Next page . . . . Previous page . . . . Speeches . . . . Contents . . . . Debates(HTML) . . . .

Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 8 Hansard (25 October) . . Page.. 1974 ..

MR CONNOLLY (continuing):

The Domestic Relationships Act of the ACT had all the potential for a divisive and unpleasant community debate where stereotypes of gay relationships could be lambasted. We could have had a divisive "shock, horror; gay marriage law proposal in Canberra" debate; but, as a credit to the maturity of all sides of this house and the Canberra community, that did not happen. We issued a discussion paper outlining the Labor Government's innovative proposal for domestic relationships laws. That discussion paper was warmly welcomed by a range of groups. Obviously, the AIDS Action Council were strong supporters of that legislation; but so, too, was the Carers Association of the ACT, and so, too, was the Council on the Ageing. When there were some attempts to stir up some division in the community over this issue it was, to me, very pleasing that church and community leaders in Canberra took the view, and took the view publicly, that this was not a law about passing moral judgment on whether a person was in a same sex relationship or a non-married heterosexual relationship; it was a law about access to property and access to justice.

The fact is that a person probably always had the right to bring an action to secure access to property, but that right could be enforced only by an extremely expensive Supreme Court action. The benefit of the Domestic Relationships Act was that it simplified access to justice and allowed cheap and inexpensive actions to be brought in the Magistrates Court if prior mandated mediation was unsuccessful. The Attorney-General was good enough to provide me fairly quickly with an answer to a question earlier this year which showed that as of May there were some 20 applications on foot in the courts of the ACT, which is quite significant for legislation that at that stage had been in place for under a year. My feedback, from talking to practitioners in the ACT, is that this law is working quite well. I get the same feedback from groups like the AIDS Action Council.

When Labor introduced that law we made it clear that it was our intention to take the law further in a fairly short period. The major limitation with the law as it now stands is that an action may be brought only during the lives of both parties to the relationship. Clearly, that can cause an injustice, in some circumstances, in same sex relationships; but it can also cause a grave injustice in the circumstances of the carer who is looking after an ageing relative, or an ageing person who is not a relative but where the circumstances that would create a domestic relationship property right during the lives of the parties have been established.

The legislation that I am putting before the Assembly today is, in legal terms, amendments to the Administration and Probate Act - that is, amendments to the situation that occurs when a person, as lawyers say, dies intestate, or dies without a will. This will allow persons who would fit within the definition of domestic relationship to make application in the same way through the Magistrates Court for their rights to be recognised in the distribution of property when a person dies without a will. At the moment there is a very proscriptive regime which means that a person in a domestic relationship situation may get nothing. The legislation also comprises amendments to the Family Provision Act, which deals with what lawyers tend to term testators family maintenance - that is, the ability of a person who is being cut out of a will in circumstances where they had an expectation that they would be provided for, or in circumstances where prior to the death of the person they had an expectation of enjoying some form of financial support.

Next page . . . . Previous page . . . . Speeches . . . . Contents . . . . Debates(HTML) . . . .