The Rudd Government will begin its anticipated same-sex equality reforms later this month, with full cost details to be released in its 13 May Budget.
Further changes in areas like social security, taxation and veterans’ affairs will be delayed until mid-2009 to allow couples to adjust their finances and for administrative arrangements to be implemented.
Attorney-General Robert McClelland said the changes would go further than the 58 recommendations from the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and provide equal treatment under a wide range of Commonwealth laws, not just financial and workplace related.
In keeping with the election commitment, the changes do not alter marriage laws. They will make a practical difference to the everyday lives of a group of our fellow Australians who have suffered discrimination under Commonwealth laws for far too long, McClelland said.
Unquestionably there will be winners and losers. But that’s recognised by the community and as very much part of the removal of discrimination.
Together with the parenting reforms announced by the NSW Government last week, same-sex families have been told that discrimination in more than 150 laws at state and federal level will be removed.
The new federal definition of de facto will include same-sex couples, but the changes won’t take advantage of state relationship registers or affect state issues of surrogacy or IVF.
McClelland said state relationship registers would be a good way for same-sex couples to access these laws, but he wouldn’t hold up the reforms until all states complied.
Cabinet minister and Grayndler MP Anthony Albanese said the speed of the commitment’s implementation, just six months after Labor won office, vindicated the efforts of community lobbyists.
This is a proud day. I’ll be introducing the same-sex superannuation bill after the budget during the winter sitting. Cabinet approved the full changes on Monday and we’re announcing this early because people will obviously realise this has budgetary implications, Albanese told SSO.
It will start with superannuation because that is where the majority of work has already been done and symbolically where the issue began.
Changes of this magnitude cannot be introduced in a single omnibus bill, and will be completed through a series of trenches. Workplace reform and these areas will be the two biggest legislative challenges we’ll do this term.
Liberal Leader Brendan Nelson said the Opposition would support the changes if they were affordable and reasonable. His support will be needed for the initial phase while the Coalition has a majority in the Senate. He told ABC Radio that he continues to oppose same-sex marriage, adoption and IVF.
The delayed phase-in of changes that would financially disadvantage some same-sex couples, such as lesbian couples eligible for single parent Centrelink payments, was welcomed by the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, as well as the immediate implementation of urgent reforms affecting older couples.
It is essential that these reforms are phased in gradually to ensure that same-sex couples are given rights before responsibilities and not unfairly disadvantaged by changes which are meant to provide equality, Lobby co-convenor Peter Johnson said.
The government’s decision to move swiftly on issues such as superannuation will provide peace of mind for same-sex couples without immediately burdening them with some reductions in social security benefits.
The reforms are a huge step forward for lesbian and gay equality. However, our community deserves full equality through formal relationship recognition and complete recognition of our families, and our mission won’t be over until that happens.
Greens and Democrats senators supported the announcement yesterday, however Greens Senator Kerry Nettle said it wasn’t equality without marriage.
When parliament returns I will refer The Greens’ Marriage (Relationships Equality) Bill to a Senate committee for inquiry, Nettle said.