John Howard “pigheaded” over gay rights

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Australian Prime Minister John Howard has been labelled “pigheaded” and “unreasonable” after reportedly forbidding the Federal Government’s departments from cooperating with the country’s Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s (HREOC) inquiry on discrimination against gay and lesbian couples.

The Australian Financial Review reported that the Government has issued a directive to all departments forbidding them from co-operating with the investigation, instead opting for looking at cases on an individual basis.

Mr Howard said: “I am in favour of removing areas of discrimination and we have and I’m quite happy on a case-by-case basis to look at other areas where people believe there’s genuine discrimination, but I think they should be looked at on a case by case basis.”

A spokesman for Attorney General Philip Ruddock told The Australian Financial Review that ministers had decided to instruct their departments not to make submissions, claiming it should be left to HREOC to do the work.

Shadow Attorney General Nicola Roxon said Mr Howard is unclear on his discrimination policy, “Which one is it? Is he for or against discrimination?

“HREOC is doing exactly what the Prime Minister wants, looking at this issue on a case-by-case basis. If he were taken at his word, he should be encouraging this inquiry, not obstructing it.

“The fact is that he can’t be taken at his word. In ten long years, his Government has done next to nothing to get rid of discrimination. Same sex couples are still treated differently for the purposes of superannuation, veteran’s entitlements, family law, taxation, welfare, Medicare and pharmaceuticals benefits, among other areas.

“Labor has, and continues to, argue for the removal of these discriminatory provisions in Commonwealth laws.

“The pigheaded and unreasonable directive not to co-operate with HREOC shows Mr Howard’s true colours. He talks the talk on discrimination, but he walks in the opposite direction.

Mr Howard’s government recently overturned an Australian Capital Territory law allowing civil unions for same sex couples, but has previously promised to address financial discrimination against gay couples.