One of the few real debates at the (generally tightly controlled) conference concerned a proposal under which couples could register their relationship to protect property rights, pension entitlements and so on. This proposal is somewhat less than a civil union, since there is no associated ceremony, and is explicitly claimed not to represent gay marriage. A couple of states have already implemented the idea. A striking feature, mentioned in the debate but not in newspaper reports is that registration is available for people in a carer-dependent relationship rather than a partnership.
As this comment notes, the proposal is very conservative by international standards, but the only opposition within the conference came from the right, and it appeared from the debate that most gay and lesbian organisations have been willing to accept the proposal. In part, this is because it delivers most of the substantive benefits of civil unions, while neutralising most (not all) of the religious opposition. But it also reflects the more general view that anything is better than another term of the Howard government, which has pushed nasty wedge politics on this issue and on many others. Although Labor is way ahead in the opinion polls at present, similar leads have evaporated in the past, and no-one seems willing to risk upsetting the applecart and getting the blame for yet another loss.