Oct 13, 2003

Superannuation (Government co-contribution for low income earners) Bill 2003: Co


13 October 2003

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (6.13 p.m.) —Mr Deputy Speaker, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance and Administration just indicated to the parliament that the Superannuation (Government Co-contribution for Low Income Earners) Bill 2003 does not discriminate against people—and their right to benefit from this legislation—on the basis of their sexual preference or the sort of relationship they are in. The truth is, however, that the whole of the superannuation system currently discriminates against same-sex couples, and that is what these amendments go to. It is a very important principle, because superannuation is meant to be universal. When the Labor government amended superannuation in 1992, the minister at the time clearly indicated in his second reading speech the change to the definition of `spouse’. He said:

The key criterion for eligibility of a surviving spouse … will be the existence of a permanent and bona fide … relationship.

There was no discussion at the time about whether it was meant to apply to same-sex relationships or exclusively to heterosexual relationships. There was no judgment there, because it was considered that de facto relationships would remove this discrimination.

The truth, as we know from practical examples and court cases, is that the legislation does currently discriminate. Hence these amendments are an attempt to change that and clause 12 is a direct take from my private member’s bill, superannuation entitlements of same-sex couples, to which I have moved three first reading amendments and one second reading amendment in this House. It is a bill which I have pursued with a great deal of vigour. I moved it first on 22 June 1998. I reintroduced it on 7 December 1998. It had a second reading on 7 June 1999 and was reintroduced on 25 June 2001. It had a Senate select committee reference and that committee recommended that my bill be supported. It is supported by industry, in particular the superannuation industry, which does not want to deal with complexities in law about the nature of relationships and which understands that super-annuation represents someone’s retirement income savings and that it is their money to give to their legitimate spouse regardless of a judgment which some of the moral pygmies opposite might make about the legitimacy of a relationship. I say: nobody in the government or society has the right to make that judgment. It is up to an individual to determine who they are in a relationship with.

This amendment is simply an attempt to bring superannuation legislation into the present. It is very disappointing that the government have accepted every other amendment except this one; even more disappointing is the Australian Democrats’ betrayal of their purported constituency. When the government say that they are in agreement with the Australian Democrats, they are saying they have done the sleaziest deal since Meg Lees did the deal with the government over the GST, that new tax on ordinary Australians.

The hypocrisy is mind-boggling. Brian Greig, the Senate spokesperson for the Democrats on sexuality issues released press releases on 15 February 2000, 29 February 2000, 24 August 2001, 29 June 2001, 4 April 2000, 12 March 2002 and 23 June 2002 in which he condemns the Labor Party for not fixing up this legislation in spite of the fact that we were well ahead of the game. If you look up Hansard and you type in `same-sex superannuation’, you will not see it mentioned first by the Democrats over the other side. The first mention is from the Australian Labor Party representatives on this side. The leader of the Labor Party, Simon Crean, the member for Hotham, came down to Melbourne—along with the member for Melbourne Ports, Michael Danby, and the member for Sydney, Tanya Plibersek—to help me launch the `same sex, same rights’ campaign conducted by the Body Shop two years ago. They collected petitions over a period of a week. This was a private sector organisation—one with a heart and some compassion and social responsibility—taking up this issue not asking for special rights or special consideration just equal rights.

The Labor Party have been at the forefront of this campaign. We will continue to be, and we will not be part of sleazy arrangements with the government in order to stop reform. But the Democrats know they are in trouble, because Brian Greig is on the record time after time talking about this issue and tonight he stands exposed for his hypocrisy. Last week’s issue of the Sydney Star Observer, issue No. 683, said:

Greig said he hoped the credibility of Democrats would not be damaged.

Bad luck, Brian, because you are incredibly damaged by this sell-out. He said:

I encourage the community to look at this issue in its complexity … It’s not as black and white as our critics are making out.

It has been black-and-white in the past for Senator Greig and the Australian Democrats who have refused to be a part of the broad campaign and have chosen a sectarian road on this issue in attacking people who support reform. The government has again rejected these amendments in spite of the views of people such as the member for North Sydney and the member for Bradfield, who, to their credit, have indicated their support for reform. The government, led by a bigot in the Prime Minister when it comes to issues of sexual preference, is refusing to allow this much needed reform.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. D.G.H. Adams)—Order! The honourable member has used the word `bigot’ to describe the Prime Minister. I understand that the word `bigot’ is unparliamentary.

Mr ALBANESE —I note that no-one on the government side objected, but I withdraw the term `bigot’ and use `prejudiced’ in terms of sexual relations. That is something that stands as a record and people are going to vote on it. People are going to vote for prejudice on the basis of sexual preference in this House—that is what they will be doing if they reject these amendments. They are saying that, if you happen to be gay or lesbian and in a relationship, you do not have the right to determine where your super funds go if you depart this life. When people should be allowed to grieve, at such a traumatic time of losing their partners, they end up in legal disputes. It is the last thing that should occur, but it does. There is a real human dimension to the issues in this bill and real pain caused by this discrimination.

That is why this is a lost opportunity for the Democrats. I first spoke on this issue in December 1996. It is seven years on and we have an opportunity. All the Democrats have to do is say no to the government and the government will fold because the central part of this legislation—and there are two parts to it—that the government wants to get through is tax cuts in superannuation for high-income earners, including parliamentarians. We will benefit from this legislation—a pecuniary interest. That is why the government would have folded if the Democrats had one ounce of ticker, but instead Senator Greig and Senator Stott Despoja later tonight are going to walk across and vote against the coalition and pretend to be pure. What a farce! The Democrats are exposed by this. It is a lost opportunity. The government stands condemned and I am very disappointed that we are not holding a celebration for the end of discrimination but that, instead, we will have to wait for the election of a Labor government to remove this discrimination.