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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2006 Week 5 Hansard (11 May) . . Page.. 1642..

MR STANHOPE (continuing):

illogical to characterise in that case that the right to enter into a civil union attaches to the persons and not to the nature or characteristics of their relationship.

In recognition of the fact that there is a continuing obligation to ensure that the interests of a 16 or 17-year-old person are appropriately protected, the Civil Unions Bill provides, as the attorney has repeated, that such a person may only enter a civil union on the consent of each person who has responsibility to make long-term decisions for that person, whether it be a parent or a guardian, and as long as the Children's Court agrees.

The government has responded to some concerns that have been expressed in relation to the issue of 16 and 17-year-olds being able to enter into a civil union. But at the end of the day a decision that a 16 or 17-year-old couple may enter into a civil union will be taken and subjected to the decision of the Children's Court. As always, in making a decision the Children's Court will take into account the paramount interests of those persons. That is the basis on which the law operates.

I cannot help but think that, because the objection is so essentially and obviously illogical, the basis of objection is that those of you who object to this are simply confronted and cannot accept or face the fact that 16 and 17-year-olds have sex; and that you are more confronted by the sex which, in your imaginations, you imagine that 16 and 17-year-old same-sex couples have. I think you need to be challenged on that. At the end of the day that is an issue for you. You are just confronted and will not face up to the reality of the relationships which exist within our society. Your position is so inherently illogical that it cannot be explained away as a pitch or bid to protect the best interests of 16 and 17-year-olds.

MR STEFANIAK (Ginninderra) (9.59): At the risk of prolonging—and I will not prolong it for long—a very illogical debate from the government, I think Mrs Dunne has encapsulated the law very succinctly in relation to the property rights and the fact that an 18-year-old can, on behalf of their 16 or 17-year-old partner, take out a contract and get a lease on a house.

It might surprise the government, but people have sex at ages probably younger than 16. In fact, I think I recall that Labor Party policy was to reduce the age of consent to 13. It is a fact of life. You need only to look at statistics to see how many 16 and 17-year-olds in our community are having sex—and probably some of them do so on a regular basis. That does not necessarily mean, though, that that makes for a really good grounding for a longstanding, loving relationship. Sex is one part but there is a lot more to it than that.

Here we are talking about a very significant relationship. I would not think you, of all people, would want to downplay that. You are equating it to marriage. We have a bill on the table in relation to a registration. We all recognise that we are talking about recognising and giving due regard to a loving relationship between two people of whatever sex.

Mr Stanhope: No. You are not, Bill. You are discriminating, mate; you are differentiating.

MR STEFANIAK: That is exactly what we are doing, Jon—a longstanding relationship.

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