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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 3 Hansard (11 March) . . Page.. 840 ..

Many in the community have raised significant concerns. I heard Bishop Browning this morning say that he had not had a great deal of time to look at the matter. January was busy for other reasons that we are all well aware of. He would be happy with some delay that would allow consultation on the issues paper before this bill is addressed. A number of people have contacted my office with similar concerns. They made their submissions on the issues paper and now feel somewhat disenfranchised by the fact that we are discussing this bill first.

Much of the language in the bill seems to be based on the belief that many of the issues in the issues paper will be addressed by this bill. That has led to some cynicism in the community and a concern that there has not been a real consultation process. This bill, which we are debating first, sets a framework and the groundwork for something that might happen, when we have not discussed what is going to happen.

There was an expectation in the community that definitional matters would be included in legislation arising from the consideration of submissions on the issues paper. That is clearly not happening today. We are going to make some definitions, and then in the light of those definitions discuss what is in the discussion paper. That is poor process. We should be discussing it all.

After the bill has passed the in-principle stage, as I am sure it will, the opposition will use standing order 174 to attempt to send it to a committee. The outcome of the discussion on the issues paper and the framework within which that discussion would go ahead need to be discussed together, rather than one happening well before the other has been decided.

There are many overlapping issues between this bill and any subsequent bill. Ms Dundas spoke about avoiding a raft of amendments. If we get it right in the beginning, we can make sure that it works in the future.

Consultation has not been handled as well as it could have been. Many in the community are saying that to us. Others believe that the bill should go forward and that consultation has been adequate. That is a dilemma for us. Because some people would like more time to discuss it and to see the issues paper, it is appropriate to send this bill to a committee.

The definitions we come up with today will effect major change in the future. Many in the community fear that some of the definitions are based on a false assumption. I will move an amendment to give them some clarity. If we pass them unamended, a number of things can occur. The first is that much of the bill will conflict with federal law. The federal law has definitions on what is a marriage and what is a de facto relationship. In putting up an alternative model, we are creating conflict that will only end up in the courts. A body of case law will evolve, and eventually the courts will be making these decisions rather than us law makers.

We have an opportunity to get the community together on this. I was certainly keen to get Good Process and the Australian Christian Lobby together yesterday. I think we had a fruitful discussion. The different sides did not agree on a whole lot, but I think both sides were pleased that they were able to have a dialogue. With dialogue, we may come up with something that in the main pleases everyone.

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