Same Sex: Submissions
Mr John William von Doussa QC
Human Rights Unit
GPO Box 5218
4 April 2006
Dear Mr von Doussa,
I write with regards to the current Same-Sex Inquiry that you are presiding over so that I may contribute a personal perspective of how a Commonwealth law affecting financial and employment-related entitlements and benefits has discriminated against me as a person in a same-sex relationship.
I joined the Australian Public Service in early 2005 after graduating from law at Flinders University in South Australia. At the time, I was unable to find my desired position in Adelaide and was successful in gaining a position in the graduate program at Department of the Environment and Heritage in Canberra. As a new Australian Public Service employee, I was required to become a member of the Commonwealth Public Sector Superannuation Scheme (the PSS). The PSS was established by the Superannuation Act 1990 (Cth) and the Superannuation Regulations (Cth). The Act requires on-going Australian Government employees to contribute to the PSS. This meant that I could choose my level of contribution, however, I could not choose another superannuation scheme. When I joined the Australian Public Service, I had been in a relationship with my female partner for almost three years. We were living together, and raising her child together, and I wanted to have my partner as the beneficiary of my superannuation benefits in the event that I should pass away.
Under the PSS, death and invalidity cover is only payable to "eligible dependents". An "eligible dependent" includes and "eligible spouse", an "eligible child", or a "partially-dependent child". The definition of "eligible spouse" clearly states that it does not include a person of the same sex. The definition does include opposite-sex couples who are legally married, living in a permanent and bona fide domestic relationship (either legally married or de facto) for 3 or more years, or if living in a permanent and bona fide domestic relationship at time of death for less than 3 years and are determined by the PSS Board to qualify.
As part of my induction to the Australian Public Service, a PSS representative attended the Department to give us a presentation, and then requested that we complete the forms on the spot. Whilst my colleagues put down their opposite-sex partners on the PSS forms, I sat in disbelief because I was unable to put my partner down as a beneficiary. I was faced with a situation where I was forced to "out myself" on the second day of my new place of employment, because this policy treated my relationship as different from the rest of my colleague's relationships. I found it confronting and disappointing that I was unable to fill out this form alongside my colleagues as part of our induction to the Commonwealth Public Service, as I was unsure what my rights were and how to address this awkward situation.
I was determined to investigate the situation further and soon discovered that I was unable to join another superannuation scheme, and after contacting the PSS, it was confirmed that I could not put my same-sex partner down as a beneficiary. I was left with no choice but to contribute to the PSS and put my mother as my beneficiary. I write to you to highlight the real consequences that the Commonwealth's active discrimination of people in same-sex relationships have had in my life. I felt sick when I realised that once again the loving and supportive relationship I had with my same-sex partner, was not supported by the legal and social systems under which I conduct my daily life. It is extremely unnerving to not feel the protection of the state, and subsequently the approval of society. I write to you to highlight the real consequences that the Commonwealth's active discrimination of people in same-sex relationships have had in my life.
Please take my comments into consideration as part of this inquiry. I am happy for my name to be published along with my comments.
Penelope J Morton