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Same Sex: Submissions

Dear Sir/Madam,

Thank you for the opportunity to submit to the National Inquiry into Discrimination against People in Same-Sex Relationships: Financial and Work-Related Entitlements and Benefits.

I would like to bring to your attention the Medicare Safety Net.

In July 2005, the federal government introduced a new Medicare Safety Net. From this date Medicare committed to covering a percentage of “out-of pocket expenses” - the gap between what is normally covered and any extra amount that a medical practitioner charges – by instituting a Safety Net threshold. Once a registered family reaches the threshold they are entitled to 80% reimbursement of out-of pocket expense.

A brochure (sample available if required) sent to our letterbox in 2005 asked that eligible “couples and families” register and outlined who needed to register as:

“A couple, married or de facto, with no dependant children

A couple, married or de facto, with dependant children

A single person with dependant children”

Our family consists of two women and one child. As my partner and I have no access to marriage and our status as a couple living in a de facto relationship is not recognised federally, we were not eligible to register as a family. I registered with my daughter as a family and my partner didn’t register because “single people without a dependant child or children do no need to register.”

My understanding is that the Safety Net threshold for my daughter and I is now $300 and my partner’s threshold is $700 annually. This gives us a combined threshold of $1,000 in comparison to a heterosexual family with the same income who would be eligible for the $700 threshold.

As this seemed to be unwarranted discrimination, we approached the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) to follow up this issue with the government on our behalf. In August 2005, PIAC wrote to the Minister for Health and Ageing including the following paragraph:

“PIAC is writing to seek your commitment to change the law to ensure that the Medicare Safety Net is provided on a non-discriminatory basis. The exclusion of same sex couples financially disadvantages an already marginalised group, has a negative impact on dependant children of same-sex couples and is out of touch with community values. Every couple living together in a domestic relationship should have access to the Safety Net, regardless of their sexuality.”

In October 2005, a representative of the Department of Health and Ageing replied, reiterating the definitions of “spouse” and de facto as outlined in the original PIAC letter and saying:

“The Department has no discretion with the way the safety net is administered. Your concerns have been noted. The Government has no plans to change the legislation at this stage.”

PIAC forwarded all correspondence to us and concluded by saying:

“Unfortunately, it appears from the letter that the Government does not intend to take any steps to ensure non-discriminatory access to the Medicare Safety Net. This outcome is disappointing, given the clearly discriminatory impact of the current laws in this area.”

Just as important as the financial implications of this discrimination, non-recognition of families with same sex parents has a high symbolic impact on all family members.

Our daughter is just about to turn 10 years of age. Although she does not have any specific knowledge of the Medicare Safety Net, she is acutely aware that the Australian federal government does not think her family is “a proper family” as she sees this reflected in the media regularly.

It is unjustified that some children and their parents are considered second-class, undeserving of the rights afforded to all other citizens.

Yours sincerely,

Vicki Harding