Letter to NSW Premier Mike Baird re LGBTI Equality and Conscience Votes

In Question Time on Wednesday 7 May 2014, the Independent Member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich MP, asked the new Liberal-National Premier, the Hon Mike Baird MP, about his, and his Government’s, support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community of NSW.

I have reproduced the text of both the question and answer below, along with highlighting a couple of points of particular interest:

LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL, TRANSGENDER AND INTERSEX COMMUNITY SUPPORT

Mr ALEX GREENWICH: My question is addressed to the Premier. Will he build on the support of previous Premiers for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities, including supporting ACON, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, Twenty10 and the Gender Centre, and allowing at least a free vote on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex-related legislation?

Mr MIKE BAIRD: I thank the member for his sensible question and for the work he does in his community. One of the hallmarks of my Government will be respect for all people and all communities. My Government will not judge people on the basis of race, religion or sexuality. My Government will judge each individual by how he or she behaves and what he or she contributes to the community and those around them. Discrimination against any individual or group on the basis of race, religion or sexuality has no place in New South Wales. Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community can continue to have the Government as a great supporter. I give the same personal commitment as Premier. One of the biggestevents staged in Sydney every year is the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade, which enjoys strong bipartisan support. It has enjoyed funding since 2009, which continues under a Liberal-Nationals Government, and some 20,000 overseas and interstate visitors generate approximately $30 million for the visitor economy.

This financial year the Government has provided more than $300,000 in funding for ACON to deliver a range of HIV prevention, care and support programs for people with HIV, sex workers, outreach projects, and needle and syringe programs. Earlier this year the Government and ACON jointly funded the Ending HIV campaign. In 2013-14 the Government has provided more than $600,000 to the Gender Centre and Twenty10, which is a non-profit welfare organisation located in Chippendale that has been operating for more than 30 years. Government support is provided through the Sydney West Local Health District Youth Service and the Department of Family and Community Services. I thank and admire the hardworking staff at these organisations for the work they do in the community.

In August this year the Gay Rugby World Cup, known as the Bingham Cup, is coming to Sydney. The Government will provide financial and in-kind support for up to 40 teams from 15 countries. Some 1,500 players and 10,000 spectators will flock to the event. I refer to conscience votes and pay tribute to the former Premier. His leadership on matters of conscience was exemplary and showed this Parliament how members should respond on matters of conscience. I say to the member for Sydney that my position will be exactly the same as the position of the former Premier, who showed great leadership on matters of conscience; so too will the Government I lead. I look forward to working together on these issues.

The two issues highlighted – the unequivocal commitment to equality based on sexuality, and the question of when a conscience vote should be granted – have prompted me to write the following letter to Mr Baird.

The Hon Mike Baird MP

Premier of NSW

GPO Box 5341

Sydney NSW 2001

Sunday 25 May 2014

Dear Premier Baird

SUPPORT FOR THE LGBTI COMMUNITY OF NSW

I am writing regarding the answer which you gave in the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday 7 May 2014 to a question from the Member for Sydney about your, and your Government’s, support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community of NSW.

In particular, I would like to ask you questions about two of the comments which you gave. First, I note that in your answer you said the following:

“Discrimination against any individual or group on the basis of race, religion or sexuality has no place in New South Wales. Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community can continue to have the Government as a great supporter. I give the same personal commitment as Premier.”

I am interested to know how far your personal commitment to and support for the LGBTI community extends. Specifically, in this quote you state that “[d]iscrimination against any individual or group on the basis of… sexuality has no place in New South Wales” and yet you have previously voted against equal adoption rights for same-sex couples.

Does this statement, which contains no equivocation, mean that you now concede your previous position on same-sex adoption was wrong? Will you give an explicit commitment to support equal adoption and other parenting rights for LGBTI couples and families in the future?

Given the absence of any qualifications on your support for non-discrimination on the basis of sexuality, I am also interested to know your position on the exceptions which are offered to religious organisations under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977. These exceptions significantly and substantively undermine the anti-discrimination protections which currently exist for lesbian, gay and trans* people in NSW.

Do you support the removal of religious exceptions, such as section 56(d), from the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 in order to better protect LGBTI people from discrimination? Or do you wish to amend the answer that you gave in Question Time to instead read: “[d[iscrimination against any individual or group on the basis of… sexuality has no place in New South Wales unless it is performed by a religious organisation, in which case such actions will be protected by law”?

Secondly, I would like to find out more details about your position on conscience votes regarding LGBTI rights. In your answer in Parliament, you made the following comment:

“I say to the member for Sydney that my position will be exactly the same as the position of the former Premier, who showed great leadership on matters of conscience; so too will the Government I lead.”

It is unclear from this answer exactly where you would draw the line on conscience votes. It is assumed that this means you would allow a conscience vote on same-sex marriage were it to return to the NSW Parliament for a fresh vote (although, given the High Court’s decision last December, that would appear to be both unlikely and unproductive).

Alternatively, does this mean that you would allow conscience votes for Liberal and National Party members if Bills were introduced seeking to wind back rights which are already enjoyed by LGBTI people in NSW? For example, would you support a conscience vote on a Bill which sought to remove the equal rights of same-sex couples to adopt? It would be disappointing if your Government did anything other than vote against such a Bill en bloc.

It is also expected that legislation will be introduced in the next few months which seeks to allow gay and bisexual men who were convicted because of the illegality of homosexuality before 1984, and because of the unequal age of consent between 1984 and 2003, to have their convictions expunged. This Bill will go some way to redressing the very real injustices, and long-term consequences, caused by the homophobic criminalization of homosexuality, and the equally homophobic unequal age of consent.

Again, it would be incredibly disappointing if members of the Government were free to vote against such a Bill, especially because the only way that this Bill would be a ‘matter of conscience’ for an MP is if they still believed that sexual intercourse between men was morally wrong.

For these reasons, I would greatly appreciate it if you could clarify your position on conscience votes, in particular whether they would extend beyond state-based same-sex marriage, and whether you would allow Liberal-National Government MPs to vote to repeal same-sex adoption rights, or to vote against the expungement of historical convictions.

Thank you in advance for considering the issues and questions raised in this correspondence.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

How far does Premier Baird's support for the LGBTI community extend? (image source: The Conversation).

How far does Premier Baird’s support for the LGBTI community really extend? (image source: The Conversation).

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