Not quite civil unions in Australia

by John Q on April 28, 2007

I’ve been an observer at the National Conference of the Australian Labor Party, which is being held in Sydney.* One of the few real debates at the (generally tightly controlled) conference concerned a proposal under which couples could register their relationship to protect property rights, pension entitlements and so on. This proposal is somewhat less than a civil union, since there is no associated ceremony, and is explicitly claimed not to represent gay marriage. A couple of states have already implemented the idea. A striking feature, mentioned in the debate but not in newspaper reports is that registration is available for people in a carer-dependent relationship rather than a partnership.

As this comment notes, the proposal is very conservative by international standards, but the only opposition within the conference came from the right, and it appeared from the debate that most gay and lesbian organisations have been willing to accept the proposal. In part, this is because it delivers most of the substantive benefits of civil unions, while neutralising most (not all) of the religious opposition. But it also reflects the more general view that anything is better than another term of the Howard government, which has pushed nasty wedge politics on this issue and on many others. Although Labor is way ahead in the opinion polls at present, similar leads have evaporated in the past, and no-one seems willing to risk upsetting the applecart and getting the blame for yet another loss. I imagine the situation must have been similar in Britain in 1997.

*I got the ticket by giving a talk on Federalism as part of the Fringe Conference (an innovation here, but apparently a long-standing feature of the British Labour Conference). Amazingly, despite my talk being at 7:45 am, around 40 people turned up to hear me and the relevant Shadow Minister, Bob McMullan. This is an issue on which party alignment has reversed in Australia with Labor converting from centralism to federalism over the past thirty years and the Liberal (=conservative) party going the other way. Partly, this reflects the fact that Labor has been in office in every state and territory for most of the last decade, while the Liberals has been in government nationally for the same period. But the change in views is more durable than this electoral configuration. Ideas of subsidiarity and localism are now widely widely supported on the left, while the conservatives have embraced an authoritarian nationalism impatient of checks and balances.



Stentor 04.28.07 at 2:24 pm

This is an issue on which party alignment has reversed in Australia with Labor converting from centralism to federalism over the past thirty years and the Liberal (=conservative) party going the other way.

I think this has happened in practice in the US, for similar reasons, although the parties are loath to admit it in their rhetoric, because the Democrats hold out hope of recapturing the federal government while the Republicans fear that admitting their authoritarian side will cost them support from their “small government conservative” and racially anti-progressive base. The exception would be the same-sex marriage issue, where federalism gives Democrats a way to dodge having to take a position (“let the states decide”), while the GOP is quite clear on the importance of a national constitutional amendment to protect the country from rogue states like Massachusetts.


Mr Bagel 04.28.07 at 5:52 pm

If only John Howard was as good at Governing as he is at self promotion and publicity. The 100 million in upcoming advertising certainly helps most voters forget the [, – sorry for slanted ref]

Its interesting that this has been so low key, I see it as a real step forward, albeit a fairly conservative and slow to come event, never the less, its progressive in recognising not all relationships are necessarily based between ‘couples’.

Shalom Aaron
Mr Bagel
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M-H 04.29.07 at 1:38 am

We can only hope that the Labor Party grasps the nettle on this issue. They have proved cowardly in the past. As an ageing lesbian I am apprehensive over what what the future could hold if either of us had to go into care – the other would almost certainly lose her(our) home.

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