Letter to Paul Lynch re LGBTI Anti-Vilification Reform

In June, NSW Shadow Attorney-General Mr Paul Lynch MP introduced the Crimes and Anti-Discrimination Legislation Amendment (Vilification) Bill 2016. Details of the Bill can be found here.

 

In short, the legislation seeks to implement the recommendations of the Legislative Council Standing Committee on Law and Justice’s 2013 Inquiry into Racial Vilification Law in NSW.

 

Importantly, in doing so the Bill ignores the Report’s (implicit) approach to treat racial vilification differently from the other forms of vilification currently prohibited by the Anti-Discrimination 1977: namely homosexual, transgender and HIV/AIDS vilification.

 

Just as importantly, however, the Bill fails to update the definitions of these grounds, and also fails to extend anti-vilification coverage to bisexual and intersex people in NSW.

 

The following is my letter to the Shadow Attorney-General about his Bill, sent before the return of State Parliament next week (Tuesday 2 August 2016).

 

**********

 

Mr Paul Lynch MP

Shadow Attorney-General

100 Moore St

Liverpool NSW 2170

liverpool@parliament.nsw.gov.au

 

24 July 2016

 

 

Dear Mr Lynch

 

LGBTI Anti-Vilification Reform

 

I am writing to you about your Crimes and Anti-Discrimination Legislation Amendment (Vilification) Bill 2016 (‘the Bill’), currently before NSW Parliament.

 

Specifically, I am writing to congratulate you on what is included in the Bill, while also encouraging you to amend the Bill to address other inadequacies within the NSW anti-vilification framework.

 

First, to the positives. I welcome the fact that the Bill removes one of the more bizarre and, in my opinion, completely unjustifiable aspects of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (‘the Act’) – that the penalties for the offences of serious racial and HIV/AIDS vilification are different to, and slightly higher than, the penalties for the offences of serious homosexual and transgender vilification.

 

By consolidating these offences in one place – the proposed new section 91N of the NSW Crimes Act 1900 – your Bill would ensure there is no difference in severity in how these offences are treated by the Government, and therefore avoids sending the signal that some forms of vilification are worse than others.

 

I also welcome the fact you have avoided one of the key pitfalls of the Legislative Council Standing Committee on Law and Justice’s Inquiry into Racial Vilification Law in NSW, which, given it exclusively focused on racial vilification, only suggested changes to the laws surrounding one of the four existing attributes that attract anti-vilification protection.

 

Were these recommendations to be implemented in their entirety (and no other changes made), it would exacerbate, rather than remove, the inequality in treatment between serious racial vilification and the three other current grounds (homosexual, transgender and HIV/AIDS vilification).

 

I further support the substantive amendments proposed in your Bill, including:

 

  • Removing the requirement for the Attorney-General to give consent to prosecution for any vilification offence
  • Extending the time within which prosecutions for vilification offences must be commenced from 6 months to 12 months (addressing a flaw in the current Act highlighted by the case of Simon Margan v Director of Public Prosecutions & Anor [2-13] NSWSC 44)
  • Adopting the recommendation of the Law and Justice Standing Committee report that recklessness is sufficient to establish intention to vilify
  • Clarifying which public acts constitute unlawful vilification
  • Providing that vilification applies whether or not the person or members of the group vilified have the characteristic that was the ground for the promotion of hatred, contempt or ridicule concerned, and
  • Ensuring that the President of the Anti-Discrimination Board refers vilification complaints to the Commissioner of Police where the President considers that the offence of serious racial, transgender, homosexual or HIV/AIDS vilification may have been committed.

 

In terms of the proposal to replace ‘incitement’ with ‘promotion’ within the definition of vilification itself, while I have not had the opportunity to examine this amendment in great depth, on a prima facie basis it appears reasonable.

 

Finally, I agree with your decision to relocate the offence of serious vilification to the Crimes Act 1900, for the reasons outlined in your Second Reading Speech:

 

“Certainly, the legal effect of a provision should be the same whether it is located in the Crimes Act or in the Anti-Discrimination Act. However, there is significant symbolism in the provision being located in the Crimes Act in the new section 91N. And symbolism, as everyone in this Chamber knows, is important.”

 

Now, I will turn my attention to the shortcomings of the Bill and, unfortunately, in my opinion they are significant.

 

Specifically, while what the Bill includes is to be welcomed, it is flawed because of what it excludes. It fails to address one of the main problems of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, which is that it only protects some parts of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, and not others.

 

As I have detailed elsewhere (see “What’s wrong with the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977?”), the out-dated terminology used in the Act means that only lesbian, gay and transgender people are protected (and even then not all transgender people are covered).

 

Meanwhile, there is still no anti-vilification protection for bisexual people, or for intersex people, in NSW (with the absence of Commonwealth LGBTI anti-vilification laws only compounding this problem).

 

In my view, the limited coverage offered by the NSW anti-vilification framework is an even greater problem than those issues identified by the Standing Committee on Law and Justice’s Inquiry into Racial Vilification Law.

 

As such, I believe this issue should be addressed before, or at least simultaneously to, those provisions contained in your Bill. Otherwise, the differential treatment of groups within the LGBTI community would only become further entrenched.

 

For these reasons, I strongly encourage you to consider amending your Bill to ensure that all sections of the LGBTI community are protected against vilification. To achieve this, you may wish to incorporate the definitions included in the historic Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013.

 

This would involve:

 

  • Replacing the current protected attribute of homosexual with ‘sexual orientation’ (and which would therefore cover bisexual people)
  • Amending the protected attribute of transgender to the more inclusive term ‘gender identity’, and
  • Introducing the new protected attribute of ‘intersex status’.

 

If you are interested in pursuing these changes then I also encourage you to consult with the LGBTI community, and its representative organisations, beforehand (to ensure that any consequential difficulties are avoided).

 

To conclude, and despite the issues described above, I genuinely welcome the provisions contained in the Crimes and Anti-Discrimination Legislation Amendment (Vilification) Bill 2016. However, by extending the scope of vilification offences to protect bisexual and intersex people, I sincerely believe you would significantly improve your legislation.

 

Thank you for your consideration of this letter. I am of course happy to discuss any of the issues raised at the contact details provided below.

 

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

 

print.jpg

NSW Shadow Attorney-General Paul Lynch

 

Will NSW Reforms Prioritise Racial Vilification at the Expense of LGBTI Vilification?

Post Update #3: 12 January 2017

Contrary to the response received from the Department of Justice in November 2015 (included below), and commitments given by Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton in October 2015, the NSW Government did not release an Exposure Draft Bill to reform vilification laws in early 2016.

In fact, as noted by the Sydney Morning Herald in November 2016: “NSW Parliament has risen for the year without any action on reforms promised by the NSW Attorney-General to ethnic communities a year ago to make it easier to prosecute serious racial vilification cases in the state.”

That means there has been an entire year of inaction on much-needed reforms to vilification laws, that would have not only strengthened racial vilification laws, but also harmonised provisions across the different grounds for vilification (including homosexual, transgender and HIV/AIDS vilification).

This inaction is incredibly disappointing given that same 12-month period has seen a wide range of homophobic and transphobic public debate in NSW, and across Australia (see 2016: Annus Homophobicus). Hopefully 2017 will see this situation change – although, based on the past year, I certainly won’t be holding my breath.

 

Post Update #2: 23 December 2015

I received the following response to my letter (below) on 19 November 2015, not from the Attorney-General Ms Upton, but instead from the Director of the Community Relations Unit in the Department of Justice [and apologies for the delay in posting before now]:

“I refer to your email to the Attorney General, the Hon Gabrielle Upton MP, about your concerns regarding a review of the NSW racial vilification laws. The Attorney General has asked me to reply on her behalf.

NSW is one of the most culturally, linguistically and religiously diverse
communities in the world. To protect the diversity of our community, the
Government has committed to amending the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (the Act), in particular the racial vilification laws.

Currently, the vilification offences make it clear that for vilification to
be an offence it must threaten violence or incite others to threaten
violence.

As you are aware, the New South Wales Legislative Council’s Law and Justice Committee conducted a review of racial vilification laws in New South Wales, in particular section 20D of the Act.

Section 20D of the Act makes it a criminal offence to incite hatred
towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of
persons on the grounds of race by means which include; threatening physical harm towards, or towards any property of, the person or group of persons, or inciting others to threaten physical harm towards, or towards any property of, the person or group of persons.

In its Report, the Committee concluded that improvements were required to the Act. These improvements include allowing the President of the
Anti-Discrimination Board to refer complaints directly to the NSW Police,
extending the time limit for commencing prosecutions from six months to 12 months and clarifying reckless actions are sufficient to establish an
intention to incite under section 20D.

In light of the Committee’s Report, the NSW Government considers the racial vilification offence and other vilification offences relating to
homosexuality, HIV/AIDS status and transgender status in the Act also need revising.

The Government intends to release for public consultation an exposure draft Bill amending the State’s vilification laws, with legislation to be
introduced into Parliament in the first half of 2016. Details regarding the
draft exposure Bill will be released in early 2016.

Thank you for taking the time to write about this issue.

Yours faithfully

Director
Community Relations Unit
NSW Department of Justice”

 

Post Update #1: 1 November 2015

The NSW Attorney-General, the Hon Gabrielle Upton MP, announced the NSW Government’s position of vilification reforms on Monday 19 October 2015.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald[i]:

“The government will overhaul hate speech laws in NSW following the terror attack at Parramatta police headquarters and calls from the opposition for stronger laws to clamp down on ‘radical preachers’.

Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton said the government will strengthen and streamline racial vilification laws, defying right-wing commentators who have previously said proposed reforms were ‘straight out of the Leninist playbook.’

Ms Upton said recent events had ‘reinforced the necessarily of being vigilant to and guarding against the spread of racial vilification’.”

Importantly, the Guardian[ii] also reported that “LGBTIQ groups have been lobbying for hate speech against members of their communities to be included in any new laws and it is understood the proposed changes would include them” although it did not provide any further information on this issue.

I sought clarification through twitter from the Attorney-General on the inclusion, or exclusion, of LGBTI vilification in the reforms, and received the following reply:

IMG_0640

This response obviously gives hope that vilification provisions contained in the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 may finally be amended to be genuinely LGBTI inclusive, although it will be important to closely scrutinise the Government’s exposure draft Bill, which is expected to be released for public consultation in January 2016.

One final cause for optimism – on the day before Attorney-General Upton’s announcement, the Leader of the NSW Opposition, Luke Foley, made a similar commitment on vilification reform. As reported by samesame[iii]:

“The Labor opposition in New South Wales wants to ensure people who promote or advocate violence based on race, gender or sexual orientation are punished under the law.”

All we need to do now is hold both the Liberal-National Government, and Labor Opposition, to their public commitments.

[i] “Hate speech overhaul to try to spread of racial vilification”, Sydney Morning Herald, 19 October 2015: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/hate-speech-overhaul–to-try-to-stop-spread-of-racial-vilification-20151018-gkbukb.html

[ii] “New South Wales hate speech laws to clamp down on ‘violent extremists’”, The Guardian, 19 October 2015: http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/oct/19/new-south-wales-hate-speech-laws-to-clamp-down-on-violent-extremists

[iii] “NSW Opposition: ‘Hate speech should be a crime’”, samesame, 19 October 2015: http://www.samesame.com.au/news/12884/NSW-opposition-Hate-speech-should-be-a-crime

 

Original Post: 16 October 2015

The Hon Gabrielle Upton MP

Attorney-General

GPO Box 5341

Sydney NSW 2001

office@upton.minister.nsw.gov.au

Friday 16 October 2015

Dear Attorney-General

REFORMS TO NSW ANTI-VILIFICATION LAWS

I am writing to you on the subject of possible changes to anti-vilification laws in the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977(‘the Act’), as flagged by you in two tweets on 18 September 2015[i], and as confirmed in an article which appeared in The Australian on 23 September 2015, in which your spokesperson “said the NSW government was ‘working towards reform’ in the area”.[ii]

Specifically, I am writing to seek your assurance that any reforms to anti-vilification laws will apply equally across all grounds of vilification, including homosexual, transgender and HIV vilification which are also included in the Act, and will not prioritise racial vilification as more important, or worthy of punishment, than vilification on the basis of other attributes.

Instead, I urge you and the Liberal-National Government to ensure that anti-vilification laws apply fairly both to members of NSW’s ethnic communities, and to the state’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.

To begin with, I note that currently the provisions of the Anti-Discrimination Act only protect lesbian, gay[iii] and transgender[iv] members of the LGBTI community. There is no legal protection for bisexual and intersex people against vilification on the basis of who they are (or against discrimination more broadly, for that matter).

If reforms are to be made to anti-vilification laws in NSW, then the specific inclusion of bisexual and intersex people in the Act must be a priority.

Even more concerningly, I note that there is a discrepancy in the penalties for vilification which are contained in the Act, depending on the attribute which is involved.

For example, while the maximum penalty for homosexual and transgender vilification by an individual is set at “10 penalty units or imprisonment for 6 months, or both”[v], the penalty for racial or HIV vilification by an individual is set at “50 penalty units or imprisonment for 6 months, or both.”[vi]

Given the vast majority of prosecutions for vilification offences in NSW are unlikely to result in imprisonment, the consequence of this discrepancy is to send the message to the community, whether intentionally or otherwise, that racial and HIV vilification is five times more important, or worthy of punishment, than homosexual or transgender vilification.

I find this message to be inherently offensive – that equivalent acts of vilification should attract differing penalties simply because it involved sexual orientation or gender identity rather than race. I sincerely hope that you agree – and that you will therefore commit to harmonising the penalties for vilification contained in the Act.

However, I am concerned that, rather than ameliorating existing problems, the reforms to NSW’s anti-vilification laws which you have indicated you are considering will instead compound the differential treatment of racial vilification compared to homosexual or transgender vilification.

That is because these reforms appear to be based primarily on the recommendations of the 2013 Legislative Council Standing Committee on Law and Justice Inquiry into Racial Vilification Law in New South Wales.[vii]

This Inquiry made a number of recommendations to amend racial vilification laws, including to:

  • Include “quasi-public places, such as the lobby of a strata or company title apartment block” (Recommendation 1)
  • Clarify that “recklessness is sufficient to establish intention to incite” (Recommendation 3)
  • “[R]eview the adequacy of the maximum penalty units in section 20D of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, taking into account the maximum penalty units for comparable offences within the Crimes Act 1900 and other Australian jurisdictions” (Recommendation 6)
  • “[R]epeal the requirement for the Attorney-General’s consent to prosecutions of serious racial vilification” (Recommendation 7)
  • Extend the time limits for commencing prosecutions for racial vilification offences to 12 months, or alternatively to extend the timeframe for the President of the Anti-Discrimination Board to refer complaints to the Attorney-General (Recommendations 9, 10)
  • “[A]llow the President of the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW to directly refer serious racial vilification complaints to the NSW Police Force” (Recommendation 11) and
  • Provide training to NSW Police Force members about the offence of serious racial vilification (Recommendation 14).[viii]

It is arguable that the inquiry itself was flawed from the beginning given it focused on only one out of the four existing grounds of vilification in the Act.

However, what is beyond doubt is that, were you to adopt the recommendations of this Inquiry as a whole, but only with respect to racial vilification, you and the Liberal-National Government would in effect be creating a discriminatory ‘hierarchy’ of vilification laws and procedures in NSW law.

The offences of racial and homosexual vilification are drafted in exactly the same way – the only difference being substitution of the word homosexuality for race.[ix]

In which case, there cannot be any justification for the introduction and passage of laws which would mean that only racial vilification applies in quasi-public places, or includes recklessness, or attracts higher penalties, or does not need Attorney-General approval to commence proceedings, or has longer timeframes for prosecution, or can be directly referred to Police, or for which NSW Police Force members are specifically trained.

Therefore, the implementation of these reforms, if applied exclusively to racial vilification, would be both discriminatory and unjustifiable.

However, what would make them repugnant is the fact that the Standing Committee on Law and Justice’s own rationale for at least one of its recommendations – to extend the time limits for commencing prosecution of vilification offences to 12 months – is in fact based on a case of alleged homosexual vilification. As discussed in Chapter 6 of the Committee Report:

“6.20 The Board referred to a recent case involving homosexual vilification, Simon Margan v Director of Public Prosecutions & Anor [2013] NSWSC 44, which illustrated the potential issues surrounding the timeframe for lodging vilification complaints. In that case, Mr Margan lodged a complaint with the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW within the 12 month timeframe required under s89B of the Anti-Discrimination Act. However the Director of Prosecutions (DPP), and later the Supreme Court, dismissed the offence as statute barred as it was a summary offence and proceedings were required to be commenced within six months.

Committee comment

6.21 The Committee understands that there is a significant discrepancy between the timeframes for lodging complaints under s89B of the Anti-Discrimination Act (12 months of an incident occurring) and s179 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 (summary offences must commence within six months of an incident occurring). The case of Simon Margan v Director of Public Prosecutions & Anor highlighted the injurious impact that this discrepancy can have on vilification complaints.

6.22 It appears sensible to align the above timeframes. Therefore the Committee recommends that the NSW Government extend the time limit for prosecutions under section 179 of the Criminal Procedure Act to 12 months to be consistent with the time limit for lodging complaints under section 89B of the Anti-Discrimination Act.”[x]

And yet, despite noting the ‘injurious impact’ of the discrepancies in time limits on Mr Margan, whose complaint was based on homosexual vilification, the Committee’s recommendation was explicitly restricted to racial vilification:

Recommendation 9

That, for the purposes of racial vilification proceedings only [emphasis added], the NSW Government extend the time limit for commencing prosecutions under section 79 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 to 12 months to be consistent with the time limit for lodging complaints under section 89B of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977.”[xi]

If you and the Liberal-National Government were to implement Recommendation 9 as it stands then you would only be adding insult to injury.

For all of the reasons outlined above, I urge you to ensure that any reforms which you make to the anti-vilification laws contained in the Anti-Discrimination Act treat vilification equally across all grounds, and do not unjustifiably, and above all unjustly, prioritise racial vilification offences and discriminate against homosexual, transgender and HIV vilification protections.

Finally, if you are serious about modernising the vilification provisions contained in the Act you should also expand the grounds covered to offer vilification protection to bisexual and intersex people for the first time (and indeed to provide them with anti-discrimination coverage too), and to remove the existing discrepancies in penalties between racial and HIV vilification offences on the one hand, and homosexual and transgender vilification offences on the other.

Thank you in advance for taking my correspondence into consideration. Should you require additional information, or wish to clarify any of the above comments, please do not hesitate to contact me at the details provided below.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

NSW Attorney-General the Hon Gabrielle Upton MP

NSW Attorney-General the Hon Gabrielle Upton MP

[i] Gabrielle Upton MP (@gabrielleupton), 8:55am – 18 Sep 2015: “.@shumba60 Racial vilification abhorrent. NSW Govt considering proposed changes to streamline/strengthen race hate laws @mikebairdMP #nswpol”

Gabrielle Upton MP (gabrielleupton), 3:39pm – 18 Sep 2015: “.@VicAlhadeff #NSWGovt wants inclusive, diverse comm. Considering changes to streamline/strengthen race hate laws @NSWJBD @ajnnews #nswpol”

[ii] “Taunts to Trigger Race-Hate Law Overhaul”, The Australian, September 23 2015: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/state-politics/taunts-to-trigger-race-hate-law-overhaul/story-e6frgczx-1227539272920?sv=64dde3a02ebcfb4c634183c907bbeacf

[iii] Sub-section 49ZT(1) Homosexual vilification unlawful “It is unlawful for a person, by a public act, to incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of persons on the ground of the homosexuality of the person or members of the group.”

[iv] Sub-section 38S(1) Transgender vilification unlawful “It is unlawful for a person, by a public act, to incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of: (a) a person on the ground that the person is a transgender person, or (b) a group of persons on the ground that the members of the group are transgender persons.”

[v] S49ZTA(1)(b), s38T(1)(b)

[vi] S20D(1)(b), s49ZXC(1)(b)

[vii] “Racial Vilification Law in New South Wales – Final Report”, 3 December 2013: https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/committee.nsf/0/E08D4387100A3C56CA257C35007FCC4D?open&refnavid=x

[viii] Ibid, pp xii-xiii.

[ix] S20D Offence of serious racial vilification (1) A person shall not, by a public act, incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of persons on the ground of the race of the person or members of the group by means which include: (a) threatening physical harm towards, or towards any property of, the person or group of persons, or (b) inciting others to threaten physical harm towards, or towards any property of, the person or group of persons.”

S49ZTA Offence of serious homosexual vilification (1) A person shall not, by a public act, incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of persons on the ground of the homosexuality of the person or members of the group by means which include: (a) threatening physical harm towards, or towards any property of, the person or group of persons, or (b) inciting others to threaten physical harm towards, or towards any property of, the person or group of persons.”

[x] “Racial Vilification Law in New South Wales – Final Report”, 3 December 2013, pp84-85.

[xi] Ibid, p85.

Don’t Limit Racial Vilification Protections, Add Vilification Protections for LGBTI Australians

The following is my submission to the Attorney-General’s Department’s Review of the Freedom of speech (repeal of s.18C) Bill 2014 – Exposure Draft (aka the Bill to significantly limit the scope of racial vilification protections under the Racial Discrimination Act 1975).

Submissions close on Wednesday 30 April, and more details can be found here: <http://www.ag.gov.au/Consultations/Pages/ConsultationsonamendmentstotheRacialDiscriminationAct1975.aspx

I strongly encourage you to make a submission, and include in it the call for the Commonwealth to focus on expanding protections for the benefit of all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians, rather than limiting the operation of s18C for one Melbourne-based News Ltd columnist. Thanks.

Human Rights Policy Branch

Attorney-General’s Department

3-5 National Circuit

BARTON ACT 2600

s18cconsultation@ag.gov.au

Thursday 24 April 2014

To whom it may concern,

SUBMISSION ON RACIAL VILIFICATION AMENDMENTS

Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission on the proposed changes to the racial vilification provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, as contained in the Freedom of speech (repeal of s.18C) Bill 2014 Exposure Draft.

For the reasons explained below, I do not support the replacement of existing sections 18B, 18C, 18D and 18E with the new clauses of the Exposure Draft Bill.

However, I do believe that significant changes should be made to vilification provisions in Commonwealth law: namely, that vilification protections should be expanded to cover sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.

The absence of such protections leaves lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians vulnerable to the same types of adverse public conduct experienced by people of different racial backgrounds, but without recourse to the same complaint resolution mechanisms.

I will now turn to these two issues – the proposed reforms, and the case for introducing LGBTI vilification protections – in more detail.

Proposed Reforms to Section 18C

In considering any potential reforms to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, it is useful to start at the particular sub-section which features in most debate. Sub-section 18C(1)(a) makes it “unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if: the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people.”

I am of the view that the drafting of this sub-section is probably not ideal, and, arguably, is too broad in terms of the types of conduct that at least theoretically could be captured. I do not believe that, were provisions regarding racial vilification to be drafted today, they would include the terms ‘offend’ or ‘insult’ (or at least not without aggravating factors or considerations).

However, it is one thing to suggest that the drafting of a provision is something less than ‘ideal’ – it is another to suggest that poor drafting has directly caused problems that mean it must be amended. And even if that test is satisfied, any proposed reforms to the law should be an improvement, and not worsen any potential harm.

Turning to the question of whether the drafting of section 18C has directly led to, or caused, any significant problems, I am not convinced that it has. Racial vilification protections under the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 appear to be widely supported by the community, and, for the most part, appear to be working well, both with the oversight of the Australian Human Rights Commission and in the Courts.

There is, of course, one case which is frequently cited as necessitating change to section 18C, and its related provisions, and that is the case of Eatock v Bolt [2011] FCA 1103.

Even ignoring the old legal maxim that hard cases make bad law (“Hard cases, it has frequently been observed, are apt to introduce bad law”, from Judge Rolfe in Winterbottom v Wright in 1842), it is not clear that the outcome of the “Bolt case” makes any persuasive case for change.

In the summary of that decision, Justice Mordecai Bromberg explained that “I am satisfied that fair-skinned Aboriginal people (or some of them) were reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to have been offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated by the imputations conveyed by the newspaper articles” of Mr Bolt (para 17).

Justice Bromberg also explained that Mr Bolt’s conduct could not fit within what are, to be frank, extremely generous exemptions in section 18D, writing that “I have not been satisfied that the offensive conduct that I have found occurred, is exempted from unlawfulness by section 18D. The reasons for that conclusion have to do with the manner in which the articles were written, including that they contained errors of fact, distortions of the truth and inflammatory and provocative language” (para 23, emphasis added).

In his summary, Justice Bromberg also articulates at least one of the reasons why laws should exist to prohibit writings such as those of Mr Bolt: “People should be free to fully identify with their race without fear of public disdain or loss of esteem for so identifying. Disparagement directed at the legitimacy of the racial identification of a group of people is likely to be destructive of racial tolerance, just as disparagement directed at the real or imagined practices or traits of those people is also destructive of racial tolerance” (para 22).

In short, there appears to at least be an arguable case that not only was the “Bolt case” decided correctly on the existing law, but also that the current provisions are operating as intended to limit the negative effects of racial intolerance. Conversely, I believe it is difficult to argue, solely on the basis of Eatock v Bolt, that section 18C is so deficient that it should be amended, and amended as a matter of high priority.

Even if the argument that change was, indeed, necessary was accepted, I do not support that changes proposed in the Freedom of speech (repeal of s.18C) Bill 2014 Exposure Draft.

I believe that the replacement of ‘offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate’ with to vilify (defined as “to incite hatred against a person or a group of persons”) or to intimidate (meaning “to cause fear of physical harm; to a person; to the property of a person; or to the members of a group of persons”), would arbitrarily and unduly limit the effectiveness of these protections.

I agree with the Australian Human Rights Commission, in their statement of Tuesday 25 March 2014, that: “the bill reduces the level of protection by providing a narrow definition of vilification and by limiting intimidation to causing fear of physical harm. It is not clear why intimidation should not include the psychological and emotional damage that can be caused by racial abuse.”

I also agree with the Australian Human Rights Commission in their concerns about the breadth of the exemptions proposed in new clause (4). As the Commission notes “[t]his provision is so broad it is difficult to see any circumstances in public that these protections would apply.”

This is at least in part because the previous limitations of section 18D – that words or conduct must be done “reasonably and good faith” to be exempted – have been removed, again without a clear explanation or motivation. In my opinion, the proposals contained in the Exposure Draft Bill would not improve the operation of racial vilification protections generally, but instead have the capacity to make things substantially worse.

Overall, while I concede that the current drafting of section 18C is not ‘ideal’, I do not believe that there are sufficient problems in practice for it to be amended. I also strongly oppose the replacement of sections 18B, 18C, 18D and 18E of the current Racial Discrimination Act 1975, with the clauses contained in the Freedom of speech (repeal of s.18C) Bill 2014 Exposure Draft.

Recommendation 1. The Freedom of speech (repeal of s.18C) Bill 2014 – Exposure Draft should not be introduced into or passed by the Commonwealth Parliament.

Need to expand vilification protections to cover sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status

While I do not believe a case has been made to reform the racial vilification provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, I do believe there is a strong case for expanding vilification provisions under Commonwealth law to offer additional protection to LGBTI Australians.

In a similar way to their ongoing problems with race, some extreme elements within Australian society continue to demonstrate their difficulty in accepting people, and treating them equally, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

Both groups – Australians of diverse racial backgrounds, and LGBTI people – are regularly subject to vilification in public contexts, whether that be in political or media debates, or in harassment and abuse in public spaces.

Significantly, while LGBTI Australians finally achieved anti-discrimination protections under Commonwealth law in 2013 (a mere 38 years after the passage of the Racial Discrimination Act), the Sex Discrimination Act amendments did not include protections from homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and anti-intersex vilification. Unlike people of diverse races, LGBTI people still cannot launch complaints about vilification under Commonwealth law.

There is no philosophical or conceptual reason why this should be the case – both are vulnerable groups, subject to vilification against which they deserve to be protected.

The vilification of LGBTI people can take many forms. A 2003 NSW Attorney-General’s Report found that, in the previous 12 months, 56% of gay men and lesbians had been subject to one or more forms of homophobic abuse, harassment or violence.

This violence can also be extreme – as demonstrated by the disturbingly high number of gay men violently murdered in Sydney during the 1980s and 1990s, but whose tragic deaths are only now being properly investigated.

In terms of vilification in public debate, there are almost too many examples of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and anti-intersex discrimination to choose from (and certainly enough to hold an annual event ‘celebrating’ the worst of these comments in a range of different areas of public life, aka The GLORIAs).

One notorious example from recent years was the homophobic comment of a religious figure, addressing a ‘National Marriage Day’ rally outside Parliament House in 2012, who said “I’m convinced that homosexuals (re)produces (sic) themselves by molesting children.”

Unfortunately, heading inside Parliament House, the tenor of public debate is sometimes not much better. Over the past 12 years we have seen Senators argue that allowing two men or two women to marry could lead to humans having sex with animals, arguing that enacting marriage equality would potentially result in another ‘Stolen Generations’, and abusing parliamentary privilege to smear an openly-gay High Court Justice with unfounded allegations of paedophilia (apparently solely because of his homosexuality).

This is not to say that all, or even any, of those comments would necessarily qualify as vilification under an equivalent provision to section 18C, but, the fact those comments are able to be made in our National Parliament provides a small insight into the type of abuse and vitriol which continues in other forums, day-in, day-out, which are not subject to the same levels of scrutiny.

That includes street-level harassment and abuse which my fiancé Steven and I, like many thousands of other LGBTI Australians, experience all-too-frequently. Anyone who is ‘visibly’ identifiable as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex, including non-LGBTI people who are perceived as being LGBTI by others, and anyone who simply wants to engage in the tender act of holding one’s same-sex partner’s hand, knows the risks that being or expressing who you are in public can bring, from being yelled at from passing cars, to the very real threat of much, much worse.

Of course, the introduction of s18C-style protections on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status will not automatically lead to a reduction in such abuse, but it will allow for people to contest the most egregious examples of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and anti-intersex vilification in public life.

Over time, the introduction of vilification protections for LGBTI Australians, on top of the recently passed anti-discrimination laws, would help to send a strong signal to the wider community that such conduct was no longer tolerated.

The impetus for sending such a signal can be found in figures which show that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians continue to experience disproportionately high rates of mental health issues, including depression, attempted suicide and suicide.

This problem is especially pronounced amongst younger LGBTI people, with young same-sex attracted people estimated to be 6 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts (source: National LGBTI Health Alliance). Young people’s experience of discrimination and homophobia has been found to play a key role in this huge, and sadly persisting, health disparity.

Not only is public vilification in the form of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and anti-intersex discrimination wrong in and of itself, it has serious consequences, including in negative mental health outcomes for LGBTI people.

I believe that anti-LGBTI vilification must be prohibited under the Sex Discrimination Act, in the same way that racial vilification was in 1995 when the Racial Hatred Act amended the Racial Discrimination Act, and that it should be done as soon as possible.

Recommendation 2. The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 should be amended to prohibit vilification on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.

Obviously, there are other potential attributes which could also be aided by the introduction of vilification protections, including those grounds which already have Commonwealth anti-discrimination laws (sex, disability and age), but, as I am not an expert in any of those issues, I am not in a position to argue for or against their inclusion in this submission.

Nevertheless, I strongly believe that these questions – whether vilification protections should be expanded, and which additional groups they should cover – are the ones which should be occupying the mind of our Commonwealth Attorney-General, and indeed all MPs, rather than working out how to restrict the protections offered by the racial vilification provisions contained in the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

I sincerely hope that this submission assists in helping to turn that conversation around, and that we, as a community, start to focus on enhancing instead of undermining human rights.

Thank you for taking these comments into consideration. Should you require clarification or further information, I can be contacted at the details below.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

Submission on Review of NSW Surrogacy Act 2010

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

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

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

The Director,

Justice Policy

Department of Attorney General and Justice

GPO Box 6

SYDNEY NSW 2001

justice.policy@agd.nsw.gov.au

Wednesday 23 April

Dear Director,

SUBMISSION RE REVIEW OF SURROGACY ACT 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Provide legal certainty for parties to surrogacy arrangements

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

Prevent the commercialisation of human reproduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

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

No Homophobia, No Exceptions

During the week, the NSW Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby (which I am involved in as the Policy Working Group Chair), launched its No Homophobia, No Exceptions campaign, calling for the removal of religious exceptions to LGBTI anti-discrimination protections contained in the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 and the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977.

This is an incredibly important campaign, given these exceptions will possibly be the last barriers to full LGBTI equality in Australia to fall, and a campaign which I am very proud to be involved in.

Now, while this blog, and the posts which I put up here, only ever reflect my personal views on things (ie in this blog I do not speak on behalf of the GLRL, or any other organisation), I would like to take the opportunity to put up a link to two other pages which form key parts of the No Homophobia, No Exceptions campaign.

The first is an op-ed I wrote for the Star Observer newspaper, outlining the reasons for the campaign, and calling for the LGBTI community to get involved. Link here: <http://www.starobserver.com.au/opinion/soapbox-opinion/no-homophobia-no-exceptions/117476

The second link is to a Change.org petition which asks people to support the campaign, by calling on Commonwealth Attorney-General, Senator the Hon George Brandis, and NSW Attorney-General, The Hon Greg Smith MP, to repeal these provisions.

If you support the campaign, and the principle that all people deserve to be treated equally in all areas of public life, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, then I strongly encourage you to sign. Link here: http://www.change.org/en-AU/petitions/senator-hon-george-brandis-remove-religious-exceptions-from-anti-discrimination-laws

Thanks.

No 2 Australia Finally Adopts Federal Anti-Discrimination Protections for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex People

I have already written about the significance of this achievement (link: https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/06/30/federal-lgbti-anti-discrimination-protections-at-last/), so I won’t go into a lot of new detail here.

Still, as far as highlights of 2013 go, it would be pretty difficult to overlook the passage of the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act in June. From 1 August, LGBTI people in Australia finally had anti-discrimination protections under federal law. And we only had to wait 38 years after the Racial Discrimination Act, and 29 years since the original Sex Discrimination Act (and yes, that was sarcastic – the passage of this Bill was long, long overdue).

There were two particular aspects of the Sex Discrimination Amendment Act that warrant particular celebration. First, it is the first anti-discrimination law passed anywhere in the world to explicitly include intersex people. That is a pretty amazing achievement, and another testament to the great work and advocacy by OII Australia and other groups.

Second, the legislation includes an amendment that means aged care service providers operated by religious organisations are not legally allowed to discriminate against LGBTI people accessing their services. Again, this is a significant victory, and will help to ensure the generation of LGBTI people who fought so hard – and successfully – for our civil rights, have the opportunity to grow old with dignity.

Nevertheless, the fact that a special ‘carve-out’ is necessary for aged care service delivery by religious organisations emphasises the major weakness of the anti-discrimination protections that were passed: schools, hospitals and other community service organisations that are run by religious groups are legally allowed to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, both employees and service recipients (NB religious organisations do not have exceptions allowing them to discriminate against intersex people).

These religious exemptions or exceptions are contrary to the fundamental concept of anti-discrimination law – that people should not be discriminated against for things that are irrelevant to their capacity to perform a job, or their right to access a service.

Fighting to remove these religious exceptions will be the biggest test for LGBTI advocates and activists over the next 5, 10 or even15 years (achieving marriage equality will likely turn out to be both easier, and quicker, than removing religious exceptions, and religious organisations will probably fight much harder to retain them than to retain a discriminatory Marriage Act).

Still, fight them we must, because for however long a religious school can sack a teacher for being gay or bisexual, or a service organisation can refuse to provide that service because the intended recipient is transgender, then we are not truly equal.

As an indication of how difficult this fight will be, I am re-posting the exchange between myself, now Attorney-General George Brandis and Tony Jones on #QandA back in June, the night before the legislation, including the aged care carve-out, was passed (and, no this is not just – well, not entirely – because I had so much fun doing this):

ALASTAIR LAWRIE: My question is to Senator Brandis. Last Tuesday you announced that the Coalition would block any LGBTI anti-discrimination bill that did not allow religious aged-care service providers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. This is despite the fact that these agencies themselves do not believe they need this exception. You seem to be putting a theoretical religious freedom above practical protections. Why don’t you believe that older lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender Australians, people who have grown up when their love was criminalised, who lost friends and lovers to HIV and AIDS, have the right to grow old in dignity and respect that they deserve?

GEORGE BRANDIS: It is a very important question that you ask and let me explain what the Opposition’s position is. But there was one statement in your question which wasn’t quite right. You said that the religious institutions, the churches, didn’t themselves want the exemption so far as concerned aged care facilities. That’s not right. Some said they didn’t want it. Most said they did. So don’t be misled by a misleading statement by the Attorney-General. On the broader issue, when the bill, the sex discrimination bill, was introduced into the Parliament, I took a submission to the Shadow Cabinet and to our party room which was, I think without a dissenting voice, endorsed that we should support it. And the reason we support it is because it is actually the policy we took to the 2010 election, that the provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act should extend to sexuality as a protected attribute. The Government knew that they had the Opposition on board with this. In fact, the Government’s measure was itself taken from the Opposition’s report on the broader human rights and anti-discrimination bill, the bill that was abandoned by the Government earlier this year because it was acknowledged to have gone way too far. So we had, on this very tricky and important issue of discrimination against gay people, we had bipartisanship and unanimity. And then into the middle of this harmonious bipartisan moment, the Labor Party, out of the blue, threw in an amendment never anticipated, never expected, that would have caused the religious exemption issue to come into play. Now, if you want to build a consensus around this issue, that gay people should be protected from discrimination by the Sex Discrimination Act, then you would not have done that and the Labor Party, on all other grounds, in all other arenas, has said that it will respect the religious exemption. I am cynical about why the Labor Party did that…

TONY JONES: Okay, George.

GEORGE BRANDIS: …knowing that by introducing the religious exemption, it would make it impossible for that bipartisanship to continue.

TONY JONES: George Brandis, the questioner has his hand up so we’ll go back to you.

ALASTAIR LAWRIE: I would just like to pick up a point you seem to be making. In Senator Humphrey’s dissenting report to the sex discrimination senate inquiry, the two organisations that he quoted justifying the call for religious exception in that circumstance were the Australian Christian Lobby and the Catholic Women’s League. Neither of them provide religious aged care services. So in that circumstance, why are we trying to impose a religious exception to the detriment of older LGBT people for those groups that don’t actually run those services?

GEORGE BRANDIS: Well, I’m very familiar with that minority report because I was one of the signatories to it and I had a lot to do with drafting it. There were many more submissions to the inquiry from other churches and religious institutions than those two. So don’t infer that because those two were mentioned as a ‘For example’, those were the only ones, because they weren’t.

TONY JONES: Okay. George, I would like the hear other people on this subject. Anne Summers?

ANN SUMMERS: Well, I’m afraid I don’t know much about the legislation. I mean I just obviously would support the principle that LGBT people should be able to go to retirement homes and nursing homes free from any form of discrimination, which I take to be the central point and I know that, you know, one of the problems with homes that are run by some religions is they have been discriminatory in the past and I imagine what we are trying to avoid is the continuation of that discrimination and I would support that.

TONY JONES: Yeah, very briefly, George, before I go back to the other panelists, shouldn’t anti-discrimination be universal?

GEORGE BRANDIS: No.

TONY JONES: Why shouldn’t it?

GEORGE BRANDIS: Anti-discrimination laws should not be universal because the right to fair treatment is one of several very important but sometimes inconsistent values. The right of people who practice or profess a particular religious faith to live their lives and to conduct their institutions in accordance with the precepts of their religious faith is integral to religious freedom and religious freedom is also a fundamentally important value.

TONY JONES: So religious…

GEORGE BRANDIS: And if I may say…

TONY JONES: But just on principle, you are saying that religious freedom supersedes the freedom of your sexuality?

 

 

GEORGE BRANDIS: Yes, I am, as a matter of fact. Yes, I am. But I am also making a political point. There are – we in the Liberal Party have joined with people in the Labor Party to progress this agenda for years and those who wanted to see the Sex Discrimination Act extend to protect people on the grounds of their sexuality were furious that the Labor Party decided to throw in a curve ball into the debate that deprived the country of the opportunity for unanimity on this. [emphasis added].

 

That exchange, and especially Senator Brandis’ statement that religious freedoms clearly trump our right to not be discriminated against, show just how hard this battle will be.

Underscoring this point is Attorney-General Brandis’ recent appointment of Tim Wilson as a new Human Rights Commissioner, responsible for promoting ‘traditional freedoms’. Recruited from the right-wing Institute of Public Affairs, on 23 January this year Mr Wilson appeared at a Senate hearing into the then draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill (transcript here: http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/committees/commsen/8eb3bdec-c603-4d2d-9564-674c7bd7b5c2/toc_pdf/Legal%20and%20Constitutional%20Affairs%20Legislation%20Committee_2013_01_23_1612_Official.pdf;fileType=application%2Fpdf#search=%22committees/commsen/8eb3bdec-c603-4d2d-9564-674c7bd7b5c2/0000%22).

During his testimony, he argued that anti-discrimination protections should only apply to government employees and services – basically, that anti-discrimination law should not protect people from being fired for being gay, or being expelled for being a lesbian, or being denied a service for being bisexual, transgender or intersex. Given the extremity of these views, if this is any indication of how Attorney-General Brandis will approach anti-discrimination reforms then we will need to be prepared to fight any moves to wind back our hard-won protections in 2014.

In the meantime, the passage of the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013 will stand as the most significant LGBTI victory of the past 12 months. Thank you to the former Labor Government, then Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, Senators Penny Wong and Louise Pratt and everyone else who helped to make this happen.

Submission on Crimes Amendment (Provocation) Bill 2013 re Homosexual Advance (or ‘Gay Panic’) Defence

I am writing to make a submission on the Exposure Draft Crimes Amendment (Provocation) Bill 2013, as released by the Attorney-General, the Hon Greg Smith MP, on 17 October 2013.

First, I would like to commend the Attorney-General, and the O’Farrell Government more broadly, for developing a Bill which, if passed, would finally abolish the homosexual advance (or ‘gay panic’) defence.

The homosexual advance defence has long been a stain on the fabric of our criminal justice system, resulting in the ‘downgrading’ of convictions from murder to manslaughter where it is not justified, and in doing so implying that the victim was in some way at fault, even to a small extent that they ‘deserved’ what happened to them.

Sadly, this has not been an abstract injustice, restricted to the statute books, but a defence that has been used, successfully, in multiple criminal trials over the past 20 years. This means that there is every chance that it could be used again, unless and until this Bill is passed.

Which brings me to my first recommendation: The Crimes Amendment (Provocation) Bill 2013 should be passed as soon as possible. This will help ensure that no future victim is disrespected by the fact their murderer escapes with a lesser conviction, and probable reduced sentence, simply because that murderer had a homophobic reaction to the victim’s non-violent sexual advance.

If, for whatever reason, the NSW Government is unable to progress this legislation with the urgency that it requires then, as a fall-back, I suggest that it consider amending clause 2 of the Bill to ensure that the Act has retrospective application.

Specifically, if the legislation is not passed by the end of the first sittings in 2014 (on Thursday March 27th), consideration should be given to back-dating the legislation to take effect from the date the Government formally confirmed its intention to introduce these reforms through the release of this Exposure Draft (ie on 17 October 2013).

I acknowledge that this would be a drastic step for any Parliament to take. No-one should casually amend the criminal law in such a way, especially where the offence involved carries significant penalties, without a compelling justification.

But I sincerely believe that a case for doing so could be made in these circumstances: that the injustice of our legal system effectively saying that a killing is less offensive, less contrary to community standards, less worthy of punishment than other killings, simply because the non-violent sexual advance involved was from one man to another, is so great that the question of retrospective application at least merits further debate.

Despite this, my overall preference would be for the Bill to be passed without including such provisions, and that this happen in the shortest possible timeframe, making retrospectivity less of a pressing concern.

My second recommendation deals with another potential issue which would remain unresolved even if the Exposure Draft Bill was passed, and that is: The new Crimes Act section 23, introduced by the Crimes Amendment (Provocation) Bill 2013, should specify that the ordinary person is not homophobic.

The Exposure Draft Bill includes multiple safeguards to help ensure that a non-violent sexual advance, whether same-sex or heterosexual, cannot be used as the basis of the partial defence of extreme provocation.

Specifically, proposed new sub-section 23(2)(b) requires that the conduct of the deceased was a “serious indictable offence”, which would clearly not include a non-violent sexual advance. Even more categorically, sub-section 23(3)(a) ensures that the partial defence cannot be raised in circumstances where “the conduct was only a non-violent sexual advance to the accused.” I strongly support the inclusion of both provisions.

However, in the event of a contested murder prosecution, there can be doubt about the boundary between what constitutes a non-violent sexual advance and a violent sexual advance. This doubt can, and often will, be exploited by a defendant, especially because the victim is not available to provide their version of events. It would be a potentially perverse, although perhaps unavoidable, consequence of the Government’s reforms that it would introduce an even greater incentive for a defendant to establish that the victim’s sexual advance was itself violent.

If the defendant is successful in establishing that the victim’s sexual advance was indeed violent (or that there is at least some evidence to support this: see proposed sub-section 23(7)), then proposed sub-section 23(2)(d) becomes relevant, and it maintains the existing ‘ordinary person’ test to assess whether the loss of self-control is accepted as the basis of this partial defence.

It is possible that, given hardening community attitudes against rape, any violent sexual advance, irrespective of the sexes or genders of the people involved, would now satisfy the ‘ordinary person’ test in terms of partially excusing that loss of self-control. If that is the case, then there would be no unjustified discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and the law would not require further amendment.

However, it is also possible that a male defendant could claim a violent sexual advance from another man is more egregious or offensive, and therefore more worthy of the application of the partial defence, than a violent sexual advance in other circumstances (eg a violent sexual advance from a woman to a man).

Based on the existing case-law (including Green v The Queen 1997), there is a possibility that this argument would be accepted – the consequence of which being that, once again, the killing of someone who makes a same-sex sexual advance would be treated as less serious than the killing of someone who makes a heterosexual sexual advance in the same circumstances (the only difference being that both would now be violent).

Given the significant step forward overall which would be achieved by the passage of this Bill, I do not wish to see it undermined by the ongoing possibility of such homophobic discrimination, which is why I propose that new section 23 include a provision that, at least for the purposes of this partial defence, the ordinary person is not homophobic, bi-phobic, trans-phobic or prejudiced towards intersex people (specifically, the ordinary person does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status).

As with  the suggestion about retrospectivity, discussed earlier, this would be an unusual step for a Parliament to take, and leaves open for consideration a range of other factors which may or may not need to be prescribed (for example, that the ordinary person is not racist or sexist). I make no comment here about those or other factors (other than noting that, whatever list may be deemed necessary include, it should be inclusive rather than exhaustive).

Nevertheless, given we are fully aware that the law has allowed homophobic discrimination within the partial defence of provocation in the past, I believe we should be actively considering how to prevent further such discrimination in the future within the new partial defence of extreme provocation. Even if the section itself is not amended, alternatives could include either or both the explanatory memorandum and second reading speech noting that it is not the Parliament’s intention that the new partial defence should operate in a homophobic manner.

Leaving aside these two recommendations, it is my firm belief that the passage of the Crimes Amendment (Provocation) Bill 2013 would be a significant, and long-overdue, achievement. This is something that the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community has been campaigning on for many years: it is my sincere hope that the homosexual advance (or gay panic’’) defence will finally be consigned to the dustbin of history in the very near future.