Prime minister John Howard has agreed to look into removing discrimination against same-sex couples from some areas of federal law.
It is believed Howard asked the four Liberal MPs pushing for the law reform -“ Warren Entsch, Malcolm Turnbull, Peter Lindsay and Greg Hunt -“ to present him with a list of key areas they wanted changed.
David Scamell, spokesperson for the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, and Rodney Croome, spokesperson for Australian Coalition for Equality, met with Entsch, Lindsay and Hunt in Canberra on Monday to give their opinions on the areas of greatest importance.
Scamell told Sydney Star Observer the main priorities were recognising same-sex couples in public sector superannuation, Medicare and veterans entitlements.
When comment was sought from the prime minister, a spokesperson for Howard directed the Star to a statement he made on Monday at his weekly press conference, when asked whether he would look into removing discrimination for same-sex couples.
Well, I am open to requests properly and fairly based, but I look at them on the merits and each has got to be looked at on the merits, Howard said.
Scamell understood there was widespread support for the reforms among government ministers, including attorney-general Philip Ruddock and treasurer Peter Costello.
There is support within all factions of the Liberal party. It’s not just something being pushed by the left. There are people who traditionally have not been supportive of gay and lesbian rights who are coming to offer their support, Scamell said.
He put the progression down to the fact Entsch, in particular, had been advocating the issues over the past 12 months.
But it depends on whether the prime minister is willing to give the green light. The buck really does stop with him, Scamell said. He believed the government would make an announcement before the end of the year about which reforms would be made.
A spokesperson for Entsch said the MP for Leichhardt, Queensland, was very pleased with the response he’d so far received from Howard. But there’s still a long way to go with negotiating the final outcome, the spokesperson said.
Hunt, the MP for Flinders, Victoria, said he was extremely pleased with the progress being made for practical measures to support people with interdependent relationships.
Australian Coalition for Equality spokesperson Rodney Croome said other areas of discrimination discussed in Monday’s meeting included migration, family law, taxation and aged care asset tests.
He said that while Australian Coalition for Equality was committed to fighting for complete equality for same-sex couples, the opportunity to remove discrimination in some areas must be seized.
It’s a major step forward for the current government to decide to proactively tackle discrimination, Croome said.
Last week the Star reported Entsch would introduce a private member’s bill that requested each government ministry to identify and remove discrimination against same-sex couples from their portfolios. Some rights activists complained the bill would not compel the government to act.
The government pledged to remove discrimination from all superannuation laws in 2004, yet failed to do so. The issue of recognising same-sex couples in public sector super has been investigated by the government and it was expected to be the first of any new reforms to be made.
Comment was sought from health minister Tony Abbott as to whether he would support changes to Medicare, but the Star‘s calls were not returned.
In the past the RSL has supported removing discrimination for gay and lesbian service people and veterans, and was expected to support more reforms.