National Inquiry into Discrimination against People in Same-Sex Relationships: Financial and Work-Related Entitlements and Benefits
Opening Statement for Public Forum
Kate Temby, Senior Policy Officer
28 August 2006
I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting and pay my respects to the elders both past and present.
I would like to welcome you all to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's second public forum for 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 equal rights for gay and lesbian 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 changes to those laws so that the discrimination disappears.
What is tonight's forum about?
Yesterday, we held formal public hearings at the Equal Opportunity Commission of South Australia where we invited certain organisations and individuals to elaborate on their written submissions. Tonight we want to hear from you.
What do we want to hear about?
We want to hear how laws on superannuation, taxation, Medicare, veteran's entitlements, workers compensation and anything else related to how financial and work entitlements impact on your lives.
We fully understand that it is sometimes hard to make people focus on financial topics. Let's face it, most people don't get terribly excited about the prospect of talking about tax, or superannuation or Medicare payments.
But that is exactly why we are here.
It is very important for the community as a whole to hear your stories and start to understand that you are being denied the tax concessions, superannuation benefits and child care rebates just because your partner is the same sex as you.
Why haven't we mentioned marriage and civil union?
You may have noticed that I did not specifically mention civil union and marriage in the list of things we would like to focus on tonight.
Many of the written submissions received by the inquiry talk about relationship recognition. I want to reassure you that the Commission fully understands the importance of this issue. We understand that for many of you, the right to have your relationship officially recognised is a question of fundamental dignity and equality.
We have no intention of minimising the importance of the debate about relationship recognition. But what we do want to do, is make sure that the general public and the government also focuses on other areas where equality and dignity is denied.
So while we will not stop anyone from stating their view about civil unions or marriage tonight, we want to explain at the outset that our goal is to focus public attention on those issues that don't usually get the attention that the marriage and civil union debate gets.
And the only way to do that is to tell personal stories like yours.
How will the evening work?
After I finish, I will open the floor to you to speak until about 8.00pm.
If you have already written to us by submission you are welcome to talk about the submission further. But you should also feel free to say what you think even if you haven't written a submission.
If you get hungry or thirsty, please feel free to refresh yourselves during the proceedings.
Are there time limits?
There are quite a few people in the room and we have a limited amount of time so please try and stay within 5 minutes when you have the microphone.
We will ask you to stop if you go substantially over five minutes so that everyone gets a turn.
Will we be identifying what is said?
It is helpful for us if you say your name before you speak.
But please be aware that there may be media in the room. So if you would prefer not to be identified then please just start your story without saying your name.
And if there are media here, I would ask you to identify yourselves to Commission staff who have a set of guidelines for media.
How will the proceedings be recorded?
Ideally we would like to record everything that you say on an audio file. Some of those audio files may be put on our website so that media and other interested people can listen to what you think.
But if you would prefer not to be recorded then please just tell the Commission staff who bring the microphone to you. They will simply switch the recorder off.
We will also be taking notes during the evening and will place a short summary of the issues covered during the night on the Inquiry website. No names will be used in this document, even if you do identify yourself.
What documents are available?
If we run out of time and you don't get an opportunity to say anything or finish what you would like to say, please pick up a feedback form or see one of the Commission staff before you leave.
And if you have any comments about the way the evening has worked, please also take a feedback form. We would be most grateful for your views.
Thank you so much for taking the time to come and share your thoughts with us this evening. It is your experiences that will bring these important financial and work-related issues to life.