27 August 2003
of the Legislative Council
BILL 2003 (No. 48)
- Mr President, it can be argued that every vote in the Council by an
independent member is a conscience vote. We are elected by our
constituents to represent them in Parliament. They place great trust
in us, expecting us to carefully analyse proposed legislation in
their interests. Few of them have the time or expertise to do so for
themselves so they give us the job. For our part, we must understand
the interests and opinions of our electors, varied as they may be.
After we have canvassed opinions, read the fine print of the proposed
legislation, we are aware that ultimately our electors have placed
their trust in us. It is a great responsibility, particularly in
controversial, potentially divisive legislation such as this. I think
we have all tried to gauge opinion in our electorates.
have received many submissions. In my office we have had to expand
part of the filing system to cope with the vast volume of written
material. I would like to record my gratitude and appreciation to the
hundreds of people, both in my electorate and outside it, who have
taken the trouble to contact me to express their views on various
aspects of the legislation. Many submissions have asked for an urgent
reply. This has not always been possible. I hope my speech today will
be seen as a satisfactory response.
have been a member of this Council for little more than a year and I
am overwhelmed by the interest in this significant and substantive
piece of legislation. I am sure that for everyone who has spoken to
me personally or sent me written submissions there are at least
another 10 with strong views. I believe this participation in the
legislative process is what democracy is all about. Such a public
debate is to be welcomed.
the Relationships Bill have come from individuals, organisations,
religious groups, from many parts of the State and from outside it.
Some of the material has been part of a concerted and coordinated
campaign either for or against the bill. Wherever it has come from,
we have taken note of the arguments. For my part, I have obviously
given greatest weight to the opinions and arguments of individuals in
my constituency of Rosevears. On the whole, I have been impressed
with the wisdom and clarity of some of the arguments on both sides of
the debate. I have delayed forming any opinions during the process,
preferring to hear all arguments and submissions first. It has been a
complicated process but ultimately some arguments have won through
commonsense and logic. Most Tasmanians, it would seem, regard parts
of the proposed legislation as fair and just. This does not mean I
have dismissed the opposite view. As a Legislative Councillor I
respect everyone's right to express an opinion. However, I am not
tolerant of views which discriminate against some of our fellow human
beings. Bigotry and blind prejudice where they damage human rights
have no place in a caring and tolerant society.
these are my arguments. As far as the registration of significant
relationships is concerned there is less disagreement. Some
submissions against the registration of same sex relationships
argue that the gay lifestyle is not acceptable to the majority of
Tasmanians. Others interpret parts of the Bible as forbidding any
form of a homosexual relationship. Some see registration as a form of
marriage and fear it would undermine the institution of marriage and
hence society. Others say there is statistical evidence that the
average heterosexual marriage lasts longer than homosexual
relationships. Most who argue for the registration of same sex
couples say it would address the disadvantages and discrimination
currently endured by same sex couples by amending a wide range
of State laws which discriminate against same sex couples in
areas such as hospital access, superannuation, wills and property
division, employment conditions, State taxes and statutory
one the many reasons for the institution of marriage is that couples
want a legal way to demonstrate their commitment to each other. Many
gay couples say that allowing them to register their relationship
would not only do away with the discrimination just outlined but
would have the same effect in demonstrating a commitment. They argue
that registration would give same sex relationships more
security and stability. Significant relationships, known for some
decades as de facto relationships, under this bill will extend to
same sex couples. But the bill of course also covers other types
of personal relations such as caring relationships where domestic
support and personal care is provided by a partner or between
partners. People will have a choice of registering these
relationships for legal purposes, and I do not think that most
fair-minded Tasmanians would argue against that.
public attitudes and opinions are always changing. We can remember
strong disapproval of de facto relationships between men and women.
Some sections of society regarded them as living in sin. We heard in
our briefing yesterday or were reminded about the effects on
illegitimate children. They were sometimes shunned in public and
discriminated against, legally and financially. The situation is very
different in 2003. Now, people in same sex relationships in a
similar position and they suffer similar discrimination as those in
de facto in 1903. I am sure that in 2103 people will look back in
amazement at this society's inhibitions. Society changes. Social
attitudes change and legislation must keep pace. I consequently
support the part of the Bill which allows Relationships the
registration of same se relationships. This does not mean I am
anti family. In fact to the contrary. Consequently I am
committed to the concept of caring relationships whether between
same sex or heterosexual couples, and I believe society should
give them some recognition especially to eliminate legal, financial
and other types of discrimination.
there is now in our society an overwhelming view that discrimination
on the grounds of sexual preference can no longer be justified. I
believe that if this was put to a referendum in my constituency,
separated from other issues, it would receive wholehearted support.
Rosevears is a caring and compassionate community. I can therefore
support the registration of significant personal relationships on the
grounds of majority backing in my constituency and my own conscience.
Some have complained that allowing the registration of significant
relationships apart from marriage between men and women will
undermine marriage. I reject this. The institution of marriage based
on heterosexual relationships is far too strong to be undermined. We
need have no fears on these grounds.
the other part of the bill allowing same-sex couples to adopt is much
more controversial. In fact argument over adoption has virtually
obscured the issue of registration, although of course the two issues
are closely connected. Some argue that this legislation threatens the
foundations of our society and will erode the basic family unit. Many
letters I have received have warned that supporting or not supporting
the Relationships Bill would threaten my political career. Well, I
have never really seen myself as having a political career. Rather, I
am the community representative for Rosevears in the Legislative
Council, and as a community representative I carefully analysed the
views of my community. There is wide support for the assertion that
the wellbeing of the child in any adoption process is paramount.
Unfortunately not many can agree on the definition of 'wellbeing'.
Some say the wellbeing of a child can only be met effectively in the
conventional family model of father, mother and child. Others argue
that love, caring and competence are the main factors. There is also
a conflict between those who argue that the proposed legislation only
recognises situations that already exist in our society, and those
who argue that the bill would encourage situations beyond the ideal
or idealised concept of a conventional family.
submissions opposing same-sex adoptions did so on biblical grounds.
Christian ethics to a great extent in the past have shaped our laws
and attitudes. There is nothing wrong with that, but a modern society
with established traditions and ethics does not need conflicting
biblical interpretations to govern its conduct. It could be argued
that we have moved far beyond ancient biblical rules for the way we
live, whether we believe ourselves to be Christians or not. However,
those who choose to define their lives through the Christian Bible
must be respected. The irony is that some who support same-sex
adoptions also speak of the Christian ideals of love between human
beings, compassion, caring and human justice. Mr President, you will
agree this is a difficult problem for an elected community
representative trusted by his electors to do the right thing.
I mentioned earlier, it is generally agreed that the wellbeing of the
child is the primary concern. We have already heard a quote from the
member for Rowallan from section 78 of the Adoption Act. I would like
to turn to section 17:
all matters relating to the exercise of their powers and the
performance of their duties under this Act, the Secretary and the
principal officer of an approved agency shall have regard to adoption
as a service for the child concerned.'
as the State Adoption Service put it:
of the child is paramount. Adoption is a service for children.
Adoption is only one of a range of substitute care services. A child
has the right to be considered for placement within an extended
family prior to placement outside the family. A child has a right to
be brought up in their birth family wherever possible.'
President, can anyone argue against these principles?
researching this contentious issue I sought the full guidelines of
the State Adoption Service. I have a summary of some of their further
guiding principles. The mother has always to consent to adoption. The
father, if known, can be asked for his consent. The relinquishing
parent is entitled to express wishes about race, religion, ethnic
background of the prospective family. Birth parents have a right to
be involved in the selection of appropriate adoptive parents for
their child from the available prospective adoptive parents.
Providing information about these rights is integral to the
counselling process. Though the final decision is with the Director
of Adoption Services, the birth parent's choice makes a heavy impact
on the decision; there would have to be a clear, written reason for
the director to override the parent's choice.
President, all this would indicate that not only are the best
interests of the child paramount, but wishes of the birth parent are
also foremost. Does society have the right to deny the choice of a
parent in the adoption process? Mr President, the overwhelming
majority of adoptions in Tasmania are inter-country adoptions; there
were only three local adoptions last year. The State Adoption Service
says there has so far never been a case where a parent has chosen a
single sex couple as parents for their child, or even asked if
they could. All inter-country adoptions in Tasmania are carried out
under the National Principles laid down in 1996, which are the same
as those of the Hague Convention on inter-country adoption.
these requirements, an adoption application must then meet the
requirements of the overseas country. All countries which Tasmania
deals with for adoptions, except China, require a legal marriage.
China requires a legal marriage, except for a 5 per cent quota for
single people; China specifically rules out adoption by a homosexual
person. So, Mr President, what are we talking about here - hardly a
legislative change which would open the floodgates. Inter-country
adoptions by same sex couples are presently ruled out and will
continue to be if this Relationships Bill is passed. There were only
three local adoptions in Tasmania last year, and there is hardly a
queue of same-sex couples knocking on the door of the State Adoption
A lot of the
concerns about this bill seem to be misplaced. That is
understandable; it is a complicated issue and an emotive one.
Nevertheless, there are strong concerns. Mr President, I have the
impression that the public and this House have not had enough time to
fully analyse all the issues involved. The State Government has not
seemed to have done much to educate the community about these
proposed changes, and it has done very little to sell them to the
public, hence the public concerns I have mentioned.
the strongest reservation that I have picked up in my electorate
relates to children conceived through in vitro fertilisation -
that is, IVF or other forms of donor insemination. There is a strong
fear in the community that this bill will allow gay women to register
their relationships , go through the adoption process for the
partner, and both be parents to an IVF child conceived by one of
them. This is a contentious matter, and rightly or wrongly is of
great concern. Some argue that donor insemination is well established
in our society and all this bill would do is enable the child to have
greater security with two parents of whatever sex instead of one.
Others see this as threatening. I understand it is also a concern of
some members of this House.
Mr President, if this House is to do
its job properly, it needs to further scrutinise the bill which I
believe should now be discussed in Committee. I therefore intend
supporting the Relationships Bill 2003 at this time so that it will
go to the Committee stage. More time and more discussion would help
Legislative Councillors fulfil their roles in the interests of their
constituents. Let us take this bill to Committee and come out with a
positive framework for personal relationships, in this new
millennium, in this new era of many forms of family.