Equality bill gets Liberal nod

Equality bill gets Liberal nod

Coalition support for the Rudd Government’s equality reforms passed its first test during a Senate vote last Thursday and was repeated in the lower house on Monday.

The amendments to family law recognise children of co-mothers and co-fathers in federal law, considered by many MPs to be the most controversial aspect of the equality package, and are expected to be passed again during a final vote on 10 November.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland said de facto same-sex and opposite-sex couples will have access to the federal Family Court for property and maintenance matters after all states except South Australia and Western Australia referred powers six years ago.

These reforms are long overdue. They will end current arrangements which place a huge administrative and financial burden on separating de facto couples, McClelland said.

Consistent with the Government’s policy, the legislation will not discriminate between opposite-sex and same-sex de facto couples. Nothing in the legislation will alter marriage laws.

Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull and shadow attorney-general George Brandis were singled out for praise by gay and lesbian lobbyists for holding together the Coalition’s support for the reforms -” despite vocal opposition from some backbenchers.

Last week Sydney Star Observer revealed Turnbull was working behind the scenes and held a party room showdown to demand unity.

It’s fantastic to see the Opposition supporting the Government’s move to recognise same-sex parenting, however it’s disappointing that Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership is yet to unify the party to the point where it doesn’t require spurious amendments to remove the word parent, Australian Coalition for Equality spokesman Corey Irlam told Sydney Star Observer.

We’re concerned that future amendments by the Opposition in the name of having a unified Liberal party position may lead to delays into 2009.

Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor Emily Gray also urged an end to the delays.

Now that the Family Law Amendment has passed through the lower house, we call on the Coalition to pass the Bill without any further amendments, she said.

The Bill has incorporated amendments to Section 60H of the Family Law Act -” the result of the GLRL’s lobbying efforts since May. The passage of this Bill sets the framework for the raft of same-sex reforms to come, and is a linchpin in the same-sex reform package.

Some Opposition members voiced their support for an education campaign to make same-sex couples aware of their new rights and responsibilities that has been suggested by the Opposition.

One issue that is mentioned in the report is the effect that this legislation could have on some same-sex couples who currently receive Centrelink benefits in that they may be worse off financially under the proposed suite of legislation than they previously were, Senator Sue Boyce told Parliament.

We need to develop a lot of educational material and provide a lot of support to assist those people to ensure that they are no more disadvantaged than is absolutely necessary in achieving the results of uniformity that we are now looking for in the treatment of all relationships, especially the treatment of children of those relationships.

Labor members used their debate time to praise Grayndler MP Anthony Albanese and Melbourne Ports MP Michael Danby for their campaigning on the issue while in opposition.

Three more bills covering superannuation, spousal immunity from testifying in court, and the omnibus bill removing same-sex discrimination in other areas are yet to be put to a final vote.

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11 responses to “Equality bill gets Liberal nod”

  1. Mr Potts:- On many occasions the Government relied on Greens/Democrats to get legisatlion through – particularly to assist Labor’s union base.

    And support for the Government was at times given by the Greens in return for the Government supporting Green environmental demands. Those tradeoffs could’ve included G & L reforms. But they didnt.

  2. Shiraz, other members of the Legislative Council during the period 2003-2007 included: independent Peter Breen (later joining Labor), Dr Peter Wong (Unity), David Oldfield (NSW One Nation), John Tingle and Robert Brown (The Shooters Party), Dr John Jenkins (Outdoor Recreation Party), Dr Gordon Moyes and the Rev. Fred Nile (Christian Democrats).

    If the then three Greens and Democrat Arthur Chesterfield-Evans had made such a blanket refusal, the Government would have dealt with a combination of these.

    Notice almost all these MPs are social conservatives antithetical to gay rights- what sort of outcomes do you think they’d have negotiated for the GLBT community if it was left to them alone to deal with Government?

  3. Mr Potts, from at least 2003 to 2007 the Greens and a Democrat held the balance of power in NSW, almost always voting in a bloc – with their support guaranteeing the passage of any Govt bill.

    And while many fine speeches and pledges of support for the Lesbian and Gay Community were made, the practical political horse trading over policy that saw more protections for the environment did not extend to benefits for our community.

  4. Geez, Dr. Jo, these are issues I’ve been raising for about 12 months now. The response is generally ‘why should g&l couples on welfare be advantaged over hetero’s?” or ‘you can’t have it both ways, equality also means equal status as straights in the welfare system.” It’s a tricky one, but I think there are precedents for an exemption for say, couples on benefits due to HIV/AIDS ill health. The SAS/S private rental subsidy is only available to the HIV+ in need (partly because D.of H. public housing tends to be so HIVphobic.) A few years back, the D.of H. tried to revoke the subsidy and the recipients mounted a lobby with some very good arguments for it’s being retained; and won the lobby.

    That’s just one example, but the fact remains that the same-sex relationship amendments will mean disadvantage for a number or glbqti. There will apparently be a ‘phasing-in period’ for those affected to ‘adjust’ which I guess means, ‘you’ve got a year to move out from your partner and live on your own, or lose half your income.’

    I don’t expect there’ll be a great deal of sympathy, or even interest, from the community, but I hope that those agencies paid to advocate for the HIV+ are at least educating their clients on the likely outcomes and what rights they might still have.

  5. Shiraz- the Greens do not hold the balance of power in New South Wales, they share the balance of power with the Christian Democrats and the Shooters Party- meaning the Government can strike deals with whomever it pleases. They need to hold it outright to be able force the government’s hand. In the ACT the Greens have held the balance of power for about two weeks now, going from just one seat before the election to three, and only discovering on Friday that they’d picked up a fourth seat off the Liberals. A new ACT government hasn’t even been formed yet so its a bit early for them to start making public demands. Or did you perhaps mean Victoria?

  6. Imagine you are a gay man in your 80s, you have lived through the era when shock treatment, lobotomy, blackmail, sacking from your job, criminal conviction and potentially prison, were all part and parcel of being attracted to the same sex.

    Here you are now living with your same sex partner at home. He is also in his 80s and is frail and needing community aged care package related services. You both live on the age pension.

    You are not out to anyone, not to your relatives, or to your service providers, who are nice enough, but you are not about to take the risk. After all, the aged care industry in this country has not been forced to protect you, so why would you take the risk when you are more vulnerable than ever.

    You attend Mature Age Gays meetings, and that’s just about the only place you can really be yourself. Plenty of others there are just like you.

    The Government finally passes the same sex relationships reforms, including amendments to the Aged Care Act. You don’t list yourselves on any register and you do nothing to declare your relationship, you never have and you can’t take the risk of losing the support of family members you know to be very judgemental.

    Flash forward 5 years, your partner is assessed as needing to go into residential care, a devastating decision, but one you have felt was coming for some time.

    You have to fill in the 5 steps to residential care kit, and be assessed by Centrelink for residential care payments and fees.

    The aged care industry is still largely exempt from anti-discrimination legislation and there is research evidence that gays in residential care are afraid to assert their rights. There is no GLBT advocacy officer you can call.

    Centrelink tell you that if you are not in one of a very tight list of defined relationships to the person going into residential care, your house will be counted INTO the assets test, meaning you will have to pay much more in fees and charges, and may even have to sell your home to afford these.

    You are between a rock and a hard place – disclose now and have Centrelink come for 5 years backpayment of benefits to two singles rather than a couple, OR don’t disclose and lose your house, or at least pay more than others with the same assets and income.

    As a community we appear to see these guys as ‘weak’ ‘getting their just deserts’ ‘appropriately punished’ or even ‘wanting it both ways’ as I have been told.

    I can’t work out why there is not more widespread anger with those who will celebrate legislation that will allow the social security and aged care and veterans care systems to happily continue to treat people unfairly, and ignore the history of what was done to those who were victims of the times.

    When the time comes and the boomers need nursing homes, what steps will we have taken to ensure that no one is afraid or forced back in the closet?

    Dr Jo Harrison

  7. Once the back patting and self-congratulation within the Parliament has passed, the trenchant response of the Attorney-General to questions on same-sex marriage once again highlights federal Labor’s breathtaking inconsistency, if not hypocrisy, on same-sex discrimination.

    Labor’s obstinate refusal to do *anything* on marriage equality — beyond repeating the same trite circular phrases being cheerfully bandied about by the Prime Minister in a perpetual attempt to justify and reinforce this disgraceful imposition of third-class citizenship upon same-sex couples — is inexcusable and out of touch with what a sizeable portion of the Australian community (not to mention, reportedly, a sizeable number of Labor parliamentarians) think, believe and/or are willing to support.

    In general, I don’t mind Kevin Rudd. He’s a definite improvement on that other bloke who was displaced last November. But on this issue, the contempt for same-sex couples being shown by the Government’s vapid responses are really beyond the pale and the buck stops with Rudd. This the same guy who thinks Bill Henson’s artwork is “revolting” and whose Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy & comrades, is trying to filter (ie. slow down) the Internet to its detriment and ours in the misguided belief that will protect young people online. I guess we should not be surprised then, that the nation’s Race Discrimination Commissioner Tom Calma believes “Australia has “parked most human rights at the door” with “a legal system that offers minimal protection to human rights, and a system of government that treats human rights as marginal to the day to day challenges that we face” (SMH 23/10).

    It is not rational or reasonable for Labor to say they oppose same-sex discrimination only to turn around and do exactly that. Labor is discriminating against same-sex couples who have married overseas and discriminating against same-sex couples here who wish to marry. This plain and simple fact cannot be obscured by rambling diplomatic Ruddspeak. Not that the Coalition’s position has been any better, of course.

    ‘Partial equality’ is a falsehood and contradiction in terms. A partial diminution of inequality, even a sizeable one, is still not equality. GLBT citizens of Australians should be entitled to true equality, which necessarily including the free choice to marry their same-sex partner if they wish.

  8. Words are cheap! It’s one thing saying you support Gays and Lesbians, its another delivering. Greens and Democrats have held the balance of power both NSW and Canberra but refused to say “we will not pass legislation until you have removed all discrimination.”

    There is more to be done…but Rudd is delivering on his committment.

  9. “I voted for Kevin07 coz i hated Johnnie, but also because I was hopeful that labour would live up to their commitment on same sex relationship law reform”

    The thing is, you would have needed to vote for The Greens 1, and 2 Labor (to form a Labor government under the thumb of the Greens bidding). The Greens are the only party proud to state they support 100% No Discrimination in any law against us.

  10. OMG. I voted for Kevin07 coz i hated Johnnie, but also because I was hopeful that labour would live up to their commitment on same sex relationship law reform – but I never really believed they would do it. Well paint me red and send me out in the village – looks like it might happen. I might cry too.

  11. This is absolutely fantastic news!!!!!! I can’t believe it and am going to cry.

    Thank you for recognising us as human beings. (I have to admit I somehow don’t fully recognise myself as one, and have self esteem problems, but that will heal with time with any luck.)

    Thank you to both sides of Parliament for giving bipartisan support to this – and thus avoiding a heart-wrenching tug of war over this in the Senate.

    Many many thanks to the Rudd Labor Government and to Attorney General Robert McClelland. You are absolutely fantastic and have renewed my faith in humanity (not to mention politicians). (jokes) You are the best – thank you

    Sincere thanks also to Malcolm Turnbull and Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis for guiding the passage of this through their party. I can appreciate that there would have been some hurdles to navigate through – so thank you for standing up for us so strongly.

    These are massive, LANDMARK, pieces of legislation and I thank you for all the work, sweat, energy, long late hours, working on weekends, and commitment to giving a fair go and equality for all Australians.

    You are the best !