Friday, April 25, 2008

Interview with ACT Chief Minister John Stanhope

"I have an election in five months time. This was an election promise which I’m duty bound to keep.

To seek to achieve equality for gay and lesbian couples within the ACT in the creation and formation of their relationships under the law, and that remains our intention."

"Does that mean you’re gong to bring this bill on, come hell or high water, before you go to election?"


Broadcast live on the Rainbow Report, Joy 94.9, Melbourne, 24 Aril 2008

Download the mp3.

Interviewer: Doug Pollard

John, you had Tibet on your mind earlier in the week when you said “I have hopes that a Prime Minister and government capable of advocating for the basis rights of Tibetans will and must comprehend the justice of formally extending each of those rights to the folks back home.”

You were talking about your Civil Partnerships Bill and presumably the Rudd governments obstruction thereof. Are we no further forward on that?

Well let me say firstly that I think Kevin Rudds speech and the stance he took in China, in BeijingTibet, was incredibly important. It showed enormous moral strength and leadership by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and I applaud enormously……. in relation to perceived human rights abuses and most particularly around sovereignty and human rights in

……I think we can all agree with that…

I made the point and I think it’s a point that can be made, that I’m impressed and proud that we have a Prime Minister who on a visit to Beijing will stand up and articulate clearly the importance of human rights and he will do it in a circumstance that one might regard as perhaps uncomfortable or difficult.

And all I’ve said is that I would now ask the Prime Minister in relation to the human rights of his fellow Australians, most particularly or in this circumstance, gay and lesbian couples seeking to have their relationships recognized in the same way that heterosexual relationships are recognized by the community is also a fundamental issue of human rights that affects his constituents and his fellow Australians and I would hope he would adopt the same attitude and the same strength.

Yes. It almost sounds as if you’re saying he found it easier to talk about human rights in China than he does to talk about gay and lesbian rights in the ACT.

Well I think the particular perspective here is that my government has actually already tabled in Assembly, in our legislature, a Civil Partnership Bill. It seeks to accord gay and lesbian couples within the ACT equality under the law in relation to the recognition of their relationship.

We’ve undertaken to pursue equality for gay and lesbian couples in relation to their relationships. A previous attempt by my government to achieve that level of equality was of course overturned by the previous Commonwealth government using its constitutional powers in relation to territories.

I intend, and I believe I not only have a mandate, but also a responsibility to keep a promise I made to my electorate before the last election, that I would introduce legislation.

We have reintroduced it, it’s sitting on the table, we’re currently negotiating with the Commonwealth government to ensure it doesn’t offend against the Marriage Act, that the Commonwealth will not feel the need to intervene again as the previous government did, and it’s in that context I made the comment.

Well it sounds almost as though you’re losing patience a bit with all this negotiation process, because it’s been going on an awful long time, and I mean we heard recently about this proposal for what someone rather laughingly called ‘flying registrars’ to get round the federal governments objection to what I think they called the more ‘marriage-like’ of the Civil Partnerships Bill.

Is it not time now to actually put the Bill forward, stop negotiating with the federal government, get on with it and dare them to knock it down?

Well, I would like an agreed position, but you know there is . . . I guess the position we’ve taken in relation to this is we want to achieve genuine equality under the law for gay and lesbian relationships, we don’t want to retreat from the undertaking that we made prior to the last election, and states and territories have the constitutional right and authority to legislate in respect of relationships other than marriage.

We’re seeking to confirm with the Commonwealth that our legislation doesn’t in their opinion infringe against the Marriage Act and I think that at the end of the day that’s the fundamental test.

I accept, as we all must, the Commonwealth has constitutional responsibility for marriage: the States and Territories have constitutional responsibility for relationships other than marriage.

Once we’ve worked our way through that, that we have an understanding with the Commonwealth that our legislation doesn’t impinge or impugn marriage or the Marriage Act, then I believe we should be left free to legislate as we deem appropriate.

I guess the position I’m now putting is that I have an election in five months time. This was an election promise which I’m duty bound to keep.

I intend to keep the promise that I made prior to the last election, to seek to achieve equality for gay and lesbian couples within the ACT in the creation and formation of their relationships under the law, and that remains our intention.

Does that mean you’re gong to bring this bill on, come hell or high water, before you go to election?

Yes. But we hope to do that in agreement with the Commonwealth. We are negotiating with the Commonwealth . . . . . . .

Yes, but this timeline can’t go on forever can it . . . . . .

No it can’t…………

There’s got to be some point where you say, negotiations gone on long enough, what sort of deadlines are you setting on this?

Well the ultimate deadline for me is that we determined we will legislate before our next election. Our next election – we have four year fixed terms – is on the 18th of October, we go into caretaker a month before that.

My intention is that we will reintroduce and debate the legislation, I hope it’s legislation that we’ve been able to agree with the Commonwealth on, but I’m hoping that will occur in the next two or three months at the latest.

"We don’t support [the relationships register] model, and we won’t compromise on the position we’ve put to this electorate."

But even if you don’t come to an agreement with them, you’ll still bring it on?

Yes. Yes we will. We will legislate, but at this stage we haven’t determined the final form.

We’re still negotiating with the Commonwealth, but we have a position, and our position is not the relationship register model which exists in Tasmania and which I understand the Victorian government supports and also further understand the Commonwealth has expressed as a model it would support.

We don’t support that model, and we won’t compromise on the position we’ve put to this electorate.

I campaigned on this, I promised before the last election that if I was elected, I would introduce legislation in the ACT that accorded equality under the law, in other words, in the creation of a gay and lesbian relationship.

Can I just ask you, are you able to talk about what the sticking points are between you and the Commonwealth. I mean we know there’s all this fuss about ceremonies but is it just about the ceremonies, is that the last hurdle you have to get over, or are there other things still to get out of the way?

I think it’s fair to say . . .I wouldn’t want to go into too much detail but I think everybody’s aware that the official sticking point with the previous government to some extent remains the issue that the current government has expressed concern about, the extent to which this notion of ceremony, or the extent to which the form of the creation of a gay and lesbian relationship in some way infringes against the Marriage Act.

This notion or expression that it replicates or mimics marriage is such a subjective test. That’s gone to the difficulties we’ve had previously with Philip Ruddock and John Howard (and I have to say it’s a difficulty which continues with the current government)

. . . . is that to say . . . has sometimes been expressed publicly by Attorney-General Robert McClelland, is that they won’t support a Civil Partnership legislation or bill that mimics marriage, but we need some more certainty around, well, what is it in the context of this notion of ‘mimicking marriage’ that offends against the Marriage Act?

We need to return to legal principles here. The Commonwealth has constitutional power in relation to marriage, the states and territories have constitutional power in relation to relationships other than marriage, we don’t believe our legislation infringes the Marriage Act.

It’s up to the Commonwealth to establish in what way it does and it’s not enough to say, well, it mimics marriage. That is such a subjective test that at the end of the day it’s a test that can never be met. And that’s the issue we’re still trying to work our way through.

As you say, it’s a test you can never pass, because they can always move the goalposts.

Exactly, and then this other notion, that to recognize gay and lesbian relationships under the law undermines marriage, is also a concept that I’ve never understood.

I’m happily married, and have been so for 36 years now, and I just can’t imagine a circumstance in which recognising, under the law, in a way that’s equal with heterosexuals, a gay or lesbian couple in any way affects or undermines or impinges on my marriage.

It’s a notion that I simply don’t grasp but it’s one of those arguments that continues to be used.

So we’re working our way through all this, but at the end of the day we will legislate, but of course I don’t want a circumstance hat would encourage the Commonwealth to intervene, I want accommodation with the Commonwealth, we’re working with the Commonwealth, we’re doing it constructively and we’re doing it genuinely, but the Commonwealth understands that we have an election in under six months, and that it’s my determination to legislate before I go to that election.

1 comment:

Jess said...

good on stanhope by standing by his promises, here's hoping he keeps fighting the good fight. i don't want the ACT to have a registry either! no offence to tassie, their putting a relationships register in place was progressive and a step in the right direction but civil unions/partnerships are the next step and i don't want to settle for any less.