The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission is launching the final report Same-S-x: Same Entitlements, National Inquiry into Discrimination against People in Same-S-x Relationships: Financial and Work-Related Entitlements and Benefits at the Museum of Sydney in a fortnight’s time.

That’s a good venue, because it seems that hopes of same-s-x equality under the Howard Government are history. Last month, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock told The Australian that the Howard Government “would not rush” to legislate for equal rights for same-s-x couples.

One of Malcolm Turnbull’s new constituents in Wentworth recently reminded Ruddock of the Prime Minister’s pledge to tackle legal discrimination against gays and lesbians. They asked “if you and the Government find this issue so difficult, how are we supposed to trust you on the big issues of water sufficiency, climate change and winning foreign wars?”

The Attorney-General replied: “I … note your concerns regarding the rights of people in same-s-x relationships. I appreciate the sincerity with which you hold your views, but as I have set out [in previous correspondence] the Government’s position fully, I regret I am unable to assist you further regarding this matter.”

Does that mean the Government has closed the door on equal rights for same-s-x couples altogether? Is Philip Ruddock just waiting for further riding instructions from the PM? Or is it all about the optics?

Veteran activist Rodney Croome says the Liberal Party’s lead advocate for the fair treatment of same-s-x couples, Warren Entsch, is “angry that the Government of which he is a part can’t deliver even low-level reform”.

Croome says Entsch has paired down his demands from marriage equality to civil unions to thoroughgoing interdependency recognition to such recognition in just a handful of key areas. In response, he claims, Government leaders keep promising something will happen but never deliver. 

Croome adds: “I understand that when the Government promised Warren Entsch and his reforming colleagues that some changes would be included in the Budget, the proviso was that they would be buried so deep no journalist would ever find them.”

The general message was, “If there’s any coverage of this, it’s off”.

The issue for the Government is neither money, nor equity, or even prejudice. It’s headlines. The very last thing it wants, especially in an election year, is a banner in the Herald Sun, a scroll bar on the Sunrise program, or a rant from a shock jock declaring:

HOWARD’S $1B PAYOUT TO GAYS!

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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