GAY LAW REFORM
Lee Rhiannon gave the following speech in the NSW Parliament on Wednesday, 2 September 2009 during the Adjournment of the Legislative Council:
Ms LEE RHIANNON [6.16 p.m.]: Gay law reform under the Rudd Labor Government has stalled. I acknowledge there have been important advances, with the Government ruling that government allowances now apply to same-sex couples. However, alongside this good news there is bad news for many couples. In relation to a whole range of allowances rules for same-sex couples are the same as those that apply to opposite sex couples. However, some couples, after decades of discrimination and having adapted their lives and managed their financial situations, are now being financially penalised and forced to out their relationships. The Government could have solved a problem that still needs to be addressed. It must introduce a grandfather clause that will allow gay and lesbian people who have existed under the previous system of allowances to continue to live their lies with the benefit of those allowances without being forced out in any way.
A case reported recently in the Sydney Star Observer illustrates the hardships faced by some couples. Because of this change in the law, Clint Law, a 30-year-old father of one from Blacktown, was paid a Newstart principal carers allowance rather than receive a single parent payment. In addition to that, his pension card was revoked. In calculating Mr Law’s welfare eligibility his partner’s assets are now taken into account. Those assets include a recent inheritance, Austudy payments and income from part-time work. Mr Law quit his job to study zookeeping and he now finds himself financially dependent on his partner, and from the sound of things his present circumstance is not good for his relationship. It has put him under pressure and it is not appropriate. The Government must reconsider the legislation and introduce an appropriate grandfather clause.
The Government has stalled also on same-sex marriages and civil unions. On 31 July 2009 I demonstrated with about 3,000 others outside the Labor Party conference to express concern about the failure of the Federal Government to move on this issue. At this gathering I talked with a man who had sent a letter about his situation to Senator Faulkner. I would like to read that letter to the House. He wrote:
I am Australian taxpayer, a citizen and a migrant of this great country of ours … I came to Australia from South America because my country did not recognize my same sex US citizen partner and nor this his country recognize me. We considered Canada or Australia, settled for Australia and came here as skilled migrants.
Years passed and we were happily adopting and loving a new country. Working, paying taxes. But the worst was yet to come: With the bigotry of the Australian Marriage Amendment Act I, for the first time, felt like a second class person being muzzled and having its rights taken away in the middle of the night. I felt depressed for weeks. I still do feel incredibly sad. I felt betrayed at my adoptive country. One that had fairness in the anthem.
Recently I had my citizenship application approved to become an Australian citizen, after half a dozen years here. Thankful, at home here, and very happy to sit the test and learn the anthem. At the test I learned that, and I quote from the booklet “Becoming an Australian Citizen”
All my sincere happiness, (in becoming an Australian citizen) was shaken by recurrent and bitter thoughts of: “Why didn’t we go to Canada instead? There we would be treated as fully equal human beings and citizens, not as a caste of half-tax payer with half rights or half-humanity, but fully, entirely, equal.
During the month before the 2007 election I wrote to candidate Rudd, as well as the former attorney general and prime minister from the Liberal Party, bringing to their attention that it was their duty to remove discrimination from Australian law, and to treat all taxpayers and citizens of Australia equally and fairly.
Mr. Rudd answered that he would support state based civil unions and equality for us. Unfortunately that has not been the case …
In New South Wales particularly we have been plagued by the bigotry and hate of F. Nile, holding Labor government to ransom and using the rights of a minority as political blackmail and bargain to gain more from the NSW democratically elected government.
I leave you with the words of Labor Spanish … Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who put the full prestige of his office and party behind passage of the gay human rights legislation. He stated:
We are not legislating, honorable members, for people far away and not known by us. We are enlarging the opportunity for happiness to our neighbours, our co-workers, our friends and our families: at the same time we are making a more decent society, because a decent society is one that does not humiliate its members.