Friday, December 08, 2006

They Made It...Finally

UPDATE: Sandra Kanck, soon to be the last remaining Democrat in Australian politics, nails it in parliament yesterday:

I understand that members of the GLBTI community are hungering for this to get through, and I have been a strong supporter of them in getting this through. That is why I co-sponsored the motion with the Hons Michelle Lensink, Ian Hunter, Mark Parnell and Ann Bressington (that is, the bill we introduced on 27 September) because I felt so strongly about it. So, for those who want to apportion blame, I ask them to put it squarely where it belongs, and that is with the Labor Party...

We know, certainly from reading between the lines and also from hearing what the Hon. Mr Evans said in his speech last night, that the government has been negotiating with Family First over this legislation. I think the truth of it is that there were a significant number of ALP members who did not want to have the legislation that we passed in this chamber at the end of last year. This is, in a sense, a mishmash that has arisen, as the Attorney-General has attempted to deal with rogue members of the ALP who do not want to see equality for people of the GLBTI persuasion...

I pay tribute to the Attorney-General for coming up with a masterful strategy. To introduce a bill late into the session and then use others to get out the message that the bill is threatened with delay if any amendments are even con­sidered...It is effectively a form of blackmail. I can imagine, if the Attor­ney-General is listening now, that he will be grinning from ear to ear, because he is the sort of person who likes to have win-lose options, and he would see himself as winning here.

Saying it out loud again feels suspiciously like deja vu, but this time it's for real - SA has FINALLY caught up with the rest of the country, indeed world, and granted same-sex couple rights 5 years after the Rann Government promised it would do so.

Again, as I mentioned in last year's posting, full credit to Let's Get Equal and Ian Purcell, the lobby's engine, in particular. Somehow they managed to keep the faith in the face of overwhelming adversity.

Just have to be a Negative Narrelle for a few moments and get some frustrations out there, then I'll shut up about it.

The Rann Government, and AG Michael Atkinson especially, fucked this up royally. Not least the years they forced SA queers to wait for the very reforms they themselves promised in the lead-up to the 2002 election, the way they stalled, sabotaged and devalued their own legislation is nothing short of offensive. By the time the Statutes Amendment (Domestic Partners) Bill was finally introduced this year - with less than four weeks of parliament sitting, no less - it was a markedly different style of legislation than the original SA (Relationships) Bill. The DP Bill is more along the lines of Tasmania's legislation whereby multiple versions of non-conjugal couples can be classified as 'domestic partners' and qualify for legal rights and obligations accordingly.

Which is exactly what Fundies First and other anti-gay pollies wanted. In fact, they claimed a 'victory' with the 'improved' Bill because now that sexuality was taken out of the equation, it was no longer a 'gay issue', despite the reality that same-sex couples will overwhelmingly be the benefactors of this reform. But hey - God love the Fundie Fisters, both of them, they still voted against the Bill anyway (along with one lone Lib). So all that arse-kissing Atkinson did to draft a Bill that would please them came to shit.

And don't forget, Atkinson had no need to present a new Bill. The original Relationships Bill had already passed SA's Upper House in 2005 and had the numbers to pass the Lower House. SA Labor delayed the Bill so that it wouldn't be an issue at election time, shat on the Opposition to win a raft of new seats, and then made the bizarre claim that a new Bill needed to be drafted because the original was problematic and didn't have broad enough support. In fact, it was only problematic to Atkinson and his Bible-bashing mates in FF and the ALP Catholic Right. There was a clear democratic majority in parliament willing and able to pass the original Bill.

Not that legislation to provide for non-conjugal couples isn't without merit - it's just Atkinson's concealment of his true agenda that shits me. As Liberal David Pisoni argued:

(The Domestic Partners Bill) does not give (same-sex couples) recognition: it lumps them in with a wide variety of relationships that might not even want the rights and responsibilities they will be given. It rates the relationship of a long-term monogamous same-sex couple in the same way as, say, two spinster sisters living together, or two lifelong widowed friends who choose to share a home for friendship and financial security reasons,or flatmates who share friends and socialise together, or an invalid and their living carer in a kind-for-kind type relationship...

...This government has tried to placate the conservatives in the Labor Party (and I notice the Attorney-General sitting over there) and Family First by deliberately lumping same-sex relation­ships in with a wide range of relationships that are of a non-sexual nature...

...We now have a bill which gives rights and responsibilities to a broad range of domestic partners but which conveniently does not allow for the celebration or recognition of loving same-sex relationships in the same way as my wife and I can celebrate our relationship...

...The Labor Party tells (same-sex couples) one thing in an election climate—that is, what they want to hear—but when the government is asked to deliver, it is a compromise. It is a cop-out toFamily First and the conservatives in the right wing of the Labor Party...

It's scary when the Libs make a lot more sense about queer issues than Labor.

Pisoni's last point is of particular importance. While Atkinson could argue to conservative voters the fundie-friendliness of the new Bill, in the meantime so many Labor reps, especially those representing high percentage queer seats, were gushing in parliament about how damn terrific it was that same-sex couples were finally gaining rights, and how wonderfully pro-gay they and their government are for bringing about this reform. Talk about a bet each way.

Atkinson never wanted this to become law. He tried every devious trick to delay and jeopardise its passage. They won government in March this year, so why introduce the Bill in NOVEMBER instead one of the many months in between, when it could have been debated, amended and passed with comfortable passage of time? Short answer: because any delay to offset the Bill until 2007 could be attributed to the Opposition or minor parties, even though they were completely within their rights to properly examine the Bill and put forward any amendments for full and proper debate - that's democracy.

It's great the Bill has gone through and the practical upshot is that SA same-sex couples will finally have the rights they deserve and have been denied for so long. But the Rann Government does not deserve any kudos. Sure, it drafted the legislation and presented it in parliament, but it has also been its most effective and devious enemy.

Little wonder so many gays and lesbians leave SA when this disgrace of an administration is the best they can hope for. Don Dunstan would be squirming in his grave.


At 9/12/06 11:21 am, Anonymous Stephen said...

Sam I am always interested in your analysis of SA politics,(and wonder where you get your information). Atkinson never made any secret of the fact that he is against any notion fo gay marriage. Though I think (to be fair)he did become quite strong in favour of being equal to gay couples [as he should]
Now that it's through it's through, and so I guess that's all that matters. One hopes that SA doesn't now go backwards as it did after the great leaps forward of the 70s [that's what would have made the beloved Don turn in his grave] I hope that some progressives might rather start to lead the pack.
I think Sandra Kanck is just wrong in her analysis of what is going on in the Labor Party. The sooner she goes.....

At 9/12/06 12:49 pm, Blogger Sam said...

Stephen: Atkinson's personal views about gay marriage should have been irrelevant since a/ this is about state and not federal law reform, and b/ equalising same-sex couple rights was official Labor policy going into the 2002 election, whether he liked it or not.

I grew up in Adelaide and was involved in politics there at both a student and state party level. I know people from most of the parties (except Family First) to get information from, as well as following what's going on myself. I admit not living there anymore it's harder to keep up but I'll always take an interest.

And Kanck might shoot her mouth off once too often but I think on this issue she is absolutely spot-on. Because Atkinson again left introducing the legislation to the very last minute, any supporters in principle who wanted to offer amendments were essentially blackmailed out of doing so - i.e. they'd be the ones who looked like they were delaying passage yet again.

Kanck, the Greens and progressive Libs all shared valid concerns about the lack of opt-in principle in the new Bill. There should have been time to debate this properly.

I am happy for SA that this is finally law. I just don't think Atkinson deserves any bouquets. And I firmly believe he, and indeed Rann, are affronts to Dunstan's memory and his political legacy.

At 9/12/06 8:52 pm, Anonymous Bazza said...

David Pisoni (Liberal) made a valid point in his speech, in that though same sex couples will have legal rights in law, they are still not recognised in the public domain as having rights.
David Pisoni also added, that same sex couples in South Australia will not have a day in their lives to call their own!.
In other words" Eat the crumbs off the table!"

At 11/12/06 1:56 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sam, your analysis is off key. There are many mistakes made and I'll be happy to discuss them all, but the one thing you shouldn't be saying is this bill is less than last year's. It's a better bill in several ways:

- the cohabitation period can be set aside where a court regards this as just to do so
- legal arrangements between partners can be recognised as setting up a relationship by a court
- the term de facto is gone, thankfully, and replaced by a term that does not imply any inferiority to marriage
- a wider range of relationships are recognised, consistent with what we called for originally five years ago
- same sex relationships have entrenched equal status in all but two SA laws (adoption and reproductive technology) - it is drafted in a way that makes repeal or inadvertent loopholes difficult

I have to say I was annoyed with Hanna and Kanck for pushing opt-in amendments when, really, they were just point scoring. Both will deny that, but I don't think they were being very reasonable.

By the way, although Family First didn't vote for it, we got so many extra Liberals in both houses who may not have (in fact did not last year) if it was the same bill. That alone makes it a worthwhile endeavour at a tactical level for me. Especially if you don't have to sacrifice principle (which we didn't: what we got is exactly what we asked for originally five years ago after coinsultation with the community) and actually improve the legislation as a result (which we did).

Next battles: EO Bill, parenting rights and partnership registration/civil unions.


At 11/12/06 2:22 pm, Blogger Sam said...

Whether or not the second bill is an improvement is a matter of opinion, Matt. I understand why people believe that the domestic partner option is better than de facto, but personally I still find it offensive to equate my relationship with two elderly sisters, because some people seem unwilling to cope with the reality of sexual interaction.

I don't think Hanna and Kanck were point-scoring at all - the point they raised about couples being drawn into this legislation who might not even wish to was completely valid.

The extra Libs that the new bill drew in might have been an admirable achievement were it not for the fact that Labor had a comfortable majority in the lower house, along with a combined majority in the upper house with the Greens, No Pokies and a couple of Libs, that it was completely unnecessary to re-draft a bill that would gain their support.

Again, I think Kanck was on the ball when she suggested it was actually homophobic members of the ALP (Atkinson, Kenyon etc) who needed to be appeased by a different bill, not Libs.

I notice in AusQueer you briefly discussed being driven to borderline personal attacks against the AG recently - is this because you feel frustrated by his abominable mishandling of the bill as the rest of us?

At 11/12/06 6:04 pm, Anonymous Bazza said...

The Bill is weak, in that it does not address the full recognition of same sex couples.
The tabling of the Bill was delayed again to the last minute. Why? because gays are superflous to the SA ALP catholic right, "Throw them some crumbs and shut them up!".
Five years means nothing, when it comes to decades of struggle for recognition and respect.


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