Thursday, 25 February 2010
Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2009
The Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2009 seeks to make amendments to the Marriage Act 1961. The Australian government believes that all couples who have a mutual commitment to a shared life should have the opportunity to have their relationship officially recognised. That is why the government supports the development of a nationally consistent framework that provides the opportunity for all couples who have a mutual commitment to a shared life to have their relationships officially recognised. At the same time, the government is committed to maintaining the definition of ‘marriage’ as currently set out in the Marriage Act. It is for this reason that the government cannot support the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill currently before the Senate.
To date, relationship recognition schemes have been established in Tasmania, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory. The government welcomes the announcement of the New South Wales government this week that it will develop a relationship recognition scheme. The scheme will enable de facto couples, both opposite sex and same sex, to have their relationships formally recognised and will form part of a nationally consistent framework. Of course, the federal government will work with the New South Wales government to ensure that all de facto relationships registered under the New South Wales scheme are recognised under Commonwealth laws and programs. This co-operation has already occurred in relation to other relationship recognition schemes which are recognised under Commonwealth laws and programs.
The Australian government believes that people are entitled to respect, equality, dignity and the opportunity to participate in society free of hatred and harassment and to receive the protection of the law regardless of their sexuality or gender identity. Consistent with this belief, the Rudd government moved quickly to pass legislation to remove discrimination against same-sex-couples and their children from 84 Commonwealth laws. The reform process was completed within the first 18 months of the government’s term and demonstrates our commitment to remove discrimination and make a practical difference. The reforms removed discrimination in areas of Commonwealth activity including taxation, social security, health, aged care, superannuation, immigration, child support and family law. As I said, 84 Commonwealth laws have been reformed by this government—and all of the reforms are now in force.
These reforms mean that same-sex couples have the same entitlements and obligations that apply to opposite-sex couples. Of course, the precise impact of the reforms will depend on individual circumstances but, in particular, equal treatment means that some same-sex couples will get access to benefits they could not previously access.
In summary, the reforms are as follows. Same-sex couples and their dependent children can now access the Medicare and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, PBS, safety net as a family. This means same-sex families may have reduced medical costs once they reach the threshold. More information can be found on the Medicare Australia website or by ringing the information line.
The reforms removed discrimination in Commonwealth superannuation schemes as of 1 January 2009. The changes make death benefits available to the same-sex partners of deceased scheme members and their children. The changes also make it easier for regulated superannuation funds to recognise same-sex relationships. People should contact their superannuation scheme trustees for more information.
With respect to tax offsets, from 1 July 2009 same-sex couples have access to tax concessions previously denied to them, resulting in them having to pay less tax. A same-sex couple may be eligible for the dependent spouse tax offset, where previously they would have been denied eligibility. A member of a same-sex couple may also claim the net medical expense tax offset for medical expenses incurred by their partner and any dependent children. Some older individuals will also benefit from the changes. Members of a same-sex couple will now be able to transfer their unused senior Australian tax offset to their partner. The tax office website has information on these changes.
On immigration, from 1 July 2009 same-sex couples and their children have been considered members of a family unit for visa purposes. Same-sex partners of Australian citizens, Australian permanent residents and eligible New Zealand citizens are able to apply for the same partner visa as opposite-sex partners.
From 1 July 2009 same-sex couples have been able to apply for child support on separation.
The government also provided $450,000 for a community education campaign to inform same-sex couples of the implications of the same-sex reform package. This complemented Centrelink’s extensive information campaign. The measures included a website, which provides an overview of the reforms; $100,000 for the National Welfare Rights Network, to help Centrelink clients with independent and confidential legal advice about the same-sex reforms; and $350,000 for the development of a community education and advertising program, to be developed and managed by the National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Health Alliance in partnership with a number of community based organisations.
In concluding, as I have said, the Australian government believes that all couples who have a mutual commitment to a shared life should have the opportunity to have their relationships officially recognised. That is why the government supports the development of a nationally consistent framework that provides the opportunity for all couples who have a mutual commitment to a shared life to have their relationships officially recognised. This position is consistent with the government’s position to maintain the definition of a marriage as currently set out in the Marriage Act. As I have outlined in my comments today, the Rudd Labor government has moved quickly. It has passed legislation to remove discrimination for same-sex couples and their children from 84 Commonwealth laws. This was a very significant set of changes in taxation, social security, health, aged care, superannuation, immigration, child support and family law. This was a very extensive set of changes to Australian Commonwealth law. So, for the reasons I have outlined, and on this basis, the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill cannot be supported.