A leading member of the Australian Liberal party who is fighting to retain his parliamentary seat has announced a small change in policy in an attempt to win vital gay votes.

Malcolm Turnbull last night promised that if re-elected his party will allow interdependent gay couples to share each other’s public pensions and benefits such as superannuation.

It may prove to be too little too late for the minister, who is trying to retain the Sydney seat of Wentworth in the November 24th federal election.

The seat was subject to recent boundary changes and now includes gay districts such as Darlinghurst and Kings Cross.

Mr Turnbull made his pledge yesterday at a meeting of lesbian and gay business leaders.

The present government failed to make any decisions on gay equality across a range of issues outlined for them in June by a report from the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

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

Prime Minister John Howard’s senior government colleagues split on the issue. Some felt it should not be a priority ahead of the election and were concerned about the cost of reforms.

Other Cabinet members, especially those with sizable gay communities in their constituencies, argued that equal provision in areas such as Medicare and pensions must be in place before going to the polls.

A report from the HREOC was presented to the federal parliament in June and the Labour party, favourites to win the election and commanding double-digit leads over the governing Liberal party, are committed to reforms.

However, both parties oppose gay marriage.

The HREOC report found that same-sex couples and families in Australia 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.