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Wednesday, 1 December 2004
Page: 134


Senator GREIG (6:42 PM) —by leave—I move Democrat requests for amendments (4), (5) and (6) together:

That the House of Representatives be requested to make the following amendments:

(4) Schedule 1, page 11 (after line 15), before item 20, insert:

19A Subsection 5E(1) (after the definition of couple)

Insert:

interdependence relationship means a relationship between 2 persons that is acknowledged by both and that involves:

(a) living together; and

(b) being closely interdependent; and

(c) having a continuing commitment to mutual emotional and financial support.

(5) Schedule 1, page 11 (after line 15), before item 20, insert:

19B Subparagraphs 5E(2)(b)(i) to (iii)

Repeal the subparagraphs, substitute:

(i) the person is living with another person (in this paragraph called the partner);

(ii) the person is not legally married to the partner;

(iii) the person and the partner are, in the Commission's opinion (formed as mentioned in section 11A), in an interdependence relationship;

(6) Schedule 1, page 11 (after line 15), before item 20, insert:

19C After subsection 5R(3)

Insert:

(3A) The determinations made under subsection (3) are to be applied to individual cases only and not to classes of persons.

These requests for amendments deal with entitlements to same-sex couples. The bill brings beneficial changes to veterans and their partners in the form of increased bereavement allowance. It recognises the general rate in the payment for 12 weeks which will follow the death of a veteran, and the surviving partner will benefit from this recognition. Of course, not all dependants of veterans will benefit from any of these changes. Partners of many veterans continue to be excluded from benefits rightly due to them because of the definition of `couple', which does not include same-sex partners. In many ways this is an echo of the debate we have already had on superannuation.

We Democrats have a longstanding commitment to removing discrimination against same-sex couples and people in other family relationships, and that includes veterans. We have continued to do so, without success thus far in a comprehensive way, over a long time because we know that, eventually, the government of the day will have to deal with this issue. It was only after repeated and persistent pressure from the Democrats that we finally dealt with most of the key issues of discrimination within superannuation. But of course we ought not stop there, and today we look to the issue of discrimination within the veterans community.

We propose to insert into section 5E(1) of the Veterans' Entitlements Act a definition of `interdependent relationship'. The legislation currently provides that a partner can only be of the opposite sex. Our amendment will remove that requirement. The Democrats are concerned that, notwithstanding that gay and lesbian personnel have legally served in the Australian armed forces since 1992, there are no entitlements for, or even recognition of, their partners. Our position is simple: all defence personnel ought to have the right to have their partner of choice recognised if they wish.

Changes in a number of areas, which recognise the rights of same-sex partners, have been made in federal and, more particularly, state parliaments. The sky has not fallen in and the institution of marriage has not been abolished; indeed the world has gone on much as it did before, except that a significant proportion of the community who were discriminated against socially, financially and legally are not now. That is what this issue is about. It continues to be disappointing to have to keep presenting this argument, which has been raised a number of times previously and spoken against in terms of the degree of fear and misunderstanding that I think still exists in the community. I would ask senators here today to genuinely consider the basic issue that lies at the heart of our amendments, which is simply equal treatment. The degree of antagonism and discrimination against gay and lesbian people is an unsupportable action—I would argue as unsupportable as racism, which is roundly and rightly condemned in the community.

I believe the community is supportive of equal treatment. That has been shown by the general support for legislative changes on same-sex issues in all states and territories, including most recently here in the ACT. It is a great shame that the federal parliament is lagging behind community views. We will continue to try and ensure that we get positive outcomes so that discrimination ceases to occur and that, in particular, it ceases within federal legislation.

Australian lesbian women and gay men will continue to be part of the defence forces. They are currently serving in Iraq. They will eventually become veterans. They will die and some will leave behind lifelong partners. Our position is simple: all defence personnel and veterans ought to have the right of their partner of choice recognised if they wish. Our government is quite willing to send these people overseas to engage in combat duties and to even have them put their life on the line for their country, yet their partners are in a situation where they are not entitled to the benefits brought about by the Veterans' Entitlements Act.

It is quite relevant at this time to consider the serving personnel in Iraq. Their same-sex partners will have been as concerned for their welfare and safety as any legally married or de facto person for their partner. They will have suffered the same anxiety of separation and unknown dangers; they will have the same hopes of a safe return. A gay or lesbian veteran deserves to expect no less than any other veteran would expect at the end of their service when their partners will get the recognition of the special debt that we owe these personnel who have served their country.

Adding to this view is the relatively recent case of Mr Edward Young, a veteran in that very position. He took his claim of discrimination against our government to the United Nations Human Rights Commission. The commission found against the Commonwealth and has called on the government to respond to it and to remedy it. But, regrettably, to date the government has ignored that and the discrimination continues.