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Same-Sex: Hearing: Melbourne

National Inquiry into Discrimination against People in Same-Sex Relationships: Financial and Work-Related Entitlements and Benefits

WRITTEN AND AUDIO NOTES

Melbourne Hearing, 26 September 2006


1. Grame Innes, Human Rights Commissioner, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission - Opening Speech

2. Janet Jukes (Personal Story)

Janet and her partner Marion have been together for 13 years and have two children aged 2 and 4. Janet and Marion have each given birth to one child. They are worried that this means there is no legally recognised relationship between the two children.

Janet describes the process that they had to go through in order to get parenting orders regarding the children. While parenting orders offer some protection, they would like to be able to adopt each other's child.

Janet discusses the impact on her children and her partner of not having their relationship recognised.

Janet also speaks briefly about a range of other issues that have impacted on her family and her children including:

  • Access to workplace leave entitlements (including paternity leave)
  • Medicare
  • Childcare
  • Tax benefits

Finally, Janet discusses her concerns about the financial impact of laws on people who are financially and socially disadvantaged.

3. Lee Matthews and Tony Wood (Personal Story)

Lee is 37 and has been with his partner Tony for 17 years. They have a 4 year old son and a 1 year old daughter.

Lee and Tony talk about the fact that they are made to feel like second class citizens in a range of areas. They say that although they are quite comfortable financially, they worry that this Commission might not hear from people who are not as financially stable or socially strong and who accept that they are second class citizens.

Regarding financial discrimination, Lee says that he and Tony were not able to split their income when Lee was a full time stay at home dad. They also say that because only one of them is the genetic parent of their children, they may not be able to access childcare benefits.

Lee talks about levels of discrimination, bullying throughout high school, and fitting into the workplace. He says that he steered towards certain industries that were more supportive of same-sex people. He suggests that this limited the range of industries and careers available to him.

Tony says that their circumstances are quite unique, in that there are very few male same sex partners with children who care for their children on a full time basis. He talks about how that they had their children through surrogacy arrangements, and he notes that there are now another 17 male couples who are going through the same process. Tony believes that issues particular to gay full time parents will be more common in the future.

Tony talks about the types of discrimination he and Lee have encountered. For example, they were not able to receive the 'baby bonus'; they have to fill out Medicare forms which have no provisions for two dads or two mums, and deal with personnel at Medicare; similarly they have to individually explain their parenting arrangements when applying for Australian passports for their children.

Tony and Lee conclude by saying that if this inquiry can achieve anything, it is to assist in the removal of institutionalised discrimination. They say that they have not encountered any discrimination from the general community, but the area in which they do confront discrimination regularly is in their dealings with government agencies.

4. Felicity Martin and Sarah Lowe (Personal Story)

Felicity and Sarah have been in a relationship for 6 years, and they have 13 week old twin boys. They spent a very long time planning their family, deciding what clinics to use and whether they were going to have a known or unknown donor. They note that no children of GLBTI people are born by accident, and that they go to great lengths and great expense to create these families.

Felicity and Sarah talk about the expense, time and logistics of trying to get pregnant using a known donor who lives interstate. They travelled to Queensland and NSW because lesbians are denied access to assisted reproductive technology in Victoria.

After months of trying, Sarah was diagnosed with an infertility condition. Ironically, it was only then that they were able to access assisted fertility treatment in Melbourne.

They say that the financial burden of going through assisted reproductive technology treatments was exacerbated by the fact that Sarah was treated as a single parent. So even though Sarah is financially dependent on Felicity, Felicity will also be considered as a single parent. When Felicity wants to have a baby she will have no access to the technology in Victoria (if she doesn't have an infertility condition as well).

Felicity talks about work-based discrimination. She says that under the award, there is no status for the female parent who is not the birth mother. She also talks about the hurdles involved in getting parenting orders with the Federal Court. She says that because there is no legislative protection for non-birth mother's parental status, they with a constant level of fear.

In relation to state-based laws, Felicity and Sarah say that birth certificates require them to write down the mother and father. There is no application process for non-birth parents to be listed on the certificate. This means that when the non-birth mother of one child becomes the birth mother of another child, there is no way to list the two children as siblings.

Felicity and Sarah argue that the law needs to catch up with reality. They say that it's a furphy to claim that every child has a mother and a father.

They also talk about vilification by politicians and government funded organisations. They argue that there needs to be way to hold these organisations accountable.

Felicity and Sarah conclude by talking about their 'Love makes a family' campaign.

5. Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby

Gerard Brody, Policy Working Group Convener

Aly M Co-Convener

The VGLRL provide an overview of their submission to the Inquiry. They raise one instance of discrimination which was not included in their submission. This concerns the difficulties facing same-sex couples in purchasing homes in Australia where one member is not an Australian citizen.

The VGLRL say that some improvement has been achieved by recognising interdependent relationships in the areas of superannuation death benefits and migration laws, a much better way to redress discrimination would be to amend the definition of 'spouse'.

The VGLRL list the problems they see with the interdependency criteria. The problems include: the requirements for proving a close personal relationship, joint housing, financial support, and domestic and personal care. They argue that couples who fit within the definition of spouse do not have to satisfy this criteria, and that it is an unjust and unfair process of proof.

The VGLRL say that the laws discriminating against same-sex families and their children create unnecessary burdens on those families. They note that family law is a difficult area in relation to same-sex families, and they discuss the Child Support Assessment Act as an example.

The VGLRL say that much of the current discrimination can be solved by giving same sex couples access to marriage, civil unions, or other registration of their relationships. They have received legal advice that the Commonwealth parliament has authority to make laws with respect to same-sex couples.

6. Equal Opportunity Commission of Victoria

Jamie Gardiner, Member of the EOC of Victoria

Ben Rice, Acting Manager - Legal, Policy and Systemic Initiatives

The EOCV outline the law reform developments that have taken place in Victoria. They note the problems remaining in Victorian law, and state that simply removing discriminatory provisions in legislation does not necessarily put same-sex couples on the same footing of heterosexual couples.

The EOCV state that there has not been a similar zest for equality for same-sex couples in the federal arena. For example, they note the reluctance of the Commonwealth to accept referral of State powers to give the Family Court jurisdiction over same-sex couples. They also note the lack of a comprehensive anti-discrimination act at federal level.

The EOCV talk about the significant advances in Victorian law since their 1998 report called Same-sex relationships and the Law. They say that the 2001 Victorian 'Relationship Acts' reforms made significant changes to the law. However, they note that there is still no registration scheme, no civil union scheme, and there are burdens of evidence which remain discriminatory.

The EOCV highlight that their submission is structured around using the examples of what they have learnt in Victoria to suggest a model for what the Commonwealth could have.

They argue that one of the reasons that equality is so important is that there is a significant relationship between discrimination and health, in that discrimination leads to worse health. They say that the effects of discrimination on health start at school, and can lead to low level depression, and a restricted notion of what careers might be available. They also mention research which shows that a critical element in the promotion of better health is the recognition of genuine loving relationships between two people.

7. Law Institute of Victoria

Leigh Johns, Former Chair and current Executive Committee Member, Workplace Relations Section

Joanne Kummrow,

Solicitor, Administrative Law and Human Rights Section

The Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) supports non discrimination and equality before the law. All laws should apply to all people and benefit all people equally.

They describe how current laws create systemic discrimination against same-sex couples.

LIV believe that the federal Government should widen the definition of 'spouse' to include same-sex couples. They consider that the term 'interdependency' avoids recognising the genuine nature and existence of same-sex relationships.

LIV emphasise the importance of the government acknowledging that same-sex relationships are equally valid in their love, care and support of children. They would like to see the federal government introduce a relationship recognition scheme for same-sex couples based on the proposed ACT model. LIV also comment on the lack of recognition of same-sex relationships in the 2006 census.

LIV argue that the federal government's amendments to the Marriage Act, so that marriage is between a man and woman, should not prevent recognition of same-sex couples in other areas of legislation. For example, access to parental, carer's, compassionate and paternity leave should be based on the best interests of the child not on the gender of the parent.

LIV argue that Victorian law reform has improved equality but there is much yet to be done.

LIV conclude by saying that they have not see any reasons for the why the federal government has not accepted State referrals regarding the family Law Act so that it covers same-sex and heterosexual couples. They argue that this would alleviate a number of issues for same-sex couples when their relationships end.

8. Women's Health Victoria

Kerrilie Rice

Policy and Research Officer

Women's Health of Victoria speak about the impact of a range of issues on same-sex couples. However their main focus is on how these issues impact on lesbian women.

They comment on how a person's health and well being is created outside the health system. Women's Health believes that better health will be created by improving all those other systems.

Women's Health is concerned about the implied 'dependent' relationship created by the term 'interdependency.' They also believe that the terms 'interdependency' and 'domestic partnerships' do not go far enough in describing the relationship that women in same-sex relationships have. They feel that the linking of interdependency to living together is too narrow a qualification. They note that in a recent survey only 20% of same-sex couples actually met the interdependency criteria.

Superannuation is also a concern especially for public sector employees and Australian Defence Force personnel. Women's Health believe that these concerns are even greater for women who have a longer life expectancy and therefore greater costs in retirement. Therefore women only house holds and those in same-sex relationships are particularly susceptible to financial difficulties.

Women's Health comment that dependent spouse rebates and other tax concessions and rebates are not available to same-sex couples unlike heterosexual couples.

Women's Health suggest that 40% of lesbians and gay men face workplace discrimination. The situation for lesbians is doubly difficult as they face heterosexism and sexism.