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Same Sex: Speech

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

Opening Statement for Public Hearings
John von Doussa QC, President

 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 to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission for the first public hearing of the National Inquiry into Discrimination against People in Same-Sex Relationships: Financial and Work-Related Entitlements and Benefits.

We call this the Same-Sex: Same Entitlements Inquiry for short.

What is this Inquiry about?

This Inquiry is about eliminating the discrimination faced by same-sex couples trying to access the financial entitlements and work benefits that heterosexual couples take for granted.

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 clearly deny certain rights to gay and lesbian couples.

Our goal is to identify those discriminatory laws, explain the impact of those laws on real people and recommend change those laws so that the discrimination disappears.

What is today's hearing about?

Today marks the start of the second phase of the Same-Sex: Same Entitlements Inquiry - the oral consultation phase.

What has happened so far in the Inquiry?

The first phase of the Same-Sex: Same Entitlements Inquiry started on 3 April this year. At that time we published a Discussion Paper outlining some of our preliminary research. We also invited individuals and organisations to help us progress our research by sending in written submissions.

We have been delighted with the response. More than 340 individuals and organisations sent in written submissions. And almost 25 percent of those submissions came from NSW residents and organisations.

What do the written submissions talk about?

The written submissions cover many issues, including leave entitlements, workers compensation, social security and Medicare benefits.

But death and taxes feature highly!

It is not surprising that these two certainties in life preoccupy many in the gay and lesbian community. After all, everyone struggles to minimise tax during life and maximise financial stability after the death of a partner.

But it is disappointing to learn that there are so many Federal laws which make it harder for gay and lesbian couples to manage their finances as compared to heterosexual couples. And we are very concerned by the stress and anguish caused by these discriminatory laws.

For example, the submissions tell us that a gay man, unlike a heterosexual man, is denied access to his partner's superannuation benefits if his partner worked for the Commonwealth public service. This has clearly left some gay men in a very fragile financial position as they grow older.

The submissions also tell us that a lesbian woman, unlike a heterosexual woman, cannot claim tax rebates for child care. Nor can she claim a tax offset for her dependent partner. A couple explained that this meant that they had to sell their house and rent instead. They also had to stop buying private health insurance for their daughter.

What are we going to hear about today?

Today we are going to hear from a variety of organisations who will tell us more about the discriminatory laws on the books, how they work and how they should be changed.

We will also hear from five different gay men and lesbian women who have kindly agreed to tell us about how they have tried to cope with the impact of discriminatory laws.

What are the rules of the day?

For the media in the room, you should check in with the Commission's media officers in the room. They will give you a sheet setting out the relevant procedures. If you want to interview people there is a room next door for you to do so.

For any individuals in the room who do not wish to be identified, you should also see the media officers and let them know that you do not want any photos to be taken of you.

How will the proceedings be recorded?

The Commission will be recording all of the testimony on an audio file. We will place those files on our website within one week.

We will also be taking notes from the proceedings and will be placing a summary of those notes on the website within a week.

What documents are available?

You can obtain a written copy of the Agenda from staff if you would like to see a full list and approximate timetable of the people who will be appearing today.

In addition we have a one page document giving some background to the Inquiry.

And if you are sitting in the audience and would like to provide some comments to us about the proceedings today or about the issues we are talking about, there is also a feedback form available.


We have a long day ahead of us. We expect to have learned a lot by the time the day is over. We hope that those in the audience do too.