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Thursday, 9 December 1999
Page: 11562

Senator GREIG (10:11 AM) —At issue here is whether or not gay and lesbian people ought to be treated as equal citizens in this country. We have a superannuation regime in this country which I support but which is compulsory. That means that all lesbian and gay citizens are required to subscribe to it under most circumstances. But in doing so we are being asked to subscribe to a system that then deliberately and specifically discriminates against us. At the end of a day it is our money. We are forced to pay superannuation into a fund, as are most people in these circumstances, but if we should die we are denied the opportunity to leave our superannuation to our partners or vice-versa. That is appalling. That is apartheid.

In terms of a person's sexuality, I want to make the point repeatedly that for the vast majority of people, including me, our sexuality is not a choice, and in that regard homo phobia, as it is being exhibited in the Senate today, is as morally repugnant as racism or anti-Semitism. This is no different to denying superannuation rights to someone perhaps in a multiracial relationship; it is simply a different relationship.

Senator Boswell argues that his constituents are not in support of that. I do not deny that. But it appals me, given the youth suicide rates in rural and regional Australia and the empirical evidence from within Australia and overseas that shows that more than one third of youth suicide rates in this country are directly related to young people and their sexuality—that is, their anxiety or the discrimination or the persecution because of their sexuality—that those people who represent the bush, such as Senator Boswell, do not take a leading role in not advocating homophobia. It is not enough for Senator Boswell to stand up in here and say that he does not persecute gay and lesbian people while at the same time saying that our rights and our relationships do not exist. It is appalling.

Australia is behind Canada, South Africa and New Zealand in terms of dealing with human rights for lesbian and gay citizens. I also make the point that recently New South Wales passed partnership recognition for gay and lesbian citizens in that state, and I applaud it. The Queensland government is on the brink of doing it, the Tasmanian government is currently investigating it and has said that it will do it, and I know that the West Australian Labor Party has indicated that it will do it if it wins government at the next election. So we have critical mass here with most states and territories. As for the ACT, the territory we are now in: as you well know, Madam President, it already has partnership recognition laws for gay and lesbian citizens in this place. The sky has not fallen in as a result.

Senator Boswell argues that the Senate is not the place in which to push this issue. If the parliament is not the place to push issues, where is the place? This is the precise forum where we need debate—sensible, reasoned, intelligent debate—on all issues, including this one. I would also make the point that, in my 10 years as an advocate and an activist with Australia's gay and lesbian community, I have never met one lesbian or gay person who wants gay marriage. In fact, my experience is that the vast majority of gay and lesbian citizens do not support the notion of marriage as it currently stands because they see it as a very heterosexual and outdated institution that should be modified and not copied.

To that extent, what lesbian and gay citizens have only ever been asking for is some form of partnership recognition, not marriage. Senator Harradine suggests that, if we support the notion of same sex couples in a regulatory way, that is putting same sex couples on the same platform as those who are married. I do not believe it is and I do not believe that gay and lesbian people are asking for that.

When we are calling for the recognition of our relationships, what we are asking for is the right to superannuation on the basis that it is our money. It is the right to be able to enter a hospital to see our partner if they are sick or injured. It is the right to have access to property settlement in wills and estates. It is about having coronial rights in terms of deceased bodies, body parts and whatnot. I know people who have suffered from this. I know people who have been in long-term same sex relationships where one partner has died and the superannuation has not been forthcoming. The financial penalty on the surviving partner is appalling. But it is more appalling for the children who so often exist with same sex relationships.

There is nothing remarkable or outrageous or absurd about what is being proposed here. Lesbian and gay citizens are simply asking to be treated equally within legislation, including superannuation legislation, and equally within financial regulation. There was a particular case of Mr Greg Brown in Melbourne some years ago. He and his partner had been together for some seven years. When his partner died, he was not entitled to receive the superannuation that they had accumulated. (Time expired)