Relationships Amendment Bill 2015

Mr HIBBINS (Prahran) — I rise to speak on the Relationships Amendment Bill 2015. This bill makes changes to the Relationships Act 2008. It allows for relationships formalised in other jurisdictions, such as overseas same-sex marriages or relationships recognised in other states that have similar relationship registers, to be recognised in Victoria. It also removes the requirement that both partners be residents of Victoria, with only one partner having to be a resident. The Greens support these changes, and we support them because they are the changes that were proposed by the Greens when the Relationships Bill 2007 first came before this house in 2008.

Mr HIBBINS — We are on the same page with this one; you guys just took a little while to get there. That is all right.

At that time Sue Pennicuik, MLC for Southern Metropolitan Region and the then Victorian Greens LGBTI spokesperson, said in her speech on the second-reading debate:

A range of problems and issues with the bill have been raised by interested groups in the community, which I will refer to in my contribution. The most obvious and easily remedied include the lack of mutual recognition of other registers. We know we have the Tasmanian scheme already in operation, we will presumably have the ACT scheme coming into operation in the near future, and we can look forward to similar schemes coming into operation in other states of Australia. It is only the second piece of legislation to come into fruition, and it has left out mutual recognition.

Regarding the requirement for residence, she raised:

There is also an unnecessarily narrow requirement in the bill for both partners to reside in Victoria. Certainly the Law Institute of Victoria advocated in its submission that that should be completely removed … so I will be proposing as an amendment that at least one person should reside in Victoria.

We support this bill and these changes, which we raised when this legislation was first before the Parliament.

Another issue we raised was that the Relationships Act does not provide for a ceremony, and we moved amendments accordingly, which unfortunately were only supported by the Greens, so I will also be moving an amendment in that regard.

Greens amendment circulated by Mr HIBBINS (Prahran) under standing orders.

Mr HIBBINS — This amendment adds a new line that says:

The Registrar may conduct a ceremony in connection with the registration of a registrable … relationship under this section.

Essentially what this provides for is that it allows for a ceremony to be held in conjunction with the registering of a relationship.

It would be an optional ceremony. At the time the government said there was no need to include the ceremony in the act as there was nothing stopping a person holding their own ceremony and that this was up to the individual, but this would essentially allow for the ceremony and the registration to be combined, rather than having them as separate events. It is a modest change; it is a reasonable change. I think it would be a welcome goodwill gesture to the LGBTI community.

It is reasonable given that the Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages conducts ceremonies at the Victorian Marriage Registry on Spring Street. I know this because I had my own wedding there. It was a terrific venue, and would it not be fantastic if, in lieu of achieving marriage equality, same-sex couples were able to hold their own ceremonies when registering their relationships at the Victorian Marriage Registry. I note that Tasmania and the ACT allow for ceremonies in their schemes, and I ask the Parliament to support this amendment.

The Relationships Act 2008 was established to provide same-sex couples who were denied the right to marry, and couples who choose not to marry, with an avenue to have their relationship legally recognised in the state of Victoria. Given that marriage equality has not been achieved yet, it is absolutely critical that we have a way for same-sex relationships to be registered. But overwhelmingly the aim must be that the federal government legislate to allow for marriage equality.

The Greens have long held a position in support of marriage equality, that all people, all relationships — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex — must be equal under the law. I have also put forward a notice of motion this morning that should be on the notice paper tomorrow, that would have this house support marriage equality, call on the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia to amend the Marriage Act 1961 to provide for marriage equality and call on the federal government to abandon the proposed plebiscite on marriage equality.

It is important that the Victorian Parliament debate and pass this motion, because it is important to the state of Victoria that if we are in the business of recognising relationships, which we are, if we are in the business of facilitating marriage, as we are, then this Parliament should be putting in the strongest possible terms to the federal Parliament that it should legislate for marriage equality.

There has been a bit of debate recently about whether we should have a plebiscite to do this, which is really a bit of a cop-out by the federal government, which is not prepared to give its members a free vote or even to do the right thing and compel its members to vote in favour of marriage equality. This is really a hangover from the era of Tony Abbott's prime ministership. I encourage the federal government to abandon this idea of a plebiscite and certainly abandon any references to a referendum on this issue too, which would set the bar even higher.

The main reason for this is that many in the LGBTI community have shared their concerns that the plebiscite would be incredibly damaging to the LGBTI community. We know, as mentioned in previous contributions, how damaging discrimination can be to the mental health of LGBTI people. A number of submissions to the Senate inquiry on the plebiscite indicated that this would be the case. I will read out of them:

In particular, the —

Rainbow Families —

Council is extremely concerned about the impact of such a public debate on our children and young LGBTIQ people living in our communities.

No matter what explanation is provided about the need for a 'people's vote' by way of a plebiscite or a referendum, no matter what assurances or agreements are made to ask that the debate be respectful or must stick to the topic of marriage equality between two adults, we strongly believe our children and our families will always be dragged into the fray. Indeed there is evidence of this already occurring.

The Senate inquiry recommended that marriage equality be achieved via legislation.

The federal Labor position is constantly changing. The most recent policy is that Labor MPs will have a binding vote on marriage equality in 2019, which was a big win for Bill Shorten and the right in that debate, but not so much for the men and women of Australia who just want to be able to marry their partner, although it is a good change from the Howard era Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2004 that enshrined 'the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others', which was supported by the government and the opposition and opposed by the Greens.

The Greens support this bill to improve the Relationships Act 2008. We would like to see it improved further with the option to incorporate a ceremony in the registration. But overwhelmingly we need to achieve marriage equality in Australia. It should be for the Parliament to decide. The Greens have been leading the way in parliaments across Australia, and we will continue to do so.