Mr ENTSCH (Leichhardt) (8.56 pm)-I am very well documented as an advocate for gay rights and the right to equality and I continue to support the cause wholeheartedly. I have many gay friends who have been adversely impacted upon by discrimination in our communities, and I believe that equality should not be determined by one’s sexuality under any circumstance. I am aware that there is a growing list of countries allowing same-sex couples to marry, and I agree that we need to gauge constituents’ views on the subject of gay marriage. While I support gays and lesbians in having their relationships recognised, I think there are much bigger issues at play that need to be dealt with as a matter of priority.
Just some of the issues that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are facing through federal government discrimination include where some individuals are unable to access the necessary Medicare rebate codes required to provide medical treatment because of the way the government sees their sex. For example, they may have legally changed their sex, in the case of a transgender person, or they may be legally recognised as a male but have physical attributes usually associated with a female, in the case of intersex people.
In both cases, where Medicare provides rebates for only men or only women, sex and gender diverse people get caught up in the middle of the red tape. Government departments have refused to recognise that while you were born a man you now live the life of a woman, due to various legal and financial hurdles involved in meeting government requirements. In these cases government communication often still contains the prefix ‘Mr’ rather than ‘Mrs’ or ‘Miss’. For a transgender woman living in a rural town, this can cause enormous mental anguish as your neighbours find out about your past.
There are a range of other issues that face older gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in Australia. Many older people in this community currently accessing aged-care services have lived a lifetime of discrimination and they continue to remain in the closet in aged care, fearful of discrimination, and are therefore largely invisible in the aged-care sector. Because aged care services have largely not recognised gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender clients, they are forced to return to their closet in old age in the fear of receiving lesser treatment by their aged-care service providers.
The transfer of responsibility for aged care from states to the federal government as part of the health and hospitals reform provides a unique opportunity for the federal government to address this issue and ensure that culturally appropriate aged-care services cater for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender older Australians. The definition of de facto spouse within the Sex Discrimination Act is the last remaining definition in federal legislation where there is a distinction between heterosexual de facto couples and same-sex couples.
During the 2010 federal campaign it was the Liberal Party that was committed to protecting same-sex couples from discrimination by introducing protections on the grounds of relationship status. The change to include same-sex couples in the Sex Discrimination Act is a minor technical amendment that would bring the Sex Discrimination Act into line with the 2008 reforms passed by the parliament that enjoyed absolute bipartisan support. I might add it was a campaign that I initiated back in 2004 and during the next three years was able to convince both sides of parliament of the value of being able to proceed with the removal of this discrimination.
The impact, however, of this amendment would ensure that the benchmark was set across Australia that same-sex de facto couples could not be discriminated against.
Another area that also needs to be addressed is that identified by ACON’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy that same-sex attracted young couples are at significantly higher risk of self-harm and suicidal behaviours, with many factors influencing behaviour. It is important that we deal with that. My point is that we are a long way from correcting much of the urgent issues facing this community before we tackle the recognition of gay unions.
We need to get our priorities right. I am very keen to establish a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender parliamentary friendship group where gays and lesbians can have direct access to MPs to discuss issues of direct concern to them. This will help us to bring these issues out into the open and I believe it is an essential step in moving forward to greater equality. I am in the process now of establishing that as a cross-party parliamentary friendship group and I encourage all members to participate in that friendship group. It is a wonderful way of being able to get a greater understanding of these members of our community. (Time expired)