Never much of a country kid

I was never much of a country kid, despite growing up outside Blackwater, a couple of hours west of Rockhampton in Central Queensland.

Our family lived on 16,000 acres of what I now know is Gangulu/Ghungalu land – a fact never mentioned in my Bjelke-Petersen-era classrooms.

My dad had about 2,000 head of cattle, and when it rained – which was not nearly often enough – planted crops on the most productive parts.

In my memories, the landscape appears mostly in brownscale. Brown grass, surrounded by more brown dirt. Brown Braford cattle, mustered with brown horses and cattle dogs. The grey-brown of kangaroos. The house gently brushed in a layer of fine, light-brown dust.

Even the other colours of the pastoral palette didn’t provide much contrast; the dull silver-green leaves of the brigalow scrub, and occasional fields of rust-brown sorghum or faded yellow wheat.

I admit, the picture I’m painting doesn’t sound particularly idyllic, but it wasn’t without its beauty either. The property didn’t need much rain to spring to life, and Burngrove Creek – which ran through its middle – in flood was always a spectacular sight. As was the dark outline of the Blackdown Tablelands, off to the distant south-east.

[View from house, looking down towards Burngrove Creek]

I was never much of a country kid, especially compared to my siblings. My older sister could easily have been described as a pony princess, while my older brother generally fulfilled the stereotype of the motorbike-riding, pig-shooting (and later rodeo-riding and ute-driving) son of the bush I was destined never to be.

I was much more of the nerdy and indoors-y child. I did have a horse, Spree (named by my mum, for reasons I’ve long since forgotten), but I wouldn’t have ridden it more than a handful of times. Which was still more frequently than I jumped on a motorbike: four wheels, once or twice; two wheels, never.

Nor did I contribute much toward the farm-work. Obviously, my mustering skills were close to non-existent, while my attempts at milking resulted in more frustration (both mine, and the cow’s) than milk.

I was put in charge of looking after the chooks, a responsibility I could at least handle: letting them out mid-afternoon, collecting the eggs, and then feeding them the scraps and locking them back up at dusk.

Once I learned to drive, I also sometimes ‘did the waters’ (driving around the property to check the dams, and troughs, to ensure the cattle had enough to drink). But that was it.

It was clear from an early age that farm-life just wasn’t for me – a feeling that only intensified as I got older.

And my parents accepted my reluctance, too. They never put pressure on me to do the things my siblings did, a freedom from expectation I largely took for granted when I was younger, but one I am deeply appreciative of as I look back now.

I was never much of a country kid, and the things I was actually interested in always seemed so far away. Theatre, and galleries, and crowds, and the alluring buzz of metropolitan, cosmopolitan life, were busy happening someplace else. Further than the ‘big smoke’ of Rocky, further even than Brisbane (although visiting Expo ’88 aged 10 gave a small taste of future possibilities, and yes I mean that non-ironically).

Blackwater instead had a run-down drive-in, one radio station, one commercial TV channel and, at least back then, little to stimulate an inquisitive, impatient mind.

Both push and pull factors were working together harmoniously to create the central truth of my growing up in country Australia: as soon as I could leave, I would.

I was never much of a country kid, although my partner Steve has often told me how jealous he is of what I got to experience.

The wide-open space. Being outdoors. The motorbikes. The animals, especially. The quiet. The freedom to simply be, away from other people. The charming country houses of my parents that he’s visited during our 13 years together.

Who knows, maybe he would have enjoyed my own youth much more than I did.

But then, like many people who grew up in the suburbs, I suspect he underestimates the challenges it posed.

The isolation.

The relentless sun (although being a bookish child had its advantages – as the only one in my family to make 40 without skin cancer).

The equally oppressive heat.

The reality animals were usually either productive (cattle, cows and chickens), or worked (horses and dogs). While the main childhood pet I had (a cat, Beethoven, which I shared with my brother) didn’t last long before being bitten by a snake.

The boredom.

The feeling of being apart, outside of the action.

The fact that for the first few years of my life the five of us lived in a couple of rooms, on slabs of concrete, down one end of a machinery shed.

It might be a cliché, but life on the land can be, often is, hard.

I was never much of a country kid, and that has been reflected in my choice of career. For at least a few generations, on both sides of my family, most men would grow up to be primary producers – mainly graziers, although there were also a cane farmer and mango and lychee grower among them.

While most of the women would work in a health-related field – with several nurses, including my mum, as well as an optometrist, a physio, and a speech pathologist.

My sister and brother both largely followed these well-worn paths: she, a vet, he – until recently – a grazier (although, perhaps in a sign of the times, he sold his own beef property and is now a full-time coal-miner).

It was far from inevitable I would become a public policy professional, working in several government departments and community sector organisations. Although once again my parents never made me feel a sense of obligation to stay on the land, and I thank them for the gift of being encouraged to follow my own track.

[With my older sister and brother]

I was never much of a country kid. I only fired a gun once, when I was maybe 10 or 11 years old, under my dad’s strict supervision. It must have been apparent on my face just how little I enjoyed it. But I think he found the experience uncomfortable too.

In hindsight, I think it was one of the few times he did something because he thought it was the right thing for any child growing up on a farm to learn, rather than the right thing for his child, this particular child. We never spoke about it again.

I was never much of a country kid, but I think I inherited a lot from my dad. Not just the superficial – looks-wise I couldn’t be anyone other than his son, while I’ve commonly been mistaken for him over the phone.

Or characteristics like being softly-spoken and gentle (Steve has often commented he doesn’t understand how such a gentle-man survived more than half a century as a farmer).

More fundamentally, he imparted several of his core values.

Including the virtue of civic participation, and especially volunteerism. For him, that meant stepping in to fill in the gaps where governments failed to deliver essential services to rural communities, like being a long-time local fire warden.

And stepping up to advocate on behalf of his own community, by contributing via agricultural organisations like the United Graziers Association.

While my own LGBTI volunteering and advocacy is obviously driven by different goals and in service of a very different community, I’d like to think the urge to help, to make society better, as well as the way we both go about achieving that, are pretty similar.

I can also blame my dad for my life-long obsession with politics. The outlet for that obsession is far from shared – he unsuccessfully sought National Party pre-selection for the federal seat of Maranoa in 1990, as well as contesting, and losing, the state seat of Fitzroy in the Beattie-slide election of 2001, while I was previously a long-term member of the Labor Party, and even served as a ministerial adviser to the Rudd and Gillard Governments – but the ideal that politics is, or at least can be, a noble profession, is.

I was never much of a country kid, although it did teach me about silence – both the good and the terrible.

Like many such myths, behind the archetype of the ‘strong and silent’ man of the land lies a sliver of truth. In this case, for many farmers, my dad included, they would leave the house in the early morning, and try to do most of the demanding physical labour before the heat of the day’s middle. But a farm’s unending tasks cannot be ignored, keeping them occupied through to sunset when they finally return to the house. They might not speak to, let alone see, another human in daylight hours. For days on end.

These days – and especially working from home through the pandemic, which in my adult life has perhaps come closest to replicating that absence of day-to-day real inter-personal contact – I don’t consider my dad so much as reserved, as simply having fallen out of the habit of engaging with other people.


There are some benefits to this physical dislocation. I’m grateful to my youth for the gift of an active inner-life, and strong inner-voice, attributes which come in handy in a now-socially distant, social media-driven world.

And for the innate sense of comfort in solitude, of doing everyday things on my own, something I know others, who grew up always being surrounded by people, often struggle with. 

Inevitably, though, there are downsides as well. For me, these came in years 6 and 7 of primary school, when my sister and brother had already left for boarding school, with dad working on the farm and mum doing shift-work as a nurse at the same mine where my brother now works.

That period of engulfing, overwhelming, silence transformed an awkwardly, but conventionally, shy 10-year-old boy into a painfully introverted 12-year-old.

It left me completely unprepared to be transported several hundred kilometres away, to that same school in Brisbane as my siblings, a boarding house of hundreds, and school of more than 1,000 – with no privacy, or silence, for the next five years.

I constantly felt alone in that particular crowd.

I’m not sure that, having discovered I was same-gender attracted on my first day there (a long story for another time) and the school’s fervent, at times ferocious, homophobia, I was ever going to find much happiness in that toxic environment.

But I’m certain the lingering effects of that late-primary school drought in conversation, my under-developed communications skills and overly-honed ability to retreat into my thoughts, meant I started at a distinct disadvantage.

It would be many years before I would finally find the comfort of my own community, and a sense of home with others of my kind.

I was never much of a country kid, even if I inherited a lot from my mum too. She also grew up on a cattle property, which was even more isolated (on the Isaac River, south-west of Mackay). 

Her father died when she was 13, however, and she eventually had to leave the land, moving to Mackay and looking after herself by becoming a nurse.

Those early hardships meant mum had to fight harder than dad for what she had. She learnt that sometimes help is not on its way, that you have to look after yourself.

And she developed a fearsome backbone – I was always much, much more scared of her than I was of dad.

The same was true for our (thankfully infrequent) arguments – she never backs down, a trait which I, as her youngest child, seem to take strongly after. It certainly makes dinner time discussion interesting.

[Mustering with the family (and yes, that’s me on the end).]

I was never much of a country kid, although it did teach me the fundamental lesson that water is life. Growing up on the farm, you get to observe first-hand the abundance that comes from having enough water. And the death that arrives – of grass, and cattle, and eventually hope – when that water departs.

So you obsess about the weather, and the Southern Oscillation Index, and Indian Ocean Dipole.

Long after moving to the city, my mind still doesn’t make the association of 420 with marijuana, instead that’s the time the Bureau of Meteorology’s afternoon forecast is released.


But it also taught me a deeper truth about power, or rather powerlessness.
Because my dad’s entire livelihood, and our family’s fortunes, depended on something over which we had exactly zero control – whether enough wet stuff fell from the sky. And even whether it fell at the right times.

A reality brutally reinforced when, for the five years I was away at boarding school, the rain stopped falling.

For some of those years, it was six months or more between even the briefest of showers. Some of the stock died, more had to be sold off. There were no crops.

The only reason the business didn’t go under was because of mum’s income from the mine.

It was difficult watching my parents endure that drought, especially from a distance of 800km. But toughest of all was knowing there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.


When I was younger, I drew the wrong lesson from that painful experience.

I used to think that being dependent on the vagaries of the weather was an excellent reason not to be a farmer. And while that’s still true, in my youthful arrogance, or at least naivety, I thought I could instead study, and work, in areas where I would be able to exert control over my own destiny.

It took me until my 30s to comprehend that you can never really have power over your surroundings. No matter what you do, or where you live, you are dependent on so many different things around you that lie entirely outside of your control.

It might not be as black and white (or green and brown) as whether it rains or not, but you have to embrace your powerlessness and just get on and do the best job you can.

[When it rained enough, we grew wheat. My dad in a wheatfield, and the view to Blackdown Tableland.]

I was never much of a country kid, but for a long time that was how most other people perceived me. I suppose that much was unavoidable during my five years at boarding school – especially the first three when I was in the same dorm as my quintessentially rural brother. Even when I was at university in Canberra, however, somehow the metaphorical odour of hayseed and manure seemed to follow me around.

I don’t know that I would say I was ever truly ashamed of it – and certainly not in the same, visceral way I experienced shame about being gay while I was in the closet – but I was definitely embarrassed about my country origins.

For a long time I took deliberate steps to conceal my bush background, making sure to eliminate any hint of a rural twang in my accent, and speaking little about my childhood.

By the time I moved to Melbourne in my mid-twenties, very few people could have guessed I grew up on a cattle property in the middle of Queensland.

I was never much of a country kid, although that didn’t stop me from playing up the fact I grew up on a ‘station in the outback’ to pick up men interested in that kind of thing. A tactic that was particularly successful in my post-Brokeback Mountain North American summer holiday of 2006.

I was never much of a country kid, but I couldn’t escape it even when I worked in politics. As an adviser, whenever I had to go to the Senate chamber from the ministerial wing, I would walk past the National Party Senate Whip’s office.

With the door open, passers-by could see a long scroll celebrating all the people who had ever been Senators for the Country/National Party. About half-way down was my grandfather’s (dad’ dad) name, who served for a decade in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The fact my grandfather had voted to block supply against Gough Whitlam was a source of much amusement to my first boss there, John Faulkner (an avid historian of the parliamentary Labor Party).

Things became even stranger under my second boss, Joe Ludwig. At the start of the second term, Gillard appointed him Minister for Agriculture. As one of only a handful of Labor advisers who grew up on the land, he asked me to stay on. Suddenly I was Senior Adviser with responsibility for meat and livestock issues, including the cattle industry. 

Never in a million years did I imagine, growing up in 1980s Central Queensland perennially dreaming of the day I could finally leave for the city, in my 30s I would end up providing advice on beef policy.

The denouement of my time in politics was perhaps the most bizarre. One of my final responsibilities was to accompany Joseph to ‘Beef 2012’ in Rockhampton.

For those who may be unfamiliar, ‘Beef’ is basically a week-long carnival of carnivorism, held every three years (coincidentally, for a long time one of my aunts was involved in its organisation).

It was the kind of event I spent my childhood desperately trying to avoid being dragged along to. Yet there I was, shepherding the Minister around, showing him the exhibits, introducing him to stakeholders – even to my parents, who had driven up especially for the occasion. Completely surreal.

I was never much of a country kid, or so I had always told myself. My subconscious clearly must have disagreed.

In my late 20s I hit what could be described, in an understated way, as a rough patch. The depression I developed because of that homophobic boarding school had never really left me. My choices for self-medication (party drugs) and self-esteem (seeking to be affirmed through physical desire from others) had, unsurprisingly, not helped either. The breakdown of the first relationship in which I had fallen, hard, was enough to push me to try to end it all. And it nearly did. End.

Apparently, in the suicide note (which I still don’t remember writing) I asked to be cremated and for my ashes to be spread over the farm where I grew up. I guess, deep down, it must have felt like home.

[Dear reader, in case you’re worried, I’m fine now. Better than fine. I managed to draw on the same resilience my mum had shown, and overcome my depression. But please, if you’re considering sending your child to a school that treats LGBT kids as second-class, in any way, just don’t. And that goes doubly so for anti-LGBT religious boarding schools. Thanks.]

I was never much of a country kid, back when I actually was a kid. But from my early 30s onwards – that point in life when you exhale, and stop running from the things you were convinced you needed distance from – I think I become a little bit more ‘country’ with each passing year.

It started with little things, like finding visits to my parents’ farm more calming than constricting.

Or seeing the horses and other animals through Steve’s eyes; independently beautiful rather than creatures of industry.

While the idea of being apart, external to the action, once terrifying, now appeals.

Indeed, nothing confirmed this evolution as much as the first home Steve and I bought – a 2-bedroom, high-rise apartment in inner-city Sydney. 

Lots of things went wrong with the apartment, physically, from leaking windows to clogged drains, and even builders needing to rip holes in the walls to fix cracked A/C pipes.

But I wasn’t prepared for it feeling wrong, mentally, as well. Having finally planted roots in the buzzing heart of the metropolis and, well, I wanted to be literally anywhere else. He did, too.

We’ve made some major changes since then, including moving to Wollongong which is both closer to his parents, and further away from the madding crowd.

Somewhat more drastically, we also sold that unit and instead bought our future retirement house… in Queensland (surprising myself, but my mother more).

Sure, it might be closer to one acre than 16,000, and it’s on the Blackall Range of the Sunshine Coast Hinterland rather than having a view of the Blackdown Tablelands.

But it’s big enough for plenty of fruit trees, and has space for a couple of dogs (pets, this time) to roam.

There’s even a chook shed in the back corner (I’m not convinced whether we’ll use it yet, although at least I’ll know what to do).

Oh, and did I mention my parents live on the block next door?

I was always a country kid. Even if I didn’t accept it for a long time, because I couldn’t see myself in the various clichés of what that supposedly entailed.

You would think spending years fighting against stereotypes on the basis of sexual orientation would mean I understood that stereotypes of who is ‘country’ can be limiting and inaccurate, too. Well, I got there eventually.

Growing up in country Australia has influenced me in countless ways I have only recently begun to comprehend, and I’m sure in others I haven’t figured out yet.

I am undeniably a product of those years spent on the land, of the quiet and the isolation.

Obviously of my parents, too: softly-spoken and gentle, but with hidden backbone and not afraid of the argument (which, incidentally, are handy attributes for an LGBTI law reform advocate).

Even though my childhood looked very different to those of my sister and brother, being a country kid is just as much a part of my story as theirs. And I’m finally comfortable with that.

For LGBTI people, if this post has raised issues for you, please contact QLife on 1800 184 527, or via webchat:

Or contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

A Quick Guide to Australian LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Laws

Quick Guide Final

I’ve written a lot about Australian LGBTI anti-discrimination and anti-vilification issues over the years, including specific articles on each relevant Commonwealth, State and Territory law (those posts can be found here).

This article seeks to take a broader approach, comparing who these laws cover, what religious exceptions they contain, and whether they provide protection against vilification, among other key questions. [Up to date at 7 January 2022]

  1. What is the relevant law?




Sex Discrimination Act 1984

New South Wales

Anti-Discrimination Act 1977

Equal Opportunity Act 2010


Anti-Discrimination Act 1991

Western Australia

Equal Opportunity Act 1984
South Australia

Equal Opportunity Act 1984


Anti-Discrimination Act 1998

Australian Capital Territory

Discrimination Act 1991

Northern Territory

Anti-Discrimination Act

  1. Are lesbians, gay men and bisexuals protected against discrimination?

Lesbians and gay men



New South Wales



Western Australia

South Australia


Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory

As you can see, the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 is the only anti-discrimination law in Australia that does not cover bisexual people[i] (relatedly, it is also the only jurisdiction where heterosexuals have no protection under anti-discrimination law).

  1. Are transgender people protected against discrimination?

Different jurisdictions have adopted different approaches to transgender anti-discrimination protection, in large part due to when their respective laws were introduced. This means that while some cover gender identity broadly,[ii] others only protect trans people with binary gender identities (where a person identifies with the ‘opposite’ gender to that which they were assigned at birth – eg MTF and FTM trans people) and exclude people with non-binary or other gender diverse identities.[iii]


Trans people with binary gender identities

People with non-binary gender identities


New South Wales



Western Australia

South Australia


Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory


Disappointingly, only five jurisdictions cover people with both binary and non-binary gender identities (although the Victorian protections, introduced as part of recent legislation banning sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices, have yet to legally come into force).

While seven laws at a minimum cover all people with binary gender identities, there are two jurisdictions that have adopted even narrower definitions:

  • The Western Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984 only covers people who have been issued with a recognition certificate under the Gender Reassignment Act 2000 (meaning those people who have transitioned and where that transition has been recognised by the Government). This issue will hopefully be addressed through the current WA Law Reform Commission inquiry into the Equal Opportunity Act;[iv]
  • The Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Act protects ‘transsexuality’ as part of the definition of ‘sexuality’ – some people who have binary gender identities (MTF or FTM) may not identify with this terminology. While the NT Government undertook a consultation to modernise the Anti-Discrimination Act in 2018, these has sadly been little movement since then (for more information, see their consultation paper here.)
  1. Are intersex people protected against discrimination?



New South Wales



Western Australia

South Australia


Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory

When the Commonwealth Government passed the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013, it became the first national parliament in the world to include ‘intersex status’ as a protected attribute.[v] Since then, Tasmania, the ACT, South Australia and Victoria have all introduced amendments to protect intersex people against discrimination.

It should be noted however that intersex advocates have called for this terminology to be updated, with ‘intersex status’ replaced with the protected attribute of ‘sex characteristics’ (as part of the historic March 2017 Darlington Statement).

To date, the Tasmanian Parliament has amended its Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 to cover ‘intersex variations of sex characteristics’, while in August 2020 the ACT Legislative Assembly replaced intersex status with ‘sex characteristics’, with a definition supported by intersex organisations. In February 2021, the Victorian Parliament added ‘sex characteristics’ to the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, although as with protections for non-binary people discussed above, these provisions have yet to take effect.

  1. Are LGBT people protected against discrimination by religious organisations (general)?

As I have written extensively elsewhere, one of the key weaknesses of most LGBTI anti-discrimination laws in Australia is that they provide special rights for religious organisations to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.[vi] We will first examine how these religious exceptions operate generally, before looking specifically at the issues of students in religious schools (question 6) and teachers and other staff in religious schools (question 7).


Do LGBT people have any protections against discrimination by religious organisations?

LGBT people have limited protections against religious discrimination

LGBT people have general protections against religious discrimination


Aged care*
New South Wales



Western Australia

South Australia Teachers*


Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory

There is only one LGBTI anti-discrimination law in Australia that offers full legal protection against discrimination by religious organisations, in all circumstances: Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act 1998. That is because the religious exceptions contained in that legislation only allow religious organisations to discriminate on the basis of people’s religious beliefs, and not on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex variations of sex characteristics (or relationship status).

The recently passed amendments in Victoria (via the Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Amendment Act 2021) come close, only allowing discrimination on the basis of religious belief in religious schools (in relation to both students and teachers), in employment and in service provision by religious organisations that is Government funded. However, it continues to allow discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in service provision by religious organisations where it is not Government funded.

The Act Discrimination Act 1991 also provides protections in relation to religious schools (covered in more detail in the following questions), but continues to allow discrimination in both employment and service provision by religious organisations outside the field of education.

On the other hand, the religious exceptions contained in the anti-discrimination laws of New South Wales and Western Australia provide religious organisations with carte blanche to discriminate against LGBT people. Section 56 of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 is a typical example of the special rights given to these bodies:

“Nothing in this Act affects:

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

(b) the training or education of persons seeking ordination or appointment as priests, ministers of religious 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 avid injury to the religious susceptibilities of the adherents of that religion.”

The other jurisdictions offer only limited protections against religious-based discrimination against LGBT people. Under the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, religious organisations can discriminate against LGBT people in all circumstances other than with respect to LGBT people accessing Commonwealth-funded aged care services[vii] (although they can still discriminate against LGBT employees in these facilities, using public monies).

The Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 actually contains the fourth-best protections for LGBT people against discrimination by religious organisations. It does not allow discrimination against LGBT students in religious schools, and has limited protections for teachers, too (see questions 6 and 7 respectively). More broadly, it does not provide a general right for religious organisations to discriminate against LGBT employees, but instead limits this right to employees where acting, or not acting, in a particular way breaches the ‘genuine occupational requirements’ of that position.[viii]

The South Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984 provides broad religious exceptions outside religious schools, where they are (probably, although not conclusively) able to discriminate against LGBT students, and have to satisfy procedural obligations in order to discriminate against LGBT teachers (see questions 6 and 7, below).

Finally, the religious exceptions contained in the Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Act are narrower than in other jurisdictions because of the specific wording that is used:

“Section 51 This Act does not apply to or in relation to: …

(d) an act by a body established for religious purposes if the act is done as part of any religious observance or practice.”

This at least restricts the discrimination that is permissible to acts in relation to ‘religious observance or practice’ only (although there are specific exceptions in relation to employment in religious schools – see question 7 below).

  1. Are LGBT students protected against discrimination by religious schools?

LGBT students at religious schools


New South Wales



Western Australia

South Australia

Probably not*

Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory

There are five jurisdictions in which LGBT students are clearly protected against discrimination by religious schools: Tasmania, Queensland, the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory and, most recently, Victoria.

In another jurisdiction, the level of protection is debatable. In South Australia section 37 of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 provides quite broad protections against discrimination by educational authorities against students on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.[ix] However, it is likely these protections are still overridden by the broad religious exceptions contained in sub-section 50(1)(c).[x]

In the other jurisdictions, namely the Commonwealth, NSW, and Western Australia, LGBT students do not have protection against discrimination by religious schools. Indeed, the exceptions contained in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 go even further, allowing discrimination against lesbian, gay and transgender students by all private schools and colleges, even where those institutions are not religious.[xi]

For more on this subject, see Back to School, Back to Discrimination for LGBT Students and Teachers.

7. Are LGBT teachers protected against discrimination by religious schools?


LGBT teachers at religious schools


New South Wales



Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell*
Western Australia

South Australia

Procedural requirements*

Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory

Only three Australian LGBTI anti-discrimination laws fully protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teachers and other staff at religious schools against discrimination: Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act 1998, the ACT Discrimination Act 1991 and, following recent amendments, the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 2010.

In Queensland, religious schools are allowed to discriminate against people who work for religious schools where “the person openly acts in a way that the person knows or ought reasonably to know is contrary to the employer’s religious beliefs, during a selection process; or in the course of the person’s work; or in doing something connected with the person’s work; and it is a genuine occupational requirement of the employer that the person… act in a way consistent with the employer’s religious beliefs.”[xii]

However, religious schools are not allowed to ‘seek information’ in relation to an employee’s sexual orientation or gender identity. In effect, LGBT teachers and other staff at religious schools in Queensland are subject to a ‘Don’t Ask’ Don’t Tell’ policy (which, as was seen in relation to the United States military, is nevertheless an unjust and unjustifiable imposition on a minority group).

In South Australia, religious schools are allowed to discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff, however this ‘right’ is subject to procedural requirements, including that the school must have a written policy outlining its discriminatory policy which is provided to people interviewed for or offered employment. The policy must also be provided on request, free of charge, to employees, students and parents (and prospective employees, students and parents) as well as to general members of the public.[xiii]

In all other Australian jurisdictions (the Commonwealth, NSW, Western Australia and the Northern Territory[xiv]), religious schools are free to discriminate against LGBT teachers. Once again, in NSW this extends to all private schools and colleges, even where they are not religious.[xv]

For more on this subject, see Back to School, Back to Discrimination for LGBT Students and Teachers.

8. Are lesbians, gay men and bisexuals protected against vilification?


Lesbians and gay men


New South Wales



Western Australia

South Australia


Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory

Only four Australian jurisdictions offer any anti-vilification protections for the LGBTI community: NSW, Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT.

In NSW, the situation has been complicated by recent amendments to both the Anti-Discrimination Act and the Crimes Act. In short, while lesbians, gay men and bisexuals are all covered by the new ‘inciting violence provisions’ in the Crimes Act, only lesbians and gay men can make civil vilification complaints to the Anti-Discrimination Board.

In contrast, the Commonwealth, Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia all have protections against racial vilification, but fail to offer equivalent protections against anti-LGBTI vilification. Although it should be noted that the Victorian Parliament is currently investigating this issue. The Northern Territory does not currently prohibit either racial or anti-LGBTI vilification.

For more on this subject, see Did You Know? Most Australian Jurisdictions Don’t Prohibit Anti-LGBTI Vilification.

9. Are trans and intersex people protected against vilification?


Trans people with binary gender identities

People with non-binary gender identities



New South Wales Partial




Western Australia

South Australia


Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory

Four jurisdictions protect transgender people with binary gender identities against vilification (NSW, Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT). However, the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 does not protect people with non-binary identities, while the situation in NSW is similar to that described above: trans, non-binary and intersex people are included in the Crimes Act incitement to violence provisions, but only trans people with binary identities can make civil vilification complaints under the Anti-Discrimination Act.

Only Tasmania and the ACT fully protect people with non-binary gender identities against vilification. Those same jurisdictions – Tasmania and the ACT – are also the only places in Australia to completely prohibit vilification on the basis of intersex status (which is ‘intersex variations of sex characteristics’ in Tasmania).

For more on this subject, see Did You Know? Most Australian Jurisdictions Don’t Prohibit Anti-LGBTI Vilification.

10. What other issues exist with Australian LGBTI anti-discrimination laws?

The above questions have examined three main areas of the LGBTI anti-discrimination laws across the Commonwealth, and the States and Territories:

  • Protected Attributes
  • Religious Exceptions, and
  • Anti-Vilification Coverage.

However, these are not the only areas where there are significant problems with the anti-discrimination laws that apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and bisexual people in Australia. The following is a non-exhaustive list of some of the other issues I have come across:

Commonwealth: The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 does not establish a position of LGBTI Discrimination Commissioner (despite providing for a Sex Discrimination Commissioner). This leaves Australia’s LGBTI community at a significant disadvantage compared to other vulnerable groups, and should be rectified (for more on this issue, see: Why we need a full-time LGBTI Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission).

NSW: The Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 allows employers with five employees or less to discriminate against LGBT employees[xxi]. There are no such provisions allowing employers to discriminate on the basis of race.

Victoria: The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 doesn’t just allow religious organisations to discriminate against LGBT people, it also includes a special right for individuals to do the same[xxii] (a provision that does not seem to be replicated in any other jurisdiction).

Queensland: The Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 includes a particularly abhorrent section which allows discrimination against transgender people in relation to employment that involves children. Section 28 states:

“Work with children

(1) It is not unlawful to discriminate on the basis of lawful sexual activity or gender identity against a person with respect to a matter that is otherwise prohibited under subdivision 1 if-

(a) the work involves the care or instruction of minors; and

(b) the discrimination is reasonably necessary to protect the physical, psychological or emotional wellbeing of minors having regard to all the relevant circumstances of the case, including the person’s actions.”

Western Australia: While the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 allows for positive discrimination “to ensure that persons of a particular sexual orientation have equal opportunities with other persons”[xxiii] there are no equivalent provisions allowing for positive discrimination for transgender people.

South Australia: Disappointingly, the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 makes it lawful to discriminate “on the ground of gender identity in relation to employment or engagement if the discrimination is for the purposes of enforcing standards of appearance and dress reasonably required for the employment or engagement.”[xxiv]

11. Are LGBTI people protected against discrimination under the Commonwealth Fair Work Act 2009?

While most anti-discrimination protections are included in the nine Commonwealth, state and territory laws discussed above, there is also a key protection against discrimination located in the Fair Work Act 2009.


Are lesbians, gay men and bisexuals protected under the Fair Work Act?

Are transgender people protected? Are intersex people protected?
Commonwealth ?


Unfortunately, it is unclear whether the Commonwealth Fair Work Act 2009 protects all parts of the LGBTI community against discrimination. That is because section 351 currently provides that:

“(1) An employer must not take adverse action against a person who is an employee, or prospective employee, of the employer because of the person’s race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer’s responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin.”

Given the inclusion of sexual orientation, it is clear that lesbians, gay men and bisexuals enjoy protection. However, the omission of gender identity and sex characteristics/intersex status means it is possible that trans, gender diverse and intersex people are not covered against adverse action or unlawful termination.[xxv]

There is a possibility that the Fair Work Commission will interpret ‘sex’ to include gender identity and potentially intersex, based on this information on their website. However, this is open to legal challenge, and may be overturned in the Federal Court. The only way to put workplace protection for trans, gender diverse and intersex people beyond doubt would be to add gender identity and sex characteristics to the Fair Work Act.

The extensive religious exceptions which appear in the Fair Work Act 2009, which allow religious organisations to discriminate against LGB employees, should also be repealed at the same time. For more on this subject, see Unfairness in the Fair Work Act.


For more detailed analysis of the LGBTI anti-discrimination laws that operate in the Commonwealth, and each State and Territory, see:


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[i] NSW protects only ‘homosexuality’, with the definition in section 4 of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 stating that ‘homosexual means male or female homosexual’. In contrast, other jurisdictions either include a protected attribute of ‘sexual orientation’, or specifically include both homosexuality and bisexuality.

[ii] For example, section 4 of the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 defines gender identity as ‘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.’

[iii] For example, section 38A of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 states that ‘[a] reference in the Part to a person being transgender or a transgender person is a reference to a person… (i) who identifies as a member of the opposite sex by living, or seeking to live, as a member of the opposite sex, or (ii) who has identified as a member of the opposite sex by living as a member of the opposite sex…’

[iv] The Western Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984 prohibits discrimination ‘against a gender reassigned person on gender history grounds’ (section 35AB), where section 4 defines a gender reassigned person as ‘a person who has been issued with a recognition certificate under the Gender Reassignment Act 2000’ while section 35AA states that ‘a person has a gender history if the person identifies as a member of the opposite sex by living, or seeking to live, as a member of the opposite sex.’

[v] With ‘intersex status’ defined in section 4 of the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 as ‘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] In this section, I refer primarily to LGBT people, rather than LGBTI people, because it is generally understood that religious exceptions would not (or at the very least should not) be used against people with intersex variations.

[vii] Sub-section 37(2) of the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 limits the general religious exceptions contained in the Act by stating that they do “not apply to an act or practice of a body established for religious purposes if:

(a) the act or practice is connected with the provision, by the body, of Commonwealth-funded aged care; and

(b) the act or practice is not connected with the employment or persons to provide that aged care.”

[viii] Sub-section 25(3) of the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 provides that:

“It is not unlawful for an employer to discriminate with respect to a matter that is otherwise prohibited under section 14 or 15, in a way that is not unreasonable, against a person if-

(a) the person openly acts in a way that the person knows or ought reasonably know is contrary to the employer’s religious beliefs-

(i) during a selection process; or

(ii) in the course of the person’s work; or

(iii) in doing something connected with the person’s work; and

(b) it is a genuine occupational requirement of the employer that the person, in the course of, or in connection with, the person’s work, act in a way consistent with the employer’s religious beliefs.”

[ix] SA Equal Opportunity Act 1984: “Section 37- Discrimination by educational authorities …

(2) It is unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a student on the ground of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity-

(a) in the terms or conditions on which it provides the student with training or education; or

(b) by denying or limiting access to a benefit provided by the authority; or

(c) by expelling the student; or

(d) by subjecting the student to other detriment.”

[x] SA Equal Opportunity Act 1984: “This Part does not render unlawful discrimination in relation to-

(c) any other practice of a body established for religious purposes that conforms with the precepts of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of the adherents of that religion.”

[xi] Sections 38K(3) and 49ZO(3), NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977.

[xii] Sub-sections 25(2) and (3) of the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991.

[xiii] SA Equal Opportunity Act 1984: Sub-section 34(3):

“This Division does not apply to discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation or gender identity in relation to employment or engagement for the purposes of an educational institution if-

(a) the educational institution is administered in accordance with the precepts of a particular religion and the discrimination is founded on the precepts of that religion; and

(b) the educational authority administering the institution has a written policy stating its position in relation to the matter; and

(c) a copy of the policy is given to a person who is to be interviewed for or offered employment with the authority or a teacher who is to be offered engagement as a contractor by the authority; and

(d) a copy of the policy is provided on request, free of charge-

(i) to employees and contractors and prospective employees and contractors of the authority to whom it relates or may relate; and

(ii) to students, prospective students and parents and guardians of students and prospective students of the institution; and

(iii) to other members of the public.”

[xiv] Despite its relatively narrow religious exceptions, section 37A of the NT Anti-Discrimination Act provides an explicit right for religious schools to discriminate against LGBT teachers:

“An educational authority that operates or proposes to operate an educational institution in accordance with the doctrine of a particular religion may discriminate against a person in the area of work in the institution if the discrimination:

(a) is on the grounds of:

(i) religious belief or activity; or

(ii) sexuality; and

(b) is in good faith to avoid offending the religious sensitivities of people of the particular religion.”

[xv] Sub-sections 38C(3)(c) and 49ZH(3)(c), NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977.

[xvi] Footnote removed.

[xvii] Footnote removed.

[xviii] Footnote removed.

[xix] Footnote removed.

[xx] Footnote removed.

[xxi] Sub-sections 38C(3)(b) and 49ZO(3)(b), NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977.

[xxii] Section 84, Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 2010.

[xxiii] Section 35ZD, Western Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984.

[xxiv] Sub-section 34(4), South Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984.

[xxv] The inclusion of ‘marital status’ rather than ‘marital or relationship status’ is also out-dated.

5 Years of Blogging: Highlights & Thanks

Next month (July 2017) will mark five years of writing this blog. In that time, I’ve published more than 200 articles, submissions and open letters, on a wide range of topics, from marriage equality to anti-discrimination laws and plenty in between.


For reasons I will explain at the end of this post, now is an appropriate time to take a quick look back on what have been some of the highlights of the past five years, as well as to express my gratitude to the support I have received during that time (and from one person in particular).


  1. #NoPlebiscite


One of the things I am proudest of was my contribution to the campaign to stop the unnecessary, wasteful & divisive plebiscite on marriage equality. While obviously the #NoPlebiscite campaign was a group effort, and I was only one of many people involved, I think I managed to play an important role – from refining the arguments against the plebiscite, to producing effective social media messaging/materials, and conducting one of the community surveys which established that the LGBTI community would rather take the risk that marriage equality might be delayed rather than accept the certainty of young and vulnerable LGBTI people being harmed.


For more of my thoughts on the campaign against the plebiscite, see Pride, Pressure & Perseverance.


  1. #ItsTimeToBind


Another campaign in which I played something of a leading role was the push for the Australian Labor Party to adopt a binding vote on marriage equality at its 2015 National Conference. Unlike the campaign against the plebiscite, #ItsTimeToBind was only partially successful: ALP MPs and Senators will only be bound to vote for marriage equality after the next federal election (to be held in late 2018 or early 2019).


Nevertheless, if there is a change of government (which seems more likely than not at this stage), this rule change means there will be no further delays on a reform that has been delayed for far too long already – a newly-elected Shorten Labor Government will be able to pass marriage equality in a matter of months.


For more on this campaign, see What ALP National Conference Delegates Should Hear About Marriage Equality.


  1. ALP National Conference 2015


One of the things I have tried to do with this blog – and sometimes I have done this more successfully than others – is to ensure that my LGBTI activism and advocacy is about more than just marriage equality. In the lead-up to that conference this meant pursuing a broad LGBTI agenda (see 15 LGBTI Priorities for ALP National Conference 2015), beyond simply achieving a binding vote.


As a result, I drafted at least 13 different amendments to the ALP Platform that were ultimately successful, helping to contribute to the most progressive major party manifesto on LGBTI issues in Australian history. This included policies on youth suicide, homelessness, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia in schools, rainbow families and inter-country adoption, consideration of an LGBTI Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission and the introduction of vilification protections, LGBTI inclusion in foreign aid, and three amendments on intersex issues (including an end to involuntary medical procedures).


Perhaps the two reforms I am most proud of were a commitment to remove out-of-pocket medical expenses for trans people, and a declaration that “Labor will not detain, process or resettle lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex refugees or asylum-seekers in countries which have criminal laws against any of communities as it makes these places unsafe environments for all of them.”


  1. Diversity of Issues


This approach – writing about a diversity of LGBTI issues – is something I have attempted to do beyond just the 2015 ALP National Conference. And, while it has been easy at different points to be distracted by the fight for marriage equality, I am happy I have managed to focus on a broad range of other topics.


This includes posts on everything from anti-vilification laws to the homosexual advance defence, the age of consent and expungement for historical homosexual offences, rainbow families (including adoption, assisted reproductive technology and inter-country adoption), relationship recognition, gender identity and access to legal documentation, intersex autonomy and involuntary medical procedures, and LGBTI refugees and people seeking asylum.


Perhaps the only high-profile issue over the past five years that I haven’t written about (both because it has been written about extensively elsewhere, and because I didn’t have much original to add) was Safe Schools. But, at the same time, I was one of only a few people to focus on the issue of LGBTI inclusion in the National (and later NSW) Health & Physical Education Curriculums.


  1. Focus on LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Law


Possibly the main issue I have written about over the past five years – and especially over the past 18 months – has been anti-discrimination law, and how well, or poorly, it protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians.


This includes a specific focus on how LGBTI anti-discrimination law interacts with, and is undermined by, special rights to discriminate given to religious organisations (aka ‘religious exceptions’). I have also written about the strengths and weaknesses of current LGBTI anti-discrimination laws at Commonwealth level, and in every state and territory, in a series called ‘What’s Wrong With…’


To see all of my posts on LGBTI anti-discrimination law, including the issue of religious exceptions and the ‘What’s Wrong With…’ series, see: LGBTI Anti-Discrimination / #NoHomophobiaNoExceptions.


  1. The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia Survey


One of the more recent highlights of this blog was The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia survey, which I conducted at the start of 2017, the results of which I have published in a series of six posts from March to June.


These articles explored the discrimination experienced by (far too many) LGBTIQ Australians in terms of verbal harassment and abuse, physical abuse or violence, where discriminatory comments occur and their impact, discrimination in education, discrimination in employment, and discrimination in health, community services or aged care.


I encourage you to read these posts in full, including the many heartbreaking personal stories of discrimination shared by survey respondents. You can find them all here: The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia.


  1. Personal Stories


Some of the posts that I have found the most difficult to write (particularly as someone who is generally an introvert) are the ones where the subject matter has been deeply personal. These include several articles that discuss the ongoing inability of my fiancé, Steven, and I to marry under Australian law. On the other hand, I think they are probably some of the most powerful posts I have written, because they are personal in nature. You can judge for yourself, here: Personal.


  1. Feedback Received


One of the best things about writing a blog – of putting your thoughts down in ‘black and white’, and sharing them with the world – is the feedback you receive in return. This includes the many, many comments received via social media on my posts, some of which apparently aroused strong views (both for and against), but with the vast majority generating thoughtful responses from other passionate members of the LGBTI community.


Having said that, two particular pieces of feedback received over the past five years stand out in my memory:


  • The great Martina Navratilova tweeting that my piece In search of the elusive gay or bisexual male tennis player was “very well put” (it also happens to be the most popular piece I’ve ever published, by far), and
  • A comment from inspiring ACT UP activist Peter Staley on my review of the Oscar-nominated documentary ‘How to Survive a Plague’ in which he features (the review itself was far from best thing I’ve written – but his engagement made it worthwhile).




  1. Audience Reach


Another satisfying part of ‘blogging’ is seeing what you’ve written reach its audience. Admittedly, writing a blog that primarily concerns itself with LGBTI law reform and policy, in Australia, is the definition of a ‘niche’ endeavour.


Nevertheless, over the past five years my blog has received almost 90,000 views, and (as of 11 June 2017) has been visited by people in 189 different geographic regions. In fact, there aren’t many countries where someone hasn’t clicked on something I’ve written (although I am still waiting for first-time readers from North Korea, Turkmenistan, Liechtenstein, Greenland, Cuba, French Guiana, Lesotho, the Democratic Republic of Congo and, in our own region, Samoa and the Solomon Islands).


Obviously, choosing to write about the things I do means it is never going to be ‘clickbait’ – but it is still pleasing to know some people have found what I’ve written to be informative, or enjoyable (or hopefully a combination of both).


  1. Thanks


Which brings me to the most important part of this post – and that is to say thanks. Thank you to you, the readers, who have clicked on, read, liked, commented on and shared the more than 200 articles, submissions and open letters I have published here.


I have genuinely appreciated your interest, your views (including where you thought I got something wrong) and your support. Writing this blog has been one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever done, and being read by people who are passionate about the same things I am has definitely made it worthwhile.


But of course there is one person who deserves the most thanks of all – and that is my partner of almost nine years, and fiancé of more than seven, Steven. His support, encouragement, patience and, above all, belief has allowed me to devote my time and energy to this blog, and to the campaigns I have run here – I literally could not have done any of this without him. Thank you my beautiful man.


And that brings me to the underlying reason for this post. After almost five years of writing this blog, it is time to take a step – maybe even two – back and to focus on other things. This reflects an understandable desire to spend more of my available time with my fiancé. It also coincides with changing jobs (my new role will consume much more of my focus, especially in the next year or two).


At this stage, I’m still not 100% sure whether I will stop blogging completely, or whether it will simply be far less frequent (every couple of months, rather than three or four posts per month) or perhaps even about other subjects. Whatever the future holds, I’d just like to say that I hope you’ve enjoyed what I’ve written so far, and that I hope it has made a difference in some way, shape or form. Thanks very much for reading.

Malcolm Turnbull – ‘Mean, tricky, out of touch and not listening’

When Malcolm Turnbull’s political career is finally over – and that could be sooner rather than later – it is likely that the ‘highlights’ package run by TV stations – which, based on his ‘achievements’ to date, will also be shorter rather than longer – will include at least a brief mention of his role as head of the unsuccessful ‘Yes’ campaign in the 1999 republic referendum.


The footage they will probably show will be his (in)famous description of John Howard as ‘the Prime Minister who broke this nation’s heart’.


Almost 18 years later, it is somewhat ironic that this description could just as easily be applied to Turnbull’s own stint as the country’s leader.


Despite coming to the top job with enormous public good will, amid widespread relief that Tony Abbott was no longer Prime Minister, just 18 months later he has seemingly squandered it all.


It is almost as if he consciously set about smashing the high hopes and expectations the public once held, as the modern, moderate Malcolm rapidly became traditional ‘Tory’ Turnbull.


We may not be ‘broken-hearted’ (that description always was a touch grandiose), but we have certainly been left disheartened, and deeply disillusioned, by a man who has sold out his principles across a wide range of issues – from climate change to marriage equality, and most things in between – merely to keep his place in The Lodge.


This past week it appears Malcolm’s stint as PM has officially reached its nadir. And this time it is a different quote about John Howard that springs to mind.


On both section 18C, and the postal plebiscite, the Turnbull Government has revealed itself to be ‘mean, tricky, out of touch and not listening’, which is how then Liberal Party President Shane Stone notoriously described the Howard Government in an internal memo in early 2001.




The proposed reforms to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, which will make it easier to vilify people on the basis of their race (or, as Attorney-General Brandis once admitted, ensure people ‘have the right to be bigots’), are nakedly ‘mean-spirited’.


The Liberal-National Government is seeking to undermine anti-vilification laws that have protected Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and other Australians from ethnically diverse backgrounds, for more than two decades.


The entire justification for their unrelenting assault on section 18C is to simply repeat the word ‘freedom’ over and over again, and hope nobody notices that a largely homogeneous group of MPs and Senators, most of whom will never experience racism, are taking away protections from people who, depressingly, still need them.


The move to change the wording of section 18C, by replacing the words ‘offend, insult, humiliate’ with ‘harass’, is tricky, too.


Not just because the Prime Minister has tried, on multiple occasions, to describe this amendment as ‘strengthening’ anti-vilification laws (sorry, Prime Minister, we’re not that gullible).


But also because, on at least five separate occasions before the July 2016 federal election, Malcolm Turnbull said that his Government had no plans to change the Racial Discrimination Act.


Being confronted with this inconvenient history this week led Mr Turnbull to engage in this, frankly, extraordinary exchange:


“Journalist: But on backflips, you back flipped on 18C, you changed your mind on 18C. Don’t you agree this is what politicians do, they change their position?


Prime Minister: Again, I don’t accept that proposition at all.


Journalist: You said five times before the election that you wouldn’t change 18C and now you’re pushing through changes?


Prime Minister: What we said before the election was that we did not have any plans to change 18C and that was absolutely true. So again, as a guardian of the truth, you should be more careful with the language you attribute to me…”


‘Honest’ John Howard would be proud of that evasion. And it seems like the Australian electorate are the ones who need to be more careful, and not believe any future promises that Malcolm Turnbull might make.


Amending the wording of 18C is also the definition of a niche political issue, demonstrating that the Government is comprehensively out of touch with the concerns ordinary Australians.


It doesn’t take Einstein to realise most Australians are far more interested in health, education and employment – and increasingly, the cost of housing – than the supposed troubles of Andrew Bolt or (the late) Bill Leak.


Speaking of which, even Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce spoke against the proposals in the joint party room meeting on Tuesday (21 March), reportedly saying ‘the move to amend 18C is really dumb and it will lose the Coalition votes’.


Barnaby knows that this issue is not what John Howard called a ‘barbecue stopper’. For many people, if 18C came up at all it would most likely be in the context of wondering why the Turnbull Government is so obsessed by an issue that, as Treasurer Scott Morrison previously conceded, ‘doesn’t create one job, doesn’t open one business, doesn’t give anyone one extra hour’.


Of course, that is not to say nobody is focused on, or affected by, this issue. For a significant minority, and especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and Australians from ethnically diverse backgrounds, the changes to 18C are a threat to vital protections against the hate-speech that remains far-too-common.


And they have been making their voices heard, providing literally hundreds of submissions to the Parliamentary Joint Committee that considered this issue at the start of the year.


In the five days since these reforms were announced, there have also been joint statements against proposed changes to 18C by ‘[r]epresentatives from Greek, Armenian, Indigenous, Jewish, Indian, Arabic, Chinese, Vietnamese and Lebanese organisations.’


But the Turnbull Government is not listening to the millions of people who would be adversely affected by these new definitions.


Quite literally, in fact, as the Aboriginal Legal Service discovered when it attempted to provide evidence to the Senate Inquiry into the Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 on Friday, and Liberal and National Party Senators voted not to hear them.


Instead, the Turnbull Government is listening to the (maybe) tens of people – at the Institute of Public Affairs, and the Herald Sun and The Australian newspapers – who have been clamouring for these changes.


Or, as Barnaby Joyce acknowledged (and yes, I’m just as surprised as you are that I’m quoting him, approvingly, twice in the same article):


“This is an issue, it is an issue but I’ll be frank, it lives in the extremities of the bell curve. Where do you meet those people [who care about 18C]? At party meetings, they are absolutely blessed people and they are terribly politically involved and they have an intense interest in some of the minutiae of debate. They come into your office to rant and rave about it, all four of them.”


It is hard to summarise the proposed changes to 18C much better than that – the racial vilification laws that protect millions of Australians from hate-speech are being wound back because of the passionate and vocal interest of extremists inside the Liberal and National Parties who ultimately won’t be affected by it in the slightest.




Not content with displaying its fundamental flaws in relation to 18C, the past week also saw the Turnbull Government debating another subject on which it is consistently ‘mean, tricky, out of touch and not listening’: marriage equality.


Specifically, the man most likely to replace Malcolm as Prime Minister, Peter Dutton (now that’s a phrase I’d hoped never to write), has been actively pushing a proposal to hold a ‘postal plebiscite’ on this issue.


To be fair to the incumbent, Turnbull has so far not expressed formal support for this idea. But then he hasn’t ruled it out either, and, given he maintains his predecessor, Tony Abbott’s, policy in favour of a ‘traditional’ plebiscite, there is a real risk the postal plebiscite will become Government policy.


This is, at its core, another mean-spirited proposal.


Imposing a plebiscite – traditional or postal – to determine whether lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians should enjoy equal rights under the law is a hurdle that no other social group has been forced to overcome.


The idea that we need to hold such a vote to determine whether couples like Steve and me can say ‘I do’ is so ridiculous that it should have been laughed off. But it isn’t just couples like Steve and me, who have only been together eight and a half years, affected by the ongoing ban on marriage equality.


It also denies the rights of couples like Peter de Waal and Peter Bonsall-Boone, who have been together for more than 50 years, and who simply want to be married under the law just like any other couple.


Holding a postal plebiscite will take several months, and a positive result would still need to be confirmed by legislation afterwards. This is time that some couples do not have:


“I doubt that I will live long enough to see same-sex marriage,” said Bonsall Boone, who is now battling cancer. 


Therefore, the idea that the Government could hold a postal plebiscite on marriage equality isn’t just unprecedented, or ridiculous, it is downright offensive, especially when the alternative is so obvious.


As De Waal says: “[t]he simplest, cheapest, quickest and fairest way to resolve this inequality is a free vote in federal parliament now!”


The postal plebiscite is also tricky in two key ways. First, the legislation to hold a traditional plebiscite on marriage equality was firmly rejected by the Senate in November last year.


Having failed in that attempt, for the Government to turn around and hold one anyway, this time via post and therefore not requiring parliamentary approval, is both sly and underhanded.


Or, as Liberal backbencher Trent Zimmerman acknowledged: “it [is] the wrong path because it would be seen as ‘tricky and sneaky’, it would be non-binding and its result could be disregarded” [emphasis added].


Second, the nature of a postal plebiscite would effectively stack the decks against marriage equality. The group most likely to engage via post – older Australians – are also the least likely to support marriage equality. The converse is also true – many younger people, who are overwhelmingly in favour of the equal rights of LGBTI people, would be less likely to vote this way.


A postal plebiscite would also inevitably be a contest between passionate advocates at either end of the debate, instead of the middle Australia who, as demonstrated by opinion poll after opinion poll, are, to use John Howard’s phrase, entirely ‘comfortable and relaxed’ about the idea of two men, or two women, marrying.


Finally, as Mr Zimmerman suggests, the lower turnout of a postal plebiscite would also reduce its legitimacy, making a public ‘yes’ vote easier for MPs to ignore (remembering that the same conservatives who now support a plebiscite questioned the validity of the Irish marriage equality referendum because ‘only’ 60% of people voted).


Just as with the changes to section 18C, the push for a postal plebiscite on marriage equality also reveals just how out of touch the current Liberal-National Government has become.


While the proposal to hold a traditional plebiscite was initially popular, that support dropped away dramatically through 2016 as people increasingly understood it would be unnecessary, wasteful and divisive.


A postal plebiscite is just as unnecessary, and would still be preceded by a bitter and hate-filled public debate. Perhaps the only ‘improvement’, if you could call it that, is that it would waste tens, rather than hundreds, of millions of dollars.


The idea itself seems to have appeared out of nowhere. I cannot recall any news story, or opinion piece, published prior to last week where anyone was calling for the plebiscite to be revived and for it to be conducted via post.


That simply confirms that this proposal is not about meeting any demonstrated need from the community – instead, it is being driven by the internal politics of a dysfunctional Government that steadfastly refuses to do the one thing that would actually end this issue once and for all: hold a free vote in parliament.


Finally, this is another instance of the Turnbull Government not listening to the people who are affected by this issue: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians.


As a community, we said a very firm ‘no’ to the idea of a traditional plebiscite in the second half of 2016, in large part because of the harm it would cause to young and vulnerable members of our community.


Based on everything that has been said since the absurd notion of a postal plebiscite was floated last week, we reject the idea of an optional opinion poll via return mail, too (perhaps even more strongly).


As Rodney Croome of just.equal notes: “[r]egardless of the model, a plebiscite does not mean more power to the people, but an abdication of responsibility by politicians. It is the coward’s way out.”


Or, in the words of Alex Greenwich from Australian Marriage Equality, it is a ‘desperate ploy’, and “[i]t would be seen as a pretty sneaky and underhanded way to do it, I mean, bypassing the parliament.”
All-in-all, this is an issue that only really affects LGBTI people, and our family members and friends. And we’ve already made our views on this topic very clear – we want marriage equality, we want it now, and we want it passed in the ordinary way: in parliament.


Almost 13 years after marriage equality was originally banned by John Howard’s Coalition Government in August 2004, it is time for Malcolm Turnbull’s Coalition Government to start listening to us and just get it done already. If they don’t, they might find themselves with a lot more free time come 2019.




These two policies – the proposed reforms to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, and the possible postal plebiscite – don’t just reveal a Government that is ‘mean, tricky, out of touch and not listening’. They are also two of the worst, and most indefensible, policies of an era that is already renowned for poor governance.


This Government actually wants to make it easier to vilify people on the basis of their race. Voluntarily holding a national public vote on marriage equality will see people vilified on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status, too.


They also share another similarity – they are things not even John Howard did. He had almost twelve years as Prime Minister, including two and half with a Senate majority, in which to wind back our racial vilification laws, and chose not to do so.


And, even though he legislated the ‘wrong’ way, he also knew that the issue of marriage equality was one that could and should be settled by our 226 elected representatives, sitting in our nation’s parliament.


In this way, we can see that Malcolm Turnbull won’t just be remembered as one of our most disappointing, and disheartening, Prime Ministers, someone who has comprehensively failed to live up to such high expectations. He will also go down as one of the worst. Period.


Howard and Turnbull

One of these things is too much like the other.

Submission re Foreign Policy White Paper



The Foreign Policy White Paper was released in November 2017 (under then Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, and then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull).


While in all four areas raised in my submission there were improvements from the call for submissions, in each the final outcome remains unsatisfactory.


First, after having not even mentioned climate change in the original call for submissions, the White Paper at least discusses climate change and some of the implications it raises for Australia, both here and internationally. This includes from page 33 and again from page 84.


However, there is little indication that climate change will be THE international policy challenge facing Australia in the 21st century, and very little discussion about what we will do to avoid it (although perhaps that has more do to with the complete lack of domestic commitment to combatting climate change).


Second, and again after not mentioning refugees, people seeking asylum and displaced persons as an issue in the call for submissions, the White Paper does at least discuss the challenge posed by more than 60 million displaced people around the world – albeit in a somewhat cursory fashion on pages 92 and 93 (and with little indication how we will play our role in helping to stop that number from growing even further).


Third, there is now some discussion of Australian aid, and the role that it can (and should) play, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region (including a commitment on page 97 that: “Australia will continue to work with international institutions such as the World Health Organization to help prevent, detect and respond to health emergencies and to combat antimicrobial resistance. Australia will invest a further $220 million in the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which as saved more than 20 million lives since 2002.”)


Although, perhaps unsurprisingly, there is no discussion of how Australia intends to restore our foreign aid budget to at least the 0.50% of GDP target which used to have bi-partisan support, let alone reach the 0.70% United Nations target.


Fourth, and finally, the term human rights also makes a belated and welcome appearance in the Foreign Policy White Paper. In particular, there is a pleasing focus on gender equality, and improving the situation for women and girls, both in our region and around the world.


However, despite the fact that up to 72 countries continue to criminalise homosexuality (source: ILGA 2017 State-Sponsored Homophobia Report), including our nearest neighbour Papua New Guinea, there is exactly zero reference to support for LGBTI rights around the world.


In contrast, there are multiple references of support for freedom of religion (reflecting the same disproportionate attention given to that right, over and above the rights of LGBTI people, that has dominated the Liberal-National Government during the Abbott, Turnbull and now Morrison leaderships).


Original Post:



Below is my personal submission regarding the development of the Australian Government’s Foreign Policy White Paper. Submissions close Tuesday 28 February 2017. For more details, please see the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade’s website.


Foreign Policy White Paper Submission



To whom it may concern,


Submission re Foreign Policy White Paper


Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission to inform the Australian Government’s development of its Foreign Policy White Paper.


This is a personal submission, prompted by the four-page Call for Submissions, published on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website.


In this submission, I will address four main issues that I believe must be addressed in any responsible Foreign Policy White Paper: climate change; refugees; foreign aid; and human rights.


Which is why it was so disappointing to note that three of these four issues were not mentioned, at all, in that four-page document.


There was not even a single mention of the threat posed by global warming, the humanitarian challenge of the growth in displaced persons and people seeking asylum, or the need to promote the human rights of all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, around the world.


Admittedly, there was at least one cursory reference to “our overseas development assistance program”, although, as we shall see below, even that was inadequate.


In any event, please see below my explanation of why each of these four policy areas must form a central part of the Foreign Policy White Paper that is expected to be released in late 2017.


  1. Climate Change & Global Warming


I find it extraordinary that the White Paper call for submissions completely failed to mention[i] what must be the most important challenge facing the world in the 21st century: climate change, and specifically accelerating global warming.


In 2017, there is no doubt that the actions of humans have contributed to a rapidly warming planet. Indeed, the Government’s own Bureau of Meteorology confirmed, in its most recent Annual Climate Statement[ii], that:


  • 2016 was Australia’s fourth warmest year on record, 0.87 degrees above the long-term average
  • It was also the warmest year on record for ocean temperatures in the Australian region, with an annual mean sea surface temperature 0.73 degrees above average, and
  • Our three most populous states, NSW, Victoria and Queensland, also had the highest average minimum temperatures on record during the past 12 months.


Globally, the news is even more confronting. The same report confirmed that:


  • 2016 was the warmest year on record around the world, 0.83 degrees above the long-term average
  • “This surpasses the previous record set in 2015, and is the third year running that the new record has been set” [emphasis added]
  • January, February, March, April, July, August and December 2016 were all the warmest respective months on record, and
  • “The global ocean surface temperature for the calendar year was also the warmest on record in 2016, surpassing the record set in 2015.”


This is nothing short of a climate emergency. And it is a situation that will directly affect Australia, and its people, just as it affects every other country and people in the world (after all, if the planet cooks, we will all cook with it).


The threat of climate change is an international problem – consequently, the response to it must be international in nature too. That includes a response from Australia, both through domestic policy (with the introduction of an effective price on carbon), but also in its foreign policy settings.


Climate change generally, and global warming specifically, may well be the most significant challenge we, as a species, have ever faced. I believe responding to this threat must be the number one priority of any new Foreign Policy White Paper that the Australian Government produces.



Climate change is real, and it cannot be ignored (source: Bureau of Meteorology).


  1. Refugees and People Seeking Asylum


A second issue that, almost as bizarrely, is not even mentioned in the Foreign Policy White Paper call for submissions is the growing number of displaced people around the world, including refugees and people seeking asylum.


This is despite the fact that the most recent Global Trends: Forced Displacement report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)[iii] noted that “[g]lobal forced displacement has increased in 2015, with record-high numbers.”


Indeed, that same report revealed there were:


  • 65.3 million forcibly displaced persons worldwide, including
    • 21.3 million refugees
    • 40.8 million internally displaced persons, and
    • 3.2 million asylum seekers
  • 12.4 million people newly displaced due to conflict or persecution in 2015 alone, and
  • 2.0 million asylum applications submitted (a new record-high) with 441,900 asylum claims just in Germany as a result of the war in Syria.


It should not have taken widely-shared, tragic photographs of Alan Kurdi in September 2015 to make us realise this is truly a global humanitarian crisis.


The numbers alone confirm that this is an international issue of the highest order, and addressing its causes, while responding to the consequences, must be a foreign policy priority for all countries, including Australia.


One of the many depressing statistics found in the UNHRC’s report confirms that it currently is not: “[d]uring 2015, the total number of refugees admitted for resettlement stood at 107,100”[iv]. That’s 107,100 out of a total of 21.3 million.


Of course, the Australian Government may claim that, given 9,400 of those refugees were resettled here (the third-highest of any country), we do not need to do more.


But that ignores the fact we benefit from our location, and isolation, and therefore do not have the same number of in-country applications for asylum as other places. And it also overlooks the wealth and privilege we currently enjoy.


As a country we can, and must, do more in response to the growing number of displaced persons around the world, and that should be reflected in our new Foreign Policy White Paper.



Source: UNHCR


  1. Foreign Aid


The one issue, out of the four priority areas highlighted above, that is at least touched on in the call for submissions is foreign aid. Topic 5: Australia confronts a range of strategic, security and transnational challenges on page 3 includes the following question:


“How can our foreign policy, including our overseas development assistance program, support a more prosperous, peaceful and stable region?”


However, while this question at least acknowledges the importance of foreign aid (or in this case ‘overseas development assistance’), it does so largely within the framework of Australia’s national interest, rather than in the context of our common humanity.


Irrespective of this broader ‘framing’, one of the main answers to this question is actually to increase our foreign aid spending.


Drastic budget cuts to Australia’s foreign aid budget in recent years – with $1 billion, or 20%, cut in 2015-16, and a further $224 million reduction in 2016-17 – have seen foreign aid as a share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fall to an estimated 0.23%[v].


Indeed, “[b]etween 2012 and 2016, Australia’s foreign aid as a share of national income has fallen steeply from 0.36% to 0.23%.”[vi]


This leaves our foreign aid allocation at less than half the previous bipartisan goal of reaching 0.5% of GDP by 2015.


And, significantly, it is less than one third of the United Nations target that countries provide at least 0.7% of their national income as foreign aid.


The cuts to foreign aid have the potential to cause real and lasting damage across our region, and around the world, to countries and people that can least afford it.


As a result, I believe that the Foreign Policy White Paper should feature both a recommitment to the United Nations target, as well as a de-coupling of our foreign aid budget from an almost-exclusive focus on Australia’s national interest.


If we fail to do either, then we are at grave risk of changing from the land of ‘the fair go’ to the country of ‘what’s in it for us?’



Foreign aid as a share of GDP is plummeting, according to the Government’s own figures (source: The Conversation).


  1. Human rights, including LGBTI rights


There is one final issue that is completely omitted from the four-page Call for Submissions regarding the Foreign Policy White Paper: international human rights.


As a long-term LGBTI advocate and activist, I would like to focus on one specific sub-set of international human rights – the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people around the world.


In June 2016, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) estimated that same-sex sexual acts were illegal in 72 states, or a full 37% of United Nations members[vii]. This includes 13 States (or part thereof) where same-sex sexual acts attract the death penalty.


The criminalisation of homosexuality is also a particular problem in our own region of Oceania, with prohibitions in our nearest neighbour Papua New Guinea, as well as Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu (plus Cook Islands who are associates to New Zealand).


There are an additional four countries in South-East Asia where same-sex acts remain illegal (Brunei Darussalam, parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore).


Long-standing LGBTI advocate Peter Tatchell last week actually stated that “[t]here remain 75 countries and dependent territories that still criminalise same-sex relations – with nearly half of these jurisdictions outlawing both male and female homosexuality”.[viii]


And, in a specific challenge to countries like the United Kingdom and Australia, he observed that “[h]omosexuality remains criminalised in 36 out of the 52 Commonwealth member states” where “[m]ost of these anti-gay laws were imposed by Britain during the colonial era.”[ix]


The ongoing criminalisation of people on the basis of their sexual orientation, as well as other anti-LGBTI human rights abuses such as the involuntary sterilisation of intersex infants and the failure to recognise and accept trans and gender diverse people, is a major problem in the early 21st century.


I believe Australia should adopt a pro-active role in supporting groups that are working to address these human rights violations, both in our region (where, as we have seen above, there is plenty of work still to do) and around the world.


We should also seek, wherever possible, to progress the positive recognition and acceptance of LGBTI human rights in international forums, including the United Nations as well as other groups such as the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).


Finally, both of these activities – support for the work of LGBTI rights organisations in our region and globally, as well as the pursuit of LGBTI human rights internationally – should be reflected in the Foreign Policy White Paper.



Same-sex sexual activity remains criminalised in far too many countries around the world (source: ILGA).




Obviously, in each of the four issues outlined in this submission – climate change, refugees, foreign aid and LGBTI rights – the Australian Government can be legitimately criticised for not doing enough to achieve progress domestically.


We can and must do better in terms of reducing our own carbon emissions, of adopting a more humane approach to refugees and people seeking asylum, of increasing our foreign aid budget and of respecting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians.


But, at the same time as addressing these ourselves, I believe we can – and above all must – help to achieve progress on these issues globally, because the rise of global warming, the growth in the number of displace persons, the unmet need for foreign aid, and discrimination against LGBTI people, are problems that transcend state borders.


Which means the solutions cross state borders too – and that therefore Australia has a role to play in fixing them.


Thank you in advance for taking this submission into account as the Australian Government develops its Foreign Policy White Paper.


Please do not hesitate to contact me, at the details provided, should you require additional information.



Alastair Lawrie



[i] Question 2, on page 3 of the call for submissions, refers to ‘environmental degradation’, a phrase that is so vague it can be interpreted in multiple ways, and does not begin to capture the urgency of the climate emergency we currently face.

[ii] Bureau of Meteorology Annual Climate Statement 2016.

[iii] UNHRC, Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2015.

[iv] Ibid, page 26.

[v] The Conversation, Savage budget cuts pull Australia down in foreign aid rankings, May 4, 2016.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] See ILGA, State-Sponsored Homophobia 2016 report here.

[viii] Guardian, There are reasons to be cheerful… LGBTI rights gains in unlikely countries, February 20, 2017.

[ix] Ibid.

Malcolm Turnbull’s Mid-Term Report Card


It is now one week since polls closed, and it is gradually becoming clear that at worst Malcolm Turnbull’s Coalition will form a minority Government, with the support of Bob Katter, but it is much more likely they will achieve the slimmest of parliamentary majorities.


However, what is even clearer is that Turnbull himself emerges from this election in a greatly weakened position, with rabid elements within the Liberal Party (hello Eric Abetz and Cory Bernardi) undermining his leadership and calling for the Coalition Government to move even further to the right (if that were possible).


In fact, members of the conservative commentariat have already called for his resignation (the most predictably unhinged, but nevertheless hilarious, of the lot being Andrew Bolt).


In the midst of this in-fighting and bitter internal recriminations, and without being able to point to a clear election victory in his defence, it is now highly unlikely Malcolm Turnbull will still be Prime Minister this time next year. Indeed, many people doubt he will survive until the end of 2016.


All of which means, given he only became leader ten months ago, we are now probably more than half-way through the ‘grand experiment’ that is Turnbull’s stint in the Lodge. What better time to ask what he has to show for it? And so, here is Malcolm Turnbull’s Mid-Term Report Card as Prime Minister of Australia.


First, let’s assess the positives – what have been Turnbull’s accomplishments?


Malcolm Turnbull's Successes as Prime Minister_



Nothing. Despite being Prime Minister since September 2015, there is literally nothing I can think of to list as a lasting achievement of his time so far in office.


Sure, he managed to become Prime Minister in the first place – which is a great personal accomplishment – but filling out his own CV doesn’t automatically help anyone whose surname isn’t Turnbull (or who lives outside Point Piper).


If you had asked people late last year they might have nominated ‘getting rid of Tony Abbott’ as an achievement – and at the time I probably would have agreed. But, given Turnbull has spent every day since meticulously transforming himself into Abbott 2.0, right down to the vacuous three-word slogans (‘Jobs & growth’), it is increasingly difficult to see any difference between them.


The shrinking band of Turnbull supporters within the Coalition might also highlight his ‘victory’ on July 2, however close, as an accomplishment. And granted, winning an election is hard, but it also matters what you are able to do with it.


Given his entire election platform seemed to consist of a 10-year, $50 billion corporate tax cut – that appears doomed in the new Senate, given the size of the ALP, Greens and Xenophon contingents, and the ‘messy’ state of the cross-bench – Malcolm doesn’t have a mandate to do anything much in the remaining weeks or, at best, months of his Prime Ministership.


Now, let’s turn to the negatives – what have been the failures of PM Turnbull?


Malcolm Turnbull's Failures as Prime Minister_


On this last point, marriage equality, the list of Malcolm Turnbull’s failures might yet grow longer. Because, in the dying days of his leadership, one of his final acts as PM might be to try to push through the enabling legislation to hold the unnecessary, wasteful and divisive plebiscite, first proposed by Tony Abbott but then adopted by Turnbull in his largely unsuccessful attempts to ingratiate himself with the ‘DelCons’.


Even if marriage equality is ultimately passed after a plebiscite, it still won’t be Turnbull’s achievement – because it will be the LGBTI community and our families, friends and allies who will need to put in the hard yards to ensure a ‘Yes’ vote wins (and, irrespective of victory or defeat, it will also be the LGBTI community that pays the price of the hatred and intolerance whipped up during the campaign that precedes it).


All in all, then, that’s no achievements (or ‘A’s) to list on Malcolm’s Mid-Term Report Card, and a helluva lot of failures (or ‘F’s).


For someone who is accustomed to succeeding at most things he turns his mind to (outside the failed 1999 ‘Republic’ campaign anyway), it must be particularly galling to be such a complete non-entity when finally given the nation’s top job. In the many years ahead after he leaves office Turnbull will have to reconcile himself with being remembered as the ‘Nothingman’ Prime Minister.


Of course, he was supposed to be better than this. The Liberal who believed in climate change – once famously saying “I will not lead a party that is not as committed to effective action on climate change as I am” – but who now presides over the farcical Direct Action policy.


The inner-city moderate, small ‘l’ liberal, who in March 2016 became the first sitting Primer Minister to attend the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras parade – but who refused to stand up to the bigots on his backbench and their nasty attacks on Safe Schools, and their ongoing attempts to delay and/or defeat equal relationship recognition.


Malcolm Turnbull once famously described John Howard as “the Prime Minister who broke this nation’s heart”. Well, given his own inconsistencies and hypocrisies, it could be argued that Turnbull himself is far worse. Because a heart can mend, whereas during his time as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has diminished our hopes – and that is something that is far harder to replenish.


Loaded Dog Piece on Should Smoking be Allowed at Outdoor Restaurants?

Smoking should be banned at outdoor restaurants. Not because it would limit the health damage an individual smoker does to themself – there are already numerous public health interventions designed to reduce the harm people are willing to visit upon themselves through smoking (tobacco excise, plain packaging, Quit campaigns).

Instead, the ban is necessary to protect the health of other restaurant patrons, who shouldn’t be forced to inhale second-hand smoke. The ban would also improve the amenity of their meals; by being able to taste their food, rather than nicotine, and not leaving the restaurant reeking of smoke.

But the most important reason to ban smoking in outdoor restaurants is to protect the health of the employees of these venues. They shouldn’t have to cough repeatedly during their work, they shouldn’t go home smelling of tobacco – above all, they shouldn’t be put at risk of cancer because of someone else’s actions.

Update 28 December 2012

So you may have noticed that this blog has been fairly quiet the past two months. There are a few reasons for that. The first is that I started a new job at the beginning of November. It is as a policy and media officer for a community sector organisation. I haven’t worked in that sector before, nor have I worked as directly with the media, so I thought it might be useful to concentrate on that job until I got a better handle on what is involved.

Second, I have been getting more involved in the NSW Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby (GLRL). In early December I was elected to the committee of management, and am now the chairperson of the Anti-Discrimination Working Group. This is obviously taking up some of my time, particularly in figuring out how things operate, but it also means that some of what I write is now on behalf of the Lobby, and not myself.

That includes a submission I drafted in late October to the consultation process on the National LGBTI Ageing and Aged Care Strategy (as an aside, the final strategy was released on 20 December – congratulations and thanks to Minister Mark Butler and all who have been involved in the many years of lobbying for this important document). The submission has not been published at this stage, and whether it is put on the web is a matter for the GLRL.

But, now that I am settled at work, and have some more time on my hands, I will resume writing more regularly – and hopefully publishing something every two or three weeks. Over the next month, I will also ‘clear the decks’ of some other things which I have written this year, including putting up my submission to the Senate Marriage Inquiry (which was not published by the Committee), my submission to the Senate Anti-Discrimination Inquiry (which will hopefully be published by the Committee as well) and following up my letter to Minister Chris Bowen on LGBTI asylum seekers – which sadly he has not yet responded to. I hope to write a bit more on issues of secularism and the separation of church and state in the new year as well.

Finally, I should reiterate that what I write here is purely personal in nature – I am not writing on behalf of my community sector organisation, nor is anything included here written on behalf of, or speaking for, the GLRL. These are my own thoughts, and this is my own voice.


I have contemplated starting a blog for some time, but, for whatever reason, the timing has never been right. Well, right now there is no reason why I shouldn’t try to put down in words my thoughts on a wide range of topics which are important to me. As the title of the blog suggests, I am planning to cover a wide range of different issues, although I will be concentrating on those things which are closest to my heart – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex equality, and the separation of church and state (which are, in many ways, inextricably linked). The purpose isn’t necessarily in seeking to be widely read, but for those people who do happen to stumble across these reflections I hope they do make you think (or even start a conversation if you wish to comment). Anyway, who knows where it might eventually end up, but that’s my intention at the beginning.