriage would undercut the norm of sexual fidelity within marriage; that same-sex marriage would further isolate marriage from its procreative purpose; that same-sex marriage would further diminish the expectation of paternal commitments; that marriages thrive when spouses specialise in gender-typical roles; that women in marriage domesticate men. I am happy to provide a copy of these arguments to any member. I heard somebody say that what I am saying is not correct. Those points I have just quoted are all supported by authentic scientific research.
This bill has within it a number of unacceptable provisions, and I have endeavoured to produce amendments dealing with those matters. From my reading of the bill it only requires one person to be resident in New South Wales, which means a relationship can be registered where one person lives in Sydney and the other person lives in Perth, or, I assume, even in San Francisco. How that can be termed a relationship is beyond me. I have given notice of an amendment that I will move to change that provision so that instead of one person having to be a resident of New South Wales both must be resident in New South Wales. This is the New South Wales Parliament and it is passing legislation for the people of New South Wales.
Another amendment I have foreshadowed relates to caring relationships. The Government has claimed that its bill is a copy of the Victorian legislation and that it implements similar requirements, but I cannot find any reference in this bill to caring relationships, which is a major section of the Victorian legislation. The caring relationships provisions in the Victorian legislation cover two pages of the Victorian bill, but there is no mention of caring relationships in the New South Wales bill. Therefore, the bill does not mimic the Victorian legislation at all. Also, the bill has no reference to any requirement for any degree of commitment or a time limit for the relationship. I have proposed an amendment that will require a person to have been in a committed relationship as a couple with the other person for at least 12 months.
They are the main amendments that I have proposed. I believe they highlight what appear to be the main weaknesses in the bill itself. Leaving aside its philosophical or moral problems, any requirement that the relationship has any real meaning is very weak and almost non-existent in the way this bill has been drafted. I reaffirm my support for traditional marriage, which I believe came from the creator, Almighty God, when it was stated in Genesis that a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and the two shall become one flesh. Some people who disregard the Old Testament will note that Jesus Christ himself repeated those words in his own teaching and that the apostles included those words in their epistles just to make it clear for the Christian church in the New Testament period. I oppose the bill and hope members will give serious consideration to the amendments.
The Hon. MICHAEL VEITCH
(Parliamentary Secretary) [10.15 p.m.]: I was not going to speak on this debate on the Relationships Register Bill 2010 because I felt that a number of contributions had adequately represented my views and my position. But, as a country member of the Legislative Council, I felt that maybe my contribution, for what it is worth, should be put on the record. I say at the outset that I speak in favour of this bill. I do so not because I am forced by any caucus enforcement regime, but because my conscience brought me to this position. I congratulate the Attorney General on bringing this bill forward and taking this step. In some way the Hon. John Hatzistergos is continuing the fine, esteemed and visionary work of a former Attorney General, the Hon. Jeff Shaw.
Some people may say that the Government has not gone far enough. But a small step in the direction of what is right is sometimes more powerful than an ambit claim. I believe that is the case with this legislation. I am from Young. I believe it is important to understand that this bill will impact not only on people living in Sydney or, indeed, on the coastal fringe, but will in some way improve the lifestyle and the living arrangements of people west of the Great Dividing Range. That is a very critical point, because sometimes country people feel as though they have been left behind. For those people who may not know, I point out that there is a very strong and vibrant gay and lesbian community in country New South Wales living west of the Great Dividing Range.
It is not often I do this but I want to quote some words from a Facebook contribution made by the Hon. Trevor Khan, also a country-based member of the Legislative Council. Using the social networking arrangement that he uses as a politician, Trevor wanted to engage people with this debate, and he made some comments on his Facebook page that I concur with completely. I have just had a conversation with the Hon. Trevor Khan and he is happy for me to requote those words. He wrote:
There are two things I say in this debate:
Firstly, there is no compelling evidence, and indeed extensive opposing and thorough research, to support the concern that allowing registration of gay and lesbian relationships will encourage young people to adopt a similar lifestyle. Put another way: To be a gay or lesbian is not a lifestyle choice. People are born gay, lesbian or transgender and are entitled to the acceptance, respect and support of the wider community; not condemnation and discrimination.
Secondly, the sad reality is that many young gay, lesbian and transgender people suffer considerable loneliness and isolation in our community as they become aware of their sexuality. In some cases this loneliness and isolation is profound and leads to a range of self-destructive behaviours. The Hon. Trevor Khan's words echo my views about gay and lesbian people in country New South Wales. Last night in the other place Paul McLeay made a great contribution to the debate. Members of this place would be remiss if they did not reflect on his words. He said:
For many people marriage is simple: it is two people standing together telling everyone they know how much they love each other. It is not a conspiracy against moral values. It is not a conspiracy against an opportunity to celebrate and share everything that we hold important. It is their good fortune that they are able to tell everyone that they love each other. It is their good fortune to stand up in front of their friends and family, and, if they are lucky enough, they get to have children They get to put their names on a certificate and they have the ability to celebrate with their families. Mothers still cry—they have been doing it for years—and their family are with them. If you believe in a free society, but that society stops at the freedoms that we enjoy and take dearly, that is a cheap shot. We must let people enjoy the benefits that we all take for granted.
If we oppose this, do people think same-sex relationships will go away? To put it simply, do people think same-sex relationships will cease to exist? Where is the dignity, the equality and the compassion in this position? I am a foster parent, and I have seen the inadequacies of some heterosexual couples, and I have had to deal with the fallout from those issues. I certainly do not subscribe to the view that same-sex relationships are more likely to damage the physical and mental upbringing of a child than heterosexual relationships. I applaud all those who have spoken in this debate. This is an important debate. I congratulate the Attorney General. This bill is an important step forward in the broader debate for a sane, rational society that respects gay, lesbian and transgender couples. I commend the bill to the House.
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS
(Attorney General, Minister for Citizenship, Minister for Regulatory Reform, and Vice-President of the Executive Council) [10.22 p.m.], in reply: I thank honourable members who contributed to this debate and the general respect with which the different views that have been communicated to the House have been received. I was interested to hear Ms Lee Rhiannon talk about the constitutional court of South Africa having recently determined that it is possible to have a gay marriage in Sough Africa and what a great decision that was for equality in South Africa in the context in which we are debating this issue today. What a contrast! No court has made a decision that we need to have such legislation. It has not been imposed on us. Instead, democratically elected members of Parliament are debating what is regarded by some people as a sensitive and controversial proposal and resolving it in the normal democratic manner.
I say that in the context of the recent consultation on charters of rights—many members would be aware that I have been a vocal opponent of charters of rights. Contrast the South African experience with which Ms Lee Rhiannon regaled us with the robust, democratic, vibrant atmosphere in which this debate has been conducted in this House. I am sure honourable members who participated much prefer today's experience—robust and open debate with people expressing different opinions—to having a judge at the end of Macquarie Street decide the matter for us and telling us that we should live this particular way. I believe New South Wales is a mature society, not only because we can make decisions on such issues and resolve them and then ultimately bear the consequences of those decisions at the ballot box. If we are right or wrong, we suffer the consequences, but we can do so in a measured way.
Just as I support this bill and this legislation for reasons I will outline, I also support, and will continue to support, the religious doctrinal exemptions that exist in the Anti-Discrimination Act that enable people with certain religious beliefs and religious institutions to carry out those practices with appropriate exemptions to ensure that they are not foisted with requirements under the law that would offend their doctrinal beliefs. But I also support the right of people to live in dignity, and fundamental to that is what this bill is about. Some interesting views about this bill have been expressed. We have had one extreme with people saying that this is marriage-like, that it mimics marriage. On the other hand the member for Pittwater, Mr Rob Stokes, told us yesterday that this bill did virtually nothing. Members must choose where the truth lies; the truth lies somewhere in between.
I will tell members what the bill does. This bill will stop people from having to go through the indignity of proving their relationship to every bureaucrat who will make a decision about their entitlements. They will not have to go before some desk clerk and say, "I'm entitled to a pension because I'm living with X" and explain the nature of their relationship. They do not have to go to the immigration department. They do not have to go to agencies that provide benefits to those individuals and tell them, from go to woe, the nature of their relationship. Is that the sort of society we want to live in? Do we want to humiliate people by having them explain their life history in order to get basic entitlements that every citizen who lives in a heterosexual relationships can get? That is what this bill is about.
People somehow think that these relationships will evaporate if we do not have this legislation. Let me say that they will not; they will continue to exist. The only difference we can make to those people's lives is to support this legislation and allow them a bit of decency, courtesy and respect. That is what this bill does. If that offends some members of this House, that is regrettable, because I think people deserve decency, courtesy and respect as human beings. As I have said, I am happy to stand proudly and advocate for people's rights. I do not need courts to tell me or to tell the citizens I represent what their rights should be. I am happy to stand and to be counted for them, and that is what this legislation does.
I am proud of this Government's record. There is nothing to be ashamed of in terms of balancing the different views that exist. I am sensitive to the fact that there is a range of different views in society. I know about issues such as marriage and gay adoption. I know that there is a range of different views. But how could we honestly say to fellow human beings who want these entitlements, which the law gives them because the law recognises de facto relationships in a series of different transactions, as the Hon. David Clarke said, that they should be put through the misery and indignity of having to explain their life history in order to access their benefits?
As I said, if removing that misery and indignity offends people, that is regrettable, but that is what this bill does, and that is what members are voting for in a nutshell. If members want to pretend that somehow this bill does something like create marriage or mimic marriage or all those other factors that have been raised, then do so. However, if members want to be honest with themselves about the way they intend to vote on this bill they should look at the facts. If they come to the conclusion that they do not want people to have the benefits that this bill will provide, quite frankly, it is a very poor reflection not only on them but also on this House and the way some members approach an issue of basic human dignity and respect.
Question—That this bill be now read a second time—put.
The House divided.
Mr Della Bosca
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Reverend Dr Moyes
Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE
[10.42 p.m.], by leave: I move amendments Nos 1 to 24 circulated in my name on sheet C2010-020, in globo:
No. 1 Page 2, clause 3, line 10. Omit "object of this Act is". Insert instead "objects of this Act are".
No. 2 Page 2, clause 3, line 12. Insert "and the legal recognition of persons in a carers relationship by registration of their relationship" after "relationship".
No. 3 Page 2, clause 4 (1). Omit line 19. Insert instead:
interstate registered relationship
means an interstate registered partners relationship or an interstate registered carers relationship to which a declaration under section 16 applies.
No. 4 Page 2, clause 4 (1). Insert after line 21:
registered carers relationship
means a relationship referred to in section 6 (1) that is registered under this Act.
registered partners relationship
means a relationship referred to in section 5 (1) that is registered under this Act.
No. 5 Page 3, clause 5, line 2. Omit "registration". Insert instead "registration as partners".
No. 6 Page 3, clause 5 (1), line 3. Insert "(a partners relationship
)" after "sex,".
No. 7 Page 3, clause 5, lines 5 and 7. Insert "partners" before "relationship" wherever occurring.
No. 8 Page 3, clause 5. Insert after line 12:
(d) either adult is in a carers relationship with another person, or
No. 9 Page 3. Insert after line 23:
6 Eligibility for registration of carers relationship Eligibility for registration of carers relationship
(1) Two adults, whether or not related as family, who are in a close personal relationship (other than as husband and wife or de facto partners), who are living together, one or each of whom provides the other with domestic support and care may apply to the Registrar for registration of their relationship (a carers relationship
(2) A carers relationship cannot be registered unless both of the adults reside in New South Wales.
(3) A carers relationship cannot be registered if:
(a) either adult is married, or
(b) either adult is registered under this Act or a corresponding law as being in a registered relationship or an interstate registered relationship, or
(c) either adult is in a relationship as a couple with another person, or
(d) either adult is in a carers relationship with another person.
(4) A carers relationship cannot be registered if one of the adults provides the other with domestic support and personal care:
(a) for fee or reward, or
(b) on behalf of another person or an organisation (including a government or a government agency, a body corporate or a charitable or benevolent organisation).
No. 10 Page 3, clause 6, line 25. Insert "referred to in section 5 (1)" after "relationship".
No. 11 Page 4, clause 6. Insert after line 11:
(2) An application for registration of a relationship referred to in section 6 (1) is to be made in the form approved by the Registrar and must be accompanied by the following:
(a) a statutory declaration by each person in the relationship stating the following:
(i) that the person wishes to register the relationship,
(ii) that the person is in a relationship with the other person in which one or each of them provides the other with domestic support and care,
(iii) that the person does not provide domestic support and care to the other person for fee or reward or on behalf of another person or an organisation,
(iv) that the person is not married,
(v) that the person is not registered under this Act or a corresponding law as being in a registered relationship or an interstate registered relationship,
(vi) that the person is not in a relationship as a couple or a carers relationship with a person other than the other applicant,
(vii) that the person resides in New South Wales,
(b) evidence of the identity and age of each person in the relationship,
(c) the fee prescribed by the regulations,
(d) any other documents or information prescribed by the regulations.
No. 12 Page 5, clause 10, line 3. Insert "partners" after "registered".
No. 13 Page 5, clause 10. Insert after line 6:
(2) The registration of a registered carers relationship is revoked in the following circumstances:
(a) on the death of a person in the relationship,
(b) on the marriage of a person in the relationship, or
(c) if a person in the relationship enters into a relationship as a couple with another person.
No. 14 Page 7, clause 16, line 4. Omit "interstate registered". Insert instead "interstate registered partners relationships or interstate registered carers ".
No. 15 Page 11, schedule 2.2, lines 9 and 10. Omit "registered relationship or interstate registered relationship". Insert instead "registered partners relationship or an interstate registered partners relationship".
No. 16 Page 12, schedule 2.3, lines 23 and 24. Omit "registered relationship or an interstate registered relationship". Insert instead "registered partners relationship or interstate registered partners relationship".
No. 17 Page 12, schedule 2.3. Insert after line 25:
(5) For the purposes of this Act, a registered carers relationship or an interstate registered carers relationship, within the meaning of the Registered Relationships Act 2010
, is a domestic relationship.
No. 18 Page 30, schedule 3.53, line 5. Omit "registered relationship or an interstate registered relationship". Insert instead "registered partners relationship or interstate registered partners relationship".
No. 19 Page 36, schedule 3.72, lines 5 and 6. Omit "registered relationship or an interstate registered relationship". Insert instead "registered partners relationship or interstate registered partners relationship".
No. 20 Page 36, schedule 3.72, lines 13 and 14. Omit "registered relationship, interstate registered relationship". Insert instead "registered partners relationship, interstate registered partners relationship".
No. 21 Page 39, schedule 3.78, line 7. Omit "registered relationship or interstate registered relationship". Insert instead "registered partners relationship or interstate registered partners relationship".
No. 22 Page 49, schedule 3.105, lines 33 and 34. Omit "registered relationship, or interstate registered relationship". Insert instead "registered partners relationship, or interstate registered partners relationship".
No. 23 Page 50, schedule 3.106, line 12. Omit "registered relationship or interstate registered relationship". Insert instead "registered partners relationship or interstate registered partners relationship".
No. 24 Page 50, schedule 3.106, line 25. Omit "registered relationship or interstate registered relationship". Insert instead "registered partners relationship or interstate registered partners relationship".
These amendments that cover a number of items will insert into the legislation the provision for registration of a carers relationship, which is an important part of the Victorian bill. I understand that members voted for the Victorian bill because of that carers relationship section. I incorrectly assumed it would be included in the New South Wales bill. This bill we are dealing with is not identical to the Victorian bill. The Government has omitted this important category of registration of carers relationship, which I believe should be included to be consistent with the Victorian bill.
The Hon. JOHN AJAKA
[10.46 p.m.]: The amendments moved by Reverend the Hon Fred Nile raise some important issues concerning the interaction between the new regime outlined in the bill and the Property (Relationships) Act and the legal status of carer relationships in that context. I note at the outset that, as a matter of principle, I support the need to afford greater legal recognition and rights to carers—an uncontentious position. Indeed, I have expressed that view by supporting the New South Wales Liberal-Nationals carers bill, in particular, the proposal to introduce the New South Wales carers charter, as put forward by my colleague in the Legislative Assembly, the member for Bega, Andrew Constance.
However, the issue before the House is whether the object of giving greater expression to the rights of carers in New South Wales is best served by the inclusion of carer relationships in the Relationships Register Bill in the manner proposed by Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile. With the greatest respect, in my view, it is not appropriate to deal with these issues in this manner. The amendments moved by Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile seek to differentiate between a registered carers relationship and a registered partners relationship, that is, he attempts to split the definition of a registered relationship into two distinct parts. Put simply, these amendments do not work. They only serve to create confusion.
A registered carers relationship in the amendments, for the purposes of the Property (Relationships) Act, is a domestic relationship, not a de facto relationship. Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile states in amendment No. 16 that a registered partners relationship is, for the purposes of the Property (Relationships) Act, both a de facto relationship and a domestic relationship. That is because section 5 of the Property (Relationships) Act includes de facto relationships in the definition of a domestic relationship. The amendments will incorporate registered carers relationships into the definition of a "domestic relationship" under the Property (Relationships) Act. However, these amendments to the bill appear to have no further consequences for other legislation.
The bill, in its original form, seeks to include registered relationships in the definition of a de facto relationship, as it appears in the Interpretation Act and the Property (Relationships) Act. The bill's amendment to the definition of de facto relationships will flow through a total of 120 pieces of legislation. In amendment No. 15 Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile seeks to expressly exclude persons in a registered carers relationship from the new definition of a de facto partner. This means that only persons in a registered partners relationship will be incorporated into the definition of a de facto partner and that the definition of a de facto partner, as it appears in the 120 Acts amended by the bill, will not include reference to a registered carers relationship. Will Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile's amendments give greater legal recognition or rights to carers?
Here I make three points, the first of which concerns the object of the bill and the interaction between the bill and the Property (Relationships) Act; the second of which goes to the operation of amendment No. 11, proposed by Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile; and the third of which considers the effects of his amendment No. 13. As to the first of these issues, it was emphasised in the second reading speech that the bill creates a parallel regime which operates alongside the existing framework for de facto relationships. Its object is to give couples an option to demonstrate their de facto status more easily.
Reverend the Hon Fred Nile's amendments seek to give content to the term "registered carers relationship", essentially by importing into the bill the words of section 5 (1) (b) of the Property (Relationships) Act—that is, the definition of a domestic relationship. His amendments also impose a range of other criteria that must be met by persons wishing to register a relationship as a carer's relationship. These are detailed in amendment No. 9, in proposed new section 6 (2) to (4).
The object of the bill in its original form is to give couples an option to demonstrate their de facto status more easily. Yet it is difficult to see how the bill—as Reverend the Hon Fred Nile would have it—could give carers an option to demonstrate their domestic relationship status more easily. This is because the eligibility requirements to register carers' relationships go beyond the requisite elements of a domestic relationship under the Property (Relationships) Act. What then is the utility of the bill from a carer's perspective? How would the bill—if it incorporated the amendments proposed by Reverend the Hon Fred Nile—interact with section 56 of the Property (Relationships) Act, which outlines the process by which persons may apply to the Supreme Court for a declaration as to the existence of a domestic relationship? Would the bill operate to create a prima facie presumption that the applicants were in a domestic relationship? Would the fact of registration be sufficient to satisfy the Supreme Court as to the existence of a domestic relationship without further evidence?
As to the second issue concerning amendment No. 11 proposed by Reverend the Hon Fred Nile, I direct my comments in particular to proposed subsection (2) (a) (vi), which provides that an application for registration of a relationship referred to in section 6 (1) must be accompanied, inter alia, by a statutory declaration by each person in the relationship that the person is not in a relationship as a couple or a carer's relationship with a person other than the applicant. This gives rise to a range of difficulties. For instance, this provision would operate to exclude an adult from registering a carer's relationship in circumstances where he or she is living with, and providing domestic care and support to, both of his or her parents, or to more than one disabled sibling or child. This interpretation is further reinforced by the use of the words "two adults" may apply to the registrar for registration of their relationship.
Finally, as to the third issue concerning amendment No. 13 proposed by Reverend the Hon Fred Nile, I note that the registration of a registered carer's relationship is revoked in circumstances including where a person in the relationship enters into a relationship as a couple with another person. On the plain and ordinary meaning of these words, it appears that if, say, an adult is caring for his or her elderly and disabled parent, and wishes to enter into a relationship of a de facto, marital or domestic nature with another person, he or she may not do so without having his or her status as a registered carer revoked. This would be an absurd result, and surely cannot be the intended operation of amendment No. 13. As I said earlier, I oppose the amendments.
The Hon. TREVOR KHAN
[10.52 p.m.]: With the greatest respect to Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile, to equate a carer's relationship with, essentially, a loving relationship, and to exclude a person from one because of the existence of the other is a plain and fundamental absurdity. That is demonstrated by what the Hon. John Ajaka has said. Amendment No. 9 provides that:
(3) A carers relationship cannot be registered if:
(b) either adult is registered under this Act or a corresponding law as being in a registered relationship or an interstate registered relationship
How can it be that one cannot have a loving relationship and care for somebody at the same time and be registered in both circumstances? One is excluding one from doing the two fundamental things one wants in life—to be engaged in a loving relationship and to care for other people. To say you cannot do both defies logic and defies the very concept of caring for, sharing with and loving family members. There is a lot to be said for being able to register a caring relationship but it is not through this bill. The import of these amendments is to frustrate the legislation. For that reason they should be opposed.
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS (Attorney General, Minister for Citizenship, Minister for Regulatory Reform, and Vice-President of the Executive Council) [10.54 p.m.]: I do not need to add much to what has already been said except to say that the circumstances in which the Tasmanian and Victorian legislation led to having those provisions was very much as a result of a political compromise in order to be able to secure the support of some MPs who otherwise would not have supported the legislation at the request of various stakeholders.
In the Commonwealth legislation, which is the precipitant for the Relationships Register Bill we are now debating, this kind of registration would achieve absolutely nothing. There are no benefits to be gained by any person having a registered carer's relationship. As a matter of historical interest, since these provisions have been enacted both in Tasmania and in Victoria officers of my department have made contact with the registries of those two jurisdictions to ascertain how many people had availed themselves of those provisions. In Tasmania the number is two. When we inquired of Victoria the response was, "We did not even know we had these provisions in our legislation." That shows the level of frequency with which they have had to consult their bill in order to register one of these caring relationships.
With the greatest of respect to Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile, I will tell the House why people have declined to register caring relationships. It is acknowledged in the Victorian legislation but unfortunately not acknowledged in Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile's proposal as I have read it. The concerns that have been raised on behalf of some persons who are in caring relationships and who have declined to register are about the legal liabilities that may flow to them in relation to any failure by them to extend services to the person being cared for, notwithstanding the fact that there is a registration. Indeed, in Victoria there is a requirement for anyone who wants to register a caring relationship to first obtain legal advice before they are able to register it. That is a word of caution to anyone going down this path. For the reasons that have already been articulated, we oppose these amendments.
The Hon. Robyn Parker:
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE [10.57 p.m.]: Even though the Attorney claims there have only been two applicants in Tasmania, other speakers have said this will cause confusion. There is no evidence of it causing confusion. That is the point I would like to make. The Attorney claims that has happened or will happen. There is no confusion, and it is up to the individual which one they use. They can apply to the relationships register or the carer's register. They make that choice. To me it seems quite simple. I accept that often there is a political agenda with these issues. But the point is that it has been left out of the New South Wales bill.
And you don't have a political agenda?
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE:
No. I am saying it was in the Victorian bill and it was claimed that this bill is the same as the Victorian bill. Is it the same? The answer is no. The House has been misled. It is not the same as the Victorian bill.
Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile:
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS (Attorney General, Minister for Citizenship, Minister for Regulatory Reform, and Vice-President of the Executive Council) [10.58 p.m.]: No-one has misled the House. The bill speaks for itself. We never pretended that this bill mimicked the Victorian bill any more than we pretended registration mimicked marriage.
You said it in the media.
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS:
No, we did not. We said that the Australian Capital Territory has a relationships register. We said that Tasmania has a relationships register and we said also that Victoria has one. A number of people have made comments in relation to the history of this matter. I remind members that this matter went to a national conference of the Australian Labor Party. It was clearly articulated there would be a relationships register. That was accepted as Labor policy. The Federal Government went to the polls and was elected on that particular platform. There was no hiding the issue. It was not put in the schedule of some Act. They put up a bill that reflected the policy that the Federal Labor Party went to the last election on. After passing the legislation they amended their Interpretation Act to include relationships that were registered under State-based laws.
There is no Federal Act of Parliament that will give benefits to carers who are registered on a State-based register: it will achieve zero. However, there are a number of provisions that give benefits to people who are on State-based registers in relation to relationships of the kind that are de facto, same-sex or heterosexual. That is what the bill is designed to do: it is designed to fill a practical vacuum that exists at the moment and also to ensure that a similar range of benefits is able to be extended to State law through the provision of this register.
Question—That Christian Democratic Party amendments Nos 1 to 24 [C2010-020] be agreed to—put and resolved in the negative.
Christian Democratic Party amendments Nos 1 to 24 [C2010-020] negatived.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE
[11.01 p.m.]: I move Christian Democratic Party amendment No. 1 on sheet C2010-019C:
No. 1 Page 3, clause 5 (2), line 5. Omit "at least one". Insert instead "both".
The bill has the ridiculous provision that only one person in a relationship needs to live in New South Wales for a relationship to be registered. The other person could reside in Perth or even San Francisco. How on earth that could be defined as a relationship is beyond me. To be realistic and accurate, both individuals should be residents of New South Wales.
The Hon. JOHN AJAKA
[11.01 p.m.]: I oppose the amendment. For the life of me, I cannot understand why a couple should be forced to reside together in New South Wales. In many circumstances, including marriage, one party may live extensively overseas while the other party lives in New South Wales. The couple may see each other only, at best, once a year. Does that mean they are not in a relationship? I ask members to reject the amendment.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE
[11.02 p.m.]: The point just made is not relevant, because the principle of the amendment is for both persons to be residents of New South Wales when they applied to be registered. In the same way, two people would not marry while one was in Sydney and the other was in San Francisco; they have to be together at the same place at the time they are married.
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS
(Attorney General, Minister for Citizenship, Minister for Regulatory Reform, and Vice-President of the Executive Council) [11.02 p.m.]: The Government is of the view that it is quite possible that a couple in a genuine, committed relationship may not live together, or indeed may not live near to each other. For example, one member of the couple may work interstate for significant periods by choice or force of circumstances, and the other member may need to care for an aged parent interstate, again for significant periods. The position with de facto couples is consistent with that. Recently the Supreme Court found that a globe-trotting couple who lived apart quite often and did not stay together at any place for a long time but spent significant periods living together in New South Wales, Indonesia and the United States of America were a de facto couple under New South Wales law.
The court found they were strongly and emotionally involved together in a loving relationship involving close attention to and concern for each other's welfare and projects, and remained in communication at all times, despite their time living apart. The Government does not support an amendment that would require members of a couple to live in New South Wales in order to be able to register a relationship. Indeed, there may be many instances, particularly in relation to same-sex couples, when, for a whole range of reasons including stigma, they may prefer to live apart. To suggest that they should not be able to access the benefits of this arrangement, notwithstanding the fact that they are in a committed, loving and caring relationship, unfairly discriminates against them. For those reasons the Government will not support the amendment.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE
[11.04 p.m.]: The Attorney General may have missed the point of my amendment. I am simply saying that when a couple applies to the registrar for registration they should both be resident in New South Wales. What they do after they register the relationship is entirely up to them. As I said earlier with marriage, people may have to be apart for various reasons. The bill allows them to apply to be on the register when one is living in Sydney and one is living in San Francisco. For the initial registration they should both be here in New South Wales. What they do after that is their business.
Question—That Christian Democratic Party amendment No. 1 [C2010-019C] be agreed to—put and resolved in the negative.
Christian Democratic Party amendment No. 1 [C2010-019C] negatived.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE
[11.05 p.m.], by leave: I move Christian Democratic Party amendments Nos 2, 3 and 4 on sheet C2010-019C in globo:
No. 2 Page 3, clause 5. Insert after line 13:
(4) A relationship cannot be registered unless the adults have been in a committed relationship as a couple with each other for at least 12 months.
No. 3 Page 3, clause 5 (5), line 20. Omit "(4)". Insert instead "(5)".
No. 4 Page 3, clause 6 (a). Insert after line 31:
(iii) that the person has been in a committed relationship as a couple with the other person for at least 12 months,
Amendment No. 2 would include in the bill a provision that was originally made a big fuss of when the de facto legislation was introduced, relating to the relationship between two people. I am trying to incorporate some provision of a committed relationship to give meaning to the term Relationship Register Bill.
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS:
The Hon. TREVOR KHAN [11.06 p.m.]: The purpose of the bill is to provide a mechanism that saves people from the indignity of having to explain the technicalities of their relationship. A couple does not have to be together for 12 months to achieve the status of a committed relationship. Taking the more common example of a heterosexual couple, many people get married before they have achieved 12 months of a committed relationship. In my case it was a lot shorter than that. In those circumstances they would have a certificate that they could wave, but the bill will put people in that same circumstance. Having achieved a loving relationship, having registered that relationship, the couple can go to the Department of Social Security with a certificate and prove they are in a relationship without going through the indignities of having to prove it in a lengthy interview before a public servant. The amendment moved by Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile frustrates the whole purpose of the bill.
The Hon. JOHN AJAKA [11.08 p.m.]: I agree totally with the Hon. Trevor Khan. However, there is another issue, one that the Attorney General referred to earlier about indignity. The problem is that a couple would have to go through the whole box and dice of proving they had been in a 12-month continuous relationship, being asked by a public servant to prove that they had stayed together. No-one should be put through that indignity. I have been married for 11 years to a very beautiful woman whom I married only six months after we first met. No-one told me I had to be with her for a continuous period of 12 months before we could register our marriage. With due respect to Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile, it is a nonsense to amend the bill as suggested. It would have the effect of completely watering down the effect of the bill.
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS (Attorney General, Minister for Citizenship, Minister for Regulatory Reform, and Vice-President of the Executive Council) [11.09 p.m.]: It is important to recognise that in order to be able to be registered it is necessary to swear a statutory declaration in which one deposes that the two persons who are the subject of the registration are in an exclusive relationship as a couple. Once that registration takes effect, those persons are unable to register in another relationship. We do not have a requirement that people wishing to get married have to be in a relationship for 12 months. In fact, a couple can meet one day and get married in a month's time.
Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile: It is a commitment you make to get married.
A commitment after one month. I do not believe people who sign a statutory declaration saying that they are in an exclusive relationship, with all the penalties that can flow from signing a false statutory declaration, will do so lightly. This is about ensuring dignity and fairness to individuals who choose to live their lives differently from the way some of us would. It is about respecting the decision they have made and ensuring they can access the various entitlements that governments provide without having to go through the indignity of establishing their relationship. The amendments effectively propose to say to the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages that people must prove that for the past 12 months they have been living in a committed relationship—whatever that means. As I have said before, this is about fairness, respect and acknowledgement of the human dignity of individuals. This legislation seeks to provide a mechanism for such values to be respected, and the amendments seek to detract from that.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE
[11.11 p.m.]: The amendments prove that the bill is a nonsense because two people who do not know each other and who are not living with each other can go and register a relationship. The relationship is absolutely meaningless so the bill is meaningless. It makes a joke of the word "relationship".
Question—That Christian Democratic Party amendments Nos 2, 3 and 4 [C2010-019C] be agreed to—put and resolved in the negative.
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [11.12 p.m.]: Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile has moved a series of amendments. He now states that the bill is ridiculous. I put it to the Committee that someone who has said he will not support the bill and who then moves amendments to it is ridiculous.
Clauses 3 to 5 agreed to.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE
Christian Democratic Party amendments Nos 2, 3 and 4 [C2010-019C] negatived.
[11.13 p.m.]: I will not move Christian Democratic Party amendment No. 5 on C2010-190C because it lapsed with the defeat of amendment No. 1.
Schedules 1 to 3 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported from Committee without amendment.
Clauses 6 to 21 agreed to.
Adoption of Report
Motion by the Hon. John Hatzistergos agreed to:
That the report be now adopted.
Motion by the Hon. John Hatzistergos agreed to:
That this bill be now read a third time.
Bill read a third time and returned to the Legislative Assembly without amendment.