Gay couples could lose surrogacy rights under move flagged by the Queensland government, despite Campbell Newman ruling out changes to the law before the election. Photo: Vicki Lascaris
- Newman's surrogacy backflip
- Torrid scenes as protesters ejected
- What's the rush, asks independent
- 'Mean and petty' says opposition
- 'We have a mandate and views vary'
- 'Dearly loved' gay friends and family
- Stir over Nazi reference
- Simply mirroring other states?
- Defence of traditional marriage
The Queensland government will ban single people and same-sex couples from having a child through surrogacy, in a bombshell move announced during a fiery overnight debate on watering down same-sex civil unions.
In a move that will further inflame the anger of Queensland's LGBT community, Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie announced about 10.20pm that the government would introduce in the future a bill to reshape the altruistic surrogacy law.
Mr Bleijie said the Newman government's law would be similar to the one proposed by the Liberal National Party's Lawrence Springborg several years ago, and would repeal Surrogacy Act provisions dealing with single people, same-sex couples, or any de facto couple that had been together for fewer than two years.
"That was a clear commitment many years ago when that debate originally took place," Mr Bleijie said of the future surrogacy changes.
Altruistic surrogacy is the process by which a woman carries a baby for another person or couple, for no payment. The changes would restrict access to heterosexual couples only.
The announcement comes despite Premier Campbell Newman saying in 2011, when he became LNP leader, that all previous policies became "null and void". Mr Newman also dismissed suggestions on the eve of the March 2012 election that the LNP would change surrogacy laws.
"We will not be making any changes to the laws on those matters," Mr Newman said when asked about potential changes to surrogacy laws the weekend before the election, as shown in a Seven News video:
However, speaking to brisbanetimes.com.au last night, Mr Newman insisted the planned changes to surrogacy were part of the LNP's "ongoing policy commitment".
Mr Newman said it "should be no surprise", citing comments LNP members made in the original parliamentary debate when surrogacy was legalised in 2010.
Asked about his comments on becoming leader that all previous LNP policies were null and void, and that people were not told before the election about the plans, Mr Newman said: "No one asked."
Pressed on what message the LNP's suite of changes sent to the LGBT community in Queensland, Mr Newman preferred to focus particularly on the civil unions bill, which he said preserved rights to register relationships.
"This shows that we're prepared to reach a sensible compromise that retains rights," Mr Newman told this website.
The LNP's changes to civil partnerships laws, passed at 12.25am today after about five hours of debate, will rename the scheme as a relationships register and remove state-sanctioned ceremonies.
Mr Newman pointed to Katter's Australian Party's attempted amendments to the bill that would completely extinguish the hundreds of civil unions already entered into by same-sex couples.
About 12.10am, during parliamentary discussion over a Katter amendment, Mr Newman admonished the minor party, saying an anti-gay-marriage ad it ran during the election campaign was homophobic.
"This is an amendment that would cause pain and suffering; a lot of trauma to many innocent people," Mr Newman said of the Katter party attempt to strike out existing same-sex civil unions.
"Through no fault of their own they [couples] fairly entered into an arrangement created by the previous government."
About 2000 people rallied outside State Parliament several weeks ago, angry at not only the potential axing of civil unions but also the government's de-funding of the Queensland Association for Health Communities, dedicated to LGBT health, on the grounds of rising HIV rates.
MPs early this morning voted 69 to eight in support of the civil union change, with the LNP's overwhelming majority clearly showing itself in the scale of the numbers backing the bill in the night's final vote.
Alex Greenwich, from the Australian Marriage Equality lobby group, was dismayed at the various changes flagged overnight.
"The Newman government promised to move Queensland forward; their actions tonight prove that promise was hollow," he said.
"Removing rights from citizens is one of the most un-Australian actions this government could take."
The Australian Christian Lobby issued a statement welcoming the civil union changes and also the surrogacy announcement.
“This [surrogacy reform] is the right thing and is in the best interest of the child, something the state is bound to uphold under the UN Convention on the rights of the child,” ACL state director Wendy Francis said.
“There is a message to federal politicians currently subject to a propaganda war from gay activists [regarding marriage] that it is possible to resist the activists’ agenda.”
Queensland Parliament earlier descended into fiery scenes as protesters repeatedly chanted "Shame, bigot, shame" during debate on the Liberal National Party bid to water down same-sex civil partnerships.
Police and security attendants escorted, and in at least one case carried, the objectors out of the public gallery. Even when they had left, the chants about bigots continued from a distance.
The debate was disrupted for about five minutes. Mr Bleijie then accused Labor MP for South Brisbane Jackie Trad of "orchestrating" the revolt.
Ms Trad confirmed she had earlier spoken to members of the public gallery but insisted she was asking them to observe the parliamentary rulings for silence, noting several LNP MPs had gone up and done the same.
Energy Minister Mark McArdle accused the protesters of engaging in "vocal violence" and also chided Ms Trad for referring to pre-World War II Germany in her speech.
The heated debate over same-sex civil unions proved a torrid time in Queensland Parliament, with the opposition accusing the Newman government of having a “heart of stone” and a senior LNP MP arguing views varied in the gay community.
Labor MP Jo Ann Miller, who opposed civil unions altogether during last year's conscience vote, was asked to withdraw from the chamber for an hour after receiving a warning and later moving a point of order deemed not to have merit.
Earlier, a protestor in the public gallery who shouted out that same-sex couples were human beings, not animals, was escorted from the chamber.
Independent MP Peter Wellington, who supported civil unions last year, launched a strongly worded criticism of Mr Newman, saying the bill had been rushed through with just one day between introduction and debate, and no reference to the committee system for review.
"This government has shown it's as bad as the excesses of the other governments we've seen in Queensland in the past," he said.
Mr Wellington said the civil union changes were not in Mr Newman's first 100-day plan so he did not understand the urgency, adding the LNP had pledged to restore accountability, yet was bypassing the committee system.
"Tonight I believe the Premier has clearly [shown] himself as being prepared to exercise the powers that he has, simply because he has the capacity to exercise those powers," Mr Wellington said.
At 12.25am, MPs voted 69 to eight in favour of the LNP's bill. Those who voted against included six Labor MPs (Leader of opposition business Curtis Pitt was away for personal reasons).
Katter's Australian Party's two MPs abstained on the final vote and independent Liz Cunningham voted against, believing the bill should have gone further in repealing the law. Mr Wellington opposed the bill after slamming the urgency.
Queensland MPs overnight debated the Liberal National Party's fast-tracked bill to water down the existing law that allows same-sex or heterosexual couples to enter into a civil partnership and have a ceremony if they wish.
Under the Newman government's compromise, civil partnerships will not be completely scrapped, but will be renamed as registered relationships and the state-sanctioned ceremony option will be revoked.
Mr Bleijie, who unveiled the bill on Wednesday night, also flagged changes simplifying the way couples could later dissolve their registered relationships, amid concerns the existing court process was too similar to divorce.
Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk said she would oppose the changes, arguing the LNP bill was “mean and petty” and questioning why MPs had such a “heart of stone that they cannot find it within themselves to allow same-sex couples to officially celebrate”.
Ms Palaszczuk said same-sex couples lived in all electorates, not just Labor ones, and LNP MPs should hang their heads in shame.
“People have a right to express their rights; they have a right to express their love,” she told Parliament last night.
Ms Palaszczuk said the Attorney-General held “one of the most esteemed positions in the Queensland government and here he is tonight rolling back, winding back people’s basic fundamental human rights – it is so disappointing to see this from such a young Attorney-General who has just recently been appointed to such a high position in this state”.
“I find it disappointing that the LNP believes taking away rights from Queenslanders is one of their highest priorities after just coming to power three months ago,” she said.
“Go out and talk to people in your community.
“I had this discussion with my grandmother recently ... and she said to me ... if people want to celebrate their love and commitment, let them do that, who am I to judge? This is an 87-year-old woman.
“Queensland has come a long way and this Parliament should not remove rights to decent Queenslanders whose only sin is that they are in a loving committed relationship and they want to celebrate their relationship.”
But Health Minister Lawrence Springborg argued Labor did not take its civil union plans to the 2009 election before then deputy premier Andrew Fraser introduced the original bill in 2011 on the eve of the following election.
He said the LNP had a mandate for change and argued Labor had used members of the LGBT community as pawns.
Mr Springborg said the Labor bill was cynical and introduced to create division and argued former premier Anna Bligh had not had the guts to bring into the legislation as a government bill, and had instead arranged her deputy to introduce it as a private member’s bill.
“They hid it under the skirts of the former member for Mt Coot-tha Andrew Fraser,” Mr Springborg said.
“The thing that concerns many people in the community ... was that it emulated marriage and to me that was a major concern.”
Mr Springborg said people should understand that views varied.
“It is also wrong to assume that every person who is gay in Queensland actually supports same-sex marriage, same-sex surrogacy, same-sex adoption and also same-sex civil unions,” he said.
Mr Springborg said there were many in that community who held a different view and “my best friend is one of them”.
“What you actually find in the community is that people hold a diversity of views,” he said.
LNP MP for Coomera Michael Crandon dismissed suggestions the LNP was rushing the changes through, saying Labor had been the one to rush the original changes through.
“I am a Christian and I have friends in the gay community,” he said.
“I have spoken to people in the gay community about what their true beliefs are ... and not all people on all sides of this debate believe the same things. Some people are interested in one thing only.”
When Mr Crandon said he acknowledged the wishes of people to “register their interest in one another”, a member of the public gallery shouted out: “We’re not bloody animals we are human beings.”
The interjector was cheered as he was escorted from the gallery.
Mr Crandon said he simply wanted to ask all Queenslanders to understand that there were different views taken by different people in the community, but at the end of the day there were loving relationships, whether heterosexual or same-sex, and they deserved financial protection and to have access rights in emergency health situation.
Tourism Minister Jann Stuckey said 653 couples had so far registered their relationships under the civil partnership act, but only 23 of them had had state-sanctioned ceremonies.
Ms Stuckey stressed that the amendments did not remove the right of couples to hold a private ceremony with friends and family if they wished.
She also hit back at the notion that Labor was the only party that cared about same-sex couples.
"They are wrong. Many of us on the government benches have dearly loved family members or close friends who are not heterosexual ... and there are diverging views amongst the gay community on this topic as well," she said.
Ms Trad said people were passionate about the issue "because we are talking about their lives; we are talking about their families".
She said the LNP was rushing the changes through, without referring them to a committee, despite more than 6000 submissions being made to a panel last year when it considered the original bill.
Ms Trad said US President Barack Obama and Conservative UK Prime Minister David Cameron had both recently pledged their support for same-sex marriage.
"Those are all momentous steps on the road to equality and today Queensland has decided it will take a step backwards," she said.
Ms Trad said state-sanctioned ceremonies represented acceptance. She said the LNP's changes altered the civil partnership scheme to little more than a bureaucratic process "much like registering your cars".
"It is about extinguishing a right for same-sex couples and it is an abomination."
Ms Trad caused a stir when she made a reference to pre-World War II Germany as she spoke of the need not to act against minorities.
Mr McArdle criticised Ms Trad's comment as a "shameful statement".
"It's hard to believe a leader can be so full of hate and hatred that she can stand and make an allegation along these lines," Mr McArdle said.
Katter's Australian Party MP Shane Knuth listed the church groups that opposed civil unions and called on the LNP to go further and repeal the law entirely.
Rights advocates say the renaming of civil partnerships to “registered relationships” demeans Queensland same-sex couples, but MPs argue the change mirrors interstate schemes.
Some Twitter users took exception to the name change referring to registrations, telling Mr Newman “we are not cars, cats or dogs, we are human beings”.
Ms Palaszczuk said a lot of people would be upset at the changes.
Ahead of the vote in Parliament last night, Brisbane Central MP Rob Cavallucci said he supported the government's proposed changes, saying it brought Queensland into line with numerous other states.
“I don't see the name change of the bill as being an issue,” he told brisbanetimes.com.au.
Mr Cavallucci said the legal ramifications were the important part and those were preserved.
“I think the outcome of the legislation is good. I'm happy with the government's position,” he said.
But Australian Marriage Equality national convener Alex Greenwich said, regardless of what happened in other states, the Queensland government changes would diminish the rights and status of same-sex couples.
“Same-sex couples throughout Queensland will be deeply insulted by the fact that yet again their relationships have been downgraded and demeaned by their own government,” he said.
Mr Greenwich said latest census results released yesterday showed Queensland was home to more same-sex couples than South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania and Northern Territory combined.
The census reported 5986 committed same-sex couples living in Queensland as of last year.
Mr Greenwich, who is fighting for a change to the federal marriage act to allow same-sex couples to wed, said the LNP's changes were clearly motivated by a desire to remove rights, otherwise the government would have left the existing law unchanged and focused on other issues.
Katter's Australian Party, which opposes civil unions even more strongly, planned to move amendments to the bill in an attempt to highlight the LNP's support for registration of same-sex relationships.
One amendment proposed by Katter's Australian Party would change the registration bill so that instead of allowing all couples, whether same-sex or heterosexual, to sign up, the scheme would only be available to a man and a woman.
Australian Christian Lobby state director Wendy Francis, who lobbied Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie in the lead up to last week's announcement, backed the LNP's new bill.
“I think they're good changes because it has brought us into line with other states and I think that's a good thing,” she said.
Mrs Francis played down criticism of the renaming of civil partnerships as registered relationships, saying the new terminology was appropriate.
“A relationship actually speaks volumes to me; it's exactly what we're speaking about. It's a good word,” she said.
Mrs Francis said she had not lobbied the government since the post-cabinet announcement on Monday last week.
LNP MPs spent about 45 minutes hammering out the civil unions issue at a party room meeting on Monday this week.
LNP Cleveland MP Mark Robinson, a conservative Christian, was among those most stridently opposed to civil unions.
Mr Robinson made a general speech to Parliament yesterday afternoon suggesting any expansion of the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples would pose questions about where it could stop, making reference to polyamorous relationships.
He argued children were best raised by a loving mother and father, before quoting numerous religious figures including Pope Benedict.
“Queenslanders are naturally socially conservative and are wary of any moves in Canberra to push a same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting agenda on them,” he said.
Successive opinion polls have shown the majority of Australians support allowing same-sex marriage.
In February, Galaxy research commissioned by Australian Marriage Equality found 62 per cent support nation-wide, with 30 per cent opposed.
Lobbyists on both sides of the marriage debate are pressuring federal MPs ahead of an expected vote on legislation in Canberra later this year.