Details have emerged of the eagerly anticipated private member’s bill by Liberal MP Warren Entsch, which aims to remove discrimination for same-sex couples from federal law. But some gay rights activists believe it doesn’t go far enough.
The bill, which is in the final stages of drafting, would require all government ministers to review legislation in their portfolios to identify areas of discrimination and make amendments to recognise interdependent same-sex relationships.
Entsch’s bill would also require each minister to report annually on their progress, which would be monitored by an independent review body.
That’s to make sure ministries correct discrimination in a timely manner, and to pick up on any areas they may have missed, Entsch said this week.
However, lobby group Australian Coalition for Equality (ACE) was disappointed the bill did not directly remove discrimination and feared coalition ministers would drag their feet on making changes.
ACE spokesperson Rodney Croome believed the bill could perpetuate the idea that discrimination is neither urgent nor important and said it was unacceptable to put off reform which was already years overdue.
Yet Croome said he appreciated Entsch’s efforts. It’s clear he’s working in an environment that makes change very difficult, he said.
A spokesperson for Entsch said the MP was not able to make sweeping legislation changes because backbenchers were unable to introduce private member’s bills that required government funding.
Instead he was advised by parliamentary counsel that putting the onus on each ministry to make the legislative changes themselves was the most likely way to achieve success.
The main thing is he doesn’t want to ambush the government, he wants to bring the government with him, the spokesperson said.
He’s putting forward the bill that has the best chance of gaining the support of parliament and he’s confident it does achieve meaningful and practical change to the way government legislation treats same-sex interdependent relationships.
Entsch is believed to be meeting with coalition MPs on Monday to discuss his issue.
One MP who supports removing discrimination for same-sex couples is the influential Malcolm Turnbull, parliamentary secretary to the prime minister and member for the Sydney seat of Wentworth.
In a statement to Sydney Star Observer, Turnbull said while the government had passed measures to remove some discrimination from areas such as superannuation, migration and service entitlements, there was still work to be done.
Areas of discrimination remain, and I am working with several of my colleagues to identify further examples of that discrimination so they also can be addressed, he said.
Turnbull’s spokesperson said the politician was actively pursuing the issue in parliament and hoped progress would be made soon.
Earlier this week Turnbull told The Australian there was no justification to discriminate against co-dependent relationships, for example, in the case of Medicare or health benefits.
These relationships had a definite social benefit, he said.
The gay marriage issue, however, should be put aside as it was something people get very concerned about and I don’t think it’s a particular fruitful area of focus.
News website Crikey.com.au reported there was speculation Turnbull made his public comments because of the recent redistribution of his seat of Wentworth, which now encompasses the heavily gay populated suburbs of Darlinghurst, Potts Point and Woolloomooloo.