PM accused of pandering to homophobes as election looms

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The leader of the Australian Green Party has launched an attack on the attitude of the Prime Minister, John Howard, to gay rights.

Senator Bob Brown has spoken out against what he sees as the incumbent government’s use of issues such as same-sex marriage to win votes.

Mr Howard, the leader of the Liberal party, has been Prime Minister since 1996.

It is thought he will choose not to reconvene Parliament next week and instead ask the Governor General to call a general election.

“I think he panders to homophobia in our society because he thinks it’s been a vote winner and I think he’s wrong,” Senator Brown told reporters, according to AAP.

“We’re way behind a whole raft of other countries. This is not a light matter, this is about people legally deprived, defrauded of their rights. It’s very, very wrong.”

Senator Brown called on Mr Howard to enact new legislation to end discrimination against same-sex couples.

An audit of federal laws and their impact on same-sex couples and their children was undertaken by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) and presented to the federal parliament in June.

It found that same-sex couples and families get fewer leave entitlements, less workers’ compensation, fewer tax concessions, fewer veterans’ entitlements, fewer health care subsidies, less superannuation and pay more for residential aged care than opposite-sex couples in the same circumstances.

The report traced this pervasive inequality back to how lesbian and gay couples are excluded from federal law’s definitions of couples, partners and spouses.

It listed the 58 laws that need to be changed to grant gay, bisexual and lesbian Australians equal rights.

Prime Minister John Howard said that despite a new opinion poll showing 71% of Australians favouring equal rights for gay people, he is still opposed.

“We are not in favour of discrimination, but of course our views on the nature of marriage in our community are very well known and they won’t be changing,” Mr Howard said in an interview with Sky television.

In 2004 he passed federal legislation banning same-sex marriage and earlier this year said that HIV positive immigrants should not be allowed into the country.

Other politicians welcomed the recommendations to equalise treatment for an estimated 20,000 same-sex couples in tax, pensions, old age care, health benefits and insurance.

Mr Howard’s Cabinet were reportedly split on whether or not to remove the inequalities against same-sex couples especially just before an election.

In August Mr Howard and the leader of the main opposition Labour party, Kevin Rudd, made their pitch for Christian support in a webcast streamed live to more than 700 churches across the country.

During the session, which was also broadcast on Australia’s ABC Local Radio, Mr Rudd was asked about his views on gay marriage by a Christian leader.

“I have a pretty basic view on this, as reflected in the position adopted by our party, and that is, that marriage is between a man and a woman,” he replied.

Mr Rudd ruled out recognising same sex marriage or civil unions.

Under a Federal Labour government, gay couples might be allowed to “register” their relationships.

A recent Reuters Poll Trend showed the Liberal party trailing Labour by more than 13%, with a Liberal/National Party coalition supported by 43% compared to 56% for Labour.