Launch of Final Report of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s Same-Sex: Same Entitlements Inquiry

John von Doussa QC

President, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission

22 June 2007


I would like to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation on whose traditional land we stand today.

What is this inquiry about?

Just over a year ago the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission launched the Same-Sex: Same Entitlements National Inquiry into discrimination against people in same-sex relationships in the area of financial and work-related entitlements.

Australia’s international human rights obligations to people in same-sex families are clear. First, laws must not discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation. And second, laws need to protect the best interests of children – regardless of their parents’ sexual orientation.  

This Inquiry put federal laws under the human rights microscope. What we found was 58 federal laws discriminate against same-sex couples simply because of who they love.

What does this mean in theory? 

These 58 laws breach the right to non-discrimination – the backbone of international human rights law.

What does this mean in practice?

It means at least 20 000 same-sex couples can’t access the same workplace and financial entitlements heterosexual couples take for granted.  And it means that if same-sex couple have children – and the social reality is same-sex couples do – the whole family can suffer.

What is the human cost of discrimination?

As part of this Inquiry, HREOC travelled around Australia to hear, first hand, about the impact of discriminatory laws on same-sex couples and their children.  We produced two discussion papers and received 680 written submissions from across Australia.

What this consultation process revealed is the human cost of legal discrimination.

The failure of our laws to recognise relationships between same-sex couples and their children exacts a financial and an emotional toll.   

Same-sex couples are sick of feeling like ‘first class tax payers and second class citizens’. Loving parents want to be recognised as loving parents, regardless of their sexuality.  

The discrimination currently embedded in our law books sends a symbolic message that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is OK.  It’s not.  

On a practical level, this report we are launching today is about equal access to financial and workplace entitlements. On a symbolic level – and symbolism matters - it’s about recognition. Recognition and respect of all people no matter who they love.

What’s happening today?

This report rides on the back of a wave of change. States and territories have made a concerted effort to remove discrimination against same-sex couples from their law books. But more change is still needed.  

Today, the Human Rights Commissioner, Graeme Innes, will talk about what the Inquiry found, and how we can change the laws to remove discrimination.

Where to now?

This report doesn’t just identify the problem; it sets out the solution. It’s an invitation to the Australian Government to remove the discrimination that riddles our law books.

Yes, fixing the problem will cost money. But that’s the price of a fair society. The alternative - tolerating discrimination because it’s cheaper – was an unacceptable justification for paying women less than men and it’s an unacceptable justification for treating same-sex couples differently to heterosexual couples.

In the words of one self-described ‘average suburban family’ – “ we don’t want special treatment …we just want equality”.