Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 05 Hansard (Thursday, 8 May 2008) . . Page.. 1753 ..
At this point I cannot find any obvious problems with the legislation. There may well be problems, but just having a look at it, it does seem to do what it is supposed to do. It does establish a registration scheme. It does not seem to be exactly like Tasmania. It does not necessarily have to be, but it seems to be in the same ballpark—the same type of scheme. One of the sad things about it is that it has taken you so long when you could have had something like this up and running two years ago.
MR BARR (Molonglo—Minister for Education and Training, Minister for Planning, Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Minister for Industrial Relations) (1.28 am): It is nearly two years ago to the day that the Assembly debated and passed the Civil Unions Bill. That bill was about recognising and strengthening relationships. It was about supporting loving, caring relationships regardless of the sexuality of those involved. Unfortunately, we all know what happened next. The federal government arrogantly intervened and vetoed that legislation.
There is no doubt that the federal government had the power under section 35 of the self-government act to overturn that legislation. The question is: should that power have been exercised? In thinking about this issue it is worth contrasting section 35 of the self-government act with section 59 of the Australian constitution that grants the British monarch the power to invalidate within one year any law passed by our federal parliament. I note that that power has never been exercised and I doubt it would ever genuinely be contemplated. But it is an example of a power that could have been used by monarchs over the years. Fortunately, common sense and democratic values have always prevailed.
Sadly, such common sense and democratic values are not prevailing with respect to this parliament, this Assembly, and two years on we are back again with the Civil Partnerships Bill and the federal government has yet again intervened in the territory’s law-making process. It saddens me to observe that it now appears that both sides of federal politics have determined that it is appropriate to veto territory laws. Can you imagine the reaction of the Australian people and federal parliamentarians if the British monarch overturned or sought to overturn a law of the Australian parliament? The sad thing is that this was not always the position that was put by federal governments or by the federal parties, both Liberal and Labor. Prime Minister Rudd said only on 6 December last year that “the question of legislation of the type that you speak, it’s always been our view as the Labor Party that that lies properly within the prerogative of the states and that remains our position”.
Former Attorney-General Philip Ruddock made a similar observation—that the matter of civil unions is a matter for the states and territories. The question is: what changed their minds? It is clear that the influence of the religious right is a factor. We live in a secular liberal democracy and there is meant to be a separation of church and state. However, on the basis of the experience with this legislation and some of the comments from significant players in this debate, it is obvious that hard-line religious leaders have played a major role in orchestrating yet another federal veto of this legislation. It saddens me that Mr Stefaniak went so far as to say last week that the Assembly should only support legislation that was approved by the major religious leaders.