Activists are worried time is running short for a landmark South Australian equality bill that passed the lower house of parliament last week but still needs upper house approval to become law.

The South Australian Labor government insists it is committed to passing the Domestic Partners Bill by Christmas, but only three parliamentary sitting days remain this year. The upper house is due to debate the bill next Tuesday, the third last day of parliament.

Matthew Loader from lobby group Let’s Get Equal said there were concerns the reform faced the same fate as a similar bill that passed the upper house last year but did not receive final endorsement before parliament closed.

It concerns me because I know how easy it is to draw out debate in parliament, Loader told Sydney Star Observer.

If it has to be reintroduced next year that will be an absolute pain in the neck.

But Loader said the reform bill’s prospects were stronger this year. The South Australian government has included non-sexual relationships as well as same-sex partnerships in the bill, in a bid to appease conservative MPs.

If passed, the law would make South Australia the last state or territory to enact legislation recognising same-sex couples.

Last week the bill passed the lower house by a vote of 28 to four. Loader said he expected the upper house would also endorse it.

The way it’s been amended by the government is reasonably clever, he said.

It gives them a fig leaf that they can hide behind and say that they’ve done this wonderful thing [by including a range of partnerships] when in actual fact the bill does exactly the same thing as it did last year.

The indications that we have at this stage are that even the Family First party is considering voting in favour.

Meantime, the South Australian government has proposed a series of reforms to the Equal Opportunity Act, including making it more difficult for schools to discriminate on the basis of sexuality. The reforms are not expected to take effect before the end of the parliamentary year.

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