Howard may gamble on gay rights as a vote-winner

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Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, is reportedly about to announce that gay and lesbian couples will be given a range of equal rights, a move that could help two key colleagues retain their seats in the imminent general election.

Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull will be defending the Sydney seat of Wentworth, which after boundary changes now includes gay districts such as Darlinghurst and Kings Cross.

With Howard’s Liberal party trailing in the polls, The Age newspaper reports that the Prime Minister could make an announcement “within days.”

Government minister Joe Hockey is seeking re-election in North Sydney, another constituency with a high concentration of LGBT voters.

Mr Turnbull had argued in Cabinet for changes to the law following a report released in June by Australia’s Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC).

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

The commission’s report 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 Cabinet discussed the proposals in depth in August, but were split on the issue and left the final decision to Mr Howard.

Some were concerned about the cost of the changes, an estimated $2bn (£890m).

It is widely expected that Mr Howard will call an election this weekend for November 24th.

Christian groups have expressed their opposition to equality for gay people.

The opposition Labour party support changes to the law recommended by the HREOC but both parties support a federal ban on gay marriage.