Page 2559 - Week 07 - Wednesday, 2 July 2008

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I am also well aware, given the comments made by both the Chief Minister and the Attorney-General, that these changes were made most reluctantly and that the ACT government’s view that the opportunity to create the formal partnership through a public ceremony is a right that should be recognised in law. Clearly, that is not the view of the federal government, and I was very disappointed, as the ACT government was, when the federal government used the threat of its unreasonable powers to override ACT legislation.

I was particularly disappointed because I think we had every reason to believe before the election that a Rudd government would support this particular piece of legislation if it was passed again in the ACT. It would seem that it is simply the result of what we would characterise a pact with the devil—the apparent preparedness of the so-called Christian right to keep their heads down when commonwealth law was amended to remove discrimination against same-sex couples as long as the Rudd government, in return, rejected the ACT’s proposed civil union scheme.

Of course the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, had also promised on an earlier occasion not to use those powers to overrule ACT legislation. Labor even supported the ACT government’s attempts to put in place an even more progressive civil unions regime when it was overruled by the Howard government two years ago. In an article in the Labor Herald, in June 2006, with the heading “Howard out of step on civil unions”, Nicola Roxon, then shadow Attorney-General, in announcing that Labor would oppose the Howard government’s move on the act, wrote:

The ACT’s Civil Unions Act does not create same-sex marriages, and pretending otherwise is just muddying the waters.

And then:

Labor has long argued for the removal of all these forms of discrimination, so that same-sex de facto couples and heterosexual de facto couples are treated the same when it comes to laws and benefits.

How things can turn around on political convenience! To see the ACT government last May being played for a patsy, with all of its heartfelt commitment to equal rights counting for nothing, was a very sad moment indeed. Nonetheless, the Civil Partnership Act, as passed, was a very important piece of work and I have no intention to put that work at risk with this bill.

The commonwealth parliament and the federal government that controls it have a range of powers over the ACT Assembly. So while the power of the executive to direct the Governor-General to overrule an ACT law expires six months after the law is made, under section 122 of the commonwealth constitution, the commonwealth still has the power to make laws for the government of any territory, and if it so chose it could override or amend any ACT legislation. Nonetheless, the Civil Partnerships Act 2008 will be safe from cursory disallowance after 15 November, which is six months after the act was made.

The initial advice that I have is that the federal government would disallow these new amendments, if they felt so inclined, rather than the Civil Partnerships Act as a whole.

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