Births Deaths & Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2016

Tuesday 13 September 2016

Second Reading -

Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) — I rise to make my contribution on the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2016. I suppose in starting off I should say that I was very disappointed in the minister’s tone at the start of his contribution. These sorts of debates are best carried out in this place with respect, and the comments he made about the member for Hawthorn just reinforce the view that what this government currently wants to do with some of this social agenda is divide rather than unite. I think the way that the Parliament has best handled these issues in the past has been when there has been a sharing of knowledge and a good understanding of what has been proposed. The member for Hawthorn talked about the process that former Attorney‑General Rob Hulls went through with those particular processes back in 2004.

This bill has been in this place for 13 days. Although the minister has spoken about consultation with particular sectors of the community here in Victoria, from someone who represents one of the electorates in northern Victoria, I do not think anyone in my electorate really knew anything about this bill until it hit the table. Sure, the minister wants to play politics, the minister wants to divide, the minister wants to be divisive. That is his right; he is the minister, and they are the government. But that is not the way to actually get the best outcome in society when you are making major changes. I am very disappointed in how he has gone about that, but I am not surprised, given the minister’s performance on those particular issues in the past.

As I said, this bill has only been before this place for 13 days. The member for Hawthorn talked about the process of having an exposure draft for these sorts of matters, which may have been a better way to go about this. It would mean people could get a very good understanding of the legislation and could ask the questions that we all — and no doubt that includes you, Acting Speaker Pearson — have had lots of emails about in terms of how particular issues can be handled if this bill becomes legislation into the future.

The Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2016 amends the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996 to remove the requirement for a person to have undergone sex affirmation surgery and to be unmarried to allow for an application to alter the birth certificate on behalf of children. It inserts a new provision enabling a person to alter the record of their sex without the person having to undergo sex affirmation surgery, as I said, and the need for them to be unmarried. I think people need to understand what those particular issues mean. From my point of view I do not have any problem with those particular changes. The issue is about making sure that the community understands the ramifications in the future as people go through these particular processes and as they actually nominate their sex descriptor on their birth certificate in the future.

The questions that are being constantly asked in the correspondence that I have received relate to how it is going to be managed in the future for the single‑sex schools, which I think the member for Hawthorn mentioned; how it will be handled from the perspective of sporting clubs and clubs that play gender‑specific sports; and how it will be handled by service providers that provide particular services for either male or female patrons. They are the sorts of questions that a lot of people are asking as they send correspondence and emails in to us around this particular issue.

For an organisation that provides specific services to women around domestic violence and around the sorts of gender‑specific issues regarding women’s health, how do they actually handle someone who comes in and now describes themselves as a woman? They are the questions that have been sent to quite a few of us as members of Parliament. They are the things that need to be answered. If this house and this process are going to work well, they are the sorts of things that there should be answers for now. They should not just be raised as part of this debate now, with people left wondering. The wider community in particular is left wondering what this means for them. We have all had the emails, but there is one particular email from Tessa Anne, who asks a whole range of those questions that I have just talked about. She asks how the bill will affect those particular organisations that deliver services — from her point of view she is talking about women — such as women‑only gyms. She asks how it will affect the recruitment of — —

Ms Thomas — Women go to women‑only gyms.

Mr WALSH — But if people are self‑describing what gender they are, are they actually women? That is the whole point.

Ms Ward interjected.

Mr WALSH — That is not necessarily so, as I would understand it. There are issues there that need to be addressed. As the member for Hawthorn said, the Liberal‑National coalition party will be opposing this legislation. Those on the other side might like to be derisive of the fact that we are opposing it. That is our right as a party and as members of Parliament. It is interesting that they talk about respect. Government members say they want respect from those on the other side, but they are not prepared to give it to the other side if they have a different view from the government’s view on whatever issues happen to be being discussed at the time.

We respectfully oppose this legislation. As the member for Hawthorn said, a much better way forward would have been to have spent more time on this particular issue and to have released, as I have already said, an exposure draft that allowed all the issues that are being raised now to be played out in the community.

One of the things that I personally believe and I think people on this side of the house believe is that people have a right to live their life the way they want to live their life, as long as it does not impact on other people in any adverse way. For those people from the LGBTI community, I believe 100 per cent that that is the way life should be lived in the future, but we need, and I need personally in my role in this place, answers to the questions that have been raised by a whole heap of people about what the ramifications will be for those organisations, those groups and those services out there that feel that they do not know what will happen in the future when they get to deal with people who have changed their birth certificate.

This issue about having a descriptor that is not necessarily gender based but which effectively, as I understand it, can be any name you want to put on it, as long as it is not offensive, raises some real challenges for the wider society. People obviously want to change their birth certificates to reflect their gender, but we need our birth certificates when making applications for a whole range of things, so we need to be very careful about how this proceeds into the future. I struggle in my own mind with how having a descriptor on your birth certificate that does not necessarily reflect any gender at all is going to function in the future.

To finish off my contribution to this debate, I suppose the other thing I have concerns with is the issue around children and the fact that the process needs some more checks and balances before there are changes made to the gender of young children. We all know that some people go through phases in their life where they question those sorts of things. I would hate to see decisions made in haste which people then regret or have to undo in some way in the future.

As I said at the start, in getting to where we have got today I think this process could have been handled a lot better. As I said, the Parliament works a lot better when there is wider understanding from the community of what we are trying to achieve. It is the minister’s right and the government’s right if they want to be divisive about these particular issues, if they want to play politics with these particular issues, but I think we all have a responsibility here on behalf of all Victorians to try to get the best outcome possible, and I do not believe the government has gone about this in a way to achieve that or have ownership of what changes may be made in the future by the wider community.


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