Saturday, 4 August 2007

WA, Vic: Feds' homophobia holding up evidence reform



Joint Media Statment - Western Australian and Victorian State Governments
The Hon. Jim McGinty MLA (left)
Attorney General
Minister for Health
Electoral Affairs The Hon. Rob Hulls MP (right)
Attorney General
Minister for Industrial Relations
Minister for Racing

A national approach to the rules of evidence admissible in court is in danger of being derailed because of the Federal Government’s continued discrimination against heterosexual and same-sex couples in de facto relationships.

The Victorian and Western Australian Attorney-Generals, Rob Hulls and Jim McGinty, said that the Federal Government needed to get its house in order so that further reform to evidence law could be properly considered.

“Most State jurisdictions include same-sex couples in their definition of de facto relationships, and Philip Ruddock needs to catch up with the twenty-first century and most other Australians in his attitude to legitimate relationships,” Mr Hulls said.

“Nationally uniform evidence laws are important because they would provide consistent rules across all courts on issues such as whether people in domestic partnerships are required to give evidence against each other.

“Philip Ruddock wants this reform, but he also wants to perpetuate discrimination by refusing to agree to a definition of domestic partnerships that goes beyond a husband and wife to include same-sex and heterosexual couples in de facto relationships.

“Enough is enough - Philip Ruddock cannot expect real reform on evidence laws when he is still refusing to act on powers referred from the States years ago to remove similarly discriminatory provisions in property, superannuation and other federal laws.

“Homophobia is just not an excuse for this ongoing discrimination against large numbers of Australians in de facto relationships, whether they are same-sex or heterosexual.”

The WA Attorney-General, Jim McGinty, said it was disgraceful that in most parts of Australia, only married couples had access to the Family Court to resolve their property matters.

“Every state, except South Australia, has passed legislation referring power to the Commonwealth to enable it to amend the current laws and give people who have been in a de facto relationship the same property rights as those who are married,” Mr McGinty said.

“It’s time that Mr Ruddock woke up and acknowledged the fact that many Australians choose not to marry and instead live in de facto relationships. These people should not be discriminated against because of their choice.

“WA is the only state which has been able to give its de facto couples access to the Family Court to resolve property matters.

“Because, unlike the other States, WA has its own Family Court, we have been able to give de facto heterosexual and same-sex couples, whose relationships have broken down, access to the Court’s specialist tribunal to resolve their property disputes.

“However for constitutional reasons we could not legislate with respect to superannuation, so like the other States, we referred those powers to the Commonwealth. Now, having done our part over the past few years, the States are still waiting to see de facto couples given the rights they deserve.”

Mr Hulls said Mr Ruddock had continually delayed introducing the Family Law Amendment (De Facto Financial Matters) Bill 2007 into Federal Parliament.

“This means that in most parts of Australia, only married couples are entitled to use the Family Court to finalise their financial affairs, while de facto couples are forced to have their cases heard in non-specialised State courts,” Mr Hulls said.

“These courts are not as well equipped to deal with family matters.

“The Family Court of Australia uses modern legislation to decide property disputes between couples and specialised judiciary, whereas State courts use older and more complex laws which in many cases can lead to delays and increased expense.”

Source: Ministerial Media Release

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