Justice Legislation Amendment (Succession and Surrogacy) Bill 2014

I rise to speak on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Succession and Surrogacy) Bill 2014. I want to acknowledge the acceptance of the amendments proposed by the Labor Party and put on the record that there is no longer any opposition to the bill. In effect the aim of the bill is to ensure that the Victorian succession laws operate justly, fairly and in accordance with community expectations in relation to the way property is dealt with after a person dies.

The bill also allows for recognition of commissioning parents of a new born in Victoria under surrogacy arrangements for the purposes of birth registration where the child was conceived in another Australian state or territory and a corresponding surrogacy parentage order has been obtained from the state or territory, which is a much more common event then many of us realise.

The bill creates new classes of people who are eligible to apply for family provision.

The first five these are: (a) a spouse or domestic partner of the deceased; (b) a child, including an adopted child, of the deceased who at the time of the deceased’s death is under the age of 18 or a full-time student between 18 and 25 years old, or who has a disability; (c) a stepchild or child of a domestic partner, under the same criteria as for children; (d) a person treated as a natural child of the deceased for a substantial period, under the same criteria as for children; or (e) a former spouse of domestic partner who would have been able to commence divorce and/or spousal maintenance proceedings at the time of the deceased’s death.

This is something I feel strongly about in considering this legislation because I have a complex family myself. This sort of legislation might be enacted in the future for my situation. From having done a recent survey of my constituents, I know that there are many in my electorate who have new arrangements as families, as many of us refer to them.

When a lot of us are asked, ‘What have been the biggest changes in our society over the last generation or the last two generations?’, we often refer to technology, but I would say that one of the biggest changes in our society has been around the structures of families, the recognition of blended families in particular, and the changes that have occurred in open society in recognising the differences in families.

In my own circumstances my parents divorced when I was quite young. I now have a stepfather and two stepsisters, whom I love dearly. As I have a father who remarried, I also have a stepmother and three stepsiblings from that relationship as well. Then it goes on to get more complex with my own marriage. I have six children, one of whom is my own and five of whom are my stepchildren I inherited on the day of my marriage: Lauren, Julia, Michael, Georgia and Madeleine. I did not expect that at any stage of my life, particularly at the age of 40, I would inherit, along with a marriage, many step grandchildren.

In the last four years they have boomed from one grandchild to an expected sixth grandchild before Christmas. That goes to show just how complex families can be. That is not what you would expect when you fall in love with somebody, but that is an example of the way that families are structured today.

I think there is more and more recognition of those types of arrangements in blended families. Most of us would like to think — I know I do in my circumstances with my family — that love will rule everything in matters involving sadness and that when someone passes on, everything will be sorted out with logic and love. Unfortunately that is not the case, and for some families this does not happen. When this does not happen, you need the law to step in.

I refer to that part of the legislation that refers to small estates. The bill amends the law in relation to small estates so that money and personal property valued at up to $25 000, as indexed, can be transferred without a requirement for the production of grants of representation. An executor of an estate valued at up to $100 000, as indexed, will be able to seek aid from the registrar of probates or a registrar of the Magistrates Court. The bill also contains some amendments that go to the depth of the Wills Act 1997 and amend the authorised wills scheme. The bill amends the Wills Act so that applications under section 21 of the act no longer require leave of a court. Section 21 allows for the making of a court authorised will for a person who does not have testamentary capacity.

There is also the issue of surrogacy, which has become more of a commonplace issue in our society. Many on this side of Parliament have spoken eloquently on this issue. The bill amends the Status of Children Act 1974 so that a child born under a surrogacy arrangement will no longer be presumed to be the child of a surrogate and will be recognised as the child of the commissioning parents.

It changes key definitions in registration processes in order to allow for the recognition of surrogacy arrangements taking place in other states and territories. The bill also amends the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996 to ensure that commissioning parents can obtain a birth certificate for the naming of a child of a surrogacy arrangement. Once a surrogacy parenting order has been made, the registrar will require the amendment of birth registration, naming the commissioning parents as the child’s parents. Having a few friends who in the last few years have undergone the experience of using a surrogate as they have not been able to have children themselves, I highly commend the bill to the house and acknowledge the good work and the acceptance of the amendments.