Wendy FrancisQueensland Director Wendy Francis addressed the Queensland Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee this morning on the Civil Partnership Bill. Please find below Ms Francis' speech.



I represent the Australian Christian Lobby here today and thank you for the opportunity to speak on this highly controversial Civil Partnerships Bill. The Australian Christian Lobby (I will use the acronym ACL from now on) is opposed to the bill and I would like to address our opposition on three levels.



Civil Partnerships Bill mimics marriage



First and foremost, the Civil Partnerships Bill mimics marriage in all but name. The proposed Civil Partnerships Bill establishes a relationship scheme which is effectively a copy of marriage, mirroring the procedure and effects of marriage. Andrew Fraser has made it clear that this is the intention. In his brief speech as he introduced this bill into parliament he mentioned ‘ceremony’ seven times. Ceremony and celebrant are a distinguishing feature of a marriage. Although civil partnerships stop short of the name “marriage”, the bBill creates a scheme in which partnerships are similar to marriage in all other ways.



• The language used mirrors that used in the Marriage Act, and the bill would also amend various laws to change the definition of “spouse” which would be used to describe Civil Partnerships.



• Declarations of civil partnerships may include a “partnership ceremony” similar to a marriage ceremony.



• The bill would require the amendment of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 2003 to require partnerships to be registered with the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages.



It certainly appears that this mimicry of marriage is an attempted stepping stone to same-sex marriage. It is an inappropriate use of Queensland Parliament’s resources, as marriage is a federal issue. It also seems to be an attempt to influence the ALPs debate on marriage at its National Conference in December. The Queensland Parliament should not be used in this way to influence the factional disputes in political parties. In seeking to mimic marriage, the Queensland Government is out of step with other states.



Our objection is not merely religious but also for sociological reasons. ACL supports the view held by the majority of Australians that marriage is a unique relationship, especially capable of creating and nurturing children, and in this way, underpinning the family, which is the basic building block of society. This relationship is deserving of special protection precisely because it undergirds society itself and provides the optimal environment for children. The reality is that while there are different forms of relationships, a number of which are practised n the wider community, only one – that between a man and a woman, is defined as being marriage and only this relationship is capable of producing children. States should only be regulating private human relationships where there is a matter of the wider benefit to society to encourage those relationships.



Flawed process of the passage of this Bill



ACL is also very concerned that there was virtually no consultation prior to the introduction of the bill. The idea of same-sex civil unions for Queensland was first floated by the Member for Mt Coot-tha on ABC’s 7:30 Queensland on October 21. Four days later a bill was in Parliament.



The way in which this bill has been put forward and rushed is of great public concern. Regardless of what our opinion is, this should be paused, allowing for greater public consultation. If there is public support for it, then its proponents have nothing to fear from greater consultation.



Why is it being rushed through? The public are asking the question. The Brisbane Times reported last Friday November 4th that “Public submissions close today on a plan to allow same-sex civil unions in Queensland, just nine days after Deputy Premier Andrew Fraser introduced the bill into Parliament. It is understood the parliamentary committee examining the move has already received about 300 submissions, but the deadline for further feedback is close of business today”.



The short timeframe shows how quickly the government is rushing to bring the bill back to Parliament for debate and a vote, ahead of the looming election due early next year.



After the submissions closed on Friday, by Monday there were over 2,000 submissions. Will the Parliament ensure that these submissions are in fact from Queensland voters? In August this year, when federal politicians reported back to parliament with the views of their constituents on same-sex marriage, Member for Moreton Graham Perrett told parliament that he had 2,270 survey responses but after removing non-electorate responses, it came back to 1,373. Similarly, Member for Wentworth Malcolm Turnbull had 4000 responses in four weeks and of those only 2,333 were in the electorate.



Not an issue of discrimination



Claims in some of the submissions in favour of the Civil Partnerships Bill that it is needed to address issues of discrimination appear to be unfounded. The Commonwealth Government in 2008 amended over 80 pieces of legislation to remove any substantive discrimination against same-sex couples. This is acknowledged in the Explanatory Notes for the Civil Partnerships Bill, which says that those in same-sex relationships “have the same legal benefits and entitlements” as opposite-sex couples.



If the state is concerned about protecting an individual's economic interests, then we should look for more efficient and effective mechanisms that should be available to all people regardless of the sexual nature of their relationships. If there are any remaining areas in which Queensland same-sex couples suffer discrimination, there should be a separate inquiry to establish what these might be –this is yet another example of the rushed nature of this bill. I haven’t found any mention of what discrimination exists. What are the areas of discrimination?



Conclusion



• Marriage is a federal issue.



• Civil partnerships are an attempt to mimic marriage.



• This is an inappropriate use of Queensland’s time and resources.



• There was inadequate time given for consultation with the community on this issue.



• This appears to be an inappropriate attempt to influence the ALP National Conference.



• Discrimination against same-sex couples was removed by the federal government in 2008. If there are remaining issues of discrimination, Parliament should conduct an inquiry into that issue.



• The Queensland Government should not be seeking to undermine in public policy a child’s right to at least begin life with its biological mother and father.



ACL urges the Queensland Parliament to reject this bill.



The ACL's submission to the Queensland Parliament can be found here.



 The Civil Partnership Bill is found here.