Queensland Shadow Attorney-General speaks in favour of the Civil Partnerships Bill

Queensland Shadow Attorney-General speaks in favour of the Civil Partnerships Bill

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to meet the Queensland Shadow Attorney-General Ian Walker. My message was simple: many LGBTI people hated the LNP for what occurred while the Newman government was in power, and that if the LNP were to have any hope in getting back those voters, it needed to change.

Ian Walker and Opposition Lawrence Springborg by that stage had gone to the Brisbane Gay and Lesbian Business Network and said that the LNP would support ht eremoval of gay panic defence and the expungement of historical convictions.

Ian Walker’s words to the House speak for themselves:

As the House knows, the LNP has decided to have a

a free vote on this issue. Although leading the debate as shadow Attorney-General, my speech,therefore, is that of my own opinions and not those of the party. Others will speak in the debate and express their views as well. I am proud that on this issue
our party has taken the free vote attitude. The Attorney-General made the point in her speech that this is a matter in which members of the community have differing and very strong views. I think the free vote that the LNP has allowed its members allows them to represent their views and their electorates in this place and to vote accordingly. I am proud of the decision that has been taken.
I also think it is important from the point of view of my party to make it clear that we have taken significant steps this year to ensure that we speak to the LGBTI community within Queensland. I was pleased to go with the Leader of the Opposition to a business breakfast organised by that community quite some months ago and to make it clear that in respect of a number of matters of concern to that
community the opposition was very keen to see the government move in a number of particular areas.They were areas such as the elimination of the gay panic defence and the elimination of historical convictions for homosexual activity that goes back to the days when that activity was illegal. My party has been keen to ensure that we keep discussions open with that community, while not always agreeing with that community or any other        community with which we need to speak to make sure
that we understand their concerns and respond appropriately to them.
I want to go through
the history of this measure to explain why I come to the position that I reach
on this bill today. The process started quite some time ago, going back to the law as
it related to what were then called de facto couples
-in those days, heterosexual couples
—trying to find a legal structure to deal with the legal rights and needs of people who were not married—who did not want to or who had not got around to going through
the ceremonial part of a formal marriage but who needed legal
protection by way of property rights and similar things. I suppose it started in that way of thinking and then moved more formally to the bill that the then treasurer in 2011, Andrew Fraser, introduced as a private member’s bill in the House. It was a fairly rushed, last
-minute measure that came in in the dying days of that government. It was not sponsored by the government of the day but was a private member’s bill which passed through the House.
In 2012 when the Newman government came to power, our side of the House relooked at that bill and there were some issues of concern to us at that time. The bill was amended to preserve the important legal protections for people who entered into a
relationship, be it a same-sex relationship or
a non-same-sex relationship, but it did remove, as the Attorney pointed out, the reference to the name of civil partnerships and the ceremony.
The reason that was done was that we were concerned at that time
that the ceremony and the name could lead to a mimicking of the marriage relationship. It is a bit difficult to put yourself back in those times, but at that stage the law was unclear as to whether marriage of same-sex couples was a
state responsibility or a federal responsibility. The definition of marriage in the Constitution was open to interpretation. It could be defined as only male-
female relationships, and therefore same-sex
marriage was a matter for the state, or it could be defined to include same-sex relationships. We felt at
that time that, because of that lack of clarity and the prospect of confusing the civil partnership ceremony
for a marriage ceremony, it was wise to remove those provisions. I voted for the removal of those provisions and I believe that was the correct thing to do at that time.
The situation changed on 12 December 2013 when the High Court considered the matter and unanimously held that marriage including same-
sex marriage was a matter for the Commonwealth
parliament and not thestates. I believe that reinforced the Newman government’s caution in the area, because it was not clear until that point where the constitutional ability to deal with same-sex marriage
arose. The decision means that the states cannot legislate or purport
to legislate for same-sex
relationships that are exclusive relationships for life
in other words, marriage
because they are the
responsibility of the Commonwealth. Any relationship that we regulate in this parliament can only be
one that does not fall with
in that category of a lifelong commitment
that is, marriage. This act,
therefore, deals with other relationships that do not fall within that category. If the state authorises a
3 Dec 2015
Relationships (Civil Partnerships) and Other Acts Amendment Bill
ceremony for these relationships, it cannot be an exclusive commitment for lif
e. That, again, is marriage
and will be dealt with at the Commonwealth level. It is confusing. It is, however, legally the case.
Where are we now? The High Court
s position makes absolute sense. Marriage should be a
federal responsibility. People who commi
t themselves to each other for life should not have that
relationship recognised in one state but not in another. It is a sensible thing that the federal governm ent
cover the field in this area.
In relation to marriage, the Commonwealth government will dea
l with that
matter in the very near future. We know that the current federal government, should it win the next
election, has committed to a plebiscite in respect of marriage of same
sex couples. We know that the
opposition has committed to legislate in th
at area should
win the election. Within a reasonable period
of time the issue in relation to same
sex marriage will be resolved for Australia.
I disagree with the Attorney
General when she says that a sensible legislature would not wait to
see what hap
pens in that regard. I believe marriage is a very different issue from the one we are
debating today. Where the relationships that we are speaking about fit within the range of relationships
available to people is very much guided by whether or not same
x marriage is accepted in the federal
parliament. Let us say that same
sex marriage is accepted and ceremonies for marriage become the
norm for same
sex couples. One would think that would have some impact on the attitude you woul d
take to ceremonies at th
e state level. On the other hand, if same
sex marriage is rejected at the federal
level, you may take a very different view as to whether a ceremony was desirable or what sort of
ceremony it would be at the state level. My own view is that it would be sens
ible for this legislature to
wait to see what happens with the federal government
s decision on marriage and then to legislate
here. That would be what a sensible legislature would do, but that is not open to us because the
government has brought this meas
ure before us today. That means that we do have to make a decision.
That leads me to come to the decision that I have made. I do believe that the way in which this
has been brought to the parliament is premature and is designed to create some political con
flict over
this matter. I believe that, if the legislature were to wait to see what the federal government did, there
may be a way of moving forward in a more bipartisan way on this issue. Unfortunately, that is not to be
the case.
One thing that
particularly the last year or so is that it has become an unfortunat e
part of our political system that citizens are caught in the crossfire of one party moving in and undoing
what another party has done. I am not saying that applies to one side
of politics only
; it
has been the
unfortunate nature of our political system.
As the Attorney pointed out, some 8,000 couples have
registered their relationship under this legislation since it was introduced in 2011
I am concerned that
their wellbeing
l be
compromised by
political toing and froing over this issue
I found it difficult to come to
decision in relation to this bill for the reasons that I have set out. I
do believe it would be much more sensible to wait and see what the marriage arra
re and
then fit this bill in accordance with what the nation decide
, hopefully by plebiscite
, b
ut as I said that
does not look like it is going to be open to us
So I have decided to support the legislation and I am
doing so for three reasons.
The first
is that I think it is very clear that what we are talking about now
and I distinguish
it from the situation in 2012
is not a circumstance where we are unclear as to whether this is about
marriage or not
Clearly it is not about marriage. T
he High Court has decided that the marriage issue
will be decided at
federal level. This is about relationships which are not marriage relationships, and
that makes the decision easier for me.
The second
is that
, as
the Attorney pointed out
is largely about ceremonial and
symbolic matters
I am not saying that they are not important, but I am of the view that there is no
substantive change in the law in relation to
s relationships
affected, and I would find it
difficult therefo
re to stand in the way of it for that reason
The third
, and perhaps the most important, is that if one ha
a heart
at this
matter it
would be
unfair to keep those who are caught up in the political to and fro of our system in that
nuing position. In order to resolve the matter in a way which does not in my opinion offend any
principles that I hold with respect to the substance of what we are doing, my intention is to support the
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