The Rudd Government completed its promise to the gay and lesbian community last week when it handed the final equality reform over to the whim of the Coalition and the minor parties.

But the ultimate fate of the 58’08 campaign should be known by the end of this month, as the Senate committee reviewing the reforms has not been given any extra time to consider this final bill covering social security, Medicare, veterans’ and defence benefits, migration and taxation.

I urge the Coalition to make good their stated support for these long-overdue reforms, by backing them in the Senate, Attorney-General Robert McClelland said.

McClelland has now introduced four reforms fixing 85 separate discriminatory laws in total, but not a single one has enough support to pass the divided Senate.

His opposition counterpart George Brandis publicly supported the reforms but has reportedly been forced to de-gay the reform’s pitch to gain right-wing support in the Coalition party rooms.

His compromise to conservatives is to amend the reforms to also include non-couple interdependent relationships such as elderly sisters, whenever same-sex couples are recognised in federal law. The proposal was suggested to cost as much as $10 billion when first considered by the Coalition while in government.

However, a Liberal party spokesman was not able to confirm the party’s position this week. The party intends to wait until all the inquiry hearings are over before announcing any amendments.

As the legislation stands, the social security reforms will be phased in by mid-2009 to allow same-sex families to adjust their finances as they go from full single benefit rates to the lower coupled rates.
A spokesman for the Attorney-General said the final bill took the total amended laws to 85, but would indirectly remove discrimination in a number of others as well.

He could not explain why diplomatic privileges and immunities were left out of the package introduced last week, despite being identified by the Human Rights Commission as discriminatory. It was suggested such amendments could require cooperation from foreign governments and the Australian Government was unwilling to begin that negotiation.

Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor Emily Gray called for a comprehensive public campaign to educate lesbians and gay men about their new rights and responsiblities under the law.

A community educated about its rights would be able to ensure all Commonwealth agencies pass on the equality changes, Gray said.

These reforms will deliver a new modern age of equality for lesbians and gay men, and their children, in Australia. Our relationships and our families will finally be recognised in almost every piece of legislation across the nation, she said.

The Lobby has also urged community members to make submissions to the Senate inquiry covering the remaining areas.

info: A sample submission is available from www.starobserver.com.au/5808 and must be submitted by Monday 15 September.

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