Challenging the last frontier

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Michael Zaar. Photo: Peter Hannaford.

“I remember the collective meetings organising Stonewall rallies back in the ’80s — it was fabulous! Since Stonewall, lesbians and gays have managed to win important changes in relation to anti-discrimination legislation. But the last frontier is relationships and families.

When the government announced its plans to ‘defend marriage’ it also slipped in an announcement about superannuation and recognition of interdependent status. The main example the government used was two elderly sisters. Same-sex couples got mentioned once, along with a number of riders about the need to prove they are really cohabiting. What the government is signalling is a very narrow legal change, which does give a little. But what is not mentioned is that the real agenda is to get through its economic rationalist changes in relation to ‘choice of funds.’

The Democrats held out for recognition of same-sex relationships, but they were prepared to get this concession in return for a trade off on ‘choice of funds.’ This means that the big-money superannuation funds will get their way and be allowed to tailor-make a range of more profitable products. This will lead to an erosion of workers’ retirement savings and the guarantees and regulations that have stood us in good stead. The main change the government has conceded is in relation to the tax treatment of some same-sex couples’ super funds. This change also does not deal with some of the other anomalies, for example veterans’ pensions for same-sex couples.

The conservatives love to deregulate and leave everything to the market. In terms of trade unionism, that means the ‘free market’ of enterprise bargaining. Ironically, to some extent, gay and lesbian unionists have been able to make some gains. The award system has been undermined, but in strong unions with principles, and where gays and lesbians have been able to raise our issues, we’ve made real changes. My union, the National Tertiary Education Union, is at the forefront of that. There are numerous openly gay office bearers. At most universities — with the Australian Catholic University being the notable exception — same-sex relationships have been recognised as far as possible.

I’d like to look to the future. Being active in our communities, making linkages and building coalitions is crucial. Lesbians and gays are part of the mainstream. In my suburb of Newport there is a proposal to build a mosque opposite my house. I am one of 70 residents in the street, and the numbers at public meetings have been 69 against 1. I have been the sole resident supporter of the mosque. When I made my submission at the council meeting as an out gay man, it shocked many in the Muslim community. But I see it as crucial to form coalitions with others facing oppression.”

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