Australia needs to widen its mateship circle and be more accepting of same-sex couples, opposition leader Mark Latham says.

The traditional white male boundaries of mateship were not applicable to young Australians any more, Latham told the Global Foundation this week.

Today our challenge is to extend the principles of mateship and equality to all Australians, he said.

This is already happening among younger generations, breaking down the barriers of mateship and race.

Latham said the ALP wanted to add to the process [by] widening the mateship circle. This would make it easier for all Australians to take advantage of available opportunities, he said.

The people excluded by traditional mateship principles -“ women, indigenous Australians and same-sex couples -“ required extra assistance.

This would come in the form of child care and mothering payments for women, reconciliation and an apology to the Stolen Generations for the indigenous community.

For the gay and lesbian community: Respect for difference in our society: fairer treatment of same-sex couples.

Latham did not explain what form that fairer treatment might take. And a Latham staff member said he would not be available for any further comments on these issues before the end of the week.

But it was not the first time Latham has spoken about gay and lesbian rights.

In January the Sunday Herald Sun reported Latham was planning to introduce a voluntary system for same-sex couples. If they registered, they would be entitled to equal medical, superannuation and parenting rights to heterosexual couples. The Sunday Herald Sun also reported the ALP would update federal legislation to remove anti-gay discrimination.

Equal Rights Network spokesperson Rodney Croome said Latham’s comments put gay and lesbian rights into the context of traditional Australian values.

Mateship is a dearly held value in Australia, and extending the concept to include same-sex couples will help many Australians understand the needs and aspirations of these couples, he said.

We welcome Mr Latham’s attempt to strip mateship of its traditional gender and racial exclusivity.

NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor Rob McGrory said Latham’s comments were significant, but lacking in detail.

We feel that it is quite significant, in an election year, that the leader of the opposition is not shying away from making public comments on gay and lesbian issues, McGrory said.

However, the form that the proposed -˜fairer treatment’ will take will be important for our community.

Co-convenor Somali Cerise agreed: In light of this comment, we would expect the Labor Party to commit to comprehensive legislative reform of the many federal laws that currently discriminate against lesbians and gay men.

Latham’s speech, titled A Big Country: Australia’s National Identity, also dealt with developing Australia’s creativity and the new economy. He also revived the issue of an Australian republic and reinforced his statement that Australia should be seen as an equal partner in world affairs rather than a US deputy.

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