According to Patricia Karvelas in the Australian yesterday (accompanied by the picture below) , it will be up to John Howard to decide whether or not same-sex couples will be granted equal status with heterosexual couples under Commonwealth law, since the Cabinet could not agree.
I was rather intrigued to read in this article that one of the reasons advanced against such a change was that the reforms “would cost taxpayers millions in extra social security payments”. This was news to me, since the main effect I can see on social security entitlements would be to save the taxpayers millions, both through payments of lower ‘partnered’ rates of payment and through taking account of the partner’s income. While it was once the case that people could get social security just by being “married” to someone, thankfully those days are long gone.
In this morning’s radio discussion on the topic between Gerard Henderson and Fran Kelly, Gerard opined that it was a difficult decision to make, with arguments for and against, etc, etc. To her credit, Fran rather pointedly asked him what the main argument against reform would be. The best he could come up with was that while some (higher income) couples would do well out of it financially because of getting access to survivor’s superannuation pensions, other (lower income) couples would be worse off because they would get lower social security payments.
So once again, the political argument for and against policy change is not couched in terms of what is right, but in terms of who will win and lose and the political implications of the losers in particular.
While Gerard is perfectly right that some people would get lower social security payments if their marriagelike relationships were recognised, this would require them to have willingly volunteered the fact of their relationship to Centrelink. Anyone who wants to preserve the advantageous financial position of presenting as two single people only has to stay in the closet.
Somehow I can’t see Centrelink zealously pursuing a couple to prove that they are in a same-sex “marriagelike relationship” – those are difficult enough to prove when the people involved are of opposite sex. Once the inevitable happens (perhaps not with John Howard, but certainly with the next PM of either stripe), it will indeed be interesting to see how many same-sex couples receiving income support manage to resist the ‘obvious’ financial incentives and declare themselves to Centrelink. I suspect quite a few will do so.