It came as something of a surprise to all of us when the Federal government announced last Tuesday that it would be saving $66 million in the budget by providing equality for same-sex couples and their children. Earlier this year The Australian reported that the reforms would cost the government more than $400 million to implement. What’s more, the Howard government’s primary excuse for not providing same-sex equality was the cost, with their estimated price tag of over $1 billion.
No doubt the extremely inflated cost of these reforms was used to give weight to arguments against same-sex equality and as a political strategy to block calls for change. But the question remains, how did we get it so wrong? And where is the government saving $66 million?
The primary area in which the government is saving money is in social security. From June 2009 many lesbians and gay men will cease to be eligible for disability payments, single parent benefits and other entitlements available to single people. This is because the law will soon recognise the existence of same-sex couples and as such the financial status of both partners will be taken into account when deciding eligibility for such payments in the same way that opposite-sex couples are currently assessed.
In recognition of the financial hardship that some people in our community may face because of these changes, the Lobby has strongly advocated for the social security reforms to be the last of the changes and to be phased in to give people time to adjust. When we have asked our community about relationship recognition over the last 15 years, you have told us that you want the responsibilities that come with rights.
These reforms are about giving people financial security in a range of areas including workplace entitlements, taxation, carers leave, Medicare, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, superannuation and so much more. How can we put a price on the ability to take leave when your partner is sick or to receive worker’s compensation if your partner is injured or killed at work? Recognition of our relationships will ensure that we can transfer super benefits to our partners when we pass away and that partners of our veterans will not be left out in the cold.
It’s about time that our relationships were given the recognition and respect that they deserve and that means equality in all areas of the law.