Same Sex: same old discrimination

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.

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  1. Law that allows the pursuit of happiness or at least some aspects of self-actualising and acceptance,would make any conservative very tardy Senator.But,I suspect Howard has himself only in mind.

  2. Impressed that there is an inter-party group of MPs and Senators who have taken the initiative to address the legal ramifications of the love whose name political parties dare not speak. All power and wisdom to you each.

    I suspect the general public thinks of the gay community as a privileged and powerful elite. But if the experiences of my friends & acquaintances is anything to go by, the day-to-day reality of most gay Australians is one of dis-empowerment, ostracisation and disadvantage.

  3. This is the one area of social policy that I think the Howard governemnt has let Australia down the most. I’m a Coalition supporter, in fact, I’m a member of the Liberal Party, and this is the area of policy I depart with the party most, like many younger liberal supporters.

    The refusal to legalise gay civil unions is also a disgrace, but a disgrace for both major parties considering marriage is a concurrent power.

    There was an interesting article in the IPA Review a few months ago on the financial ramifications for individuals involved, as well as the public expense, because of discriminatory de facto relationship policies. This coming from a think tank, along with the CIS, that has consistently supported the Coalition throughout the years.

    I reccomend you take a look at it Mr Bartlett:

    Rodney Croome, ‘Homocons on Traditional Values’, IPA Review, Vol. 58, No. 4, December 2006, p. 16-8.

  4. Can’t wait for when these changes finally do come through, and poor old Centrelink finds itself having to work out whether a couple of blokes or lasses sharing a house are actually in a “defacto” relationship.

    I also wonder whether homosexual couples that currently both get single rates of income support payment will be thrilled to receive the fruits of state recognition of their relationship – lower rates.

  5. Those are good points, spog. But what about this?

    I recently put a small sum of money into a very large Industry Super Fund. The information said I could name some beneficiaries if I so chose – I listed my 3 sons – but it would ultimately be THEM who decided where my money went if I died.

    A couple of years ago, my unattached cousin was cracking up about the State Government wanting to keep his superannuation if he died without a spouse or children. He is a teacher in a Queensland state high school.

    These matters need urgent investigation.

    I don’t think ANYONE should be discriminated against when it comes to basic issues described by Andrew above.

    A thought needs to be spared for women in particular, no matter what their sexual orientation.

  6. Not arguing with you at all Coral. I just wanted to point out that there are downsides to being treated as a member of a couple by the Australian Government. In the social security arena, being a member of a couple is a penalty.

  7. That’s right, Spog. That’s how it has always been. I’ve had many experiences of being treated as a non-person by the federal government.

    If you are a divorced woman raising children on your own, you will be discriminated against even more than you were before.

    The worst discrimination seems to be directed at disabled sole parents.

    Although I’m not a supporter of alternative sexual lifestyles of any kind (there are a few others), I don’t see why there is no “human equality” on basic issues.

    For example, a person ought to be able to leave their assets to anyone, anything or any organisation of their choosing, without interference.

    Whether or not any of us can do that now is becoming quite a grey area.

  8. Spog:

    Perhaps homosexual couples living under the same roof might be treated as singles. That might be a welcome plus where Centrelink is concerned.

    Perhaps someone out there knows?

  9. Coral:

    I’m not sure why that would be considered a good outcome. If the point of the change is to treat homosexual couples the same as heterosexual couples, then presumably they take the good with the bad. In this case the “bad” is the social security treatment. If Centrelink has to still treat homosexual couples more favourably than heterosexual couples, I can’t see the point.

    What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, regardless of whether the goose/gander likes gander or goose.

  10. Re Coral and spog’s comments:

    From the summary of the HREOC report into discrimination against same sex couples:

    Sometimes the differential treatment has a negative impact on same-sex families. For example, a same-sex partner is not entitled to the following benefits:

    * partner allowance
    * bereavement benefits
    * widow allowance
    * concession card benefits
    * gaoled partner’s pension

    Other times the differential treatment benefits a same-sex couple. This is because the law treats the couple as two single people, so a same-sex partner can access benefits normally available to singles.

    Several same-sex couples told the Inquiry that they would willingly trade the advantages in social security law for equal treatment under all federal laws.

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