NATIONAL AFFAIRS: by Paul RussellNews Weekly
Boswell sees red over Senate marriage delay
, July 31, 2004
"The Labor Party will not oppose the PM's measures to confirm in the Marriage Act the common law understanding that marriage is "a union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others ... However, Labor does not support the Government's attempts to interfere in adoption issues."
The shadow Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon MP's press release of June 1 not only outlined Labor's position (at the time) on the Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2004
, it also gave an indication of how the debate might unfold. Roxon also stated that Labor would seek to refer the Bill to a Senate committee.Passed
The Bill passed in the House of Representatives without amendment on June 17. On June 23, the Democrats, with the support of Labor, succeeded in moving it off to a committee in the Senate.
This is by no means an unusual occurrence nor would it create excessive delays - normally. However, the creation of an inquiry through the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee, with a report date of October 7, is a delay that seriously jeopardises the Bill's passage.
Both Labor and the Democrats were well aware that a delay in debate until October could see the Federal Election called in the interim, causing the Bill to lapse.
An attempt by the Government to bring the report date forward into August was defeated. Considering that the Bill itself is no more than one full page of text in total and that the definition of marriage proposed already exists in common law, it's hard to defend this move, which further adds to the impression that Labor had no intention of honouring its earlier commitment.
This was most certainly the opinion of the National Party's Senate leader, Ron Boswell. "You shouldn't need a lengthy committee and inquiry process to tell you what constitutes a marriage," he said.
He further assured Labor that he intends to make the Marriage Bill an election issue, urging the other parties to "stop stalling and come clean to the people of Australia as to why they're seeking to desecrate marriage." He called the delays "a subterfuge".
In an unexpected twist, the Attorney-General, Phillip Ruddock MP, then played a wild card on June 24 by tabling a "new" Marriage Bill in the House of Representatives. This "new" Bill, the Marriage Amendment Bill 2004
is, in reality, the earlier Bill minus the adoption prohibitions.
Like its predecessor, it too had a straightforward passage through the Lower House. Once again Labor, the Democrats and the Greens blocked the Bill's progress in the Senate - this time by refusing to allow any debate and negating it at first reading.
With the Federal Election now widely tipped for mid-October, any further debate on the first Marriage Bill seems extremely unlikely. The second Bill could still be re-tabled in the next Senate sitting period that commences early August.
This whole drama now seems to be more an issue of tactics and point-scoring than it does about the content of the Bill. Labor seem to be spooked by the gay lobby, but will most certainly not want to risk giving the Coalition Government an election issue tailor-made for conservative voters.
The only thing that seems certain is that a future Latham Labor Government would not reintroduce either of the marriage Bills. We can also expect them to introduce anti-discrimination (so-called) amendment legislation that would extend marriage-like rights to homosexual couples through a wide range of reforms.
Clearly, Labor's original declaration to "not oppose" the Marriage Bill was more about deflecting possible electoral damage than about any ideological commitment. Should the debate continue, a mea culpa
by Labor would be most welcome - the decision about whether or not marriage becomes an election issue rests entirely with Mark Latham.