Submission re Queensland Adoption and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016

The Queensland Labor Government has proposed legislation to finally allow adoption by same-sex couples in that state. The Adoption and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 is currently being considered by a Parliamentary Committee, before being debated and voted upon later in 2016.

My submission to the Committee is included below. If you are reading this post on Wednesday 12 October, you can also watch the Committee’s public hearings about the Bill here.

**********

Research Director

Health, Communities, Disability Services and Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Committee

Parliament House

George St

Brisbane QLD 4000

c/- hcdsdfvpc@parliament.qld.gov.au

Tuesday 4 October 2016

To the Committee

Submission re Queensland Adoption and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission regarding the Adoption and Other Legislation Amendment Bill (‘the Bill’).

In this submission, I will focus on one aspect of this legislation – the proposed reform to allow same-sex couples to adopt children.

This reform is outlined in clause 13 of the Bill, which would amend section 76 of the Adoption Act 2009 to remove the requirement that a person expressing an interest in being assessed for suitability as an adoptive parent has a spouse, and that their spouse is not of the same gender as themself.

I strongly support this reform, for two reasons.

First, it removes unjustifiable discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.

The overwhelming majority of credible research shows that children raised in same-sex parented families are as healthy, and as happy, as those raised by mixed-sex couples.

As Deborah Dempsey found in the 2013 research paper “Same-sex parented families in Australia”[i]:

“[o]verall, research to date considerably challenges the point of view that same-sex parented families are harmful to children. Children in such families do as well emotionally, socially and educationally as their peers from heterosexual couple families”.

This conclusion was supported by research in the following year, by Dr Simon Crouch and others, that:

“children with same-sex attracted parents in Australia are being raised in a diverse range of family types. These children are faring well on most measures of child health and wellbeing, and demonstrate higher levels of family cohesion than population samples.”[ii]

These findings accord with reputable studies from overseas, with evidence consistently revealing that children from same-sex parented families experience the same levels of physical and mental health as their peers, if not better.

Based on this research, continuing to impose legal criteria that restricts prospective adoptive parents to those who have a spouse of a different gender, can be seen for what it really is – discrimination against LGBTI people that is both unnecessary, and completely without foundation.

It is time such discrimination was removed from the statute book, and I am grateful that the Bill will accomplish this.

Second, and even more importantly, removing this discrimination is in the best interests of children because it will help ensure an adopted child has the best possible adoptive parents.

As the research demonstrates, parenting ability has nothing whatsoever to do with sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

Some cisgender heterosexual people make wonderful parents, while others do not. The same is undoubtedly true of members of the LGBTI community.

But to determine that only people who are in mixed-gender relationships may apply to become adoptive parents, while the LGBTI people who would make wonderful parents may not, carries with it the inherent risk that a child misses out on being adopted by more suitable parents solely because past Queensland Parliaments have determined that those people do not have the ‘right’ sexual orientation, gender identity or sex.

After all, it is only logical that, if the pool of prospective adoptive parents is reduced because of irrelevant criteria, the overall depth and quality of that pool is diminished.

Indeed, this argument was explicitly acknowledged in the second reading speech by Minister Fentiman, who noted that:

“[t]he bill recognises the need to provide fairness and equity and amends eligibility criteria to enable same-sex couples, single people and people undergoing fertility treatment to adopt a child. This will result in a broader and more flexible pool of people from which to select for assessment as suitable adoptive parents. Importantly, this change will mean more options will be available for matching a child to prospective adoptive parents who will best meet the child’s individual needs.”

On the basis of the above two reasons – that the Bill will remove unjust discrimination against LGBTI people, and that the proposed changes are in the best interests of children who are adopted – I urge the Committee to recommend that the Adoption and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 be passed.

Ultimately, I call on the Queensland Parliament to support this reform as a matter of priority, thus recognising the diversity of modern families, and ensuring that they are treated equally under the law.

Thank you again for the opportunity to provide a submission on this important Bill. Should the Committee want any additional information, or wish to clarify any of the above, I can be contacted at the details provided below.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

 

[Update 10 January 2017: Queensland Parliament passed legislation to allow for adoption by same-sex couples on Wednesday 2 November 2016, removing a major barrier to the equal treatment of LGBTI people, and relationships, under Queensland law. The Brisbane Times reported on this long-overdue law reform success here.]

 

Footnotes:

[i] Dempsey, D, “Same-sex parented families in Australia”, Child Family Community Australia, Research Paper No. 18, 2013.

[ii] Crouch, S, Waters, E McNair, R, Power, J, Davis, E, “Parent-reported measures of child health and wellbeing in same-sex parented families: a cross-sectional survey”, BMC Public Health, 21 June 2014.

Advertisements

Letter to Prime Minister Abbott re Intercountry Adoption by Same-Sex Couples Part 2

In early March I wrote to Prime Minister Abbott about the review, then being undertaken by his department, of Australia’s inter-country adoption arrangements. Specifically, I asked that same-sex couples be included in any potential reforms to be considered at the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting scheduled for Friday 2 May (see original letter here: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/03/08/letter-to-prime-minister-abbott-re-inter-country-adoption-by-same-sex-couples/ )

I did not receive a response to my letter until after the COAG meeting (on Monday 5 May), although it was dated 1 May. The reply stated:

 

Dear Mr Lawrie

 

Thank you for your letter of 8 March 2014 to the Prime Minister regarding overseas adoption. I have been asked to reply on the Prime Minister’s behalf. I apologise for the delay in replying.

 

This is an issue that could benefit from attention at the highest levels of government. That’s what it will be getting between now and the next meeting of the Council of Australian Governments.

 

As you note, at present there is no consistency across Australia on whether same-sex couples can adopt a child. The requirements of foreign countries are also relevant, with most of Australia’s current partner countries not allowing adoption by same-sex couples.

 

The Commonwealth Government is committed to working with our state and territory colleagues and stakeholders in this area, including the non-government sector, to deliver reform.

 

Thank you for letting the Government know your views on this issue.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Name Withheld

Assistant Secretary

Which, it has said to be said, was a pretty underwhelming response, especially given the paucity of firm details or commitments. I also cracked a wry smile at the statement that the issue would be getting attention between now (ie the time of writing) and the next COAG meeting – which was held the following day.

In any event, the issue of inter-country adoption was discussed at COAG on Friday 2 May. The Prime Minister, and State Premiers and Territory Chief Ministers, agreed to the following in the official Communique:

Intercountry adoption of children

 

Adopting a child from overseas is an emotional and complex undertaking. Different requirements across Australia can create even more difficulty for families wanting to adopt a child from overseas.

 

COAG supports adoption conducted in the best interests of the child and consistent with the safeguards of the Hague Conventions.

 

COAG agreed in principle to the Commonwealth’s proposal to provide a new national intercountry adoption service for all Australians wanting to adopt a child from overseas.

 

Under the new service, the Commonwealth will fund either a new accredited non-government organisation or organisations, or a Commonwealth agency, to provide services for intercountry adoption by early 2015.

 

The Commonwealth and the States and Territories will work closely together to make sure there is a smooth transition to the new system.

So, some more detail (albeit only a little bit), but also some unanswered questions (including whether same-sex couples are to be included), as well as some new questions (if a non-government organisation contracted to provide inter-country adoption services was religious, could they refuse to provide those services to same-sex couples – but more on that particular issue later).

On the following Monday, 5 May, Prime Minister Abbott issued a Media Release, which revealed a little bit more:

REFORM AND ACTION ON INTERCOUNTRY ADOPTION

 

The Commonwealth Government is committed to adoption reform to enable more people to find families.

 

A new report has identified significant barriers facing Australian families wanting to adopt from overseas.  Inconsistent rules, costs and the lengthy wait to adopt currently deter many people from even starting the adoption process.

 

Last Friday, COAG agreed to a national system for intercountry adoption. The Commonwealth will work vigorously with the States and Territories to have a new system operating by early 2015.

 

The report into intercountry adoption also recommended establishing new country programmes to help more Australian families to adopt.  A new intercountry adoption programme between Australia and South Africa is now in place.

 

South Africa has a strong commitment to finding families within its borders to care for children in need. Where, for whatever reason, a South African family cannot be found, Australian families will be able to help provide permanent loving homes to South African children.  Many of these children will have health needs, and would benefit from the caring environment that Australian families can provide.

 

The Government will introduce amendments to the Australian Citizenship Act so that obtaining Australian citizenship can happen in a child’s country of origin. As well, we will fix the problems associated with the visa system. It is too complicated at the moment and processing times are too long.

 

For too long children who legitimately need a safe and loving home and Australians who dream of providing this home have been hindered by red tape and confusion. The Government is pleased to be able to undertake real action to bring families together.

The accompanying Report of the Interdepartmental Committee on Intercountry Adoption provided some additional information (see link to report here: <http://www.dpmc.gov.au/publications/docs/idc_report_intercountry_adoption.pdf ), although undoubtedly would have provided more had pages 41 onwards, which contained Options for Reform and Recommendations to Government, not been deliberately withheld from the public.

The table on page 30 of the section of the Report that was released at least acknowledged that in four Australian jurisdictions – NSW, Western Australia, Tasmania and the ACT – adoption by same-sex couples is already legal.

On page 32, Table 11: Country of Origin Requirements then spelled out all the different countries where agreements exist, but which deem same-sex couples to be ineligible. Sadly, none of the countries listed currently permit inter-country adoption that does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

The discussion on page 31 helpfully (or should I say rather unhelpfully), noted that “[r]estrictions on same-sex couples adopting was raised by several submissions as a problem… [But] It seems that changes to these criteria would probably have limited impact on intercountry adoption given the country of origins’ criteria.”

Which is absolutely correct. But still does not answer the question of what would happen if Australia were to sign an inter-country agreement which did allow same-sex adoption (or even, as I suggested in my original letter, if Australia were to actively seek to include non-discrimination as a key clause in all of our inter-country agreements)?

And the media release, and accompanying IDC report, didn’t even address the most obvious question of all – given South Africa already allows same-sex couple adoption, and Prime Minister Abbott announced a new inter-country adoption program with South Africa, would Australian same-sex couples be able to adopt under that program?

The mainstream media didn’t appear to follow up on this question – although fortunately, Benjamin Riley of the Star Observer newspaper stepped into the breach to report the following:

SAME-SEX COUPLES INCLUDED IN OVERSEAS ADOPTION AGREEMENT FOR THE FIRST TIME

 

BEJAMIN RILEY – May 5, 2014

 

SAME-sex couples are included in Australia’s new agreement with South Africa on overseas adoption announced today by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, after being excluded from every previous intercountry adoption agreement between Australia and another country.

A spokesperson for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet told the Star Observer the agreement with South Africa is the first such arrangement with a country that allows same-sex couples to adopt children.

 

Although there is currently inconsistency across Australian states and territories around same-sex adoption, same-sex couples can legally adopt in NSW, ACT, Tasmania and Western Australia. However, until now this has been irrelevant due to the explicit exclusion of same-sex couples from Australia’s intercountry adoption agreements.

 

The Prime Minister announced the agreement with South Africa today along with a range of reforms to streamline the overseas adoption process, allowing children to obtain Australian citizenship in their country of origin, and simplify visa processes. These reforms have come out of a new report by the Interdepartmental Committee on Intercountry Adoption.

 

The Prime Minister’s office confirmed the eligibility of same-sex couples to adopt under the new agreement with South Africa, and told the Star Observer these reforms will consider inconsistencies between the states and territories on same-sex couples adopting.

 

“Current eligibility requirements vary across Australia via states and territory requirements. We will most be certainly considering this issue — together with other eligibility criteria — as we finalise the new national approach to intercountry adoption,” press secretary Sally Branson said.

 

“This just isn’t an issue for the home country of the adoptive parents — the requirements of overseas countries are also relevant. The South Africa agreement will allow for same sex couples to adopt.”

 

A Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting on Friday also flagged the development of a new national service for intercountry adoption by early-2105. The service would be either a funded non-government organisation or a Commonwealth agency.

 

The announcement prompted calls by the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights lobby to ensure a new national framework would operate with equality for LGBTI people looking to adopt, and said the same should be true for any organisations assisting in the adoption process.

 

The Prime Minister’s office told the Star Observer there is no detail yet around how the national service would operate, but said the Federal Government would “ensure non-discriminatory service is provided to all stakeholders, and work with all stakeholders in a the same manner”.

 

Rodney Chiang-Cruise from Gay Dads Australia said the streamlined citizenship and visa processes wouldn’t change a great deal for Australian same-sex couples looking to adopt from overseas, but was glad the issue was being discussed.

 

“The Federal Government has not done anything on overseas adoption for decades… It sounds like a positive move, and hopefully it’s an indication of further moves in regards to what is a complex and difficult area,” Chiang-Cruise told the Star Observer [emphasis added, abridged]. Link to original article here: <http://www.starobserver.com.au/news/local-news/same-sex-couples-included-in-overseas-adoption-agreement-for-the-first-time/122370

As the article reports, this is a potentially significant breakthrough in terms of LGBTI equality – provided this agreement is implemented in line with state and territory requirements, for the first time ever, same-sex couples in NSW, WA, Tasmania and ACT will be treated equally in terms of overseas adoption.

However, the notes of caution expressed by Mr Chiang-Cruise also seem to be appropriate. After all, that still leaves LGBTI-inclusive couples in four Australian jurisdictions (Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory) out in the cold.

And, as described earlier, there is genuine concern that, should a religious organisation be awarded the contract to deliver inter-country adoption services, they might discriminate against same-sex couples and then use the (incredibly broad) religious exemptions offered under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 to essentially ‘get away with’ such discrimination.

Which means, while some questions have been resolved – and the South African agreement is indeed a big step forward for same-sex couple adoption in Australia – there are still plenty of issues to be worked through in coming months. It also means there was certainly plenty of material to write a follow-up letter to Prime Minister Abbott on this subject. As always, I will post any reply that I receive.

The Hon Tony Abbott MP

Prime Minister

PO Box 6022

House of Representatives

Parliament House

CANBERRA ACT 2600

Thursday 29 May 2014

Dear Prime Minister

INTER-COUNTRY ADOPTION BY SAME-SEX COUPLES

Thank you for the reply, from your Department, to my letter of 8 March, concerning the issue of inter-country adoption by same-sex couples.

Unfortunately, some of the issues raised in my letter were not answered. Additional issues have also arisen from the Communique of the COAG meeting on Friday 2 May, and from your media release on Monday 5 May, which was accompanied by the release of some sections of the Report of the Interdepartmental Committee on Intercountry Adoption.

First of all, however, I wish to congratulate you on your commitment, as expressed by your office to the Star Observer newspaper on Monday 5 May, that same-sex couples will be eligible to adopt under the newly-finalised agreement with South Africa. This is a major step forward for the equal treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex-inclusive families.

Nevertheless, as highlighted in my original letter, and confirmed in the Report of the Interdepartmental Committee, it is highly unlikely that, due to differing legislation, same-sex couples in Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory will be able to take advantage of this new agreement.

This is obviously an unsatisfactory outcome – that arrangements entered into by the Commonwealth will only provide benefit to couples in Sydney, not Melbourne, Perth not Brisbane, and Hobart but not Adelaide.

I therefore reiterate my call that you should use the process of establishing new inter-country arrangements over the coming year to urge those states and territories that have not yet made adoption non-discriminatory on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status to finally do so.

Second, I wish to ask you about the proposal being considered that a non-government organisation may be funded to provide inter-country adoption services on behalf of the Commonwealth and states and territories. Specifically, if this organisation is itself, or is run by, a religious body, will you guarantee that they will not be able to deny these services to same-sex couples?

Again, it would be a deeply unsatisfactory outcome if, despite the successful inclusion of same-sex couples in formal arrangements between Australia and South Africa, these were undermined in practice because of the exemptions offered to religious organisations under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

Please ensure that whichever non-government organisation is funded to provide inter-country adoptions services on behalf of the Australian Government, and therefore the Australian people, they are legally bound not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

Third, and finally, I return to a point made in my initial correspondence and that is that I believe the Australian Government should be actively seeking to include non-discrimination clauses in all future inter-country adoption agreements. This stance should apply irrespective of whether the country is like South Africa, and itself already recognises same-sex adoption, or another country that does not.

I acknowledge that it may not be possible to secure the inclusion of such a clause in every single signed agreement – because it is dependent on the response of the other country – but I can see no reason why Australia should not be directly and firmly putting forward the principle that all couples are able to be loving and nurturing parents, irrespective of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

Congratulations again on the inclusion of same-sex couples in the inter-country adoption agreement with South Africa.

I look forward to your response to the other matters raised in this correspondence.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

Letter to Prime Minister Abbott re Intercountry Adoption by Same-Sex Couples

The Hon Tony Abbott MP

Prime Minister

PO Box 6022

House of Representatives

Parliament House

CANBERRA ACT 2600

Cc Dr Ian Watt

Secretary

Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet

PO Box 6500

CANBERRA ACT 2600

Saturday March 8 2014

Dear Prime Minister

INTER-COUNTRY ADOPTIONS BY SAME-SEX COUPLES

I am writing regarding the issue of inter-country adoptions. Specifically, I call on you to ensure that the processes governing inter-country adoptions treat all couples equally, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

I note that you announced in December 2013 that the Department of Premier and Cabinet would be investigating the issue of inter-country adoptions, reporting to you on ways the processes governing inter-country adoptions can be streamlined ahead of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting, now scheduled for Friday 2 May in Canberra.

I also note recent reports about the potential for new arrangements for recognising adoptions by Australians with respect to children from Taiwan and South Korea.

However, I am unaware of any reports about work underway to ensure that all bilateral and, where relevant, multilateral, agreements concerning adoption entered into by Australia recognise the equal rights of all couples, including same-sex couples, to adopt.

There is no legitimate reason to prevent couples that may include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) individuals from adopting.

In fact, the most recent report on the issue of same-sex parenting, commissioned by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, reaffirmed independent research over the past decade in finding that “there is now strong evidence that same-sex parented families constitute supportive environments in which to raise children.”

The report – Same-Sex Parented Families in Australia by Dr Deborah Dempsey (December 2013) – further confirmed that “children in such families do as well emotionally, socially and educationally as their peers from heterosexual couple families.”

Speaking about the report to the Sydney Morning Herald in February 2014, author Dr Dempsey said “[i]t’s not the family structure that matters so much as the kind of care; that children are loved, and are taken care of.” In practice, same-sex couples are just as capable of providing for the best interests of the child as opposite-sex couples.

Given these and other research results, I seek your commitment to ensure there is no discrimination against same-sex couples contained in any inter-country adoption agreement which Australia signs.

On a related issue, one of the administrative barriers to efficient inter-country adoption processes must be the variety of different, often conflicting, adoption criteria that operate in Australian states and territories.

For example, while my fiancé Steven and I would likely be eligible to adopt in Sydney, we would not be eligible to adopt were we to relocate to Melbourne. I doubt that our suitability as parents would differ simply because we moved 1000km to the South.

As before, there is no legitimate reason to prevent couples that include LGBTI individuals from adopting, and that must include within and between Australian jurisdictions.

The report which you have commissioned and will be presenting to the COAG meeting in May is an ideal opportunity for you to call on the states and territories to adopt uniform adoption laws, in particular to ensure that all Australian states and territories allow all couples to adopt, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

This would be a benefit not just to the administrative efficiency of Australia’s inter-country adoption processes, but also to the equal rights and status of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians.

Finally, I note during the week reports of disagreement within the Coalition partyroom on the subject of single and same-sex couple parenting. Specifically, it was reported that Senator Cory Bernardi expressed his support for Minister Kevin Andrews’ defence of so-called ‘traditional families’.

In response, Liberal MP for Herbert, Ewen Jones, defended families headed by single people, and same-sex couples, saying that what was more important was that children were loved, not what gender their parents were. Mr Jones later told Fairfax Radio “I think it’s the quality of the role model, male or female, not the sexuality of the parents that maters” – a sentiment similar to that expressed by Dr Dempsey, above.

It was also reported that you responded to the debate by saying “[w]e need to be as supportive of people as possible, regardless of their circumstances.”

Taking you at your word, I sincerely hope that you will be supportive of all Australian couples, including same-sex or otherwise LGBTI-inclusive couples, having the same rights to adopt children from other countries.

You have the chance to demonstrate this support through the review of inter-country adoption which you have commissioned, and through your advocacy at the upcoming COAG meeting which will discuss this issue. I and other same-sex couples around the country will be watching which approach you take.

Thank you in for your consideration of this correspondence.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

Abbott’s Paid Parental Leave Scheme and Same-Sex Parents

On Saturday (7 September), it is highly likely that the Liberal and National Parties will together win at least 76 seats (and possibly many more) and that therefore Tony Abbott will be our Prime Minister when he wakes up on Sunday.

There are a range of things which he has promised which essentially amount to undoing, whether in part or in full, things that the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd Governments have done (eg the Carbon Price or the NBN), or simply taking things further in the same direction (such as the mistreatment of refugees). There have been very few major new policies or policy directions from Abbott and the Coalition.

However, there has been one major social policy commitment from Tony Abbott. Indeed, it comes with a substantial financial cost, and he has gone as far as to call it his ‘signature’ policy. That is of course Paid Parental Leave (PPL), for women who earn up to $150,000 per year, paid by the Government for 26 weeks (meaning that it is significantly more expansive in both the size of the payment, and its duration, than the existing Labor scheme).

The full details of Abbott’s PPL scheme were announced on Sunday 18 August, through a pre-release with News Corp papers, followed up by a policy launch, complete with a 14 page glossy document, outlining how the policy would operate in practice. It even included a range of scenarios, using different women’s names and estimating how much they stood to gain (and how much more that would be than the Labor scheme).

From an LGBTI activist’s point of view, however, there was a glaring omission: there was not a single mention of parents who did not neatly fit into a ‘traditional heterosexual/opposite-sex couple’. In none of the 14 pages was there a single mention of non-heterosexual or same-sex couples. Which left me, and countless other LGBTI people around the country, asking two questions:

  1. Are same-sex couples even covered by the scheme?
  2. If they are covered, how are their payments calculated? (which is a legitimate and not necessarily straight-forward question, given the PPL scheme states that, where a heterosexual father is the primary carer, he is entitled to PPL – but if he earns more than the mother, his payments are reduced according to the wage of his female partner).

On the morning of the 18th, I scanned both traditional and social media in an effort to see whether there was an answer to one or both of these questions. I could find very little outside of an assertion from Samantha Maiden on twitter that yes, same-sex couples would be covered – although that turned out to be based on nothing more than her assumption that they should be covered (I would post the full twitter exchange here except that it took a lengthy back and forth before establishing that she had absolutely no evidence for her original assertion).

I then turned to social media to ask questions directly of Tony Abbott, and, given he represents one of the most populous LGBTI electorates in Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, but neither responded. I even tried to ask the Liberal Party direct: nada. Eventually, in the evening, I managed to get an answer from Joe Hockey. I reproduce a screenshot of that exchange here:
photo
Taking him at his word would mean that, for lesbian couples, if the non-birth mother is the designated primary carer, they would be able to receive the payments based on their own wage, even if it was higher than the birth mother’s. For male same-sex couples, the primary carer’s wage would apply irrespective of whose was higher (those are the clear implications from his response).

Wanting to have more to go on than just a tweet, through my involvement in the NSW Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby, I also helped to ensure that Paid Parental Leave, and specifically whether it covered same-sex couples on a no less favourable basis than opposite-sex couples, was one of the 42 questions which were asked in the 2013 Federal Election survey of the ALP, Liberal-Nationals and the Greens Parties. While both the ALP and Greens responses addressed this question, the Liberal Party response did not (in fact, the Liberal/Nationals did not answer the vast majority of the questions asked: see www.lgbti2013.org.au for more details, a topic I will be posting more on later in the week).

Anyway, that lack of response did not inspire much confidence in me either – both the formal 14 page policy document, and now the direct answer to a question from the NSW Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby, Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby, Transgender Victoria and Organisation Intersex International Australia, had failed to include any commitment that the PPL policy was intended to be non-discriminatory in its operation.

Which meant that Tony Abbott’s comments on Jon Faine on ABC Radio Melbourne on Friday 30 August were very welcome. From the Guardian Australia website:

“Abbott gets a caller during the Faine interview who is clearly unhappy with lesbian mothers – two of them – getting access to the Coalition’s PPL scheme. Will two lesbian mothers get the payment?

Abbott’s response:

If they both have kids, fine ..

Abbott says the same would happen with the government’s PPL scheme. The caller says at least they wouldn’t get $75,000.”

At the very least, Abbott has committed that his PPL scheme will cover lesbian co-parents (and, given the policy document does include adoptive parents, by rights it should cover gay male co-parents as well).

As an additional source of comfort, on Saturday 31 August at the LGBTI Policy Forum held in Melbourne, the Liberal Member for Higgins, Kelly O’Dwyer, gave the following response to an ABC journalist:

JEFF WATERS: While you’re there, if I may – will the opposition’s paid parental leave scheme include both parents in same sex relationship who is have children?

KELLY O’DWYER: Our paid parental leave scheme is non-discriminatory. We believe that the carer of the child is entitled to the paid parental leave scheme. That is what we have announced. That is what we are committed to implementing. So the person who is going to be looking after the child will be entitled to the paid parental leave scheme which is capped to ensure that that child has the best possible start in life, and that families, all families, heterosexual families, homosexual families, all families are better off. (Applause)

Overall, despite the fact that it has been much harder than it should have been to get a direct answer from Abbott and the Liberal/National Parties on this issue, we are now in a position where they have clearly promised that same-sex couples will be included in its PPL scheme.

Which means that if, for whatever reason (aka Nationals and/or backbench revolt), they do not extend Paid Parental Leave to cover same-sex parents, it will be a broken promise, and on something which Tony Abbott has claimed is his ‘signature’ policy. That would be a massive blow to the credibility of him and his new Government – put another way, given he is likely to be moving into the Lodge next week, there is significant pressure on him to live up to his commitment for his PPL policy to be LGBTI inclusive.

PS Obviously, if there are other places where the Coalition or its MPs have committed to the PPL covering same-sex couples please send them to me and I will link them here. I would hope that Serkan Ozturk at the Star Observer’s interview with Malcolm Turnbull, which is expected to be published on Thursday, will also cover this topic and I will publish his response on this as well.

How Does Tony Abbott’s Paid Parental Leave Scheme Affect Same-Sex Parents?

The following is a letter which I have tonight sent to the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Tony Abbott MP, about his Paid Parental Leave (PPL) policy. Despite the fact that PPL has been Liberal-National policy for more than 3 years, it remains unclear whether same-sex parents are included on an equal basis and, if so, how the rate of payment to the primary carer is calculated.

While I probably don’t expect an answer from him before the election, I think it is incumbent upon all activists in this area to keep asking these questions until we get a response – because after all, we deserve to know how this policy will affect LGBTI people before cast their votes.

Dear Mr Abbott

PAID PARENTAL LEAVE AND SAME-SEX PARENTS

I am writing to you concerning the Paid Parental Leave (PPL) policy which you are taking to the 2013 Federal Election. Specifically, I would like to know how the PPL policy will apply to same-sex parents.

Firstly, can you please confirm that same-sex couples will qualify, on an equal basis, to PPL under a Liberal-National Government? This should include the ability of one parent to access primary carer leave, and another parent to access the shorter, paid parental leave – in the same way that heterosexual couples would qualify.

Secondly, I would like to know how the rates of these payments will be calculated. Based on information already released, my understanding is that, for all heterosexual couples, primary carer payments will be calculated according to the salary of the ‘mother’ (irrespective of who is in fact the primary carer after birth).

How are payment rates for the primary carer calculated for same-sex couples, including male couples who have children through adoption or surrogacy? The salary of the ‘birth mother’ in these circumstances may be irrelevant, especially where she does not become a parent of the child. In this case, would same-sex parents be able to nominate the primary carer and therefore the salary according to which the payment is calculated?

These are important questions which you and the Liberal-National Coalition should answer ahead of the election – Australia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community deserve to know how one of your long-standing policies affects them, or indeed whether it covers them at all.

Thank you in advance for considering this correspondence.

Yours sincerely

Alastair Lawrie