Recognising LGBTI Relationships and Removing Discrimination
In 2008 Federal laws were changed to recognise same-sex relationships. These changes were of great significance to lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans and other sexuality, sex and gender diverse Australians because they promise a fairer and more equal future for same-sex couples, ending discrimination to same-sex couples across a wide range of federal areas. For the first time in Australia’s history people in same-sex relationships and their children are to be treated the same way as everyone else in most (although still not all) areas of the law.
One area of law that remains unequal is the right to be married. Same-sex couples are currently unable to marry in Australia, and marriages entered overseas are not recognised. A range of community organisations are lobbying hard to remove this discrimination - for example Australian Marriage Equality and Equal Love. The Alliance acknowledges and supports their work. Along with many other community organisations and individuals, in August 2009 we also made a submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee Inquiry into the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2009.
Members of the National LGBTI Health Alliance lobbied hard for the recognition of same-sex relationships in Federal law and, although more needs to be done, we welcome the 2008 changes as a real contribution to the health and wellbeing of many Australians.
As those directly affected begin to understand the benefits of these changes, what is perhaps less well understood at a broader level is that this law reform cannot by itself wipe away the effects of 200 years of LGBTI Australians being treated as criminals or the long term impact of experiencing significant disadvantage over many years.
Same-sex Law Reform and Pension Changes
The new legislation affects pension and allowance payments for many people living in same-sex relationships, who had previously been treated as single individuals by Centerlink. Since July 1 2009 Centrelink takes these relationships into account when assessing whether a person is a member of a couple and calculating pension eligibility and rates of payment accordingly. For those who are assessed to be members of a couple, in most cases this results in a reduction of payment.
The National LGBTI Health Alliance has concerns about the Social Security measures, as they are currently being implemented.
It has been long accepted that the same-sex law reforms would bring some gains and some losses; new rights and new responsibilities. However, it is simply unjust that people who were not able to access any of the financial benefits and entitlements available to other couples (eg tax concessions), are now suddenly faced with most of the negative consequences of reform. This is particularly concerning in relation to elderly people, people with disability and those experiencing chronic illness, groups who are most vulnerable and disadvantaged.
If you are concerned that you might be affected by these pension changes, we recommend that you contact a Welfare Rights Centre to receive confidential and independent advice on your situation. Ph. 1800 226 028, or (02) 9211 5300 from within Sydney.
Download a fact sheet on declaring a same-sex relationship to Centrelink (produced by the National Welfare Rights Network, a network of community legal centres and social security specialists from across Australia).
See Centrelink's "Are You a Member of a Couple" factsheet, which provides information about what a 'member of a couple' is for Centrelink and Family Assistance Office purposes.
You can also refer to the Social Security guidelines used by Centrelink.
The Alliance has been working with a broad coalition of agencies and community health organisations to advocate for a fairer way forward. Following wide consultation, we developed a comprehensive policy statement on this issue.
The coalition has been lobbying the Federal Government to give older same-sex couples receiving Centrelink payments extra time and resources to adjust to the new situation, similar to "grandfathering" arrangements that have accompanied all previous major social security reforms.
Following lengthy negotiations with the Government, the coalition secured a range of measures, including
a review of Centrelink’s policies and procedures in relation to same-sex couples, including consultation with LGBTI community representatives on the draft changes
a more compassionate approach to dealing with debts that might result from the Centrelink changes
$395,000 towards a national education campaign informing the community about changes to 85 areas of law, including the Centrelink reforms
$100,000 to provide independent specialist advice and advocacy for people affected by the Centrelink changes
training for Centrelink staff
These measures are an important win for the LGBTI community.
However, some coalition proposals have been knocked back by the Government. In particular our preferred option of “grandfathering” the reforms by treating those currently over 55 on a pension as if they are single for as long as they remain on that pension. This provision has proven impossible to achieve because it would require legislative change.
We raised our concerns with Government about the need for measures that will ease the impact of these changes. Download the letter that the coalition of lobbying organisations sent to Ministers Macklin and Bowen on June 18th 2009 and Minister Macklin's response on November 30 2009.
Minister Macklin's letter does not include any concessions beyond those we had already achieved, but it does at least acknowledge the concerns some people in same-sex relationships have about declaring their relationships and the need for sensitive responses on the part of Centrelink. For example, in Attachment A under "Compassionate Approach" it is noted that if a person has not declared their relationship, Centrelink staff can take their fear of discrimination into account as a factor underlying the lack of declaration when considering how to deal with possible debt that has accrued.
While we are disappointed not to have achieved all that we were seeking, the coalition of lobbying organisations doesn't see any further potential to move forward on this issue at this time. We will continue to monitor the situation and, of course, continue to pursue a wide range of other advocacy activities, including advocacy specifically on issues facing older LGBTI people.
National Community Education Campaign - Wear it With Pride
The objective of the campaign is to inform same-sex attracted people about the implications of the 2008 same-sex relationships Federal law reform, their rights and responsibilities and where to find further information about changes to the affected areas of law, including but not limited to the Centrelink reforms.
It features a website with information about all areas of law reform, which was launched on February 2nd 2010. The website is being complimented by national and state-based advertisements, educational resources and a series of information sessions delivered in key locations throughout
The campaign is able to draw on the extensive work already being done by many groups across the country to inform LGBTI communities of the implications of the law reform.
It is guided by an advisory group with a broad range of representatives. A range of other relevant stakeholders are being invited to provide information and advice on particular areas on an ad hoc basis.
Parts of the campaign, for example, information sessions, are being refined and delivered locally by relevant organisations in each state or territory.
Planning and development began in July 2009.
Find out more. If you interested in being kept informed of developments in this campaign, please join the email list by sending an email to SSLR@acon.org.au with the words "ADD ME" in the subject line.
The Welfare Rights Network, a network of community legal centres and social security specialists from across Australia, is running an advocacy project to provide independent specialist advice and advocacy for people affected by the Centrelink changes. The project will involve the appointment of a dedicated Welfare Rights staff member to provide support and assistance to community members, to provide training throughout the Welfare Rights Network and to oversee the production of relevant facts sheets.
The work of the advocacy project is also being guided by the Same-Sex Law Reform Advisory Group.
If you are concerned that you might be affected by these changes to Centrelink policies and practices, contact the Welfare Rights Centre to receive confidential and independent advice on your situation: Ph. 1800 226 028, from outside Sydney, or (02) 9211 5300.
And see Centrelink's "Are You a Member of a Couple" factsheet, which provides information about what a 'member of a couple' is for Centrelink and Family Assistance Office purposes.
You can also refer to the Social Security guidelines used by Centrelink.
Find out more about the lobbying work …
Correspondence with Ministers:
Coalition members include
- National LGBTI Health Alliance
- Australian Coalition for Equality
- Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby
- Welfare Rights Centre
- People With Disability Australia
- Positive Life NSW
- Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations
- AIDS Council of South Australia
- Queensland Association for Healthy Communities
- Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW)
- West Australian AIDS Council
- Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays Brisbane
- Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby
- ALSO Foundation
- Women's Electoral Lobby
- Australian Federation of Disability Organisations
- National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS
- Gay and Lesbian Retirement Association Inc
- Council on the Ageing (NSW)
- Victorian AIDS Council
- Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria
- Metropolitan Community Church
- Northern Territory AIDS and Hepatitis C Council
- AIDS Action Council ACT
- Suncare Community Services Inc.
- Action Reform Change Queensland
- Australian Transgender Support Association Queensland Inc.
- Older Women's Network
- NSW Council of Social Services (NCOSS)
- Lesbian and Gay Solidarity
- Matrix Guild of Victoria Inc.
Examples of Recognition
- gay and lesbian couples are now considered as "families" for the purpose of accessing the Medicare and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme Safety Nets
- from 1 July 2009 same-sex couples who separate will be able to apply for child support
- surviving same-sex partners of Australian veterans may now apply for the veteran's affairs pensions
- same-sex partners of Australian citizens, Australian permanent residents and eligible New Zealand citizens will be able to apply for the same partner visa as opposite-sex partners