A Labour party candidate in the Australian federal election has removed a volunteer worker from his campaign after he launched a tirade of abuse at the wife of his opponent.

Environment minister Malcolm Turnbull is fighting to retain the seat of Wentworth in Sydney for the incumbent Liberal party.

The seat was subject to recent boundary changes and now includes gay districts such as Darlinghurst and Kings Cross, and the Labour party candidate George Newhouse has emphasised the anti-gay position of the present government.

On Saturday Gary Burns, a well-known gay rights activist, campaigning for Mr Newhouse, physically intimidated Mrs Turnbull in the street, calling her a fag hag.

Mr Burns later sent an email to Mr Turnbull, quoted on news.com.au:

“You will get more angry homosexuals like me attacking you verbally in public because of your fascist leader John Howard, who treats my community like second-class citizens.

“Your middle-aged well dressed “fag hag” impersonator of a wife will not protect you from the anger my community has stored up for you and your Government come election day on Saturday November 24.

“You are a weak and pathetic excuse for a human being.”

Mr Newhouse’s campaign director has now confirmed that Mr Burns, not a member of the Labour party, will no longer be working on the campaign.

“On behalf of the federal Labour campaign for Wentworth, we regret any inconvenience and apologise to Mrs Lucy Turnbull,” the director said.

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

He made his pledge 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.