The News Ltd papers reported last week that a worker in the PM’s office is drafting a Cabinet Submission on the costs of changing some pieces of discrimination. If this is true, social security items will probably be at the top of that list, as on paper, they’re not too problematic for the more conservative conservatives. But there is a little-discussed bit of “positive discrimination” currently afforded to a small number of same-s-x couples in Australia. If a woman in a lesbian relationship has a child she is considered a single parent, and her partner’s income does not affect her rights to full single-parent benefits from Centrelink.  That a woman with a live-in partner earning $250,000 a year can be considered equal to a single parent with no assets is staggering. But it’s not a scam – it’s the law.
However, the woman’s partner is not considered a “parent”, and misses out on many or all of the Federal legal, financial and social rights that come with parenthood. Most lesbian parents, if asked, agree those rights would be worth much more than the benefits. This “positive discrimination” works for same-s-x couples in other areas of social security. Couples receiving unemployment allowances are not considered to be living in a de facto relationship, meaning they are entitled to higher individual rates.
The fact that the government is quietly chugging along with this discrimination – despite the fact it’s costing them money – is less surprising when you consider the alternative. To reverse this particular bit of discrimination would mean accepting more than just the fact that same-s-x couples exist and have children.  And this is where, I predict, the reported campaign of equality currently charging through the Liberal Party via a couple of well-intentioned party members, one with a significant gay vote to win, will fall down. When they hear the true cost, I don’t think they’ll be as keen. It would mean recognising same-s-x families as, at least financially, equal, something the Liberal Government has tried wholeheartedly to avoid. It would also mean accepting that same-s-x couples live in “marriage-like” situations, which will sound an awful lot like “marriage” to the religious right.
And it would end up costing a lot more than a few single mothers pensions. 

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey