The best of times?

This is the second in a two-part series of articles reflecting on the recent federal election and its impact on LGBTIQ Australians, with this post focusing on what it means for the upcoming Parliamentary term. You can read the first post, looking back on the past three years, ‘The worst of times’, here.

Earlier this year, following the NSW Perrottet Liberal/National Government’s decision to reject Mark Latham’s anti-trans kids Bill, I wrote that ‘Not going backwards is not the same thing as going forwards’

The same thing could just as easily be written now after the federal election on May 21 which saw the Morrison Liberal/National Government defeated.

Yes, this outcome is a massive relief for LGBTIQ Australians, who, as I wrote last weekend, have just endured the worst Commonwealth Parliamentary term for our rights in my lifetime.

And it obviously means the threats of the Coalition’s damaging and divisive Religious Discrimination Bill (or ‘Religious Freedom Bill’ in disguise), and Liberal Senator Claire Chandler’s legislation attacking trans women and girls’ participation in sport, have receded (for now).

But, just like in NSW, not going backwards on LGBTIQ rights is not the same thing as going forwards: the many changes to Commonwealth laws and policies to make our lives better which were needed on May 20 were not somehow magically introduced on May 22.

Progress still needs to be delivered. In many, many areas.

I wrote about some of those LGBTIQ law reform priorities earlier this year, here

But perhaps a better and more comprehensive outline of what needs to happen is found in the Just.Equal Australia pre-election survey of the LGBTIQ community and its priorities, which included (but was definitely not limited to): 

  • Removing current exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act that allow discrimination against LGBT people, for example, by faith-based schools, hospitals and charities
  • Improving LGBTIQA+ safety and inclusion in schools
  • Improving LGBTIQA+ access to appropriate and inclusive aged care
  • Establishing LGBTIQA+ policy groups in federal government agencies such as health, education, the federal police, justice and the Prime Minister’s department
  • Developing mechanisms to consult with all existing LGBTIQA+ organisations and fund them to properly represent their constituents
  • Developing strategies around suicide and mental health, aged-care, homelessness, Indigenous LGBTIQA+ people and family violence prevention
  • Recognising LGBTIQA+ people in the Census by asking questions about sexual orientation, gender identity and variations of sex characteristics
  • Removing the ban on sexually-active gay/bi men, and trans women, giving blood and replacing it with a policy of individual risk assessment for all potential donors
  • Medicare funding for gender transition and other gender-affirming health care, and
  • Legislative prohibition of unconsented and deferrable medical interventions on children born with innate variations of sex characteristics.

I can almost hear the reactions of the ACL, and extremist columnists in the Murdoch media, to such a list: that it represents some kind of radical and dangerous left-wing agenda. Or, to transphobic bigots like Katherine Deves, that its implementation would be a ‘Rainbow Reich’.

But is it, really? Or are these priorities actually eminently reasonable, reflecting nothing more than the aspiration to enjoy what many (although not all) Australians already take for granted?

There is nothing radical about wanting all children to learn and to grow in safe and inclusive school environments, free from discrimination on the basis of who they are.

There is nothing dangerous in suggesting that teachers and other workers should be employed on the basis of their skills and qualifications, not their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The desire to grow old with access to high-quality, safe and supportive aged care services must be a universal one.

As is the basic want for essential Medicare-funded health services to allow people to live the lives they were meant to enjoy.

And surely very few people could argue against protecting children born with innate variations of sex characteristics from deferrable medical interventions until they are old enough to consent to them themselves?

While many of the other priorities (establishing policy groups and developing strategies, providing funding for LGBTIQA+ organisations and including LGBTIQA+ people in the Census) are merely the formal mechanisms required to ensure these objectives are achieved, and maintained.

Seen in this way, the above priorities are neither radical, nor dangerous. Instead, they are both reasonable, and the bare minimum of what needs to happen.

The fact this list (and the much longer list in the Just.Equal Australia survey report itself) is so lengthy is instead a reflection of the lack of action on these issues over the past nine years, with the Abbott, Turnbull and (especially) Morrison Governments either ignoring the LGBTIQ community and our needs, or in some cases (like the safe schools debate, plebiscite and postal survey, and proposed Religious Discrimination Bill) going out of its way to make our collective lives much more difficult.

So, we know what the needs are. How likely are they to be met under the new Albanese Labor Government?

The answer to that question is both complicated, and also pretty straight-forward (which we’ll return to later).

To begin, we should acknowledge that many LGBTIQ Australians are viewing the new Government with complex emotions, including an understandable sense of caution, anxiety even.

This is due both to what many perceived to be a failure to adequately call out the toxic transphobia of Katherine Deves during the election campaign itself. As well as the decision in February to vote for the Morrison Government’s Religious Discrimination Bill despite the failure of Labor’s amendment to remove the damaging statement of belief provision, and the failure of Labor to support cross-bench amendments to remove the Bill’s override of state and territory anti-discrimination protections for teachers in religious schools.

As with many other areas, the Albanese Labor Government also went to the election with what could be described as ‘small target strategy’ in relation to LGBTIQ policy.

In The Conversation, Paula Gerber noted this included commitments to: 

  • Count LGBTIQ people in the 2026 Census
  • Protect LGBT students in religious schools against discrimination, and
  • Increase funding for LGBTIQ+ health, mental health and family violence prevention services.

Professor Gerber also describes the much vaguer, and far less reassuring, policy to ‘amend anti-discrimination laws so that… all teachers are protected from discrimination at work (while maintaining the right of religious schools to preference people of faith in the selection of staff)’ [emphasis added]. It remains to be seen how much (unjustifiable) discrimination against LGBT teachers such a policy would continue to permit.

On a broader range of LGBTIQ policy issues, such as discrimination against LGBT workers and people accessing services by other religious organisations, Medicare funding for gender transition, and ending coercive surgeries on intersex children, the then-Opposition was largely silent.

Which means the Albanese Government’s LGBTIQ policy agenda is simultaneously far superior to that of the Government it replaced and far less than what is necessary to deliver genuine equality.

Our first challenge therefore is to push the new Government to go much, much further in its policy commitments.

The second challenge is related to the first – and that is, even if we secure additional LGBTIQ policy commitments, we will need to keep up the pressure to ensure they are actually delivered amidst what will be an incredibly packed legislative agenda.

After all, it is not just LGBTIQ issues on which the previous Government held back progress. In this term of Parliament alone, the Albanese Government will need to deliver on real climate change commitments, creating a federal independent commission against corruption, implementing all of the Respect@Work recommendations, and holding a referendum to enshrine a Voice to Parliament in the Constitution as part of the Uluru Statement from the Heart (and plenty more besides, such as dealing with the energy and cost of living crises).

It will take sustained advocacy from the LGBTIQ community to ensure our issues are not forgotten, or put in the ‘second term basket’ (with no guarantee they will ever be dealt with).

The third challenge is a familiar one – the return of a Religious Discrimination Bill, which incoming Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has confirmed will come before Parliament at some point this term.

Now, I know many people will be triggered simply by hearing that three-word legislative title alone, but we should remember that prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religious belief is not a negative thing in and of itself (with most states and territories already doing so, including jurisdictions with strong LGBTI anti-discrimination protections like Tasmania, the ACT and, following recent reforms, Victoria).

But we will also need to be prepared to push back, firmly, against any provisions which go beyond prohibiting discrimination on the basis of belief to instead entrench the ability of religious individuals and organisations to discriminate against women, LGBT people, people with disability and people of minority faiths (which were the problematic features of the Morrison Bill).

The good news is the make-up of the new Parliament looks to be conducive to meeting these challenges.

That includes the presence of people who I would consider allies to the LGBTIQ community inside the Government itself, including in key portfolios (starting with Mark Dreyfus himself, who was Attorney-General under the last Labor Government when the historic Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013 was passed).

And of course it includes the expanded Parliamentary presence of the Australian Greens, now with four seats in the House of Representatives (up from one) and 12 in the Senate (up from nine).

Throughout the last term, not just on the Religious Discrimination Bill but on other issues like amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) to explicitly protect trans, gender diverse and intersex workers against discrimination, the Greens consistently demonstrated their support for LGBTIQ law reform (which is a testament to the great work of their then-spokesperson for LGBTIQA+ issues, Senator Janet Rice – new spokesperson Stephen Bates has big shoes to fill).

The independent cross-bench has also grown significantly too. We already had Helen Haines, Rebekha Sharkie, Zali Steggall, and Andrew Wilkie, all of whom voted to support our community throughout the Religious Discrimination Bill debate.

They have been joined by six new so-called ‘Teal’ MPs. While they are obviously yet to have a voting record against which we can judge them, they all represent electorates which voted strongly in favour of marriage equality:

  • Kate Chaney in Curtin (72.2% Yes)
  • Zoe Daniel in Goldstein (76.3%)
  • Monique Ryan in Kooyong (73.7%)
  • Sophie Scamps in Mackellar (68%)
  • Kylea Tink in North Sydney (71.8%), and
  • Allegra Spender in Wentworth (80.8%).

Given those results, if any of them choose to vote against LGBTIQ equality this term, they could find themselves exiting the Parliament at the next poll.

The Senate also looks promising, with the cross-bench including new Senator for the ACT David Pocock (who was an early and passionate supporter of marriage equality), and now two members of the Jacquie Lambie Network (noting that Lambie herself had been a strong advocate against the Religious Discrimination Bill, including seeking to protect Tasmania’s best practice anti-discrimination laws from Commonwealth override).

Overall, then, while there are challenges ahead in terms of making long-overdue progress on LGBTIQ equality, and navigating how and when to advance particular issues might sometimes be complex, there is also plenty of opportunity, if only we can take advantage of it.

Or, in the more straight-forward words of my National Party-voting parents on the night after the election (yes, we have some interesting discussions about politics): ‘There might never be a better election outcome to achieve the changes you have been campaigning on for so long.’

I agree, and will be doing my best to make sure they happen.

Because LGBT students in religious schools have already waited long enough.

LGBT teachers and other workers, too.

Trans and gender diverse people have waited long enough to have access to Medicare-funded gender-affirming healthcare, including transition.

And children born with innate variations of sex characteristics have waited far, far too long to have their fundamental rights to bodily autonomy protected.

The last term of Commonwealth Parliament truly was the worst of times. There is absolutely no guarantee the current term of Parliament will be the best. But there’s also no reason why it can’t be. So let’s get to work.

NB This post is written in a personal capacity, and does not reflect the views of employers past or present.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on election night. There is plenty of work to do to ensure it is ‘A Better Future’ for LGBTIQ Australians.

If you have enjoyed reading this article, please consider subscribing to receive future posts, via the right-hand scroll bar on the desktop version of this blog or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus

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