Nov 22, 1999

Superannuation (Entitlements of Same Sex Couples) Bill 1999


22 November 1999

ALBANESE (Grayndler) (12.52 p.m.)—Today I am reintroducing my private member’s bill, Superannuation (Entitlements of Same Sex Couples) Bill 1999, into this parliament. I first spoke in the House of Representatives of the discrimination suffered by same sex couples with regard to superannuation almost three years ago, on 10 December 1996. Since then I have introduced this private member’s bill to the House twice—on 22 June 1998 and again on 7 December 1998. Today I am introducing my bill for the third time. Why is it that a bill that simply asks for equality of treatment for same sex couples is considered too dangerous for debate?

I have spoken in this House about equality for same sex couples in relation to superannuation over 10 times in the last two years. My office has received hundreds of letters of support for my bill since its inception—interestingly enough, only one in opposition. In April this year the Body Shop entered the debate and launched a `same sex, same rights’ campaign to support my bill. Letters and petitions flooded in from all over the country.

In June of this year the report by Commissioner Chris Sidoti of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, entitled Superannuation entitlements of same sex couples, was tabled in parliament. The report condemned current legislation that allows discrimination against same sex couples. The report regarded this as contrary to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Commissioner Sidoti recommended that Commonwealth legislation be amended to allow surviving same sex partners to benefit in superannuation schemes. So why has this advice been ignored, just as have been the opinions of the public, of the superannuation industry, of the legal community, of the trade union movement and of the gay and lesbian community?

The Labor government’s superannuation initiatives mean that now more than 93 per cent of full-time employees, 67 per cent of part-time employees and 59 per cent of casual employees are covered by superannuation. The success of these initiatives makes it even more important that the fruits of universal superannuation are exactly that—universal. I have argued throughout this debate that my bill is not about special rights for gay and lesbian couples. It is about introducing equal rights, rights that every other Australian worker living in a domestic relationship with someone they love would be perfectly entitled to expect. This private member’s bill allows for a gay or lesbian worker to properly provide for their surviving partner and children in the event of their death. As the legislation currently stands, gay and lesbian couples are clearly discriminated against.

I am proud to reintroduce this bill today, although I am not proud that in Australia in the late 20th century a bill such as mine is still stymied by a government scared of taking a stance against discrimination. I want to place on the record that if this bill is forced to lapse again, if the government still refuses to take a stand, I will be moving an amendment to the next appropriate piece of govern ment legislation that comes before the House. My amendment will give same sex couples equal rights regarding superannuation.

I know that a number of coalition MPs support my private member’s bill and I thank them for their courage in their public support of that bill. By moving an amendment to government legislation in the House of Representatives, I will force the government to vote on the issue rather than simply sweeping it under the carpet. The government cannot ignore this issue. It will not go away. Change is inevitable. That was acknowledged when the ALP and minor parties were successful with Senate amendments to remove discrimination in do-it-yourself superannuation funds. When that bill came back to the House of Representatives, the government reluctantly accepted this position and voted for that legislation.

What we need on this issue is vision and principle. On policy issues that require guts, issues that require real moral leadership, this government prevaricates, it delays, it stalls. This is not a government of social reform. It is a government dedicated to social division. I urge members of the House to support this bill.