2016-17 Pre-Budget Submission: Save $158.4 million – Scrap the Marriage Equality Plebiscite

 

The Commonwealth Government has called for submissions[i] to assist it in developing the 2016-17 Budget, which, barring an early election, is due to be handed down on Tuesday 10 May.

This process is another opportunity to highlight to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Treasurer Scott Morrison and the Liberal-National Government generally just how ridiculous it is that they are proposing to waste (at least) $158.4 million on something that can be passed by the Parliament, in the usual way, for no cost.

Submissions are due by Friday 5 February 2016, with full details here. This is my submission:

 

Budget Policy Division

Department of the Treasury

Langton Crescent

PARKES ACT 2600

prebudgetsubs@treasury.gov.au

 

Tuesday 2 February 2016

 

To whom it may concern

2016-17 Pre-Budget Submission

Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission regarding what I believe should be the priorities for the 2016-17 Budget.

In this short submission I would like to focus on just one issue that, as well as being the right policy approach, would also have significant Budget benefits, and that is to call on the Turnbull Government to scrap the proposed marriage equality plebiscite.

There are a variety of policy justifications for not proceeding with a plebiscite on this issue, including that holding a public vote is unnecessary because the High Court has already found that Commonwealth Parliament has the constitutional power to pass marriage equality, and that subjecting the human rights of a minority group to such a process is inappropriate.

I, and many other members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, also have serious concerns that the campaign leading up to a marriage equality plebiscite will be divisive, and expose LGBTI Australians, and the children of LGBTI families, to increased levels of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia.

However, there are also strong budgetary reasons why the marriage equality plebiscite should not go ahead.

The Australian Electoral Commission has estimated that the cost of holding a stand-alone plebiscite on marriage equality would be at least $158.4 million.[ii]

Such a significant expenditure of public monies must be considered wasteful when the alternative approach – to pass (or at least to hold a free vote on) marriage equality legislation in Parliament – does not carry any additional cost.

Holding a marriage equality plebiscite could even be considered duplication, given, in the event of a ‘yes’ vote, a Bill introducing marriage equality would still need to be passed.

The two media releases, issued by the Assistant Minister to the Treasurer, the Hon Alex Hawke MP, calling for Pre-Budget Submissions, both reiterated the “Government’s commitment to restrain expenditure responsibly”.[iii]

It is difficult to think of a more perfect way to ‘restrain expenditure responsibly’ than by avoiding spending $158.4 million on something which is entirely unnecessary in the first place.

Of course, scrapping the marriage equality plebiscite also fits in with the Government’s broader fiscal policy, as outlined in the Mid-year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO), including the “Government’s commitment to returning the budget to a sustainable position and reducing debt over the medium term”[iv].

With an underlying cash deficit estimated at $33.7 billion (or 2% of GDP) in 2016-17 (when such a plebiscite may be held), and net debt now expected to peak at 18.5% of GDP in 2017-18, it is undeniably profligate to spend an extra $158.4 million on a public vote the outcome of which is not even binding on Government MPs. This money would instead be much better used to lower the cash deficit and therefore reduce net Government debt.

Other Budget Rules, contained in the MYEFO, are also relevant to the consideration of whether to allocate money in the 2016-17 Budget to holding a plebiscite on marriage equality.

For example, I note that the MYEFO states: “This strategy sets out that:

  • new spending measures will be more than offset by reductions in spending elsewhere within the budget.”[v]

Given the monies required to hold a marriage equality plebiscite have not been allocated in the Budget to date[vi], that means it would need to be included in the 2016-17 Budget as a ‘new spending measure’ and, according to the Government’s own rules, there must be at least an equivalent amount of reductions in spending elsewhere.

It seems absurd to me that the Government would need to cut $158.4 million in spending on justice, or health, or education, or any number of other areas, simply to hold a plebiscite on something that could be resolved by the Parliament in the ordinary course of business for no extra cost.

If the Government does decide to continue down this path, and makes such cuts in order to fund a marriage equality plebiscite, then in the interests of transparency I urge it to include the details of these cuts in the Budget, linking them to this ‘new spending measure’, thereby allowing Australians to make up their own minds whether these actions meet the stated ‘commitment to restrain expenditure responsibly’.

Of course, if the Government is interested in spending a similar amount of money on issues that affect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians, then I would suggest a variety of different ways in which it could do so that would bring much greater benefit, including:

  • Removing out-of-pocket medical costs for transgender people
  • Ending involuntary surgical procedures on and sterilisation of intersex children
  • Increasing refugee places for LGBTI people fleeing persecution in Syria, Iraq and other countries
  • Funding campaigns aimed at addressing homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia across society and
  • Expanding the ‘safe schools’ program to cover every school in the country.

Even if the Turnbull Government is not interested in funding these programs, it would nevertheless be preferable to use this $158.4 million to reduce overall Government deficit and debt, rather than to waste it on holding an unnecessary, inappropriate and divisive public vote.

Scrapping the marriage equality plebiscite, and holding a parliamentary vote instead, might be the easiest Budget saving any Government could ever hope to make.

Thank you for taking this submission into consideration.

 

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

 

160202 Scott Morrison

Treasurer Scott Morrison, tasked with ‘restrain[ing] expenditure responsibly’. Scrapping the marriage equality plebiscite would be a good place to start.

[i] Media Release “2016-17 Pre-Budget Submissions” 18 December 2015 and Media Release “Deadline for Lodging 2016-17 Pre-Budget Submissions”.

[ii] As quoted on page 22 of the Senate Committee Report: Matter of a popular vote, in the form of a plebiscite or referendum, on the matter of marriage in Australia, 15 September 2015.

[iii] See links to media releases above.

[iv] Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2015-16 Part 3: Fiscal Strategy and Outlook.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] “Labor sees a plebiscite-sized hole in the Budget”, Huffington Post, 18 December 2015.

Response to Letter to Malcolm Turnbull About the Marriage Equality Plebiscite

A lot has happened in the 10 days since I first posted my letter to Malcolm Turnbull about the marriage equality plebiscite.

To begin with, a number of Coalition MPs have publicly revealed that, irrespective of the outcome of any plebiscite, they will continue to vote against the equal recognition of LGBTI relationships.

This conservative crusade was led by Senator Eric Abetz who told The Guardian that:

“everyone knows my view is very strongly that a marriage between a man and a woman is the foundational institution for socialising the next generation. And every member of parliament will make up his or her mind after the plebiscite is held. People will take into account the views of the electorate, the views of the nation and their own personal views… There will be people in the parliament who could not support the outcome of a plebiscite whichever way it went.”

His view – that if the voters of Australia supported marriage equality at a plebiscite they could essentially ‘get stuffed’ – was soon supported by both fellow Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi, who told Sky News that “[a] plebiscite is a glorified opinion poll, and no government should be bound by that” and Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie, the latter so committed to opposing LGBTI equality she is willing to deny legal rights to her own brother.

Then, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott (who similarly thinks his own relationship more worthy of recognition that that of his sibling) jetted off to address an audience of homophobes in the US, telling them that:

“[w]e shouldn’t try to change something without understanding it, without grasping why it is one that one man and one woman open to children until just a very few years ago has always been considered the essence of marriage and the heart of family… We can’t shirk our responsibilities to the future, but let’s also respect and appreciate values and institutions that have stood the test of time and pass them on, undamaged, when that’s best. That’s a goal we should all be able to share” [emphasis added].

Despite claiming that he still supports holding a marriage equality plebiscite, it is clear which outcome he wanted, placing into serious doubt his sincerity in introducing legislation following a successful ‘yes’ vote (were he still Prime Minister – a position to which he obviously wishes to return).

The Australian Christian Lobby has also done its job in undermining the credibility of any marriage equality plebiscite, with comments reported by The Guardian that:

“Abbott emerged from that meeting announcing the Coalition had decided to use its numbers to block the introduction into the Australian parliament of yet another bill to change the definition of marriage… Instead, a people’s vote known as a plebiscite would be held sometime after the 2016 election, kicking the issue into the long grass (putting the issue off) and blunting the momentum of same-sex marriage lobbyists” [emphasis added].

Australian Marriage Equality head Rodney Croome, quoted in the same article, quite accurately summed up these developments with the following: “[a]s a policy option, the plebiscite is collapsing under the weight of its own cynicism.”

Indeed, one of the most pleasing aspects of this week’s debate has been the increasing media scrutiny of the proposal to hold a plebiscite on marriage equality, with respected journalists such as Lenore Taylor describing it asdaft and Mark Kenny observing that:

“Malcolm Turnbull’s commitment to the plebiscite can be seen for what it really is: an internal matter – the price of entry to the leadership. Slow and costly… his own credibility with voters is also at stake if he is seen to trade principles in pursuit of power and an easier life.”

The final major development of the past 10 days was yesterday’s (Friday 29 January 2016) announcement by Australian Marriage Equality that it now believes there is majority support for passing majority equality legislation in both houses of parliament – if only the Coalition were willing to grant their MPs and Senators a free vote.

All of which puts the issue of marriage equality squarely in the Prime Minister’s court (the current one, Malcolm Turnbull, not Prime Minister-in-exile Tony Abbott). The original proposal to hold a marriage equality plebiscite may not have been his, but, now that he is in the Lodge, he owns it.

It is up to Malcolm Turnbull to decide whether Australia will be subjected to a pointless plebiscite on this issue. The time has come for him to show whether he is a leader who is strong enough to back a free vote, or whether he is instead prepared to allow this farce to drag on for not just months, but years, solely for reasons of political expediency.

The signs, however, are not good. Turnbull reiterated the Government’s position in support of a plebiscite to 3AW Radio just yesterday, saying it will “absolutely” pass parliament following a successful vote (something which Abetz, Bernardi, McKenzie and others may have more to say about in coming weeks).

Finally, he has responded to my letter to him on this subject – well, sort of anyway. Given he seems to have outsourced his decision-making on marriage equality to his homophobic predecessor Tony Abbott, it is possibly unsurprising, although nevertheless disappointing, that he has outsourced responsibility for answering correspondence regarding the marriage equality plebiscite to Attorney-General Senator George Brandis, who in turn has delegated it to his Department.

Here is the Government’s response to my letter to Malcolm Turnbull about the marriage equality plebiscite:

 

“27 January 2016

 

Mr Alastair Lawrie

[Address withheld]

 

Dear Mr Lawrie

Thank you for your recent correspondence to the Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, about same-sex marriage. Your correspondence was referred to the Attorney-General, Senator the Hon George Brandis QC, as marriage falls within his portfolio responsibilities. The Attorney-General has asked that I reply to you on his behalf.

I appreciate you taking the time to write to the Government on the issue of same-sex marriage and for sharing your personal experiences. It is clear that this issue holds particular significant for you.

The Government appreciates that, like you, many Australians have strong personal views about same-sex marriage. That is why, last year, it was decided that this issue should be resolved through a national vote that gives every Australian the opportunity to have their say.

The Government believes it is thoroughly democratic to ask the Australian people whether the Marriage Act 1961 should be amended to allow for same-sex marriage, provided there are appropriate safeguards in place to protect religious freedom[i].

Although a plebiscite will cost money, the Government is of the view that every Australian should be able to have their say on this important issue.

Thank you for bringing your views to the Government’s attention.

 

Yours sincerely

[Name withheld]

Marriage Law and Celebrants Section”

 

Croome on Plebiscite

 

[i] The reference to “appropriate safeguards in place to protect religious freedom” is obviously of major concern, given the push for exceptions to be granted to civil celebrants and other businesses that supply weddings to allow them to discriminate against LGBTI couples. This is an issue that will be addressed in a future post.

Letter to Malcolm Turnbull About the Marriage Equality Plebiscite

 

The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP

Prime Minister

PO Box 6022

House of Representatives

Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600

Wednesday 20 January 2016

 

Dear Prime Minister

Re: Your Proposed Marriage Equality Plebiscite

We don’t personally know each other[i]. Which means that the only things I know about you are what I can glean from the media.

Just over four months into your Prime Ministership, three main themes have emerged:

  1. You’re rich.

Newspaper reports from around the time you deposed Tony Abbott estimated your net worth at $180 million[ii], or ‘conservatively’ at around $200 million[iii].  And you don’t just own a lot of money, you ‘own’ that description too, responding to a question from Tony Burke in Parliament in October with the following:

“… really, if the honourable member wants to go around wearing a sandwich board saying, ‘Malcolm Turnbull’s got a lot of money,’ feel free. I think people know that.”[iv]

  1. You’re Intelligent.

If there’s one thing that even your detractors are compelled to acknowledge, it is that you are not wanting for intelligence. Indeed, there are many people in public life today, no doubt including colleagues of yours, who would like to think that they are smartest person in the room. With you it seems that boast at least has the chance of being correct more often than not.

  1. You’re not Tony Abbott.

As we head into an election year, it is still not entirely clear what the Government you now lead is going to do differently from its first two years in office. What is clear, at least in presentation if not (yet) in substance, is that you are not Tony Abbott.

In fact, some might say you have rather ‘intelligently’ managed to employ that singular qualification – that you are not Tony Abbott – to retake the leadership of the Liberal Party. It also appears to be the primary explanation for why you are currently so far ahead in the polls. Right now, it even looks like you might be able to parlay the truism, that you are not someone else, into winning another term in Government.

If those three characterisations are accurate – you’re rich, you’re intelligent and you’re not Tony Abbott – then my question to you is this: why do you support a plebiscite on marriage equality?

A marriage equality plebiscite is:

  1. Profligate.

It is difficult to imagine a bigger waste of money than holding a plebiscite on this subject, when the logical alternative is introducing it through an ordinary parliamentary vote (in the same way that it was originally banned, by the then Howard Liberal-National Government, in 2004).

The Australian Electoral Commission has estimated that the cost of holding a stand-alone plebiscite would be at least $158.4 million[v]. Well, imagine one of those agile and innovative entrepreneurs (that you love so much) coming to you with the following proposition:

a) You could make this change, for no additional cost, within a month or two, and with minimal disruption to business as usual, or

b) You could instead waste the equivalent of at least three quarters of your personal net worth trying to introduce this reform, take 18 months to 2 years, and ensure there is maximum distraction from everything else you wish to accomplish?

I don’t imagine you accumulated the wealth you have today by choosing a) very often.

  1. Stupid.

What transforms choosing option b), above, from being merely a very poor decision, into an undeniably stupid one, is that even after holding a plebiscite, you will still have to pass marriage equality legislation in parliament anyway.

There is no constitutional reason for holding a public vote on this topic. The High Court has already made it abundantly clear that Commonwealth Parliament has the power to introduce marriage equality – no referendum, or plebiscite, is required.[vi]

Nor is it appropriate to subject the human rights of a minority group to what is essentially a popularity contest, preceded by what will no doubt be a vicious and ugly public debate driven by the homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia of many of those opposed to the legal equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians.

About the only reason anyone has been able to identify for holding a plebiscite on this topic is to try to paper over the cracks of deep division within the Liberal and National Parties – which sounds doesn’t sound like a very intelligent use of $158.4 million of taxpayers’ money to me.

  1. Exactly what Tony Abbott proposed.

The then Prime Minister Tony Abbott put forward the idea of a plebiscite when marriage equality was discussed at the extraordinary joint Liberal-National Party room meeting on 11 August last year.

Forgive me for being cynical for a moment, but here is a man so opposed to the concept of marriage equality that he is comfortable with his own sister being denied the same legal rights he enjoys simply because of her sexual orientation.

So, when Abbott emerged from the Coalition Party room, happy to declare support for a referendum or plebiscite as official Government policy, most LGBTI people saw it as essentially a stalling tactic, as a way to postpone the inevitable for as many years as possible – pushed by a man who, it is fair to say, does not have the best interests of LGBTI Australians at heart.

Indeed, it was reported that you spoke against the proposal for a public vote at that meeting, and told reporters the following day that a parliamentary conscience vote would have been “consistent with Liberal party tradition”, with the additional benefit that:

“One of the attractions of a free vote is that it would have meant the matter would be resolved in this Parliament, one way or another, in a couple of weeks”[vii].

And yet, despite all of this, now that you occupy the top job, you are persisting with your predecessor’s approach, of holding an unnecessary, inappropriate, wasteful and divisive plebiscite.

On marriage equality, you’re not ‘not Tony Abbott’. On marriage equality, you’re just another Tony Abbott.

**********

I started this letter by saying that we don’t personally know each other. As well as me not knowing you, that means you don’t know me either.

You don’t know that I have been together with my partner, Steven, for seven and a half years.

You don’t know that this coming Saturday, 23 January 2016, will mark the sixth anniversary of our engagement.

And, as someone who has been married to your own partner for almost 36 years, you can’t know what it feels like for successive Governments, Coalition and Labor and Coalition once more, to repeatedly tell you that your relationship is less worthy of recognition than the relationships of other Australians, simply because of who you are.

Steven and I, and tens of thousands of other couples across the country, know the bitter taste that is left in one’s mouth by this abhorrent, and completely unjustified, discrimination.

As Prime Minister of this country, a position that you have coveted for so long, you have the power to change this situation.

You could choose to start 2016 by doing what you know is right – by reverting to the policy position which you supported right up until you assumed your current titular position, and pushing for a parliamentary vote on marriage equality in the coming session.

If you did, marriage equality could be reality in Australia within a matter of months, and you would be remembered as the leader, in the true sense of the word, who helped to finally make it happen.

Or you could instead choose to continue to support a profligate and stupid plebiscite on marriage equality.

In doing so, not only would you be entirely indistinguishable from Tony Abbott on this issue, you would join the long line of other so-called ‘leaders’, from John Howard, to Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, whom Australians will need to achieve marriage equality in spite of, not because of.

After the last national public vote on an issue in 1999, a certain president of the Australian Republic Movement said of John Howard that:

“History will remember him for only one thing. He was the prime minister who broke this nation’s heart.”[viii]

Well, I won’t be quite so grandiose here but please know this: if you continue to support an unnecessary, inappropriate, wasteful and divisive plebiscite on marriage equality, some people will remember you for only one thing – and that is for breaking many LGBTI Australians’ hearts, mine included.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

 

 

151222 Turnbull

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull – on support for a marriage equality plebiscite, he’s indistinguishable from predecessor Tony Abbott.

 

[i] We did sit next to each other, once, at a forum on climate change in the lecture theatre at Parliament House in Canberra, but we weren’t introduced, so I don’t think that counts.

[ii] “The Investments that Built Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s Wealth”, Herald Sun, 18 September 2015

[iii] “So Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is Really, Really, Rich. Get Over It”, Sydney Morning Herald, 25 September 2015, and “Malcolm Turnbull, the Member for Net Worth”, Australian Financial Review, 17 September 2015.

[iv] Hansard, 15 October 2015.

[v] As quoted on page 22 of the Senate Committee Report: Matter of a popular vote, in the form of a plebiscite or referendum, on the matter of marriage in Australia, 15 September 2015

[vi] In the 2013 case overturning the Australian Capital Territory’s same-sex marriage laws, the High Court stated, unequivocally, that: “[w]hen used in s51(xxi), “marriage” is a term which includes a marriage between persons of the same sex.” The Commonwealth v Australian Capital Territory [2013] HCA 55, para 38

[vii] “Turnbull Dismisses Gay Plebiscite”, Perth Now, 12 August 2015.

[viii] “Turnbull Re-Launches Campaign for Australian Republic”, ABC Lateline, 10 May 2013.

What’s Wrong With the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 2010?

This post is the first in a proposed series, to be published over the next 12 to 18 months, looking at Australia’s Commonwealth, state and territory anti-discrimination laws.

 

Specifically, I will be analysing how well – or in some cases, how poorly – they protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people from discrimination and vilification.

 

Each post will examine that jurisdiction’s LGBTI anti-discrimination laws, focusing on three main areas:

  • Protected attributes
  • Religious exceptions, and
  • Anti-vilification coverage.

 

It is my hope that through this series of posts I can help raise awareness of the limitations of LGBTI anti-discrimination and anti-vilification laws in Australia, and contribute to the overall campaign to change them for the better.

 

Ultimately, we need comprehensive, and consistent, laws that protect LGBTI people from discrimination, are not undermined by religious exceptions, and include anti-vilification provisions.

 

Anyway, here goes: What’s wrong with Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act 2010?

 

Protected Attributes

 

Victoria’s first anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay and bisexual people were introduced in 1995.

 

However, rather than protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or homosexuality and bisexuality, the Act instead covered ‘lawful sexual activity’.

 

This protected attribute was defined as “engaging in, not engaging in or refusing to engage in a lawful sexual activity”[i] and, with its focus on behaviour rather than identity, it is questionable how effective these protections were in practice.

 

Fortunately, as the name suggests, the Equal Opportunity (Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation) Act 2000 introduced ‘sexual orientation’ as a protected attribute, defined as “homosexuality (including lesbianism), bisexuality or heterosexuality.”[ii]

 

While the language used may not be the same that would be used today[iii], it is clear that lesbian, gay and bisexual Victorians are all covered by the Equal Opportunity Act 2010.

 

The same amending legislation in 2000 also introduced anti-discrimination protections for transgender Victorians for the first time.

 

This is because it introduced ‘gender identity’ as a protected attribute, with the following definition (that remains in place today):

 

gender identity means-

(a) the identification on a bona fide basis by a person of one sex as a member of the other sex (whether or not the person is recognised as such)-

(i) by assuming characteristics of the other sex, whether by means of medical intervention, style of dressing or otherwise; or

(ii) by living, or seeking to live, as a member of the other sex; or

(b) the identification on a bona fide basis by a person of indeterminate sex as a member of a particular sex (whether or not the person is recognised as such)-

(i) by assuming characteristics of that sex, whether by means of medical intervention, style of dressing or otherwise; or

(ii) by living, or seeking to live, as a member of that sex.”[iv]

 

Paragraph (a) of this definition applies to transgender people, although, given its focus on ‘binary’ genders, it would appear to only cover those people whose sex was designated as male at birth, but now identify as female (and vice versa). It does not appear to cover other people along a more expansive gender identity spectrum, including people who do not identify as either male or female.

 

The definition in the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 2010 is therefore no longer best practice, and a new, more inclusive definition of gender identity should be adopted[v] to ensure all transgender people benefit from anti-discrimination protection.

 

Intersex Victorians are even worse off when it comes to current state anti-discrimination legislation. Paragraph (b) of the definition of gender identity, above, offers their only protection under Victorian law, and it is problematic because:

  • It inappropriately conflates intersex status, which relates to physical sex characteristics, with gender identity, and
  • It only appears to protect people with intersex variations where they identify as either male or female.

 

In order to remedy this situation, a stand-alone protected attribute of ‘intersex status’ should be introduced, potentially based on the world-first protections included in the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Amendment Act 2013[vi].

 

Summary: Lesbian, gay and bisexual Victorians are covered by the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, although some transgender people are likely to fall outside the current binary definition of gender identity. Likewise, many people with intersex variations living with Victoria are unlikely to be covered by the protections offered under the existing Act. Therefore, a more inclusive definition of gender identity should be adopted, alongside a new, stand-alone protected attribute of intersex status.

 

**********

 

Religious Exceptions

 

The religious exceptions contained in Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act 2010, are, to put it bluntly, outrageous. They are so broad, and so generous, that they substantially, and substantively, undermine laws that are supposed to redress discrimination against LGBTI people (amongst other groups).

 

While the exceptions for religious bodies[vii] contained in subsection 82(1)[viii] appear largely innocuous, relating to the appointment or training of religious ministers and the selection of people to perform religious services, it is only downhill from there.

 

For example, subsection 82(2) states that:

 

“Nothing in Part 4 applies to anything done on the basis of a person’s religious belief or activity, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity by a religious body that-

(a) conforms with the doctrines, beliefs or principles of the religion; or

(b) is reasonably necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of adherents of the religion.”

 

Essentially, as long as a religious organisation can show that discriminating against LGBTI people is related to their religion, they have carte blanche to do so in areas where it would be otherwise unlawful.

 

And, lest there be any doubt that these provisions cover religious schools – allowing them to discriminate against LGBTI teachers and students – section 83 reinforces the ‘right’ to discriminate on these grounds:

 

83 Religious schools

(1) This section applies to a person or body, including a religious body, that establishes, directs, controls, administers or is an educational institution that is, or is to be, conducted in accordance with religious doctrines, beliefs or principles.

(2) Nothing in Part 4 applies to anything done on the basis of a person’s religious belief or activity, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity by a person or body to which this section applies in the course of establishing, directing, controlling or administering the educational institution that-

(a) conforms with the doctrines, beliefs or principles of the religion; or

(b) is reasonably necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of adherents of the religion.”

 

The Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 2010 even includes a somewhat unusual, ‘special right’ for individuals to discriminate against other individuals:

 

84 Religious beliefs or principles

Nothing in Part 4 applies to discrimination by a person against another person on the basis of that person’s religious belief or activity, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity if the discrimination is reasonably necessary for the first person to comply with the doctrines, beliefs or principles of their religion.”[ix]

 

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of these exceptions is that the most recent changes in this area took the law backwards.

 

In 2010, the then Labor Government introduced amendments to both the general religious exception, and the specific religious schools exception, so that, in order to discriminate in employment the religious body or school would first need to show that:

 

“(a) conformity with the doctrines, beliefs or principles of the religion is an inherent requirement of the particular position; and

(b) the person’s religious belief or activity, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity means that he or she does not meet that inherent requirement.”[x]

 

However, before this ‘inherent requirement’ test could even take effect, the newly-elected Liberal-National Government repealed these provisions in 2011, effectively restoring the previous broad and generous exceptions.

 

While the now Labor Government, who regained power after just one term in opposition, has committed to, at the very least, reintroducing the ‘inherent requirement’ test, it is unclear whether they will be able to do so.

 

Not only are groups like the Australian Christian Lobby, Christian Schools Australia and the Catholic Education Office all (predictably and) vehemently opposed to undoing what is in practice an almost unfettered right to discriminate against LGBTI employees[xi], the history of recent adoption equality legislation also shows just how hard such a change will be resisted by the Liberal and National parties.

 

For those who may be unaware, as part of the long overdue introduction of equal adoption rights for same-sex couples in Victoria[xii], the current Labor Government proposed that religious agencies providing adoption services should not be allowed to discriminate against LGBTI people. The amendment sought to add a new subsection (3) to section 82 of the Act:

 

“Despite subsection (2), Part 4 applies to anything done by a religious body that is an approved agency within the meaning of the Adoption Act 1984 in relation to its exercise of any power or performance of any function or duty under that Act for or with respect to adoption, whether or not the power, function or duty relates to a service for a child within the meaning of that Act or for any other purpose.”

 

Unfortunately, the Liberal and National parties combined with some cross-bench MPs to defeat this amendment, meaning that, while the right of same-sex couples to adopt has now finally been passed, adoption services operated by religious organisations will continue to have the ‘right’ to turn those same couples away.

 

This setback obviously bodes ill for the potential for further reform of religious exceptions during the current term of the Victorian Parliament.

 

Nevertheless, the Andrews Labor Government generally, and the Minister for Equality Martin Foley MP specifically, should continue to push for changes in this area, moving beyond simply reinstating the ‘inherent requirement’ test for employment to considering how best to prohibit discrimination against LGBTI people access services. Even if they are unable to pass such reforms this term, it should be on the agenda for the next Parliament.

 

Ultimately, of course, there is a need to remove all religious exceptions outside those required for the training and appointment of religious ministers, and for the conduct of religious ministers – although that goal remains many years away.

 

Summary: The religious exceptions contained in the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 2010 are overly broad, too generous, and – frankly – outrageous. Current provisions give religious bodies and religious schools effective carte blanche to discriminate both against LGBTI employees and against LGBTI people accessing their services.

 

While the Labor Government is to be commended for committing to, at least, reinstating the ‘inherent requirement’ test for discrimination in employment, and for attempting to remove exceptions for religious adoption agencies, the parliamentary defeat of the latter must put reform of this area in doubt until after the 2018 election.

 

**********

 

Anti-Vilification Coverage

 

This section will be the shortest of the post – because, unlike NSW, Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT, there are no anti-vilification laws covering any parts of the LGBTI community.

 

Given the similar absence of LGBTI anti-vilifications provisions under Commonwealth law, this means Victoria’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community do not have recourse to any legislative anti-vilification protection.

 

There are, however, protections against both racial and religious vilification under Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001.[xiii]

 

With homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic vilification just as serious, and just as detrimental, as racial and religious vilification, there is no reason why LGBTI people should not have equivalent protections under Victorian law.

 

Summary: There is currently no anti-vilification coverage for LGBTI people under Victorian law. However, given there are existing protections against racial and religious vilification, LGBTI anti-vilification laws should be introduced, too.

 

**********

 

In conclusion, it is clear there is plenty wrong with the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 2010 – from the need to update the definition of gender identity, and to introduce a new protected attribute covering intersex status, to reforming the overly-generous religious exceptions contained in the Act, and to ensuring LGBTI Victorians have equivalent access to anti-vilification protections as those based on race and religion. Which means there is plenty of work for the Andrews Labor Government to do.

 

160117 Martin Foley

Victorian Minister for Equality, Martin Foley MP (source: Parliament of Victoria website)

 

[i] This definition remains in subsection 4(1) of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010.

[ii] Subsection 4(1), Equal Opportunity Act 2010.

[iii] For example, the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, which was amended in 2013, defines ‘sexual orientation’ as “a person’s sexual orientation towards:

(a) persons of the same sex; or

(b) persons of a different sex; or

(c) persons of the same sex and persons of a different sex.”

[iv] Subsection 4(1), Equal Opportunity Act 2010.

[v] Potentially modelled on the definition adopted by the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984: “gender identity means the gender-related identity, appearance of mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of a person (whether by way of medical intervention or not), with or without regard to the person’s designated sex at birth.” [Although obviously exact wording should be agreed with Victoria’s transgender community.]

[vi] Section 4 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 now includes: “intersex status means the status of having physical, hormonal or genetic features that are:

(a) neither wholly female nor wholly male; or

(b) a combination of female and male; or

(c) neither female nor male.”

[Again, the final wording of the new definition would need to be agreed in consultation with Victoria’s intersex community.]

[vii] Defined in section 81 as “(a) a body established for a religious purpose; or

(b) an entity that establishes, or directs, controls or administers, an educational or other charitable entity that is intended to be, and is, conducted in accordance with religious doctrines, beliefs or principles.”

[viii] Subsection (82)(1) “Nothing in Part 4 applies to-

(a) the ordination or appointment of priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order;

(b) the training or education of people seeking ordination or appointment as priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order; or

(c) the selection or appointment of people to perform functions in relation to, or otherwise participate in, any religious observance or practice.”

[ix] Not only is it unclear why this section is necessary (given the protections contained in Part 4 only apply in specific areas of public life, such as employment, education, the provision of goods and services and accommodation, rather than establishing a general right to non-discrimination), it is also concerning that this ‘special right’ extends to unincorporated associations (because ‘person’ is defined in subsection 4(1) of the Equal Opportunity Act as “person includes an unincorporated association and, in relation to a natural person, means a person of any age.”)

[x] The same wording was used in both subsections 82(3) and 83(3) of the then Equal Opportunity Act 2010.

[xi] “Religious groups hit out at Labor’s move to rewrite state’s equal opportunity laws”, The Age, 8 December 2014.

[xii] As passed in the Adoption Amendment (Adoption by Same-Sex Couples) Act 2015.

[xiii] Section 7 prohibits racial vilification while section 8 prohibits religious vilification: Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001.

Submission to Review of NSW Relationships Register Act 2010

The NSW Relationships Register Act 2010 is currently under review. Details of the review can be found here, with public submissions closing Wednesday January 6 2015. The following is my submission:

 

Director

Civil Law and Cabinet

NSW Department of Justice

GPO Box 31

Sydney NSW 2001

c/- policy@justice.nsw.gov.au

 

Tuesday 5 January 2016

 

 

To whom it may concern

 

SUBMISSION TO REVIEW OF RELATIONSHIPS REGISTER ACT 2010 (NSW)

 

Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission as part of the five year statutory review of the NSW Relationships Register Act 2010 (‘the Act’).

 

In this submission I would like to make two main recommendations to improve the Act:

 

  1. The term ‘registered relationship’ should be replaced by the term ‘civil partnership’.
  2. The Act should be amended to allow people entering into civil partnerships to hold a formally recognised civil partnership ceremony if they so choose.

 

Nomenclature

 

What a relationship is called, both in society and under the law, is important for many, if not most, people.

 

Unfortunately, the term that is currently used in the Act – ‘registered relationship’ – is unsuitable for its purpose. This is because it fails to capture the fundamental nature of the relationship that it purports to describe, instead reflecting the process in which the relationship is recorded.

 

In my view, the NSW scheme adopts the worst terminology of all of the state and territory schemes that provide for the formal recognition of relationships between couples (outside of marriage).

 

Other state and territory approaches include:

 

  • ‘Significant relationships’ in Tasmania[i]
  • Both ‘civil partnerships’[ii] and ‘civil unions’[iii] in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT)
  • ‘Domestic relationships’ in Victoria[iv] and
  • ‘Civil partnerships’ in Queensland[v].

 

Of these options, I recommend that the NSW scheme adopt the term ‘civil partnership’, both because it would be consistent with Queensland and the ACT, and also because it is likely to be understood, and accepted, by members across the community, including by people within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.

 

Alternatively, in my opinion any of the other terms (significant relationships, domestic relationships and civil unions) would be preferable to the current name ‘registered relationships’ (although adopting ‘civil unions’ may imply that a ceremony must be held in order to recognise that relationship, as it is in the ACT, which is an outcome that I submit should be avoided – see below).

 

Recommendation 1: The term ‘registered relationship’ should be replaced by the term ‘civil partnership’.

 

Ceremonies

 

The second improvement to the Act that I suggest would be the introduction of an ability for couples to hold a formally recognised civil partnership ceremony if they so choose.

 

Currently, the Relationships Register Act 2010 makes no provision for optional ceremonies, which differentiates it from the approach adopted in other state and territory schemes:

 

  • Tasmania allows for ceremonies to be held on the day on which the deed of relationship is registered[vi]
  • The ACT does not provide for formal ceremonies as part of its civil partnership scheme[vii], but a ceremony is required in order to enter into a civil union[viii]
  • Victoria does not currently provide for a formal ceremony, although this issue is being actively considered as part of debate of the Relationships Amendment Bill 2015 which is currently before Parliament[ix] and
  • The Queensland Palaszczuk Labor Government recently reintroduced optional ceremonies for civil partnerships, reversing their abolition by the previous Newman Liberal-National Government[x].

 

The introduction of an optional ceremony as part of the NSW relationship scheme would therefore bring it into closer alignment with other, existing schemes.

 

Much more importantly, however, it provides an avenue for couples to have their relationships recognised, through a formal ceremony, and in front of their families and friends, where that couple so desires.

 

Introducing such a scheme would show that the state of NSW is doing what it can, within the powers of a state parliament, to recognise the diversity of relationships that exist in contemporary society.

 

With the High Court finding in December 2013 that only the Commonwealth Parliament has the power to legislate for marriage equality[xi], but the majority of Members and Senators of that Parliament showing their continued unwillingness to recognise the full equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians, I believe it is incumbent upon state and territory parliaments to provide the opportunity for all couples, including LGBTI couples, to enter into civil partnerships and to offer the choice to hold a formal civil partnership ceremony, too.

 

Even after marriage equality is finally enacted by our recalcitrant federal parliamentarians, the ability to enter into a civil partnership under state law would remain a material option for those couples who do not wish to marry for whatever reason (and that includes both cisgender heterosexual couples, and LGBTI couples) – and these couples should retain the ability to hold a ceremony if they desire.

 

Importantly, I do not believe holding such a ceremony should be compulsory – couples that wish to pursue this option should be able to do so, while other couples should be able to enter into a civil partnership without holding a ceremony.

 

Recommendation 2: The Act should be amended to allow people entering into civil partnerships to hold a formally recognised civil partnership ceremony if they so choose.

 

Thank you for taking this submission into account as part of the five year statutory review of the NSW Relationships Register Act 2010.

 

 

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

 

 

[i] Under the Relationships Act 2003.

[ii] Domestic Relationships Act 1994

[iii] Civil Unions Act 2012

[iv] Relationships Act 2008

[v] Under the recently passed Relationships (Civil Partnerships) and Other Acts Amendment Act 2015, which will take effect later in 2016.

[vi] From the Tasmanian Births, Deaths and Marriages website: http://www.justice.tas.gov.au/bdm/relationships/ceremonies

[vii] From the Access Canberra website: https://www.accesscanberra.act.gov.au/app/answers/detail/a_id/1694/~/civil-partnership-registration

[viii] Access Canberra: https://www.accesscanberra.act.gov.au/app/answers/detail/a_id/2096/kw/civil%20unions

[ix] Details of the Bill can be found here: http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/static/www.legislation.vic.gov.au-bills.html This includes an amendment, adopted by the Legislative Council, that “[t]he Registrar may conduct a ceremony in connection with the registration of a registrable domestic relationship under this section”.

[x] Relationships (Civil Partnerships) and Other Acts Amendment Act 2015

[xi] The Commonwealth of Australia v The Australian Capital Territory [2013] HCA 55: http://eresources.hcourt.gov.au/showCase/2013/HCA/55

7 Better Ways to Spend $158.4 million

Despite the change of Prime Minister in September, from the homophobe Tony Abbott to the supposedly ‘gay-friendly’ incumbent Malcolm Turnbull, it appears we are stuck with the decidedly unfriendly option of holding a plebiscite to determine whether the relationships of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians should be treated equally under the law, or if they will continue to be treated as second class compared to the relationships of their cisgender heterosexual counterparts.

 

This blog has previously looked at the issue of a marriage equality plebiscite, with my submission to the recent Senate inquiry arguing that such a vote would be unnecessary, inappropriate, wasteful and divisive.

 

Just how wasteful a plebiscite would be became apparent during the course of that inquiry, with the Australian Electoral Commission estimating that the cost of holding a stand-alone vote to determine this issue would be at least $158.4 million.[i]

 

$158.4 million, to conduct what is essentially a glorified public opinion poll, which would not be binding on our elected officials, nor compelling them to implement the outcome in a timely manner (with the 1977 plebiscite, which selected ‘Advance Australia Fair’ as our new national anthem, not legislated until 1984).

 

$158.4 million, to determine what we already know – that the majority of Australians support the human rights of LGBTI Australians, and wish to see a Marriage Act that does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

 

$158.4 million, to do something that the 226 members of the Commonwealth Parliament could do for no extra cost, something that they are elected to do, and something that overturns what they have done before (with John Howard’s homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic ban on equal marriage passed by Parliament alone and not subjected to a public vote).

 

Surely there are a million better things that the Turnbull Liberal-National Government could spend this money on? This post looks at seven preferable alternatives – although I am confident that readers of this blog could nominate many, many more. Anyway, here goes – in no particular order, here’s 7 better ways to spend $158.4 million:

 

  1. Resettle an extra 2,297 refugees from Syria and Iraq

 

The biggest humanitarian crisis of 2015 – indeed, the biggest humanitarian crisis of the past decade and probably of the century so far – has been the civil war in Syria (which started almost five years ago), the subsequent rise of ISIS there and in Iraq and the horrific violence they have inflicted on the people in both places, and the enormous number of refugees that the Assad regime, the Syrian civil war and ISIS have collectively created.

 

While the vast majority of refugees remain located in neighbouring countries, the increasing numbers of people seeking asylum reaching Europe during 2015 – and, tragically, the deaths of many who were attempting to flee – finally prompted the Australian Government to announce it would accept 12,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq in addition to its annual intake of 13,750 refugees (then Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced this policy on 9 September[ii], making it one of his last acts in office).

 

The cost of this additional intake of refugees was not revealed until the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO), released by new Treasurer Scott Morrison on 15 December 2015. The MYEFO papers showed that the net cost to the Budget of permanently resettling an extra 12,000 refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria and Iraq is $827.4 million over 4 years[iii].

 

Which means that, were the Turnbull Government to re-allocate the $158.4 million it is currently planning to spend on a marriage equality plebiscite, we could resettle at least an additional 2,297 refugees from Syria and Iraq[iv]. Surely most Australians, indeed most humans, would consider that a much better way to spend this money.

 

  1. Restore 2015-16 Foreign Aid Funding to Afghanistan… and Sub-Saharan Africa… and Palestine… and Middle East & North Africa… and UNICEF

 

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is a ‘Julie-come-lately’ when it comes to supporting marriage equality – she only announced her personal support for it in early November 2015.[v]

 

However, in the same breath she also reiterated her commitment to a plebiscite: “I have absolutely no concerns about it myself, but I know there [are] a lot of people who are deeply concerned about the issue… I think the Australian people should have their say.”

 

So, rather than casting her vote as an elected representative, one out of 226 Federal Parliamentarians who have the power to change the law in a matter of weeks, Minister Bishop would instead prefer to waste years, and $158.4 million, on a completely unnecessary public vote, leaving her own vote as just one out of the 15.26 million Australians currently on the electoral roll[vi].

 

As well as abrogating her personal responsibility as an MP (which includes the ability, nay responsibility, to consider and pass legislation), according to the Australia Institute, “current foreign minister Julie Bishop [also holds] the dubious honour of being the minister to oversee the largest drop in aid spending [compared] to Gross National Income”[vii].

 

The Liberal-National Government of which she is a key member plans to cut aid funding by $1.4 billion per year, or 33 per cent, by 2017-18. These cuts include savage reductions in the 2015-16 Budget year across a large number of countries and international aid programs[viii].

 

Obviously, the $158.4 million intended to fund the marriage equality plebiscite is small change compared to these overall totals, but, applying that figure to the 2015-16 Budget year, it could restore current financial year funding to:

 

  • Afghanistan (2015-16 Budget cut by $52.4 million)
  • Sub-Saharan Africa ($74.2 million cut)
  • Palestine ($13.7 million cut)
  • Middle East and North Africa ($2.3 million cut) and
  • UNICEF ($14 million cut).[ix]

 

And there would almost be enough money left over to undo the $3 million cut to the United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) too. Perhaps Minister Bishop should spend more time advocating for Australian Government funding to assist the world’s disadvantaged, and less time calling for a pointless plebiscite.

 

  1. Support an additional 1,975 postgraduate students

 

Malcolm Turnbull likes to claim he is the ‘Innovation Prime Minister’, and that it is his mission to lead an ‘agile’ Government and an even more ‘agile’ economy. Well, instead of wasting $158.4 million on an unnecessary, inappropriate and divisive marriage equality plebiscite, he could fund Australian Postgraduate Awards for 1,975 extra students for three years instead.[x]

 

Imagine that – almost 2,000 extra PhDs in Australia contributing to science, and technology, and engineering, and mathematics, and countless other fields. Imagine what they could add to the sum of human knowledge. Alas, we will not find out if Turnbull insists on spending the money on something which he himself considered unnecessary just one month before becoming PM.[xi]

 

  1. Hire 477 more registered nurses

 

In his 2014-15 Federal Budget, then Treasurer Joe Hockey cut $80 billion from the states and territories, monies that were supposed to fund increases in spending on health and education over the subsequent decade. This included $50 billion in cuts to hospitals, and another $30 billion in cuts to schools.

 

The new Treasurer, Scott Morrison, has indicated that, not only will he not be reversing these cuts, even if the Turnbull Government increased the GST to 15% and expanded it to cover fresh food he still would not use the revenue collected to restore this funding.[xii]

 

Obviously, $158.4 million wouldn’t go very far in undoing the massive reductions in future health spending by both Hockey and now Morrison, but it would nevertheless be enough to pay the base salary of at least 477 registered nurses for four years[xiii] – and that’s nothing to be sneezed at.

 

  1. Employ an extra 578 teachers in public schools

 

Based on a similar approach, re-allocating $158.4 million from an unnecessary, inappropriate and divisive marriage equality plebiscite to instead give to the states and territories to allow them to employ an additional 578 teachers[xiv] in public schools across the country sounds like a much smarter, and productive, investment to me.

 

  1. Reduce Government debt

 

The Abbott Liberal-National Government was elected in September 2013 on the back of three relentlessly negative fear campaigns – against a carbon tax, against people seeking asylum, and against ‘Labor’s debt and deficit’. In fact, the ‘debt and deficit’ focus dates all the way back to the 2008-09 Global Financial Crisis, making it perhaps Abbott’s longest-serving attack on the Rudd, Gillard and Rudd Governments (including when Abbott was part of the Shadow Ministry).

 

Of course, in the years since they were elected the Abbott, and now Turnbull, Governments have overseen ongoing Budget deficits, and continued increases in net Government debt. Based on MYEFO, net debt will now not peak until 2017-18, at 18.5% of GDP (or $336.4 billion)[xv], with Treasury forecasting there will not be a Budget surplus until 2020-21 at the earliest.

 

Which makes any decision to hold a marriage equality plebiscite costing $158.4 million, in either 2016-17 (when there is expected to be a Budget deficit of $33.7 billion) or 2017-18 (with its anticipated deficit of $23 billion)[xvi], seem entirely profligate.

 

If Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison, and their Coalition colleagues, are genuinely concerned about reducing Government ‘debt and deficit’, then deciding not to hold a $158.4 million opinion poll would have to be one of the easiest Budget ‘saves’ of all time.

 

  1. Fund the National Safe Schools Coalition… almost 20 times over

 

With the glaring, and profoundly disappointing, exception of marriage equality, the former Labor Government passed a large number of LGBTI reforms, including long overdue de facto relationship recognition, and the introduction of LGBTI anti-discrimination protections in federal law for the first time.

 

One initiative that received less coverage at the time was the 2013 decision to fund the national rollout of the Safe Schools Coalition, which had previously only operated in Victoria, with an $8 million grant. To their credit, the Liberal-National Government has not overturned this funding, and the expansion of Safe Schools has occurred under their watch.

 

The estimated cost of the marriage equality plebiscite would be enough to fund this rollout almost 20 times over – and, in practice, it would take much less than $158.4 million to help ensure that all schools across the country could participate in a program aimed at combatting homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia (and sadly one that will be even more needed given the hatred and prejudice likely to be whipped up by the plebiscite debate).

 

Indeed, there would be plenty of money left over to help fund the implementation of the reforms recommended by the 2013 Senate Inquiry into the Involuntary or Coerced Sterilisation of Intersex People in Australia, and to remove out-of-pocket medical expenses for transgender Australians, and even to fund housing services for LGBTI young people, who are disproportionately affected by homelessness.

 

If the Turnbull Government really wants to spend $158.4 million on issues that affect LGBTI Australians, it should redirect it to the above programs (and others aimed at improving LGBTI health and welfare). It could do so comfortable in the knowledge that it would still be able to pass marriage equality at, essentially, no cost.

 

**********

 

In conclusion, there is absolutely no reason for the Turnbull Government to hold a plebiscite on marriage equality, especially not when, as well as being publicly divisive, it would cost the taxpayer an estimated $158.4 million.

 

This reform, which is solely concerned with recognising the fundamental equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians, and their relationships, under secular law, should be passed in the same way that John Howard’s ban on same-sex marriage was – by our 226 elected representatives, sitting in the Federal Parliament.

 

Which would leave the money that would have been spent on the plebiscite available for any of the seven options listed above, or for a myriad of other choices. There’s no denying that Malcolm Turnbull is an intelligent man – here’s hoping he’s smart enough to choose something other than to persist with Tony Abbott’s stupid, and damaging, plebiscite proposal.

 

151222 Turnbull

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who could spend $158.4 million on resettling an extra 2,297 refugees from Syria and Iraq, or who could waste it on an unnecessary, inappropriate and divisive plebiscite.

 

[i] As quoted on page 22 of the Senate Committee Report: Matter of a popular vote, in the form of a plebiscite or referendum, on the matter of marriage in Australia, 15 September 2015 http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Legal_and_Constitutional_Affairs/Marriage_Plebiscite/Report

[ii] Sydney Morning Herald, “Abbott Government agrees to resettle 12,000 Syrian refugees in Australia”, 9 September 2015: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/abbott-government-agrees-to-resettle-12000-syrian-refugees-in-australia-20150909-gjibqz.html

[iii] MYEFO Expenditures can be found here: http://budget.gov.au/2015-16/content/myefo/html/11_appendix_a_expense.htm

[iv] Based on the current estimate of a cost of $68,950 spent per refugee over four years. The number of additional refugees would likely be higher than 2,297 given economies of scale.

[v] ABC, “Julie Bishop announces support for same-sex marriage”, 2 November 2015: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-11-02/julie-bishop-announces-support-for-same-sex-marriage/6906740

[vi] Source Australian Electoral Commission: http://www.aec.gov.au/Enrolling_to_vote/Enrolment_stats/

[vii] Matt Grudnoff & Dan Gilchrist, “Charity Ends at Home: The decline of foreign aid in Australia”, The Australia Institute, September 2015, p iii (full report available here: http://www.tai.org.au/content/charity-ends-home-decline-foreign-aid-australia

[viii] Ibid, and in Guardian Australia, “Budget cuts to foreign aid put Australia on track for least generous spend ever,” 14 May 2015: http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2015/may/14/budget-cuts-to-foreign-aid-put-australia-on-track-for-least-generous-spend-ever

[ix] Figures from Guardian Australia article and Charity Ends at Home report, above.

[x] The 2016 Australian Postgraduate Award full time payment is $26,288 (https://www.education.gov.au/australian-postgraduate-awards ) and applying the current 1.7% inflation figure would make three years of support (2016-2018) cost $80,210.

[xi] “There is a huge number of big issues, so one of the attractions of a free vote is that it would have meant the matter would have been resolved in this parliament one way or another in a couple of weeks.” Guardian Australia, “Malcolm Turnbull says plebiscite on marriage equality will keep issue alive”, 12 August 2015: http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/aug/12/malcolm-turnbull-says-plebiscite-on-marriage-equality-will-keep-issue-alive

[xii] Guardian Australia, “Scott Morrison will not raise GST to fund states’ funding black holes”, 10 December 2015: http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/dec/10/scott-morrison-will-not-raise-gst-to-fund-states-funding-black-holes

[xiii] Based on the highest base wage of a registered nurse in NSW – $79,383, source: Health Times, “What do nurses earn?”, 17 September 2015 http://healthtimes.com.au/hub/nursing-careers/6/guidance/nc1/what-do-nurses-earn/605/ – and applying 3% salary increases for the subsequent 3 years.

[xiv] Based on the base salary of a five-year trained teacher (BA/MTeach, BSc/MTeach, BEd/BA, BEd/BSc) in NSW government schools – $65,486, source: University of Sydney Faculty of Education and Social Work: http://sydney.edu.au/education_social_work/future_students/careers/teacher_salaries.shtml – and applying 3% salary increases for the following 3 years.

[xv] MYEFO Debt Statement: http://www.budget.gov.au/2015-16/content/myefo/html/09_attachment_e.htm

[xvi] ABC, “Budget deficit increased as MYEFO released,” 15 December 2015: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-12-15/budget-deficit-increased-as-myefo-released/7029472

The GLORIAs 2015

The GLORIAs – the Gay or Lesbian Outrageous, Ridiculous or Ignorant (Comment) Awards – were held again at NSW Parliament House on Tuesday 10 November 2015.

Organised by Penny Sharpe MLC, hosted by David Marr, and with entertainment provided by Barbra Blacksheep, the event is an annual opportunity to highlight the ongoing serious issue of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia by making fun of what are, frankly, some of the most stupid and downright offensive things said in public life over the past year or so.

There are five main categories, with the overall ‘winner’ of the Golden GLORIA decided by a ‘boo-off’. Here are the nominees and winners of this year awards:

The most OUTRAGEOUS, RIDICULOUS or IGNORANT comment from the INTERNATIONAL category:

  • Kentucky county court clerk Kim Davis, who has refused to issue marriage licences to same-sex couples
  • Anti-gay radio host Bryan Fisher who compared a clerk who refuses to issue marriage licences to same-sex couples to a ‘clerk at Auschwitz’ who refused to murder Jews
  • Ghanaian presidential hopeful George Boateng, who declared: “There is too much indiscipline in Ghana, under my presidency when a corrupt person, gay or lesbian are arrested the law will make it possible for the courts to sentence the offender to death by firing squad”
  • Ed Straker, senior writer of com, the conservative news site, writing about the ‘Rainbow Doritos’: “Doritos are a product marketed to children, so they make the perfect gateway snack to introduce children to the joys of homosexuality”
  • Texas Governor Rick Perry: “I may have the genetic coding that I’m inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that – and I look at the homosexual issue the same way”
  • Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy criticised his country’s same-sex marriage law saying he “detested” the way he feels his successor, Francois Hollande, and his Socialist government “forced” the same-sex marriage bill into law in 2013. The thrice-married Sarkozy said he feels the statute is “humiliating families and humiliating people who love the family”
  • Islamic State militants have reportedly murdered two more men for the ‘crime’ of being gay in an unnamed town in Iraq’s Nineveh province
  • Rapper Azealia Banks tweeted that the “LGBT community (GGGG) are like the gay white KKK’s. Get them some pink hoods and unicorns and let them rally down rodeo drive”
  • Kazakh Party Leader Bolashak: “I think it is very easy to identify a gay person by his or her DNA. A blood test can show the presence of degeneratism in a person”

And the winner was: Kim Davis. A well-deserved honour for someone who misguidedly thinks she is a martyr simply for refusing to do the straight-forward job of treating people equally.

MEDIA

  • The Daily Telegraph for the front page “Gay Class Uproar – Parents outraged as Sydney school swaps lessons for PC movie session”
  • Germaine Greer for her views on trans* women: “I didn’t know there was such a thing [as transphobia]. Arachnophobia yes. Transphobia, no.” “It seems to me that what was going on there was that [Caitlyn Jenner] he/she wanted the limelight that the other, female, members of the family were enjoying and has conquered it, just like that” … “Just because you lop off your dick and then wear a dress doesn’t make you a fucking woman. I’ve asked my doctor to give me long ears and liver spots and I’m going to wear a brown coat but that doesn’t turn me into a fucking cocker spaniel… A man who gets his dick cut chopped off is actually inflicting an extraordinary act of violence on himself.”
  • Piers Akerman for telling a kid with two mums she is not normal: “Statistically, you are not in a ‘normal’ family, no matter how many LGBTIQ-friendly docos you may be forced to watch by politically-driven school principals”
  • Andrew Bolt: “Truth is that marriage – the institution, tradition and ceremony – are indeed all public matters. Marriage is a social, not private, construct to bind men to women for the sake of their children, so that the next generations are properly socialised to the benefit of all”
  • Keith Wheeler, writing in the Wagga Daily Advertiser: [the ‘No’ campaign in a marriage equality plebiscite should] “remind Australians that gay marriage would be encouraging homosexuality… AIDS and HIV are at a 20 year high. Perhaps the ‘grim reaper’ advertisements need revival as a reminder of the consequences of homosexual sex. … Australians should consider the plight of adopted children and those needing foster care, being sent to a homosexual home. Changes to marriage laws will change Australian society forever.”
  • Melbourne GP, Dr Jereth Kok who wrote in a piece titled “A medical perspective on transgender”, that Christians should have empathy for these “broken people” but must understand that sex reassignment therapy is a “sophisticated and cruel myth”
  • Miranda Devine for her blog that only just missed out on the nominations for last year’s GLORIAs ‘But woe betide the player who “offends the gods of homosexuality… Let’s get one thing straight. ‘Gay’ no longer just means ‘homosexual’. The word has changed meaning over the last decade. Young people use ‘gay’ to mean lame, or dumb or stupid, as in: “That’s so gay…” So why is anyone pretending that what Mitchell said had anything to do with homosexuality? It didn’t”
  • Des Houghton writing in the Courier Mail: “Even people who like me who don’t go to church should be appalled that the gay lobby seeks to trample on their rights and customs in the name of equality. The media luvvies see gay marriage is another trendy fad like chai latte with yak milk and Lycra bike shorts. I’m tired of being lectured by people like Penny Wong who insist we must all roll over and toe the gay line in the name of equality. She and her followers demand we must agree that homosexuality is a good thing, and that it would be a good thing for homosexual couples to raise other people’s children. Enough already”
  • Piers Akerman (again): “I for one, am heartily sick of the constant pro-gay marriage propaganda from the homosexual lobby and its media mouthpieces at the ABC and Fairfax. They have gone a long way toward destroying the natural family relationship of a husband and wife and a child or children… It is plain wrong to make the claim that redefining marriage to include consenting partners of the same sex is a mere bagatelle. It is not. It is a gravity-defying act”

Amid such fierce competition, the winner was perhaps always going to be Germaine Greer.

POLITICS/LAW

  • Senator Eric Abetz for allegedly telling the Liberal Party room: “Lots of homosexuals don’t want to get married, Dolce & Gabbana never got married.”
  • NSW Premier Mike Baird for saying he did not believe the film [Gayby Baby] belonged in the classroom: “I think tolerance is a good thing. But I think there should be some parameters around it.”
  • A tweet by North Queensland federal MP George Christensen that linked US gun laws to the legislation of same-sex marriage: “I’m wondering how many people who look to USA and say we should follow them on “gay marriage” because they’re America the Great would want us to follow their lead on the right to bear arms?”
  • Fred Nile: “The homosexual movement is aggressively aiming to normalise their agenda, lifestyle and ideologies into our society. I urge the Government to do the right thing by the majority of parents who do not want their children exposed [to] the queer and homosexual ideologies. This issue has inevitable detriments and consequences.”
  • Fred Nile (again) for a speech in the NSW Parliament about the Safe Schools Coalition: “The material encourages a mindset of sexual exploration as if the very process of exploration were without risk, and is unashamedly driven by an agenda to promote homosexuality amongst children… So many Australians are disgusted at the sickening agenda behind the Safe Schools program. The program is absolutely abhorrent and disgusting in that it would normalise anal sex, oral sex, chest binding and homosexual sex.”
  • Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce for warning us that Asia could see Australia as “decadent” if same-sex marriage is legalised, potentially damaging negotiations and out trading relationship in the region.”
  • NSW Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli for issuing a ministerial memorandum to the State’s Principals ordering that: “Gayby Baby must not be shown in school time so that it does not impact on the delivery of the planned lessons.”

A surprising result in this category, with NSW Premier Mike Baird winning (personally, I thought the second of Fred Nile’s quotes, attacking the Safe Schools Coalition, was far more offensive).

RELIGION

  • Nick Jensen and Sarah Jensen for preparing to divorce in protest against any change to the law to accommodate same-sex marriage: “My wife and I, as a matter of conscience, refuse to recognise the government regulation of marriage if its definition includes the solemnisation of same-ex couples.”
  • Rev Mark Powell, writing in Fred Nile’s newsletter: “What we are seeing is nothing less than the attempted ‘institutional grooming’ of an entire generation of young Australians. Right under our noses boys and girls are being sexualised as part of their State-funded education.”
  • Rev Robby Galatay, a conservative Tennessee pastor who implied that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people must remain celibate or should be put to death: “God said that the sins of the people had infected the very land in which they live. So what happens to people who engage in this activity, this sexual immoral activity? Go to Leviticus 20, God gives us the punishment for engaging in these sins… They must be put to death. And their blood is on their own hands.”
  • Russian Orthodox Priest Alexander Shumsky who claimed that football players are promoting a “gay rainbow” by wearing green, pink, yellow and blue shoes. He said: “Wearing pink or blue shoes, [the players] might as well women’s panties or a bra. The liberal ideology of globalism clearly wants to oppose Christianity with football. I’m sure of it. Therefore I am glad that the Russian players have failed and, by the grace of God, no longer participate in this homosexual abomination.”
  • Foundation Christian College Principal Andrew Newhouse for telling the father of a seven-year-old girl she would not have been welcome had it known her parents were gay: “The board also has a strong view that families with same-sex parents do not support a Christian world view… I mentioned to the parent that if his daughter was to continue this topic of discussion with his peers, then it would be in both his and his daughter’s interests to move to a school that would support his world view.”
  • Lyle Shelton and the Australian Christian Lobby for its campaign against the Safe Schools Coalition. “Dressed up as an anti-bullying program, it encourages children to cross-dress at school and demands the school accept this. Children are presented with information that downplays the danger of sexually transmitted diseases and introduced to concepts every thinking parent hopes they won’t Google us. Its ‘seven-ways-to-bind your chest’ advice to girls is one of the most shocking things I’ve ever seen done in the name of a government program.”
  • Australian Marriage Forum’s David van Gend for comparing marriage equality to slavery: “The Supreme Court’s slavery decision was eventually repented of and reversed, just as the homosexual ‘marriage’ decision will have to be repented of and reversed – but after how much social damage is done?”

Another surprising winner in this category, with Sarah and Nick Jensen taking out the honours. And, while their commitment to divorce should other people enjoy the same rights as them is no doubt stupid, I would have much preferred either Lyle Shelton of the Australian Christian Lobby, or Foundation Christian College Principal Andrew Newhouse, to collect the gong.

SPORT

  • Jacques Potgeiter for using the word ‘faggot’ multiple times during the Super Rugby Clash against the Brumbies.
  • AFL commentator Brian Taylor who said of Geelong player Harry Taylor “I don’t know whether you guys down there can hear me or not. I am up here getting ready for the game and I’ve just seen that crap from Harry – he’s a big poofter, I mean give them this one Harry” during a pre-game broadcast of Channel 7’s Saturday Night Footy show.
  • Sam Newman for saying that Michael Sam’s draft kiss was an “annoyingly gratuitous act”, and that “no heterosexuals do that when they are drafted.”

A clear winner in this category: Sam Newman – who can surely now tick off homophobia as part of the lifelong game of ‘bigot bingo’ he appears to be playing.

GOLDEN GLORIA

The ‘boo-off’, from the above five winners, came down to two clear crowd favourites. And, despite the vocal jeers from people in the room who wanted to see Mr Baird win (possibly from the same people who wanted to see him lose at the State election last March), the winner, with an exceptionally loud, and sustained, boo, was Germaine ‘Gloria’ Greer.

It must be said that no-one in the history of the GLORIAs has ever campaigned so long and so hard to win the top honour, with Ms Greer making repeated, unjustified and downright malicious attacks on the trans community throughout the eligibility period of 2014 and 2015.

Now it is on to 2016 and, while we are always hopefuly there will be fewer homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic comments across society, sadly the fact that there is likely to be a marriage equality plebiscite sometime in the next two years guarantees there will be no shortage of outrageous, ridiculous and ignorant commentary in the months ahead.

Germaine 'Gloria' Greer

Germaine ‘Gloria’ Greer