Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Rudd to remove same sex discrimination (except marriage)

Legislation to remove same-sex discrimination from a wide range of Commonwealth laws will be introduced in the Winter Sittings of Parliament, Commonwealth Attorney-General Robert McClelland said today.

“The Rudd Government is delivering on its election commitment to remove discrimination against people in same-sex relationships from a wide range of Commonwealth laws and programs,” Mr McClelland said. This long-overdue reform follows the landmark report of HREOC, Same-Sex: Same Entitlements, which focussed on financial and work-related legislation, and identified 58 pieces of legislation that discriminated.

On coming to office, the Rudd Government commissioned an audit of Commonwealth laws, which identified 100 pieces of legislation that were discriminatory.

“The changes will provide for equality of treatment under a wide range of Commonwealth laws between same-sex and opposite-sex de facto couples. Importantly the reforms will also ensure children are not disadvantaged because of the structure of their family,” Mr McClelland said.

Areas where discrimination will be removed include tax, superannuation, social security, health, aged care, veterans’ entitlements, workers’ compensation, employment entitlements, and other areas of Commonwealth administration.

The Rudd Government will begin introducing legislation in the Winter Sittings of Parliament. Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson has said that he will support the legislation.

Most reforms will commence soon after the legislation is passed. In some areas (such as social security, tax and veterans’ affairs), the reforms will be phased-in to allow time for couples to adjust their finances, and for administrative arrangements to be implemented. All of the changes are expected to be implemented by mid-2009.

“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,” Mr McClelland said.

Mr McClelland refused to commit in a press conference today that anyone would be worse off.

Here is part of the transcript of that conference:

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: Thanks for coming along.

Today I'm announcing that the Rudd Government is
delivering on its election commitment to introduce
legislation to remove same sex discrimination from
a wide range of Commonwealth laws.
This will be introduced in the winter sittings of
parliament. It will deliver on our election
commitment. It's long overdue. And it will make a
practical difference to the everyday lives of a group
of our fellow Australians who have been
discriminated against for far too long.
This long overdue reform follows from the
landmark report of the Human Rights and Equal
Opportunity Commission, titled Same Sex Same
Entitlements, which focused on financial and work
related legislation.

It identified some 58 Acts of Federal Parliament
that required amendment; an audit of
Commonwealth laws has identified some 100 laws
that in fact require attention.
On coming to office, we commissioned that audit,
and have progressed the reforms consistently with
our election commitments.
The changes will provide for equality of treatment
under a wide range of areas, including
superannuation, taxation, social security, workers
compensation, pharmaceutical benefits - again,
these will make a practical difference to the lives of
a group of fellow Australians who for far too long
have suffered discrimination at a Commonwealth
level.
It will also ensure that, from the point of view of
Australia, we now complete the picture -
discrimination on the basis of sexuality has long
been removed from State and Territory laws, and
this will complete the picture by introducing long
overdue reforms to remove discrimination from
Commonwealth laws.

QUESTION: Minister McClelland, what about the Medicare
safety net? Will that be now available to same sex
couples?
And, what is the cost of this, in terms of the budget?

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: In terms of the budgetary matters, as you'd
appreciate, I won't be giving the detail of the
budgetary implications of these measures. They will
be announced in a couple of weeks time.
But, essentially what the reforms will do will be to
ensure that a couple in a same sex relationship is
regarded in equivalent terms to a couple in a
heterosexual de facto relationship. So in terms of
having regard to what the combined income is of
that household, that will be the assessment for
Medicare purposes and social security means tests
generally.

QUESTION: So, same sex couples will be able to claim the
Medicare safety net as a couple, because that's not
in the, the press release?

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: Again, I haven't got each and - you'd
appreciate that there's a hundred laws. I can't give
you the details of each and every of those…

QUESTION: …not sure if that applies to the Medicare safety net?

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: All I can give you the information on is the
principle. That the principle will be that a same sex
couple will be regarded as a unit for the purpose of
both assessing their means tests and for, from the
point of view of assessing their entitlements.

QUESTION: Will discrimination still exist for IVF, adoption, and
a ceremony?

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: In terms of the recent meeting of the
Standing Committee of Attorneys General,
considered the issue of surrogacy, and that is an
area where the Commonwealth is encouraging and
working with States to introduce uniform measures
in respect to surrogacy. They are matters for State
Parliaments.
In respect to adoption, the same situation applies.
The issues of adoption is a State Government
matter. These reforms won't impact upon State
laws.
I should say, in respect to adoption, and
appropriately so, the focus of State adoption laws is
very much on the best interests of the children as
opposed to the rights of adults. And that is a
situation that we will not be intruding on in, in any
way.
And I'm sorry, the third issue?

QUESTION: The ceremony…

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: The ceremony. No, these reforms won't
change the Marriage Act. Consistently with Labor
Party policy we made it clear before the election
that the government regards marriage as being
between a man and a woman; and we don't support
any measures that seek to mimic that process.

QUESTION: Is this a warning, is this a warning to the ACT
Government then?

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: I've had discussions, and, discussions in
good faith with the ACT Attorney General. We
have put that view to them. We have indicated that
we strongly support, indeed think it would be a
good thing if States and Territories would agree
upon a uniform system of registration of same sex
relationships; indeed close personal relationships,
along the lines of the Tasmanian or Victorian
models. It would actually be of tremendous
assistance in the application of these federal
reforms.

And we have made that position clear.
While we support a system of registration of same
sex relationships, we don't support an arrangement
that mimics marriage.

QUESTION: So you're removing some discrimination - you're
happy to leave other aspects of discrimination…

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: We're focusing on substance over form.
We are removing discrimination from
Commonwealth laws that have a real and practical
impact on people in same sex relationships.

QUESTION: Mr McClelland, we've heard during this - we've
heard during this process that some people will be
worse off.

So, for example, some same sex couples will now
get less social security because they're classified as
a couple, as heterosexuals would be in that
arrangement.

Have you quantified the savings? Will there be
some people who are now eligible for, for less
social security as a result of these changes?

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: Unquestionably there will be winners and
losers. But that's recognised by the community, and
as very much part of the removal of discrimination.

There will be, for instance, in assessing the income
of the household as a unit, the means test will have
regard to the total earnings both couples, as opposed
to the earnings of an individual, for the purpose of
assessing whether that individual is entitled to some
form of social security benefit.

On the other hand, there will be - to answer your
question earlier - there will be instances in respect
to pharmaceutical benefits where there will be more
generous provisions.

Equally, in respect to Commonwealth
superannuation, there will also be, there will also be
areas where benefits flow.

The same for, for instance workers compensation,
where children - children will be regarded as
dependents of the primary breadwinner who may
suffer a workplace injury for the purpose of
assessing the child's entitlement to additional
benefits.

QUESTION: Mr McClelland, [indistinct] previous government
was tinkering with this as well. They were going to
include the definition… couples, same sex couples.
But those homosexual relationships, the broader
definition that could be like, [indistinct] or
something like that who have an interdependent
relationship financially, and for all intents and
purposes, but it was a non-sexual one.

Is what you are doing going to affect that, include
those people?

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: These reforms focus on same-sex couples.
However, we have indicated to the States and
Territories we would think a system of registration
of close personal relationships, same sex and
otherwise, including that position of carers that you
have mentioned would be a desirable thing.
It is included in the Tasmanian legislation. And we
think that would be a desirable outcome for the
states and territories to collectively work towards.

QUESTION: Can I just clarify that the ACT - if they go ahead
and want to have a ceremony with their registration,
would you, like the Howard Government, intend to
override it?

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: Again, we are in discussions with the ACT
Government. I don't want to pre-empt the outcome
of those discussions.

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