Australian Democrat Natasha Stott Despoja has tabled a bill in Federal Parliament that aims to remove financial discrimination against same s-x couples as a glimmer of light has come from the government.

Stott Despoja says her bill is based on the recent review into same s-x entitlements by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

“This kind of discrimination is outdated, it is uncalled for, it is offensive and it’s high time that it was illegal,” she says.

There have been hopes that the government will act on the report before the election.

Retiring Queensland MP and former parliamentary secretary Warren Entsch has been pressing the issue for some time.

The Sydney Morning Herald revealed on Monday Environment Minister and Member for the Sydney seat of Wentworth Malcolm Turnbull “has embarked on a personal crusade to convince his cabinet colleagues to allow same-s-x couples the same legal and financial rights as heteros-xual married and de facto couples”.

The government has said funding federal public sector superannuation for same s-x and interdependent couples would be prohibitively expensive.

However, earlier this year, Democrat Senator Andrew Murray winkled more detail out of the government in Estimates.

“The cost is actuarially assessed at an estimated $2 billion increase to unfunded superannuation liabilities, well less than 2% of the total public sector unfunded superannuation liabilities,” he said.

“This cost splits 50/50 same s-x couples and interdependent relationships, or $1 billion each.

“That is for the total unfunded superannuation liability stretching decades hence, but the estimated annual budget or cash cost is only around $10 million.

“$10 million to achieve equity for same s-x couples and interdependent relationships is a trifle in a budget Australia’s size.”

A letter sent to one of Turnbull’s constituents from Finance Minister Nick Minchin’s chief of staff last week trots out the $2 billion line.

“Recognising interdependency relationships within AG defined benefit superannuation schemes would lead to an increase in unfunded superannuation liabilities in the order of $2 billion by 2010-11,” it says.

“As taxpayers bear the cost of changes to these schemes, the decision to add to the unfunded superannuation liability must be considered against competing budget priorities.”

However, it then goes on to say “Notwithstanding this, the issue of extending eligibility for death benefits in AG schemes to persons in an interdependency relationship with a scheme member continues to be reviewed by the Government.

“In reviewing this issue, it is appropriate that the Government consider providing reversionary benefits to persons in interdependency relationships, not just same-s-x couples, as this is consistent with the broader superannuation framework that applies to the Australian workforce.”

It’s a glimmer of hope, but campaigners on this issue fear they are being strung along – and that this will continue until polling day.

Peter Fray

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