This election marriage equality has received an unprecedented level of coverage. However lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights are broader than simply marriage equality. LGBTI groups have conducted a national survey and hosted an election forum to find out where the major parties stand on key policy issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.
The national survey covers a range of issues across 12 topic and includes 42 questions. Pleasingly, all three parties showed support for LGBTI health and well-being, improved data collection, recognising and supporting LGBTI families and active engagement on human rights abuses against LGBTI people internationally. The survey was followed by an LGBTI election forum on 31 August 2013 where the community was able to probe deeper on issues of concern.
The community forum featured Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus QC (ALP), Deputy Leader Adam Bandt MP (Australian Greens), and member for Higgins Kelly O’Dwyer MP (LNP) who, with the help of comedian moderator Toby Halligan, were grilled by a panel of community representatives including the HRLC’s Anna Brown (Convener, Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby), Sally Goldner (Transgender Victoria), Tony Briffa (Organisation Intersex International Australia) and Corey Irlam.
Issues raised at the forum ranged from marriage equality to surgery on intersex infants and access to Medicare benefits for surgeries for transgender people. Adam Bandt raised his concerns about the impact of gay-conversation therapy and discrimination by religious organisations in his opening remarks whereas the other representatives focussed on their parties’ respective track records in repealing and reforming laws to end criminalisation and discrimination against LGBTI people.
The Coalition’s response to the election survey, while largely positive, contained significant gaps on important policy issues. Thankfully, Kelly O’Dwyer was able to address at least one of these and confirm that the Coalition’s paid parental leave scheme would be equally available to same-sex couples. However, the Coalition also needs to commit ensuring they will not roll back achievements like the national LGBTI ageing and aged care strategy or making LGBTI rights a core part of Australian foreign policy.
More promisingly, the Coalition has said it will retain the Federal Government’s new ‘Sex and Gender Recognition Guidelines’. These guidelines ensure transgender, intersex and gender diverse people are treated respectfully and sensitively by government departments. The ALP has gone further to say it will take a “strong” leadership role to encourage states and territories to reform laws and policies on documentation including birth certificates. The ALP has also committed to taking a leadership role on adoption reform at the State and Territory level. This would be a very welcome step for Victoria where our current adoption laws explicitly discriminate against same-sex couples.
There was a pleasing level of cross-party support for anti-discrimination protections but, not surprisingly, the Greens went further to support the removal of blanket exemptions that permit religious organisations to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Greens were also the only party to support much needed funding for the Australian Human Rights Commission and a Commissioner to promote LGBTI rights.
While it was pleasing that each of party representatives at the forum individually support marriage equality, official party positions differ when it comes to ruling out civil unions and the question of a conscience vote and way forward. Both the Greens and the ALP have explicitly stated their opposition to civil unions, whereas various Coalition MPs have implied that civil unions are a necessary first step or more achievable. While Kevin Rudd’s commitment to introduce a marriage equality bill in the first 100 days of parliament clearly distinguishes the ALP from the Coalition, concerns were raised with Mark Dreyfus about the ALP’s track record of rushing failed votes. Mark Dreyfus confirmed that the 100 day commitment referred to the “introduction” rather than “passage” of legislation and emphasised the importance of building cross-party support before any vote.
ABC Journalist Jeff Waters was present and raised the issue of the treatment of gay refugees under the Government’s PNG solution, where homosexual conduct is punishable by up to 14 years jail. Mark Dreyfus said it was a “matter for PNG” but that the Government was working with PNG to make sure that conditions are available that respect the rights of everyone who is transferred there from Australia.
For more information including the complete survey results and assessment visit www.vglrl.org.au/lgbti2013
To watch coverage of the LGBTI 2013 election forum on ABC news visit: http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2013-08-31/the-fate-of-gay-refugees-processed-in-png-has-come/4927086?section=vic
For the audio recording of the LGBTI 2013 election forum visit http://joy.org.au/joycommunityhighlights/2013/08/lgbti-2013-election-forum/