The Attorney General of Australia, Philip Ruddock has told gay activists that he is working on proposals to bring before the country’s Cabinet a response to a Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission report into discrimination against gay people.

Rodney Croome, of the Australian Coalition for Equality, was confident that the matter would be considered before the federal elections later this year.

The new Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) report was presented to the federal parliament in June.

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.

Howard is due to stand for re-election at the end of this year.

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.

The audit of federal laws and their impact on same-sex couples and their children was undertaken by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

“Howard’s government claims that it is ‘defending marriage,’ but in reality its policies hurt families,” said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Programme at Human Rights Watch.

“The government’s own human rights commission has confirmed that denying equal rights can damage and divide same-sex couples and their children.”

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