SURROGACY DEBATE MAY SPARK FEDERAL REFORMS by Harley Dennett
PHILIP RUDDOCK WILL HOLD BACK FEDERAL REFORMS UNTIL STATES SEE UNANIMITY ON SURROGACY.
The surrogacy debate among the states’ top law officers may lead to federal reforms that recognise same-sex parents, with attorney-general Philip Ruddock waiting on agreement between the states.
The meeting of federal and state attorneys-general in Canberra last week began on shaky ground, with Ruddock initially accusing Victoria and the ACT of “holding childless couples hostage” over gay rights.
Later a spokesperson for Ruddock told Sydney Star Observer the attorney-general would look into amending commonwealth laws once the states agreed on a uniform model for surrogacy laws.
“He’s happy to do that once the states have agreed on a model. He’ll be happy to move forward and assess all these other issues,” the spokesperson said.
“He wants to see agreement among the states and not say ‘we’ll wait till they get their house in order’.”
The states have accused Ruddock of “lacking understanding” of the issue’s complexity and agreed to wait for a comprehensive Victorian Law Reform Commission report into parenting laws, including same-sex issues, due to be tabled by 20 June.
A spokesperson for John Hatzistergos said the NSW attorney-general will “carefully examine” the Commission’s report but any reforms required the federal government to examine its own laws too.
“Surrogacy is linked to other complex interrelated ethical and legal issues, including same-sex couples, access to IVF and access to payments and entitlements – issues that must be addressed by the federal government,” the spokesperson said.
Rob Hulls, Victorian attorney-general, said in a statement to the Star that Ruddock’s comments about gay rights were “just huff and nonsense”.
“He finally got it through his head that there are a range of complicated issues around surrogacy including the requirement that commonwealth will have to amend about a dozen pieces of legislation,” he said.
A spokesperson for Hulls elaborated that they would include superannuation, inheritance and family law for children of same-sex couples not provided for under commonwealth legislation.
“Ruddock was claiming that it was fairly easy to make federal changes to allow a national approach to surrogacy,” the spokesperson said.
“But it was pointed out to him on the matter of same-sex couples that the government had committed to removing discrimination but hadn’t done it – so obviously it wasn’t that easy.”
Any reforms dependent on state unanimity are unlikely to happen soon as the states agreed to discuss the Commission report with their respective health and child welfare ministers and defer the debate to a later meeting.
The committee will meet again in July and November, but the spokesperson for Hulls said it would be “highly unlikely” to be decided at either meeting due to the issue’s complexity and the upcoming federal election.