The federal government has been accused of wavering on a commitment to extend superannuation benefits to gay and lesbian workers in the public sector, two years after first pledging to fix the law.

Federal Labor MP Tanya Plibersek told parliament this week the government had promised to update public sector superannuation law several times in the past two years but had not taken action.

In 2004 the government gave same-sex couples in private sector super funds access to partner death benefits, using an interdependency relationship category that also included relatives and carers.

They’ve made changes that allow privately-run superannuation organisations to do the right thing but when it comes to its superannuation for public servants it’s not doing the right thing, Plibersek told Sydney Star Observer.

They’ve said that they support the change. The question now should be not whether this will happen but when it will happen.

I think that the real focus has to be on at least holding them to the promises that they’ve already made.

In the past two years several senior members of the government have pledged to remove discrimination from superannuation law.

Late last year prime minister John Howard said he was strongly in favour of removing discrimination against same-sex couples, as coalition backbenchers pushed for gay civil unions.

But the government withdrew a super reform bill last March, prompting criticism it was stalling on the issue.

A separate bill relating to superannuation splitting that passed last December did not include same-sex couples after the government voted against amendments proposed by ALP and Democrats senators.

A spokesperson for finance minister Nick Minchin, who is responsible for public sector superannuation law, did not return the Star‘s calls yesterday.

In March last year Minchin’s spokesperson told the Star the coalition was committed to equalising super law. But in February this year Minchin told a Senate hearing he was unaware of an unconditional commitment to fix public sector super schemes.

Plibersek also urged the government to extend super splitting benefits and other advantages such as a spousal superannuation tax rebate for low-income earners, to same-sex couples.

A spokesperson for assistant treasurer Peter Dutton, who oversees private sector superannuation reform, said the government was not planning to include the interdependent relationship category in other areas of private super law.

NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights co-convenor David Scamell said he was confident the government would update public sector super legislation soon.

Scamell said a report due to the government by the middle of the year was expected to show there would be minimal costs in changing the law.

From there I think the government will most likely act, also given the fact that they’re continuing to get criticism -¦ from within their own party room with the backbenchers pushing for reform on gay and lesbian issues, Scamell told the Star.

I think [superannuation reform] is the obvious first step and I think it’s one they more than likely will take in the second half of this year.

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