Superannuation is many people’s largest asset, and the one that will support them through their old age. Most people don’t think too much about their super but, for our community, it’s an issue that matters. Even though we make the same contributions to super as our straight colleagues, we don’t get the same benefits. Super funds can, and do, deny death benefits to same-sex partners.
The Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby began fighting for super equality almost a decade ago. Since then the GLRL has worked hard to keep super on the reform agenda and successfully got the super industry onside. In 1998, the GLRL worked with Grayndler MP Anthony Albanese to develop a private member’s bill. A Senate committee inquiry into Albanese’s bill received an unprecedented 1,200 submissions in favour and only five submissions against, yet the Howard government still refused to act. In the lead-up to the 2001 federal election, the GLRL made super a focus with the launch of our Superannuation=Superdiscrimination community education campaign.
Finally we are seeing some results. Recently, the federal government, with the support of the Democrats, passed legislation partially addressing these problems. Super laws now have a new category of interdependency relationships which will include many same-sex couples. This means when a lesbian or gay man in an interdependency relationship dies their partner will be able to access death benefits and get the same concessional tax treatment as opposite-sex partners.
While this is an improvement, it is far from full equality. The Howard government is sending a strong symbolic message that it considers our relationships to be less valid.
There are also practical problems. Same-sex couples in a de facto relationship under NSW law will not automatically fit in the new interdependency category. Same-sex couples will need to prove at least one of them provides financial support to the other. Where a couple keeps their finances relatively separate this will be difficult. Heterosexual couples only need to show that they are in a relationship.
Despite these problems, the super changes are a victory and demonstrate what our community can achieve through lobbying efforts. Recognition for these achievements must go to those in our community who have contributed over the years and the supportive MPs who have worked with the GLRL on this issue.
The superannuation fight isn’t over yet, but we are much closer to achieving equality.