Aug 13, 2007

Second Reading – Judges’ Pensions Amendment Bill 2007

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (8.11 p.m.)—I rise to speak in favour of the amendment moved by my colleague the member for Gellibrand to the Judges’ Pensions Amendment Bill 2007. It is important to refute the arguments put by the member for O’Connor in what can only be described as an extraordinarily narrow speech in each and every way. Labor does support equality between same-sex de facto couples and heterosexual de facto couples.

We support removing discrimination in a range of areas, including immigration, social security, health care and, indeed, economic issues such as superannuation. The member for O’Connor made an extraordinarily homophobic contribution to the debate suggesting that somehow this is a secret Labor position. In fact, I moved a private member’s bill as far back as 1998 and had to reintroduce it three times when it lapsed because the government refused to allow it to be debated. It was called the Superannuation (Entitlements of same sex couples) Bill. That bill sought to give the same recognition for and entitlements to superannuation for same-sex couples as are currently enjoyed by heterosexual couples. This amendment seeks to give effect to that principle. It states:

… whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading the Opposition believes that the bill fails to give equal treatment to all judges by not treating judges in same-sex de facto relationships in the same way as heterosexual judges and their spouses or de facto spouses, and calls on the Government to amend the bill in order to give judges in same-sex relationships equal treatment.

It is a very simple principle, one which should not be contentious in this parliament in the year 2007.

We had no justification from the member for O’Connor as to why that would not be permitted. Pandering to prejudice was essentially the only argument that was put forward. Yes, there are people who disagree with this proposition, but it is the role of parliamentarians to appeal to people’s better nature, to drive forward social change in a way which improves the social relationships between individuals and groups in our society. I am afraid that that is something which the Howard government has not been prepared to do. The Howard government at each and every opportunity has been prepared to divide people according to race, class, gender or sexuality.

I read in today’s paper that the member for Wentworth suggested that he is going to champion this cause. Well, let him come into this House and vote for this amendment; let him come into this House and support this very basic, fundamental amendment, which goes to the human rights of individuals, and the right to respect that every individual deserves.

We all know of course that being part of a minority, not just on the basis of sexual preference but on the basis of race or religion, can be extremely difficult. We know that Justice Michael Kirby paid a great price for being open about his sexuality and about the fact that he is in a long-term stable relationship with a partner of the same sex. For that, he suffered vilification in the Senate from the Prime Minister’s hatchet man, Senator Bill Heffernan. It is quite clear, I think, that this amendment should not worry anyone. For someone, like the minister opposite, who wears an Amnesty International badge, which would indicate a concern for human rights, it certainly should not concern him.

Mr Ruddock interjecting—

Mr ALBANESE—The minister says he does not have it on his tux and dinner suit, and that is right—perhaps you should consider not putting it back on again, Minister, until you are prepared to actually show that you do support human rights in any direction. The fact is that you cannot call yourself a liberal and not support human dignity and equal treatment on the basis of relationships, whether they be same-sex relationships or heterosexual relationships. That is all this amendment does.

Indeed, prior to the last election the Howard government gave a commitment that they were going to deal with the issue of superannuation—a small element. Indeed, the Prime Minister has made comments that he supports equal treatment across a range of areas for people in same-sex relationships. Yet, not only have we seen no movement in social security, health, migration and other areas from this government; on the minuscule area of superannuation we have seen a very inadequate reform, which has left discrimination in place for Public Service employees. I commend the amendment to the House and urge all those opposed to discrimination to vote for it.