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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 3 Hansard (11 March) . . Page.. 839 ..

MR SMYTH (Leader of the Opposition) (11.08): Mr Speaker, the Liberal Party does not condone the discrimination that this bill seeks to remove-far from it. Our argument is not with the intent of the bill but with its method. I understand that the bill has been drafted to accomplish its intent smoothly. While I acknowledge that it is a neat piece of drafting, it poses a fundamental problem for the Liberal Party and, I believe, the community.

By having a catch-all term "domestic partner", we lump marriage in with other forms of relationship. We believe that there is a valid distinction that sets marriage apart. A bill that does not acknowledge the special status of marriage, regardless of the subject matter or its intent, is not a bill that we feel we can support. But let me repeat that the Liberal Party is fully in favour of removing the discrimination that this bill, in the main, seeks to remove. It is a pity that the drafting imperative causes collateral damage, as it were, by hurting a vital component of Liberal Party philosophy that I believe accords with the general feeling of the community.

I will be moving an amendment in the detail stage that results from discussions with lobbies for this bill and lobbies against it. I suspect that, like all good compromises, it will end up pleasing no one. But that is not the point. In attempting to find a solution that meets the needs of the gay, lesbian, transgender and intersex lobby as well as the needs of the rest of the community for equity and equality before the law, we believe it is important to move our amendment.

I suspect that what I am saying comes as no surprise to most people, given the very strong pro-family and pro-marriage stance that the Liberal Party has always taken. But the Liberal Party is not in favour of discriminations this bill will remove. I suspect much of the debate will be about the definitions and the technique of the bill, not about where the bill will go.

I take issue with Mr Hargreaves' point that suddenly we have a government of aggressive social reform. The Liberal Government, through passing laws on such things as surrogacy and addressing social issues through the poverty task force, was looking at the social agenda and making sure that it moved along. I suspect that the government's bill has more to do with the efforts of Ms Dundas, who has consistently asked questions about it, than any move by the government to make sure that it happened.

Ms Dundas said that this is a first small step. I think that is how we need to start. Yes, it is a first small step, but much of what is written here seems to be a precursor to what is in the discussion paper and assumes that much of what is in the discussion paper will go ahead. People opposed to this bill have said to me that they have some dilemma with the way that the sequence is flowing. On the other side, a large number of constituents from the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersex community have said to me that they are quite happy with the process. This is the dilemma.

Many have made submissions on the issues paper. The Chief Minister said this morning that 300 or 400 submissions have been made. But those submissions have been made on the assumption, perhaps falsely based, that both this bill and the issues paper would be discussed at the same time. There was some indication that that might be the case.

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