"Same-sex couples earn 29 per cent more money than male-female couples. Mum and Dad taxpayers are the most oppressed Australians in our economy."
Christian Democratic Party on Thursday, August 15, 2013 in Facebook page of the Christian Democratic Party
Feeling economic heat? Fred's got someone for you to blame
Born of the NSW Fred Nile Group, the Christian Democratic Party has launched headlong into the election campaign with 48 federal candidates.
They're no strangers to controversy. The CDP federal policy platform includes, for instance, "a 10 year moratorium on Islamic immigration as starting point for a serious national discussion on this issue (of Islam)", as well as the view that Christians should not be forced to rent accommodation to homosexual couples.
Then there was this post on their Facebook page:
It appears at first glance to push for income equality, with Twitter hashtag to boot. But this isn’t about remedying an institutional bias against womens' workforce participation. It's about fighting an institutional bias in favour of same-sex couples.
Citing 2011 Census data, the CDP laments that "Mum and Dad taxpayers are the most oppressed Australians in our economy", because "same-sex couples earn 29 per cent more money than male-female couples".
It's a bold claim, and one we couldn't ignore. We decided to break it down.
The Christian Democratic Party did not respond to our requests for clarification.
Setting aside for a moment that many same-sex couples in fact include mums and dads, we went to the ABS to check the numbers.
They have some fascinating data. The 33,700 self-reported same sex couples in Australia represent 1 per cent of all couples. There are 6,300 children living in same-sex couple families. Those in same-sex couples are less likely to be religious, but two in every five are Christian. Presumably these aren't the constituents the CDP is chasing.
Those in same-sex relationships are also better educated, and more likely to participate in the workforce. Eighty nine per cent do, compared with 69 per per cent of those in oppositesex couples.
They're also more likely to be employed in highly skilled occupations, and to have higher personal incomes.
Is the CDP on to something?
According to the ABS, 18 per cent of men in same-sex couples earn $2000 or more a week, compared with 14 per cent of men in opposite sex couples. For women, it's 11 per cent, compared with 4 per cent.
But that doesn't square with the CDP claim.
Twenty-nine per cent is what you get when you add the percentage of men in same sex relationship earning more than $2000 to the percentage of women in the same category. That’s a mathematical error. We can’t say that’s what the CDP did, because they haven’t responded to our inquiries.
In reality, 15 per cent of people in same sex couples earn $2000 or more a week. But that is not 29 per cent more money.
The ABS confirmed to PolitiFact the 29 per cent figure the CDP quoted was inaccurate.
On to the questions of taxation and oppression.
Does this constitute income inequality?
Not according to Helen Hodgson, UNSW senior lecturer and accountant specialising in family tax law. Hodgson said it reflected the fact barriers that disadvantaged same-sex couples previously have been removed.
Hodgson's immediate reaction to the claim was to note that 'mum and dad taxpayers' are actually better off under the system due to tax subsidies like the Family Tax Benefit.
On the question of oppression, she though it important to note: "Although strictly speaking a lot of single parents and people on Newstart are not paying tax, the recent cuts to the sole parent pension have in fact made that group of citizens the most oppressed in the community in terms of the level of income support they get."
On the question of "income equality", which Hodgson said was about "removing barriers to people being able to earn an amount of income", she said it was "spurious" to link it with same-sex couples in this context.
"The notion's got a homely ring to it," said Frank Stilwell, professor of political economy at the University of Sydney, "but it's a strange one."
"It's a bit like 'the battlers', it refers to a sentimental view of low to middle income earners in Australia, but it's frankly such a loose concept that it's at best useless and at worst misleading."
"It's bleeding obvious that mum and dad taxpayers vary from enormously rich people to very very poor people. Generalising about them in terms of how they're oppressed by tax arrangements is frankly facile."
"You could say the same for any subgroup that you wanted to identify. I would guess perhaps Christians (in Australia) have higher incomes than Muslims. Does that mean Muslims are being unfairly treated by the tax system? The tax system treats people equally irrespective of their sexuality, their religion or their height and weight."
Stilwell said if anything, ‘mum and dad taxpayers’ are advantaged by the tax system.
Justin Koonin from the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby rejected the idea there was an institutional bias towards same-sex couples: "We know that many gay and lesbian people live in socioeconomic disadvantage and face issues of poverty and homelessness. It is important to understand the complete situation before making sweeping statements."
Which raises an interesting question. Just who are the most oppressed Australians in our economy?
We thought Anti-Slavery Australia might have a view on the subject. Spokesperson Arani Ahmed told PolitiFact that Australia was a destination country for human trafficking — meaning people are trafficked here from overseas and can be forced to work in slavery-like-conditions in many industries, including hospitality, agriculture, and in the sex industry.
But to be fair, the CDP is talking specifically about Australians. While most working in slavery-like conditions in Australia come from overseas, Ahmed said forced marriage, a "slavery-like-practice" under Australian law, does occur here. There have been cases heard in the Family Court of Australia involving Australian citizens. Presumably, someone living in a forced marriage might be considered economically oppressed whether or not they are paying tax.
Aside from the single mothers Hodgson discussed, we took a look at some statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, which in its latest report singles out elderly single men and women as more likely to experience sustained poverty, as well as young Indigenous Australians, who are over-represented in prison and youth justice systems.
The CDP gets no points for mangling the statistics on same-sex couples in order to support an argument our experts called "spurious" and "facile".
The small number of same-sex couples in Australia may on average enjoy a higher standard of living. But that’s got nothing to do with the oppression of their opposite-sex-couple counterparts. Simply put: the tax system does not discriminate against heterosexuals.
Presented together, these two claims are dogwhistling at its worst — a causal relationship with no basis in reality.
We rate this Pants on Fire.
Published: Thursday, August 15, 2013 at 7:38 p.m.
Christian Democratic Party Facebook page
Phone interview and email exchange with Arani Ahmed, Anti-Slavery Australia
Phone interview with Emeritus Professor Frank Stilwell, Political Economy, University of Sydney
Phone interview with Helen Hodgson, Australian School of Business, University of New South Wales
Email exchange with Justin Koonin, NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby
Same-sex couples, Australian Bureau of Statistics
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