Jun 21, 2004

Superannuation (Entitlements of Same Sex Couples) Bill 2004: First Reading

SUPERANNUATION (ENTITLEMENTS OF SAME SEX COUPLES) BILL 2004: First Reading


21 June 2004


Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (4.35 p.m.) —I am pleased to present the Superannuation (Entitlements of Same Sex Couples) Bill 2004 but I am disappointed that I have to do this once again. The Superannuation (Entitlements of Same Sex Couples) Bill 2004 was once titled 1998, because it has been before this chamber for six years. There is allegedly now a consensus in the parliament that same-sex couples are entitled to equal treatment with regard to their superannuation. I certainly believe that equality in this area should be a first step to achieving equality across the board and I support the removal of discrimination against same-sex couples.

But I am not alone. The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia supports my bill, as do various private sector organisations and the ACTU. Indeed, the Senate had an inquiry into my bill for which it received hundreds of submissions in support of the bill and only three in opposition. It is quite clear that, at a time when someone’s partner dies, the last thing they should be subjected to as a grieving partner is a wrangle over superannuation rights. The case for this reform is therefore very clear. The government will say that it has fixed the reform through an amendment to its choice bill, which is a retrograde bill with regard to superannuation, that came about through a deal with the Australian Democrats.

There are a number of problems in that, because the government has failed to take the step of redefining the term `spouse’, as my bill does, to acknowledge the fact that these days spouses are diverse and should include same-sex partners. As a result, even though the reform is a step forward, same-sex couples will still be required to prove both financial and emotional interdependence, and they will be excluded from other benefits of the superannuation and taxation system such as the spouse contribution rebate. [start page 30934]

There are other concerns about whether the bill will cover same-sex couples in the Commonwealth Superannuation Scheme. There is also a concern about whether they will be able to benefit from the superannuation legislation, because the Income Tax Assessment Act is not being amended to allow same-sex couples to receive the same taxation concessions that are currently available to heterosexual couples. You might think that is because the government will not acknowledge that same-sex relationships can be as legitimate and important as heterosexual relationships, but a contradiction in the government’s policy on this has been drawn to my attention. It is in the government’s Anti-terrorism Bill (No. 2) 2004. Schedule 3 of that bill, `Associating with terrorist organisations’, seeks to amend the Criminal Code Act 1995, subsection 102.1(1) of the Criminal Code and to insert the following definition:

… close family member of a person means:

the person’s spouse, de facto spouse or same-sex partner;

The government can make the leap towards an acknowledgement of same-sex couples when it comes to the antiterrorism bill, but they cannot make that leap when it comes to superannuation. Whilst an interdependent relationship between, say, two sisters can be very important and valid—and there is argument for the need for reform there—that is not the same as a sexual, loving relationship between either two men or two women. That is not the same, and the government refuses to take that step with regard to superannuation legislation. Frankly, I am disappointed that the Democrats have caved in on this issue and have not supported full reform. The Labor Party in government will remove discrimination in this area and also in taxation, immigration and a range of areas, after a full audit of all Commonwealth legislation. This would be an important step. I commend the bill to the House.

Bill read a first time.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—In accordance with standing order 104A, the second reading will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.