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Same Sex: Speech

National Inquiry into Discrimination against People in Same-Sex Relationships:

Financial and Work-Related Entitlements and Benefits

Launch 3 April 2006

Launch Speech - John von Doussa QC President, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

I begin by acknowledging that we are meeting on the traditional country of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation.

I would like to welcome you all today to the launch of the Same-Sex: Same Entitlements Inquiry. We think that this is a very important Inquiry.

Today marks the beginning of a process that seeks to bring about the elimination of discrimination against same-sex couples in Australia in accessing financial entitlements and benefits - benefits that heterosexual couples take for granted in a democracy such as ours.

The right to non-discrimination and the right to equality before the law are two of the most fundamental principles of human rights law, yet there are a raft of laws on Australia 's books that specifically deny certain rights to gay and lesbian couples.

It is quite incredible that, in this day and age, Australia has laws which include a definition of 'partner' that explicitly states that a person must be of the opposite sex to be entitled to basic financial benefits like tax concessions, workers' compensation payouts, Medicare safety net, veteran's entitlements, superannuation and the list goes on.

Under these laws it is irrelevant that a person can prove a long-standing bona fide relationship; two men or two women who have been living in long term loving relationships are automatically disqualified from basic entitlements.

In the late 19th century Oscar Wilde was jailed for what he called 'the love that dare not speak its name'. Thankfully such draconian measures are no longer used. However, one of our speakers, Rodney Croome, may beg to differ about how draconian Australia 's laws are when it comes to gay and lesbian rights and will no doubt tell you about the long journey to the relatively recent decriminalisation of homosexuality in Tasmania .

There are myriad Australian laws which only recognise heterosexual relationships as bona fide relationships. This simply does not reflect reality. It never did. And it is now time to highlight those areas of inequity and do something about them.

It is clear to the Commission that recognition of same-sex relationships is an enormously important issue for the gay and lesbian community. The subject of marriage and civil unions has certainly been the subject of much public discussion over the past years, and even days.

This is one of the reasons that we are delighted to have the opportunity to work with the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby which is currently undertaking consultations on the issue of relationship recognition Laurie Berg will tell us more about that process in a few moments.

But there has been less public attention on all those other laws - Commonwealth, State and Territory - that fail to recognise the legitimacy of same sex relationships.

Identifying and addressing those laws that prevent gay and lesbian couples from managing their affairs in the same way that straight couples do, is a fundamental piece of the large and complicated puzzle of ensuring full equality before the law for all Australians - gay or straight.

We have three speakers here today to help provide further background on this issue.

Graeme Innes AM

Laurie Berg

Rodney Croome AM