At the end of June, the Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission released the final report from their nationwide inquiry into discrimination against people in same sex relationships, entitled “Same Sex: Same Entitlements.” It provided two simple recommendations on how to remove the discrimination which currently exists at a national level, including detailing 58 different federal laws which discriminate against same-sex couples in the area of financial and work-related entitlements.
Along with my fellow Democrat Senators, I introduced a Bill into the Senate following the release of the report to enact its recommendations. It is a simple process of changing the definition of de facto partner to include people in a same sex relationship, as well as those who are in a de facto relationship with a member of the opposite sex.
It is normal practice for any piece of legislation to be referred to a Senate Committee for examination, should any Senator wish to do so. However, the Coalition government used its control of the Senate to prevent this legislation from being examined by a Senate Committee, even though it was new legislation which had been produced specifically in response to this report once it had been tabled in the federal Parliament. It is a disgrace to prevent legislation from even being able to be formally examined. You do not have to agree with the legislation, but to prevent it from even being considered by a Senate committee is appalling and sets a very bad precedent.
Because of this, an ad hoc unofficial Committee of Senators and MPs was set up to examine the legislation and to seek public input. Mr Warren Entsch and Dr Mal Washer from the Liberal Party and Senator Barnaby Joyce from the National Party came along, as did Senators Moore and Webber from the ALP and Democrat Senator Lyn Allison. The ad hoc committee is hoping to table its views and its report in the Senate next week.
The Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commissioner said that discrimination against same-sex couples exists on basic issues such as:
… employment, workers’ compensation, tax, social security, veterans’ entitlements, health care, superannuation, aged care and migration.
He also said:
I am still incredulous that there could be such blatant and widespread discrimination against an entire sector of our community in such fundamental areas of life.
This affects thousands of Australians, sometimes in enormous, very personal and often quite hurtful ways—particularly if you are dealing with the death of your partner. If your partner dies and your relationship has been in place for decades but you have to fight even to be recognised as having any right at all as their long-time partner, then it is not surprising that some people will find that extremely hurtful and insulting. It is that basic financial discrimination that should be addressed.
This is a simple issue of basic equality. The Prime Minister himself has said he does not support this type of discrimination. As I mentioned nearly two years ago, Mr Howard has stated
“I am strongly in favour … of removing any property and other discrimination that exists against people who have same-sex relationships.”
Unfortunately, while he says he is strongly in favour of removing the discrimination, he has not actually done anything about it, and his government Senators have repeatedly blocked amendments in the Senate which would remove it – as shown by their refusal to allow legislation to this end to even be examined by a Senate Committee. It’s no wonder people question the Prime Minister’s honesty.