February 10th 2001

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Articles from this issue:

Cover Story: US power crisis - is this where we're heading?

Editorial: Why family farms are at risk

Western Australia: Much at stake in WA poll

Queensland: Election outcome difficult to forecast

Agriculture: Inquiries to look at AQIS apple decision

Canberra Observed: Family trusts - will government bite bullet?

Straws in the Wind

The Media

Letter: Manifesto important

History: The real Frank Hardy?

Comment: Pollies protest too much Comment: Pollies protest too much

Victoria: Bracks' new social engineering Bills criticised

United States: Bush moves promptly on abortion funding

Books promotion page

Victoria: Bracks' new social engineering Bills criticised

by News Weekly

News Weekly, February 10, 2001
The Statute Law Amendment (Relationships) Bill 2000, introduced into the Victorian Parliament on November 22, 2000, targets the most important institution of all, the family.

The central purpose of the legislation is to promote alternative relationships at the expense of marriage and further, to discriminate against married but separated partners by changing inheritance laws.

In a large range of situations in which married persons or widows or widowers have been provided with financial or other support, the Bill proposes to delete references to "spouse" and to substitute instead references to "domestic partners". The Bill defines "domestic partner" as "a person to whom the person is not married but with whom the person is living as a couple on a genuine domestic basis (irrespective of gender)."

Just what this broad notion of "domestic partners" can lead to was explained by Andrew Bolt (Herald Sun, December 18, 2000). "Say you have been married for years and have children, but one day your husband moves out to live with a lover of either sex. He doesn't ask for a divorce, perhaps because he's unsure he's doing the right thing, and two years later dies without leaving a will.

"Under Mr Hull's Bill, the state insists that you - the wife your husband publicly promised to honour all his life, and with whom he raised a family - split your husband's estate with his new lover.

"And if your husband dies after five years, his new lover will get the lot."

The Duties Act is to be amended so that no duty is payable on specified transfers to a domestic partner; and exemptions in favour of domestic partners are to be added to the Stamps Act.

Advantages are to be conferred on domestic partners under the Accident Compensation Act, the Education Act, the Transport Accident Act, and other Acts.

Superannuation benefits to domestic partners are to be provided by amendments to the Parliamentary Salaries and Superannuation Act, the State Employees Retirement Benefits Act, the State Superannuation Act and other Acts.

Similarly, the concept of domestic partner is to be introduced in the Landlord and Tenant Act and the Property Law Act, amongst many other areas.

Indeed, the Administration and Probate Act is to be amended so that if an intestate person leaves both a spouse and a domestic partner, the domestic partner takes one-half of the spouse's share and, in specified circumstances, the entirety of the spouse's share.

Mr Hulls doesn't spell out what a "genuine domestic basis" for "domestic partners" means. He told Parliament: "Victorians demonstrate their intimate commitment to being a couple in ways as diverse as our community ... The Government respects such diversity and believes that no single factor should be determinative of a domestic relationship."

As Andrew Bolt commented:

"No sexual relationship or common home is needed. And don't forget - we must treat such partnerships as if they were as profound and socially useful as marriage itself, or risk legal action.

"But Mr Hulls still isn't done. His Bill says in some cases a 'domestic partner' can legally be someone who simply 'provides personal or financial commitment and support of a domestic nature for the material benefit of the other, irrespective of their genders and whether or not they are living under the same roof'.

"Bizarre. 'Domestic' once meant something involving the home or family. Now Mr Hulls says 'domestic' partners may share neither home nor family.

"In fact, so wide is this definition of 'domestic partner' that Mr Hulls' Bill has to specifically rule out people who simply help you for money. Otherwise even your plumber might qualify.

"The Bill does not yet give these 'domestic partners' many rights. But it does enshrine this relationship in law, making it the legal equal in many cases of a marriage. Inevitably, such 'domestic partners' will get other rights of married couples, including the right to adopt."

The Bill erodes the institution of marriage "by intimidation: by warning that people who don't treat same-sex or other 'domestic partners' as married couples will face legal action for discrimination.

"Gone from Mr Hulls' Bill is the idea that marriage is the cement that helps bind society's most fundamental and civilising social unit - the family - and that the state has a responsibility to strengthen it and to treat marriage vows seriously," Bolt concluded.


Vilification Bill's dangerous implications

The Bracks Government has released a discussion paper on making acts of religious and racial vilification a criminal offence.

The Bill is extraordinarily unclear and uncertain in its operation, and often no one will know whether it applies or not.

For example, an individual (or his employee) would be deemed to have committed an offence by referring to the religion or race of a particular person or class of persons in such a way that "a reasonable person would believe" the reference is "likely" to "seriously offend" that particular person or class of persons.

In other words, there could be heavy imprisonment, depending on a person or group being "likely" to be "seriously offended", in the view of a "reasonable person". The indefiniteness and vagueness of "seriously affected" should be noted; this is an entirely improper criterion for criminal liability.

Further, not only would there be the prospect of heavy imprisonment, but also proceedings for damages or compensation could be brought.

Indeed, under the proposed legislation a complaint could be made by any person whomsoever. Complaints would be made to the "Equal Opportunity Commission".

Powers of imprisonment or ordering compensation/damages would thereafter rest with the Magistrates' Courts or the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (which is not a court).

A salient point is that there is no need whatsoever for a draconian enactment of this kind. In Australia we have no appreciable racial or religious enmities, and the scribbling of slogans on public walls is already an offence. This legislation is not needed.

If this draft legislation were enacted it would stifle sensible discussion on a large range of topics. It could become dangerous to make bona fide comments on a large number of issues of public importance.

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