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Same Sex: Submissions

1 May 2006

Dear Inquiry members

I am a 58 year old gay man who has been living in Canberra with my partner (of similar age) for the past 14 years.

We are both ex-servicemen. His was a long career in the army, mine a short one as a National Serviceman in 1969-1971. He has retired from the workforce and I will do the same later this year. We support ourselves on the public-sector pensions we have paid for.

We have both worked extensively in the Australian Public Service; in my case, in Social Security, Health, and Veterans Affairs portfolios for many years.

Each of us has at various times held Top Secret security clearances either in the military or in sensitive public service portfolios.

Both of us have lived the majority of our lives in situations where our relationship was considered to be criminal, in one state or another.

Throughout my partner's military career he kept his sexuality utterly secret, since the alternative (till the early 1990s) would have been summary discharge from the Services.  I was more fortunate in that the public service reformed its attitude a little earlier.

Governments were happy to accept our contribution to the national good, but for many years they did so on the condition that we lied about our personal lives and pretended to be something we were not. Even when gay people were the victims of crime, our ability to seek the protection of the law was limited since we risked blackmail and harassment from the police, instead of help. As for entitlements, we were expected to be grateful for not being arrested.

I know what it is like to being the target of half a dozen thugs with baseball bats screaming anti-gay abuse. If I weren't both lucky and prepared to stand up for myself, I would not be writing this letter.  Some of my friends have been less fortunate.

The days of institutional persecution are largely past, though violence and intimidation certainly still exist. But despite legislative reform in state jurisdictions, we are still not accorded recognition by social security, superannuation, health, and taxation systems controlled by the federal government. Though we pay for our share, we don't receive our share.

I recently received from a (coalition) Senator a letter mentioning that Superannuation death benefits had been extended to same-sex couples through the addition of the term ‘interdependency relationship” in the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993 (SIS Act). I have reminded him that this reform covers only people in private-sector superannuation schemes, and that those of us in public-sector schemes such as Comsuper/PSS and DFRDB are still not accorded death benefits.

Given the age of my partner and myself, the possibility of one of us dying in the next ten years is not insignificant. If that happens, the surviving partner will not receive any death benefit payments from the deceased partner’s superannuation. I could accept that if other members of those schemes faced the same dilemma, but of course they do not. Former military or public service members who have a partner of the opposite sex automatically receive death benefit entitlements.

I am thankful that over the past 30-40 years our country has gradually become a fairly tolerant and welcoming place for most people. But every step of the way over the past thirty-forty years, attempts to remove the punitive and discriminatory laws that made me and my partner second-class citizens have been met by ideological whingers claiming that to remove such discrimination would somehow damage the rights of those who suffered no such ill-treatment. What poppycock.

Granting me and my partner superannuation death benefits will not bring about the collapse of my neighbours’ marriages, nor lower their income, nor make their roses wilt. There is no logical reason to maintain this discrimination; it is being maintained out of ideological spite.

For most of our lives gay people have had to cope with the stress and personal damage brought about by discriminatory laws and the persecution they engendered and encouraged; even in death we still face that same mean-minded and arbitrary discrimination, under current laws.

This is real-time stuff for us, not idle conjecture. The financial impact of the current unfair laws is real, measurable and significant. For people of my age-group, financial survival in retirement and in case of  bereavement is a critical issue.

We are all citizens and there should not be one superannuation law for my brother and a different superannuation law for me.

Tony Whelan