What’s Wrong With the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977?

This post is part of a series looking at anti-discrimination laws around Australia and examining how well, or how poorly, they protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people against discrimination and vilification.[i]

 

This includes analysing three key issues: protected attributes, religious exceptions and anti-vilification coverage. Unfortunately, as we shall see below, the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 has serious shortcomings in all of these areas, and NSW has gone from having the first gay anti-discrimination laws in Australia, to having (arguably) the worst.

 

It is clear this legislation is in urgent need of major reform. What is less clear is whether the current NSW Government, and Parliament, is up to the task.

 

Protected Attributes

 

As indicated above, NSW was the first jurisdiction in Australia to introduce anti-discrimination protections for ‘homosexuals’. In fact, it passed these laws in late 1982, 18 months before homosexuality was decriminalised, meaning a gay man could not be discriminated against for who he was (in some areas of public life at least), but could still be convicted for having sexual intercourse in private. The problem is that the protected attributes included in the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 have not kept pace with community standards in the decades since.

 

There was one positive clarification in 1994 that “homosexual means male or female homosexual”[ii] (to overcome any erroneous assumption that homosexuality only referred to gay men). However, the only significant expansion in the past 35 years was the introduction of transgender as a protected attribute in 1996:

 

Section 38A Interpretation

A reference in this Part to a person being transgender or a transgender person is a reference to a person, whether or not the person is a recognised transgender person[iii]:

(a) who identifies as a member of the opposite sex by living, or seeking to live, as a member of the opposite sex, or

(b) who has identified as a member of the opposite sex by living as a member of the opposite sex, or

(c) who, being of indeterminate sex, identifies as a member of a particular sex by living as a member of that sex,

and includes a reference to the person being thought of as a transgender person, whether the person is, or was, in fact a transgender person.”

 

While this reform was a major step forward, it nevertheless failed to cover all discrimination on the basis of gender identity. This protected attribute focuses only on binary genders – covering people whose sex was designated as male at birth, but now identify as female (and vice versa). It does not cover other people along a more inclusive spectrum, including people who do not identify exclusively as either male or female.

 

Section 38A of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 is therefore no longer best practice, and a new, more inclusive definition[iv] should be adopted to ensure all transgender people benefit from anti-discrimination protection.

 

Intersex people are even worse off under the Act. Paragraph (c) of the definition above offers their only protection under NSW law, but it is problematic because:

  • It inappropriately conflates intersex, 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.

 

To remedy this situation, a stand-alone protected attribute of ‘sex characteristics’ should be introduced, based on the March 2017 Darlington Statement by intersex activists.[v]

 

There is, however, one section within the LGBTI community that is not included in the entire Anti-Discrimination Act, not even in an out-dated, fundamentally flawed or only partial way. In fact, one of the five letters of the acronym has no anti-discrimination coverage at all: bisexual people.

 

NSW is the only jurisdiction in Australia where its anti-discrimination laws do not cover discrimination on the basis of bisexuality. That is as bizarre as it is offensive.

 

It must be remedied at the earliest possible opportunity by the NSW Parliament, with either the introduction of a new stand-alone protected attribute of ‘bisexual’, or (preferably) by the modernisation of the current protected attribute of ‘homosexual’ to instead refer to ‘sexual orientation’, in line with the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984[vi].

 

Summary: The protected attributes contained in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 are the narrowest in the country, only offering protection to gay men, lesbians, and some transgender people. It needs to be updated to ensure it covers gender identity and sex characteristics, as well as extending anti-discrimination protection to bisexual people, whose exclusion is a gross oversight that has been allowed to stand for far too long.

 

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Religious Exceptions

 

In contrast to its narrowly-defined protected attributes, the religious exceptions included in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act are in fact the broadest in Australia.

 

These loopholes allow religious organisations to discriminate against lesbian, gay and transgender people in a wide variety of circumstances, and are so generous that they substantially, and substantively, undermine the overall purpose of the legislation (which is supposedly “[a]n Act to render unlawful racial, sex and other types of discrimination in certain circumstances and to promote equality of opportunity between all persons”).

 

The main exceptions permitting anti-LG&T discrimination by religious organisations are found in section 56 of the Act:

 

Section 56 Religious bodies

Nothing in this Act affects:

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

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

(c) the appointment of any other person in any capacity by a body established to propagate religion, or

(d) any other act or practice of a body established to propagate religion that conforms to the doctrines of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of the adherents of that religion.”

 

While sub-sections (a) and (b) might appear reasonable, as they are at least related to the internal training and appointment of ministers of religion, sub-sections (c) and especially (d) are outrageous in their breadth, essentially sanctioning discrimination against lesbian, gay and transgender employees and people accessing services in any organisation that is considered ‘religious’, including schools, hospitals and social services.

 

The operation of these provisions, and sub-section 56(d) in particular, in giving effective carte blanche to religious organisations to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in NSW was confirmed in a 2010 decision of the Court of Appeal[vii], allowing Wesley Mission to discriminate against a male same-sex couple who had applied to be foster carers to children in need.

 

Wesley successfully defended its prejudiced approach on the basis that “[t]he biblical teaching on human sexuality makes it clear that monogamous heterosexual partnership within marriage is both the norm and ideal.”[viii] This was in spite of the fact Wesley allowed single men and women to be carers (apparently they believed two dads or two mums had less to offer than one).

 

The ‘right to discriminate’ provided to religious organisations by section 56 of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 is essentially without restriction. And this general ability to exclude lesbian, gay and transgender people in NSW is supplemented by additional loopholes covering specific areas of public life.

 

One of these covers discrimination in adoption services. While the equal right of same-sex couples to adopt was recognised in NSW law in 2010, those very same reforms inserted the following into the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977:

 

Section 59A Adoption services

(1) Nothing in Part 3A [transgender protections] or 4C [homosexual protections] affects any policy or practice of a faith-based organisation concerning the provision of adoption services under the Adoption Act 2000 or anything done to give effect to any such policy or practice.”

 

Which means that a religious organisation that operates an adoption service is legally permitted to deny a child the best possible adoptive parents solely because they might be lesbian, gay or transgender.

 

Perhaps the most (in)famous exceptions in the Act are those that apply to ‘private educational authorities’.[ix] Even though subsection 56(d) already allows religious schools to do whatever they want in relation to lesbian, gay and transgender teachers and students, NSW Parliament added specific clauses to ensure that private educational authorities can:

 

  • Discriminate against transgender employees[x]
  • Discriminate against transgender students, including by refusing their admission, attaching conditions to their admission, denying them benefits as a student, or by expelling them[xi]
  • Discriminate against lesbian and gay employees[xii] and
  • Discriminate against lesbian and gay students, including by refusing their admission, attaching conditions to their admission, denying them benefits as a student, or by expelling them[xiii].

 

Imagine considering it justified to seek special privileges to discriminate against these groups, let alone for State Parliament to condone such discrimination via legislation?

 

Perhaps the most extraordinary part of the ‘private educational authorities’ exceptions is that they aren’t even restricted to religious schools – in fact, the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 allows all non-government schools and colleges, even where they have absolutely nothing to do with religion, to refuse to employ lesbian, gay and transgender people, and exclude or expel LG&T students.

 

Summary: The religious exceptions contained in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 are the broadest in Australia, and fundamentally undermine the integrity of a framework which is supposed to address discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Subsections 56(c) and (d) should be repealed, as well as the more specific exceptions offered to religious organisations in relation to adoption services, and those allowing private educational authorities to discriminate against lesbian, gay and transgender employees and students.

 

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Anti-Vilification Coverage

 

There is one area where anti-discrimination law in NSW has improved recently, and that is anti-vilification coverage, with the passage of the Crimes Amendment (Publicly Threatening and Inciting Violence) Act 2018.

 

However, because this was a piecemeal change, rather than part of a comprehensive reform package, it means NSW is left with a two-tier, fundamentally inconsistent anti-vilification regime.

 

On one hand, the civil prohibitions against vilification contained in the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 only apply to homosexuality [xiv] and (narrowly-defined) transgender [xv] .

 

This means that bisexuals, non-binary trans people and people with intersex variations are not able to make complaints of vilification to the Anti-Discrimination Board.

 

On the other hand, the new Crimes Act 1900 offence of ‘publicly threatening or inciting violence’ in section 93Z applies to all of:

  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity and
  • Intersex status.

 

All three are defined in section 93Z(5) [xvi] using the broadly-inclusive definitions of the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, and mean that bisexuals, non-binary trans people and people with intersex variations are protected in NSW anti-discrimination laws for the first time (although note that, once again, intersex advocates have called for intersex status to be replaced by the protected attribute of sex characteristics). [xvii]

 

The penalty for this offence is also relatively high: up to three years imprisonment for individuals, and up to 500 penalty units for corporations.

 

Summary: The 2018 anti-vilification reforms are welcome, both for bringing anti-LGBTI vilification provisions into closer alignment with other forms of vilification, and also for including bisexual, non-binary trans and intersex people for the first time. However, if anything, these changes have underscored just how out of date the other anti-vilification provisions of the Anti-Discrimination Act itself are, given it still covers only lesbian, gay and some trans people. This remains an area in desperate need of reform.

 

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Other Issues

 

While the ‘What’s Wrong With’ series concentrates on the three main areas of protected attributes, religious exceptions and anti-vilification coverage, I will also raise other issues relating to LGBTI anti-discrimination laws where they are significant.

 

In the case of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, these include:

 

  • An incredibly broad exception allowing “the exclusion of a transgender person from participation in any sporting activity for members of the sex with which the transgender person identifies”[xviii]
  • An inappropriate exception allowing superannuation funds to “treat… the transgender person as being of the opposite sex to the sex with which the transgender person identifies”[xix] and
  • Perhaps most alarmingly, exceptions which allow employers to discriminate against lesbian, gay and transgender applicants and employees “if the number of persons employed by the employer… does not exceed 5”[xx].

 

In fact, a similar exception also permits discrimination in relation to the ground of sex[xxi] – but no such limitation applies to race[xxii].  Which means that the NSW Parliament has effectively determined that racial discrimination cannot be tolerated in employment in any circumstances – but discrimination against lesbians, gay men, transgender people and even women is acceptable in some circumstances. That message is unconscionable, and these provisions must be made uniform (by abolishing the exceptions applying to homosexual, transgender and sex discrimination in employment).

 

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In conclusion, it is clear that, while NSW once had the first gay anti-discrimination laws in Australia, it now has (arguably) the nation’s worst LGBTI laws – with significant problems in terms of protected attributes and religious exceptions, and serious shortcomings where it does have anti-vilification coverage. These and other issues must be addressed by the Government, and Parliament more broadly, as a matter of priority.

 

NSW ADA homosexuality 1982

NSW was the first Australian jurisdiction to introduce anti-discrimination laws covering any part of the LGBTI community – but 36 years later still doesn’t protect bisexual or intersex people.

 

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Footnotes:

[i] The other posts in the series can be found here: LGBTI Anti-Discrimination / #NoHomophobiaNoExceptions

[ii] Section 4 Definitions.

[iii] From section 4: “recognised transgender person means a person the record of whose sex is altered under Part 5A of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995 or under the corresponding provisions of a law of another Australian jurisdiction.”

[iv] Potentially modelled on the definition adopted by the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984: “gender identity means the gender-related identity, appearance or 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 NSW’s transgender community.]

[v] OII Australia, and other intersex activists from Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand, issued the Darlington Statement as a call for wide-ranging law and policy reforms, including ‘for effective legislative protection from discrimination and harmful practices on grounds of sex characteristics’ (paragraph 9, here).

This terminology (‘sex characteristics’) is intended to replace the previous protected attribute of ‘intersex status’, as included in section 4 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, and defined as: “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.”

[vi] Section 4 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 states ““sexual orientation” means 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.”

[vii] OV & OW v Members of the Board of the Wesley Council [2010] NSWCA 155 (6 July 2010).

[viii] OW & OV v Members of the Board of the Wesley Mission Council [2010] NSWADT 293 (10 December 2010).

[ix] Defined in section 4 as “private educational authority means a person or body administering a school, college, university or other institution at which education or training is provided, not being:

(a) a school, college, university or other institution established under the Education Reform Act 1990 (by the Minister administering that Act), the Technical and Further Education Commission Act 1990 or an Act of incorporation of a university, or

(b) an agricultural college administered by the Minister for Agriculture.”

[x] Section 38C prohibits discrimination against transgender applicants and employees, but subsection (3)(c) clarifies that this prohibition does not apply to discrimination by private educational authorities.

[xi]Section 38K Education

(1) It is unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a person on transgender grounds:

(a) by refusing or failing to accept the person’s application for admission as a student, or

(b) in the terms on which it is prepared to admit the person as a student.

(2) It is unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a student on transgender grounds:

(a) by denying the student access, or limiting the student’s access, to any benefit provided by the educational authority, or

(b) by expelling the student or subjecting the student to any other detriment.

(3) Nothing in this section applies to or in respect of a private educational authority.”

[xii] Section 49ZH prohibits discrimination against lesbian and gay applicants and employees, but, just like for transgender people, subsection (3)(c) clarifies that this prohibition does not apply to discrimination by private educational authorities.

[xiii]Section 49ZO Education

(1) It is unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a person on the ground of homosexuality:

(a) by refusing or failing to accept the person’s application for admission as a student, or

(b) in the terms on which it is prepared to admit the person as a student.

(2) It is unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a student on the ground of homosexuality:

(a) by denying the student access, or limiting the student’s access, to any benefit provided by the educational authority, or

(b) by expelling the student or subjecting the student to any other detriment.

(3) Nothing in this section applies to or in respect of a private educational authority.”

[xiv] Section 49ZT

[xv] Section 39S

[xvi] Gender identity means the gender related identity, appearances or 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.

Intersex status means the status of having physical, hormonal or genetic features that are:

  • neither wholly female nor wholly male,
  • a combination of female and male, or
  • neither female nor male.

Sexual orientation means a person’s orientation towards:

  • persons of the same sex, or
  • persons of a different sex, or
  • persons of the same sex and persons of a different sex.

[xvii] Interestingly, it also means heterosexual people are covered by the publicly threatening or inciting violence offence in the Crimes Act 1900, although they still don’t have any coverage under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 itself (for discrimination, or civil complaints of vilification).

[xviii] Section 38P. It is hoped that, given the work in recent years by transgender groups, the Australian Human Rights Commission and Australian sporting organisations, these provisions could be amended if not repealed entirely in future years.

[xix] Section 38Q.

[xx] Included in both sub-sections 38C(3)(b) and 49ZO(3)(b).

[xxi] Section 25(3)(b).

[xxii] Section 8, which covers Discrimination against applicants and employees on the ground of race, does not include any exception based on the number of employees that an employer has.

Submission to Review of NSW Relationships Register Act 2010

Update 18 January 2017:

In progressively updating posts of my various law reform submissions from 2016, this one is the easiest. Why? Well, because it seems like nothing has actually happened in response to this review.

The NSW Department of Justice homepage for the ‘Statutory review of the Relationships Register Act 2010 (NSW)’ notes that submissions closed on Wednesday 6 January 2016.

It even includes links to the seven submissions it received, from the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW, Chief Justice of NSW, Jamie Gardiner, NSW Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby, ACON and the Law Society of NSW (plus yours truly – see below).

And then? Nothing. No updates for more than 12 months. Hopefully 2017 sees at least some action taken in response to this review, including potentially changing the name from registered relationship to civil partnership, especially given the ongoing failure of the Turnbull Government to take action on marriage equality federally.

Original Post:

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 2016. 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

30th anniversary of decriminalisation of homosexuality in NSW

Tonight, at midnight, it will be exactly 30 years since gay and bisexual adult men in New South Wales moved from being criminals to being able to engage in consensual sexual intercourse without fear of prosecution.

Then NSW Premier, the Hon Neville Wran MP’s, private member’s bill – the Crimes (Amendment) Act 1984 – had passed the NSW Parliament on 22 May, but did not take effect until the 8th of June, 1984.

This legislation, decriminalising male same-sex sexual intercourse (for people aged 18 or over – sadly, an equal age of consent had to wait another 19 years), was the product of 14 years of hard work and tireless campaigning of gay and lesbian (and of course some early trans*) rights activists.

From the founding of the Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP) in September 1970, through the proliferation of gay liberation groups during the 1970s, to the courageous ‘78ers’ who resisted NSW Police violence at the first Sydney Gay Mardi Gras Parade, and the Gay Rights Lobby, formed in 1980 – as well as numerous other groups advocating for equality on the basis of sexual orientation – this achievement was truly a collective effort.

It is thanks to the courage of these activists, who stood up and fought for their (and our) rights, to be public and be proud at a time when they were threatened with criminal sanction for simply being who they were, that people like my fiancé Steve and I can enjoy, and even take for granted, such a wide range of freedoms today.

It is because of this that I simply wanted to take this opportunity to express my gratitude for what they achieved, for themselves, for us and for future generations. To them, I say thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

That’s one thanks for every year of freedom that we have enjoyed since the decriminalisation of homosexuality 30 years ago. To any of those activists who might one day read this post (highly unlikely, but then you never know), please know that we appreciate what was done, and that we owe you.

Of course, there is one way that we can try to repay at least a small part of that debt, and that is to continue pushing for legislation which allows all those who were convicted due to the homophobia of the criminal law – both before decriminalisation in 1984, and because of the unequal age of consent between 1984 and 2003 – to have those convictions expunged.

The Liberal Member for Coogee, Bruce Notley-Smith, is expected to introduce a private member’s bill to achieve just that later in June. We should lobby to ensure as many MPs as possible support this effort at redressing past injustices.

At the same time, the NSW Parliament should expressly apologise to all those harmed – both at the time and, for many, for a lifetime – by the homophobic laws which emanated from that place for far too long.

Legislation to expunge historical convictions, accompanied by a parliamentary apology for historic injustices, would be a fitting way to mark the 30th anniversary of decriminalisation of homosexuality in NSW. Let’s do what we can to make sure it happens.

Decriminalisation campaigners, including Lex Watson, at the Gay Rights Embassy opposite then Premier Neville Wran's home in 1983 (source: Adrian Short as published in Sydney Morning Herald).

Decriminalisation campaigners, including Lex Watson, at the Gay Rights Embassy opposite then Premier Neville Wran’s home in 1983 (source: Adrian Short as published in Sydney Morning Herald).

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).

Submission on Review of NSW Surrogacy Act 2010

The NSW Attorney-General’s Department is currently reviewing the Surrogacy Act 2010, legislation which allowed equal access to altruistic surrogacy within NSW, but made a criminal offence, with a penalty of to 2 years’ imprisonment, of entering into commercial surrogacy arrangements both within NSW and overseas.

Submissions are due by 30 April (next Wednesday), and full details about the review can be found here: <http://www.lpclrd.lawlink.nsw.gov.au/lpclrd/lpclrd_consultation/lpclrd_stat_reviews.html?s=1810621881

As with the NHMRC review of the Ethical Guidelines re Assisted Reproductive Technology, this subject matter is complicated, and I am sure that some people reading this blog will disagree with some of my conclusions (particularly re commercial surrogacy). if that’s the case, then I encourage you to leave a comment below and/or write your own submission.

The Director,

Justice Policy

Department of Attorney General and Justice

GPO Box 6

SYDNEY NSW 2001

justice.policy@agd.nsw.gov.au

Wednesday 23 April

Dear Director,

SUBMISSION RE REVIEW OF SURROGACY ACT 2010

Thank you for the opportunity to provide my personal submission in response to the review of the NSW Surrogacy Act 2010.

As suggested by the terms of reference, this submission is separated into two parts: the first examines whether the policy objectives of the Act remain valid, while the second considers whether the terms of the Act remain appropriate for securing those objectives.

Part A: Do the policy objectives of the Surrogacy Act 2010 remain valid?

The review outlines that the policy objectives of the Surrogacy Act 2010 are to:

  • Protect the interests of children born as a result of surrogacy arrangements;
  • Provide legal certainty for parties to surrogacy arrangements, and
  • Prevent the commercialisation of human reproduction.

Overall, I believe that the first two of these policy objectives remain valid, while the third should be replaced with the policy objective “To prevent the exploitation of people for the purposes of human reproduction”. I also believe that an additional policy objective should be added: “To recognise and support diversity in family structures and relationships.”

Protect the interests of children born as a result of surrogacy arrangements

As with likely all other people making submissions to this review, I strongly support the retention of this policy objective. I also agree with the inclusion of this objective as the primary Guiding Principle in section 3 of the Act: “[t]his Act is to be administered by reference to the principle that, in relation to any surrogacy arrangement, the best interests of the child of the surrogacy arrangement are paramount.”

I note that the best interests of children born through surrogacy are protected and supported by the equal treatment of all people, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status, because, as all reputable research has shown, none of these characteristics are relevant in determining whether an individual or couple will be a good, caring and loving parent(s).

The Surrogacy Act 2010 should be commended for not drawing any distinctions on the basis of these attributes, and the non-discriminatory nature of its operative provisions should be retained.

However, the role of the Act in affirming the diversity of family structures and relationships that already exist in NSW could be strengthened by the elevation of a principle reflecting this reality in a new stand-alone policy objective.

Such a possibility was considered during the second reading speech debate in 2010[1], as well as in the Standing Committee on Law and Justice’s 2009 Report entitled ‘Legislation in Altruistic Surrogacy’, which helped to inform development of the Act.

I believe that a new policy objective – namely, “To recognise and support diversity in family structures and relationships” – should be added to the Act to highlight the non-discriminatory approach of the legislation and the fact that all people can be good parents, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

Recommendation 1: A new policy objective should be added to the Surrogacy Act 2010– “To recognise and support diversity in family structures and relationships.”

Provide legal certainty for parties to surrogacy arrangements

Not only do I believe that this policy objective remains valid, but I also believe that the Act, and its framework for transfer of parentage of children born through surrogacy arrangements, is largely successful in achieving this outcome. Therefore, this policy objective should be retained.

Prevent the commercialisation of human reproduction

I do not support this policy objective, and believe it should be replaced with a new policy objective: “To prevent the exploitation of people for the purposes of human reproduction.”

By way of explanation, I believe the inclusion of the current policy objective is, to some degree, an attempt to address the issue of potential reproductive exploitation (especially of women), but that it confuses the means (a ban on commercial reproduction, including surrogacy) with the ends (preventing reproductive exploitation). It is the ends that should be reflected in the policy objectives rather than the means.

Further, I believe that the question whether commercial surrogacy is and always will be wrong, in every possible circumstance, is complex, and one about which different people, well-motivated and passionate about human rights and welfare, can and do reach different conclusions. However, one conclusion about which I hope all people would agree is that people, and especially women, should not be exploited for their reproductive capabilities.

Personally, I do not feel confident in saying that every possible arrangement, between a birth mother and the intended parent(s) of the child, is inherently wrong – and wrong to the point where it should be criminalised – simply because of the exchange of money in addition to those which cover the birth mother’s costs.

Nor do I necessarily believe that the nature of a surrogacy arrangement automatically and fundamentally changes, from one which is recognised and supported in legislation (altruistic surrogacy), to one which is not only prohibited but attracts a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment (commercial surrogacy), because of the exchange of that money.

Of course, I am cognisant of the fact that the introduction of financial ‘rewards’ to the already ethically-complex area of surrogacy arrangements carries with it significant risks. Chief among those are the risk that people, and especially the women acting as surrogate mothers, will be exploited for their reproductive capabilities.

However, I also believe there are other ways in which people can be exploited for their reproductive capabilities (such as through emotional and/or familial pressure). Indeed, the Surrogacy Act 2010 already contains a range of safeguards that have nothing to do with commercialisation, but are directed at preventing exploitation (for example, the requirement for an independent counsellor’s report to verify that the birth mother has an “understanding of the social and psychological implications of the making of a parentage order” and “whether any consent given by the birth parent or parents to the parentage order is informed consent, freely and voluntarily given” – subsections 17(3)(a) and (f)).

In my view, it is the prevention of exploitation that should be the policy objective in this area, rather than commercialisation per se. This new objective should then be used to guide whether and, if so, how commercial surrogacy arrangements should be allowed (see discussion in part B).

Recommendation 2: The policy objective “To prevent the commercialisation of human reproduction” should be replaced with a new policy objective “To prevent the exploitation of people for the purposes of human reproduction.”

Part B: Do the terms of the Surrogacy Act 2010 remain appropriate to secure those objectives?

For the most part, the provisions of the Surrogacy Act 2010 work well in protecting the interests of children born as a result of surrogacy arrangements and in providing legal certainty for parties to surrogacy arrangements. As indicated in Part A, I also believe that the non-discriminatory way in which the legislation has been drafted could be enhanced further by the addition of a new policy objective (“To recognise and support diversity in family structures and relationships”).

However, I believe that there is a clear divergence in determining whether the provisions of the Act remain appropriate depending on which of the two alternative policy objectives discussed in Part A (‘prevent commercialisation’ or ‘prevent exploitation’) is adopted.

For example, if the over-arching goal of the legislation remains to prevent commercialisation in any form, then the ban on commercial surrogacy in section 8 (which includes a maximum penalty of 1000 penalty units or 2 years’ imprisonment, or both, for those people who are in contravention) would clearly still be appropriate.

The prohibition on commercial surrogacy arrangements entered into overseas by people ordinarily resident or domicile in NSW, as outlined in the ‘geographical nexus for offences’ provision in section 11, would also remain a valid attempt to secure the objective of preventing commercialisation.

However, if the policy objective of preventing commercialisation is actually seen as a means to the end of preventing exploitation (which I believe it is), or indeed, if it were to be replaced with the explicit policy objective of preventing exploitation of people and especially women for their reproductive capabilities, then we are forced to consider how these provisions are currently operating, and their impact on people both in NSW and overseas.

I suspect that, even before the Surrogacy Act 2010 was introduced, there were few, if any, commercial surrogacy arrangements entered into within NSW, and that this situation would remain the case today.

I also believe that there is evidence that the number of overseas commercial surrogacy arrangements was growing at the time of the legislation’s passage, and that, since its introduction, the number of these arrangements entered into by people resident or domiciled in NSW has likely decreased. This could be seen as evidence that the ban has reduced exploitation.

However, I also believe that there is sufficient anecdotal and other evidence that some overseas commercial surrogacy arrangements entered into by people living in NSW continue. The overwhelming desire for some individuals or couples to become parents, together with the low numbers of ‘stranger’-child adoptions, both within Australia and internationally, means that this option continues to be at or near the top of the list of possible routes to parenthood. The criminal penalty attached to section 8 is unlikely to deter such people.

The result of this is that, while some individuals or couples may choose (or have the money to choose) commercial surrogacy arrangements in countries with strong regulation and low economic disadvantage, which at least reduces the possibility of exploitation, others opt for (or are financially restricted to choosing) countries with little or no regulation, as well as higher economic inequality or disadvantage than Australia, thereby significantly increasing the risks of exploitation of the women acting as surrogate mothers.

Thus, while the ban on commercial surrogacy may be effective in preventing the exploitation of women within Australia, I believe it has to be acknowledged that it is not entirely successful in preventing the potential for exploitation of women in other countries.

In this context, we are forced to consider whether there are alternative approaches to the question of commercial surrogacy that could lower the overall level of exploitation of all women.

At least one option, which should at least be considered, would be legalising commercial surrogacy arrangements within NSW, and placing them within a tightly regulated system with the ability to be overseen by appropriate domestic agencies, while at the same time continuing the prohibition on commercial surrogacy arrangements entered into overseas.

This framework – domestic legalisation and overseas ban – arguably may have the best potential to reduce the overall level of reproductive exploitation of women.

However, it is difficult to consider the respective advantages or disadvantages of such a framework in the absence of a proposal outlining exactly how a domestic commercial surrogacy scheme could operate. I believe it is nearly impossible to compare the known harms of surrogate exploitation in (some) overseas countries, with the hypothetical risks of exploitation under an unknown domestic commercial surrogacy scheme.

For this reason, I believe that the NSW Law Reform Commission or similar body should be given the responsibility to consider this issue, but, rather than recommend whether commercial surrogacy should be legalised or not, they should instead design what a ‘model’ domestic commercial surrogacy scheme would look like, with the guiding principle of minimising the risks of exploitation.

This model could then be used as the basis for a genuine and sustained debate, in the community, the media and amongst politicians, about whether the current system (a blanket ban), or a system which allows for tightly-regulated domestic commercial surrogacy, is the best way to reduce the risk of exploitation of all women, and not just those living in NSW.

Of course, it may be that it is impossible to design a domestic commercial surrogacy scheme that sufficiently reduces the risks of exploitation of people (and especially women) for their reproductive capabilities.

It may also be that, after this process, the majority of people still believe that the ‘commercialisation’ of human reproduction is always wrong, and that commercial surrogacy should always be illegal.

However, given we are aware that at least some overseas commercial surrogacy arrangements continue to occur, and appear likely to continue well into the future, I believe it is incumbent upon us to consider whether there are any alternatives to the current regulatory approach and, after considering those alternatives, decide what is the most appropriate way “To prevent the exploitation of people for the purpose of human reproduction.”

Recommendation 3: The NSW Law Reform Commission, or similar body, should be asked to design a ‘model’ framework for domestic commercial surrogacy arrangements, with a guiding principle to minimise the risks of the exploitation of people for the purpose of human reproduction.

Should you require additional information, or to clarify any of the recommendations included in this submission, I can be contacted at the details below.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

[1]http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/NSWBills.nsf/0/71c024816771a264ca2577c100195683/$FILE/LC%2010210.pdf

13 Highs & Lows of 2013: No 13 (Alleged) Police Brutality at Sydney Mardi Gras

As I did last year, I am going to end the year by writing about the highlights – and lowlights – of the last 12 months. As always, choosing the best and worst of the year is a subjective process, and reflects my own experiences as a cis-gender gay man, who engages in LGBTI advocacy, in Sydney. But I hope that the list I have selected is reflective of some of the major issues of 2013, at least in Australia anyway. If not, please feel free to tell me why I’m wrong in the comments section below.

No 13. (Alleged) Police Brutality at Sydney Mardi Gras

Let’s begin by remembering one of the true low-points of this year – the (alleged) actions of NSW Police officers which marred Australia’s, and one of the world’s, premier LGBTI events, the Sydney Mardi Gras, in February and March.

As we approach the end of the year, almost 2 million people, from right around the world, have watched the Youtube clip of the way Police officers treated Jamie Jackson on Oxford St on the night of the Mardi Gras Parade. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxtFtVfAeeE)

Jamie Jackson Mardi Gras

Others have read about the way long-term LGBTI activist Bryn Hutchinson was (allegedly) treated by NSW Police officers, also on Oxford St after the parade had finished. Now that all charges against Mr Hutchinson, and his sister Kate, have been dismissed by the courts, he has written about his experiences in the Star Observer. (http://www.starobserver.com.au/opinion/soapbox-opinion/my-terror-of-crossing-oxford-street-at-mardi-gras/113785)

But it is important to remember that it was not just these two isolated incidents that left a sour taste in the mouths of many after what is supposed to be a celebration of pride and diversity. Nor were instances of alleged Police brutality confined to the night of the Parade and Party, but instead occurred throughout the Mardi Gras Festival.

In fact, Sydney Mardi Gras and ACON received at least 58 complaints about the way people had been treated by NSW Police over the entire Mardi Gras season. These complaints included allegations of intimidation and aggression by Police on Oxford St after the Parade had finished, reports of homophobic language and behaviour at the main Party, of intimidation, violence, excessive physical force and coercion during drug operations at both the Harbour Party and main Party, and other aggressive and intimidating behaviour in LGBTI venues along Oxford St during the Festival.

Since March, Sydney Mardi Gras, ACON, the Inner City Legal Centre (ICLC) and the NSW Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby (GLRL) have been attempting to work through these issues in consultation with the LGBTI community. They recently released an advocacy document outlining 12 recommendations to the NSW government, although, with just 2 months left til the 2014 season gets underway, it is currently unclear how many will be accepted by Premier Barry O’Farrell, Police Minister Michael Gallacher and others. (http://glrl.org.au/images/stories/Publications/20131115_policing_at_lgbti_events_and_venues.pdf)

What is likely is that NSW Police will be much better behaved – at least for the 2014 Mardi Gras Festival, Parade and Party. They will be told by their superiors that to repeat what happened this year would reflect badly on the Government (in the media), as well as potentially jeopardising the money that is brought into the NSW economy by Mardi Gras and associated events. They will also be keenly aware that all eyes will be on them come February and March 2014, to see if their poor behaviour is repeated (on camera).

Nevertheless, the real test will come in 2015, 2016 and beyond, when the immediate controversy has died down, media interest has waned, and the temptation will emerge for some elements of the Police (because it should always be remembered that not all Police act poorly) to slip back into the (alleged) intimidation and outright aggression of 2013.

If the majority of the Mardi Gras, ACON, ICLC and GLRL recommendations are adopted (especially recommendations 1-3), then we may see some positive long-term cultural changes within NSW Police, meaning that future Mardi Gras patrons may not suffer in the same way that Jamie, Bryn and others did this year.

But, in my opinion, the two best recommendations for helping to ensure that NSW Police are ‘well-behaved’ at future Mardi Gras events are perhaps the two that are least likely to be adopted by the NSW Government.

The first, recommendation 7, calls for an end to drug detection dog operations. The evidence against the use of sniffer dogs has piled up since legislation was first passed authorising their use, without warrants, in NSW public places in 2001. The 2006 Ombudsman’s Report was damning in terms of their lack of effectiveness, as well as the risks, including health risks, of their ongoing use. In 2011, just 20% of drug dog indications resulted in Police actually finding drugs on the person searched.

The 2013 Mardi Gras experience, especially for attendees of the Harbour Party, simply confirmed the vagueness of what constitutes ‘reasonable grounds’, as well as the gross invasion of civil liberties and indeed bodily integrity involved in a subsequent drug search.

The use of drug detection dogs should end, end of story. And yet, with both the current Coalition, and previous Labor, Governments seemingly addicted to ‘law & order’, that outcome seems incredibly unlikely.

Something which is slightly more feasible is the subject of the other key recommendation (11), which calls for the establishment of a “transparent, representative civilian-led police complaints and investigatory body with the appropriate resources, capabilities and knowledge” to oversee NSW Police. Obviously, such a body would help remedy issues experienced, not just by the LGBTI community, but also by other vulnerable groups across NSW, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, young people and people from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds.

It should be acknowledged that the NSW Government has taken a small step down this path, by appointing the former Commonwealth Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, to review the investigation and oversight of police critical incidents (those where police actions have resulted in the death or serious injury of a member of the community). But this represents just a small sub-set of police actions which should be subject to independent review, and it is undeniably a long, and hard, road from this narrow review to the introduction of a broad-based, independent complaints body. We’ll see what happens on this in coming months (and, I suspect, years).

There is one final comment which I feel compelled to make. In the aftermath of the incidents during this year’s Mardi Gras, some members of Sydney’s LGBTI community focused on the possible involvement of Police officers from outside the Surry Hills Local Area Command. Specifically, they argued that if we could somehow return to a (simpler) time when Surry Hills Police were sufficient to patrol the Mardi Gras, supplemented by others from around Sydney who volunteered to be on duty, then the problems of 2013 would somehow disappear.

To me, that ignores a much deeper problem. If a Police officer is going to behave in an allegedly homophobic and aggressive way on the busiest gay night of the year, on Oxford St, in front of thousands of people, then how are they going to treat an individual LGBTI person, when nobody is looking, in other parts of Sydney, or indeed elsewhere in the state?

I am not interested in just having an LGBTI-friendly Police force serving the inner-city enclaves of Surry Hills and Newtown, while simultaneously ignoring the potential for homophobia outside those supposedly safe borders. Any officer, from any part of the State, should be able to be called up for duty around Mardi Gras and behave in a responsible and respectful manner.

Above all, every single officer, in every single station across NSW, must be able to deal with, and respond appropriately to, the concerns of LGBTI people. If they can’t, they should have their badges taken off them, because they’re not fit to be a Police officer.

Submission on Alex Greenwich’s Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Private Educational Authorities) Bill 2013

The following is my submission, lodged today, in response to a discussion paper and Bill released by the Member for Sydney, Mr Alex Greenwich. The Paper and Bill seek to remove exceptions which allow private educational authorities, including religious schools, the right to discriminate against lesbian, gay and transgender students. Unfortunately, I think that to achieve that goal, more amendments to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 may need to be made. In any event, I believe that there are a range of other amendments which should also be made at the same time, including the removal of section 56 generally. Anyway, here it is:

Mr Alex Greenwich

Member for Sydney

Sydney@parliament.nsw.gov.au

Monday 30 September 2013

Dear Mr Greenwich

Submission on Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Private Educational Authorities) Bill 2013

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission in response to your discussion paper on anti-discrimination law reform, released in August 2013, and in particular in relation to your Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Private Educational Authorities) Bill 2013 (the Bill), which you introduced into NSW Parliament on 19 September 2013.

First of all, let me say that I welcome your strong commitment to removing the discrimination that can be experienced by lesbian, gay and transgender students in private educational institutions, including private schools. As has been demonstrated by the Writing Themselves In reports, and countless other research projects over the years, schools can be one of the major sources of homophobia and trans-phobia in the lives of young people.

It is vital that any ‘exceptions’ in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 which may authorise schools to discriminate against lesbian, gay and transgender students are removed, and this must apply to all types of private schools, including religious schools. From what I have read, both in the Discussion Paper and associated media, as well as in your Second Reading Speech, I believe this is what your Bill is attempting to achieve.

However, I do have some concerns about the Anti-Discrimination (Private Educational Authorities) Bill 2013, in particular:

  • It is unclear whether the Bill, as drafted, will accomplish this aim
  • There are a range of other amendments which also need to be made to the Anti-Discrimination Act 1997 and
  • If the Bill is aimed at removing the right to discriminate from religious schools, thereby provoking an expected negative response from religious organisations, then I believe that the right of religious organisations to discriminate more broadly under s56 should be removed at the same time.

Turning first to the question of whether the Bill, if passed, would actually achieve the aim of removing the right to discriminate from all schools, including religious schools, I note that the Bill simply removes those provisions of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1997 which provide a specific right to discriminate (namely, sections 31A(3)(a), 38K(3), 46A(3), 49L(3)(a), 49ZO(3) and 49ZYL(3)(b)).

However, the Bill does not amend or seek to repeal the catch-all section which provides exceptions to religious organisations to discriminate – and that is found in section 56(d) which states: “Nothing in this Act affects: (d) any other act or practice of a body established to propagate religion that conforms to the doctrines of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of the adherents of that religion.”

I am concerned that, by leaving this section unamended, the effect of your Bill would be to remove the right to discriminate from private educational authorities that are not religious, but that religious schools would retain the right to discriminate against lesbian, gay and transgender students on the basis of their ‘religious principles or beliefs’. The practical effect of the Bill would therefore have a positive outcome for a much, much smaller cohort of students than what is intended.

This reading of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, and in particular s56(d), appears to be supported by the main case in this area in recent years: OW & OV v Members of the Board of the Wesley Mission Council [2010] NSWADT 293. This case involved a service operated by the Wesley Mission, which sought to utilise the ‘protections’ offered in s56(d) to discriminate against gay male foster carers. The Wesley Mission was ultimately successful in its appeal.

While foster care is obviously not exactly the same as providing education in religious schools, I believe that it is potentially analogous in terms of indicating how broad the religious exceptions under s56(d) are in practice, and in particular in suggesting that they would operate to shield religious schools that discriminate against lesbian, gay and transgender students from the scope of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977.

This also appears to be the opinion of the current Attorney-General of NSW, the Hon Greg Smith SC MP. In a speech titled Religious Vilification, Anti-Discrimination Law and Religious Freedom, which he gave on 24 August 2011, the Attorney-General discussed the operation of s56:

“116. Section 56 creates a general exemption from the ADA for religious bodies. Religious bodies are not required to comply with the ADA in relation to:

  1. The training, education, ordination or appointment of religious leaders [s56(a)&(b)];
  2. The appointment of any other person [s56(c)];
  3. Any other act or practice that conforms to the doctrines of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of the adherents of thast religion [s56(d)].

117. Section 56 was included in the ADA when first enacted. While other jurisdictions have adopted a general exception from their anti-discrimination statutes for religious bodies, the exceptions are narrower than that under the ADA in the following ways:

a. While section 56(c) of the ADA exempts the appointment of persons ‘in any capacity’ by a religious body, other jurisdictions exempt only appointment of persons to perform functions related to religious practices;

b. Some other jurisdictions have provisions equivalent to s56(d) of the ADA, but others are narrower. Those that are narrower limit the exemption to acts done as part of a religious practice [NT], or don’t extend the exemption to discrimination in work or education [Qld], or limit the grounds of discrimination that are exempt.” [emphasis added]

The implication from this speech, and in particular from para 117(b) above, is that the Attorney-General believes that the protections offered by s56(d) would be available to a school or educational facility run by a religious organisation. This also appears to be the interpretation of s 56(d) by other organisations and advocacy groups which work in this area, including the Inner-City Legal Centre and Public Interest Advocacy Centre.

If that is the case – that either your Bill does not operate to limit the right of religious schools to discriminate against lesbian, gay and transgender students, or that there may be some ongoing uncertainty in this area – then might I suggest you seek additional legal advice on the scope of s56(d), and whether further amendments to your Bill might be necessary to guarantee the rights of lesbian, gay and transgender students in religious schools not to be discriminated against. Obviously, if the Bill is to be debated and ultimately voted upon in late 2013 or early 2014, it would be useful to have clarity about the exact protections to be offered by the Bill beforehand.

Moving on to my second concern about the Bill, which applies irrespective of whether students at religious schools are covered or not, specifically that there are a range of other serious problems with the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, and it is my belief that these issues should be considered at the same time by the Parliament.

For example, as well as protecting lesbian, gay and transgender students, anti-discrimination protections should also be offered to teachers and other employees at the same schools, irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In fact, I believe that religious exceptions should be limited to only cover the appointment of ministers of religion, and the conduct of religious ceremonies. In short, religious organisations should no longer be sanctioned by the State to discriminate in employment and service delivery in places like hospitals or social services – and a reform to the existing law is a perfect opportunity to make such changes.

There are also a range of problems with the current scope of, and definitions included in, the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, including the fact that it protects homosexuals (in s49ZF) rather than people with different sexual orientations (with the effect that, while lesbians and gay men are covered, bisexuals are not).

The NSW Act also includes what I understand to be an out-dated definition of transgender (in s38A), rather than the preferred definition of gender identity as passed in the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013. Indeed, the NSW Act does not even cover intersex status at all, unlike its Commonwealth counterpart. I hope that you, and other MPs involved in this area of public policy, are consulting with groups representing the transgender and intersex communities about whether, and how, to deal with these issues.

There are also other problems with the current Act, including what I find to be an objectionable difference in financial penalties for individual offenders found guilty of vilification; the maximum financial penalty for racial or HIV/AIDS vilification (set at 50 Penalty Units) is five times higher than that for homosexual or transgender vilification (set at 10 Penalty Units). There can be no justification for this discrepancy, which effectively creates a hierarchy of offensiveness, with some types of vilification considered more serious than others.

The above problems with the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 are simply those which I have identified from my own reading and research. I am sure that there are other issues which also need to be addressed. This to me suggests that there is sufficient impetus for a more comprehensive re-write of the Act. While the subject of protecting lesbian, gay and transgender students is an incredibly important one, I believe that the range of problems identified above should all be dealt with at the same time.

Which brings me to my third concern with the draft Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Private Educational Authorities) Bill 2013, and that is a concern around tactics or strategy.

By attempting to limit the right of religious organisations to discriminate against lesbian, gay and transgender students in their schools, you are taking on something which many churches take to be an inalienable ‘right’ – the ability to indoctrinate young people with their religious teachings against homosexuality or transgender identity.

As a result, I would expect a significant backlash from those same religious organisations against your Bill. The size or scale of that backlash might only be slightly less than that which could be expected from an attempt to narrow the broader exceptions contained in section 56 (by limiting its coverage to the appointment of ministers and conduct of religious ceremonies).

In that case, it is my personal view that, as well as removing the specific provisions concerning private educational authorities (as featured in your Bill), any attempt to reform the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 should also contain provisions which significantly reduce the scope of s56. If people such as yourself are going to take on the right of religious organisations to discriminate, then why not do so more comprehensively, rather than in what could be described a piecemeal (or at the very least, narrowly-targeted) fashion?

Which is not to say that moves to protect lesbian, gay and transgender students from discrimination are not welcome – they obviously are. And I also wish to restate my support for the overall intention of the Bill; protecting young people who are lesbian, gay and transgender from homophobia and trans-phobia is an incredibly important objective.

However, any attempt to do so must ensure that the Bill captures all private schools, including religious schools. And, even if that drafting issue is resolved, it remains my personal view that reform to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 should go much further, and address broader issues including but not limited to restricting the scope of section 56.

Thank you for considering this submission.

Yours sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie