LGBTI Highs & Lows of 2014

A short final post to bring to a close this blog for another year. As always, the past 12 months have been incredibly busy, having seen significant achievements in LGBTI rights in some areas, and a disappointing lack of progress in others. The following are my personal views on a couple of the major highlights of 2014, two ongoing ‘lowlights’, and one item of unfinished business.

  1. NSW Finally Repeals the Homosexual Advance Defence

In May, NSW Parliament passed the Crimes Amendment (Provocation) Act 2014, finally removing the homophobic and biphobic ‘homosexual advance’ or ‘gay panic’ defence from our statute books. This was a long overdue reform, and is testament to the hard work of many, many LGBTI activists, and organisations (including, but not limited to, the NSW Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby), over the past 15-20 years.

From my own perspective, I was happy to play a small role as part of the overall movement to abolish this discriminatory law. I was one of 52 individuals and organisations to lodge a submission to the Parliamentary inquiry into the Partial Defence of Provocation in 2012 (submission here: https://alastairlawrie.net/2012/08/10/submission-on-homosexual-advance-defence/ ), and also made a submission to the then Attorney-General on the draft Crimes Amendment (Provocation) Bill in late 2013 (submission here: https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/11/14/submission-on-crimes-amendment-provocation-bill-2013-re-homosexual-advance-or-gay-panic-defence/ ).

Now that NSW has finally removed this stain from the Crimes Act, it is time for Queensland and South Australia to also consign the homosexual advance defence to the dustbin of history.

  1. Victoria and NSW Pass Legislation Allowing Historical Convictions for Homosexual Sex to be Expunged

This was another long overdue law reform, and one that is essential to help remedy some of the injustice caused, both by the criminalisation of male-male sexual intercourse (with decriminalisation taking effect in Victoria in March 1981, and in NSW in June 1984), and also by the differential age of consent post-decriminalisation (with the age of consent equalised in Victoria in 1991, and in NSW, shamefully, not until 2003).

This achievement belongs primarily to those campaigners in Victoria who kept the issue alive for many years, if not decades (including Jamie Gardiner, someone whom I am privileged to be able to call a friend and mentor), and who put in the legal policy development work over the past couple of years (including Anna Brown, of the Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby and the Human Rights Law Centre), among numerous others. The NSW reforms were able to successfully ‘piggyback’ on this advocacy south of the border.

For my part, I was able to pursue this issue as the Policy Working Group chair of the NSW Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby 2012-2014, as well as writing to the new Premier, Mike Baird, in May of this year calling for a party vote in favour of Bruce Notley-Smith’s Bill (letter here: https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/05/25/letter-to-nsw-premier-mike-baird-re-lgbti-equality-and-conscience-votes/ ).

But I am perhaps most proud that it was a motion that I drafted which was passed at ALP State Conference in July which ensured the Labor Opposition would vote, as a bloc, in favour of this reform – although it would be remiss of me not to say that it was Penny Sharpe’s advocacy behind the scenes that ensured this motion was successful.

As with the homosexual advance defence, it is now up to other states to similarly pass legislation to allow men affected by these laws to have their convictions expunged. And for Queensland, this must also include amendments to finally introduce an equal age of consent (with a higher age of consent for anal intercourse still in force there).

  1. Australia Still Persecuting LGBTI Refugees

Onto the ‘lowlights’ of 2014 and the first could be taken from 12 months previously – and in fact it is, with Australia’s ongoing policy of sending LGBTI refugees to countries which criminalise homosexuality for processing and resettlement also featuring atop my end of year Highs & Lows from 2013 (see original post here: https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/12/27/no-1-australia-sends-lgbti-refugees-to-countries-which-criminalise-homosexuality/ ).

Sadly, the situation one year later isn’t all that different. The policy is still in breach of our international human rights obligations, is still fundamentally unjust, and is still an insult to humanity itself – both of the refugees, and ours because it is being done in our name. The Immigration Department essentially confirmed in a response to me that the Government will continue to send LGBTI refugees to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, and to Nauru, for the foreseeable future (see my letter and their response, on behalf of Minister Scott Morrison, here: https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/02/02/letter-to-scott-morrison-about-treatment-of-lgbti-asylum-seekers-and-refugees-sent-to-manus-island-png/ ).

The only glimmers of hope at the end of another depressing year in this area are that a) Minister Morrison is today being replaced in the Immigration portfolio and b) the treatment of LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees has been receiving increased media coverage, both in LGBTI community publications (including the Star Observer and samesame) and importantly in mainstream media (with a special mention of the Guardian Australia for their ongoing work in this area).

  1. Lack of Progress on Involuntary or Coerced Sterilisation of Intersex People

This ‘lowlight’ is also taken from the 2013 list of Highs & Lows, although at that stage it was presented in a much more favourable manner, given the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs had only recently handed down its report on the Involuntary or Coerced Sterilisation of Intersex People in Australia (see post here: https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/12/25/no-3-senate-report-on-involuntary-or-coerced-sterilisation-of-intersex-people-in-australia/ ).

Unfortunately, 12 months on and there has apparently been little progress in this area – despite the Report itself being debated in the Senate in March, I am unaware of any formal Government response, let alone significant reforms to implement its recommendations. Let’s hope that, in 2015, the Commonwealth and State and Territory Governments all take action to ensure that the human rights of intersex children are no longer violated in this way.

  1. Campaign for the ALP to Adopt a Binding Vote on Marriage Equality

The final entry in this list of ‘Highs & Lows’ is actually an item of unfinished business, both of the past 12 months, and also stretching back to the 2011 ALP National Conference, which adopted marriage equality in the party’s platform, but then immediately undermined it by enabling members of the parliamentary party to vote against this plank of the platform for any reason whatsoever.

As I have written previously (see my major post on this topic, ‘Hey Australian Labor, It’s Time to Bind on Marriage Equality’ https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/07/13/hey-australian-labor-its-time-to-bind-on-marriage-equality/ ), it is highly unlikely that marriage equality will pass Commonwealth Parliament in this term without a binding vote for ALP MPs. Which means that the votes by the Tasmanian State ALP Conference in July, and Queensland State Conference in August, to support a binding vote were incredibly encouraging, and even the close loss in NSW in July was heartening (because, if those voting patterns were repeated across Australia, it would likely be successful at the national level).

This campaign, which I refer to as #ItsTimeToBind, will be one of the most important of 2015, as we move towards ALP National Conference in Melbourne in July. Let’s see whether Bill Shorten will stand up and be a Leader who supports the fundamental equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australian, without exception.

So, that brings me to the end of my writing for another year. On a personal note, I would like to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has read, commented (even when they have disagreed), shared and liked my posts. As you can probably tell, I enjoy writing, and I enjoy it even more when I know that people are interacting with it (and the almost 16,000 unique visitors, from 141 countries, this year is both humbling and, to be honest, a little bit exciting).

On that point, if you do enjoy reading and visiting this blog, please consider signing up (either on WordPress or via email – the subscription options for both are located at the top of the right-hand side-bar), and to stay up-to-date you can also follow me on twitter https://twitter.com/alawriedejesus . Have a happy and safe end to 2014, and let’s hope that 2015 brings with it even more progress towards full LGBTI equality, both in Australia and overseas. Thanks, Alastair

15 LGBTI Priorities for ALP National Conference 2015

There are now less than 12 months left until the next Australian Labor Party National Conference. To be held in Melbourne next July 24 to 26, National Conference is still the supreme decision-making body of the (traditionally) centre-left major party of Australian politics. National Conference is therefore the main opportunity to secure ‘progressive’ change in ALP policies during this term of Parliament, including on those issues affecting the LGBTI community.

And the first National Conference held after a loss of Government, as this one will be, offers more chance than most to help ‘reset’ the direction of the Australian Labor Party, to reject some of the worst policies of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Government (including the processing and resettlement of LGBTI refugees in countries which criminalise homosexuality) and to propose new, better policies which promote the fundamental equality of LGBTI Australians.

Which means that now is the time for LGBTI activists and advocates to be considering what our priorities should be for next year’s National Conference, and to start the process of lobbying (whether from inside or outside the party) to help achieve them.

The following is my list of priorities for LGBTI reform to the Labor Party platform. It is not comprehensive – I’m sure other people will have slightly different priorities, and I welcome feedback, particularly on issues which I have (either consciously or unconsciously) excluded. But I thought I would share this list to ‘kick off’ the debate, and help ensure we start planning our actions towards ALP National Conference 2015.

1. Remove religious exemptions from the Sex Discrimination Act 1984

One of the most important reforms of the previous Labor Government was the introduction of LGBTI anti-discrimination protections under Commonwealth law for the first time. The passage of the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013, albeit some 38 years after the Racial Discrimination Act and 29 years since the passage of the original Sex Discrimination Act, was indeed a historic achievement.

However, it was also a fundamentally flawed one, because it included wide-ranging exemptions allowing religious organisations to discriminate against employees, and people accessing services, on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

These exemptions are a blight on the Sex Discrimination Act and will undermine lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality for as long as they exist. It is essential that ALP National Conference adopts a policy of removing religious exemptions from Commonwealth law, outside of the appointment of ministers of religion, and the conduct of religious ceremonies (ie those exemptions genuinely necessary for the exercise of religious freedom, not those which some religious organisations wish to use simply to discriminate against LGBT people across multiple areas of public life).

And while many may see this goal as unachievable, the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013 itself showed that it is indeed possible. By rejecting religious exemptions with respect to intersex status, and simultaneously ensuring that religious exemptions do not apply to LGBT people accessing aged care services, the last Parliament demonstrated that religious exemptions are not inviolable. It’s time to persuade the majority of delegates to next year’s National Conference to agree.

For more on this subject, see The Last Major Battle for Gay & Lesbian Equality Won’t be About Marriage <https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/02/26/the-last-major-battle-for-gay-lesbian-legal-equality-in-australia-wont-be-about-marriage/

2. Introduce Commonwealth LGBTI anti-vilification protections

One of the major social policy debates in the 1st half of 2014 concerned Attorney-General George Brandis’ exposure draft Bill seeking to repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, a move that would have essentially gutted racial anti-vilification protections under Commonwealth law.

Fortunately, unlike many other social and economic ‘reforms’ put forward by the Abbott regime in its first 12 months in office, this move was soundly rejected, with a significant public backlash, as well as a strong pushback by the Australian Labor Party.

Well, now that racial anti-vilification protections have been saved, it’s time for the ALP to support the introduction of Commonwealth anti-vilification protections for LGBTI Australians.

No-one can seriously argue that homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia aren’t real, and substantial, problems in modern public life. We, as LGBTI Australians, deserve the same protections from vilification as other groups receive from different kinds of abuse. Nothing more and nothing less.

For more on this subject, see Don’t Limit Racial Vilification Protections, Introduce Vilification Protections for LGBTI Australians Instead
<https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/04/24/dont-limit-racial-vilification-protections-introduce-vilification-protections-for-lgbti-australians-instead/

3. Implement the recommendations of the Senate Inquiry into the Involuntary or Coerced Sterilisation of Intersex People in Australia

Another key development during the last term of Parliament was the Senate’s inquiry into the involuntary or coerced sterilisation of intersex people (to see the full report, click here: <http://www.aph.gov.au/~/media/Committees/Senate/committee/clac_ctte/involuntary_sterilisation/second_report/report.ashx and to see my submission to that inquiry, click here: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/07/01/submission-to-involuntary-and-coerced-sterilisation-senate-inquiry/ ).

These practices, which shamefully continue today, are some of the most serious human rights violations, not just of LGBTI Australians, but of any person in contemporary Australia.

While the recommendations of the Senate inquiry are by no means comprehensive, their implementation would be a good start towards ensuring that intersex children are no longer subjected to unnecessary and unjustified ‘medical procedures’, and certainly not before they are in a position to either grant, or withhold, consent.

A related reform would be to support the removal of the exemption from policy frameworks on Female Genital Mutilation which permit such surgical interventions on intersex girls for rationales that include cultural issues such as marriage opportunities. A principle of non-discrimination should apply in all circumstances. For more information on this see OII Australia’s third submission to the Senate Inquiry, here: <http://oii.org.au/22613/third-submission-senate-inquiry-sterilisation/

4. Remove all out-of-pocket costs for trans* surgeries

The ability of people to access whatever medical support they require to affirm their gender identity isn’t just fundamental to their mental and physical health, it is a fundamental human right. As such, access to trans* surgeries and related medical procedures should not be restricted by the capacity to pay, but instead should be fully publicly subsidised through Medicare.

The Shorten Labor Opposition has been strong in standing up against the Abbott Government’s moves towards a US-style ‘user pays’ health system in Australia. They should be equally firm in asserting the right to full public funding of trans*-related medical expenses, including ensuring no out-of-pocket expenses for trans* surgeries.

5. Training for health professionals on trans*, gender diverse & intersex issues

The last two priorities – intersex sterilisation and trans* medical expenses – demonstrate the ongoing influence of health professionals in the lives of trans*, gender diverse and intersex people. That influence has the potential to be positive, but unfortunately in too many situations can and does directly lead to harm, often of a serious and/or permanent nature.

One of the key ways to overcome these negative impacts is to increase the basic knowledge of health professionals about trans*, gender diverse and intersex issues through introductory, and ongoing, training (which could also be used to increase knowledge about the health needs of lesbian, gay and bisexual people at the same time – although arguably, and leaving people like Dr David Van Gend and Philip Pocock aside, sexual orientation is treated marginally better than gender identity and intersex status by health professionals).

Hopefully by addressing the sometimes woeful level of (mis)understanding of trans*, gender diverse and intersex issues by health professionals we can go some way to changing some of the health indicators where trans*, gender diverse and intersex (and also lesbian, gay and bisexual) individuals ‘underperform’ compared to other Australians.

6. Introduce a genuinely-inclusive national Health & Physical Education curriculum

The draft national Health & Physical Education curriculum was developed by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment & Reporting Authority (ACARA) during 2012 and 2013, primarily while Peter Garrett was Education Minister – although briefly under the responsibility of then Minister Bill Shorten, too.

Unfortunately, even before the incoming Education Minister Christopher Pyne got his hands on it, the draft HPE curriculum was unambiguously a dud. It failed to be inclusive of LGBTI students and content – it doesn’t use the words lesbian, gay or bisexual once – and also failed to ensure that all schools would provide comprehensive sexual health education to students (scandalously, it doesn’t even refer to HIV or other blood borne viruses at all in the entire document).

And after Minister Pyne delegated the review of the overall national curriculum, including HPE, to noted homophobe Kevin Donnelly (alongside Ken Wiltshire), the version which will ultimately be adopted sometime later this term is likely to be even worse, especially in terms of its LGBTI-inclusiveness (or lack thereof).

This outcome will be a huge, and sadly bipartisan, missed opportunity, to improve the lives of thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex young people around the country.

The Labor Party should accept its share of responsibility for this – and take action at the 2015 National Conference to remedy it, by including a commitment in the party’s platform to introduce a genuinely LGBTI-inclusive national Health & Physical Education curriculum.

To see my letter to Minister Pyne calling for Kevin Donnelly to be sacked from the Students First Review, click here: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/01/11/letter-to-minister-pyne-re-health-physical-education-curriculum-and-appointment-of-mr-kevin-donnelly/ and a copy of my submission to the review of the national curriculum can be found here: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/03/13/submission-to-national-curriculum-review-re-national-health-physical-education-curriculum/

Will Bill Shorten support full LGBTI equality at ALP National Conference 2015?

Will Bill Shorten support full LGBTI equality at ALP National Conference 2015?

7. Provide long-term commitment to support Safe Schools

On the other hand, one of the best things which the Labor Government did with respect to LGBTI students and young people in its last term in office was to provide a 3-year, $8 million grant to the Foundation for Young Australians to support the national roll-out of the Victorian Safe Schools Coalition program.
Perhaps surprisingly, this initiative has (so far) not been cut by the Abbott Government, and the NSW launch of Safe Schools was held at the end of July 2014, with other states to follow.

With the need for multiple programs to address the ongoing problems of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia in our schools, which we know takes a terrible, and often tragic, toll in terms of poorer mental health outcomes, I would like to see a clear commitment in the ALP platform to support the Safe Schools program on an ongoing basis into the future.

8. Provide ongoing funding for LGBTI service delivery organisations

The last Labor Government also provided a range of other important grants supporting LGBTI service delivery, including funding for the National LGBTI Health Alliance with respect to developing the aged care and ageing strategy, and $3.3 million over 2 years to the QLife counselling service, commencing July 2013.

Obviously, these issues – LGBTI aged care and ageing requirements, and the need for dedicated LGBTI counselling services – are not going away anytime soon. As such, the national platform should explicitly support the provision of ongoing funding to LGBTI service delivery organisations, including the National LGBTI Health Alliance and also other peak trans*, intersex, lesbian, gay and bisexual service delivery organisations, to ensure these types of programs aren’t simply ad hoc, disappearing after two or three years, but become a permanent part of the health and community services sector.

9. Appoint a Spokesperson for Equality

The first Commonwealth (Minister or) Assistant Minister for Women was appointed by Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser in 1976, and it has been a permanent portfolio at federal level (in some shape or form) since it was reintroduced by Prime Minister Hawke in 1983.

However, there has never been a corresponding portfolio for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people and issues – and I would argue it is long overdue. The Victorian Opposition Leader, Daniel Andrews, showed the way in May 2013 by appointing Martin Foley as the Victorian Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Equality, the first position of its kind in the country.

It’s time that the federal Labor Party did the same – and, given Bill Shorten did not create an equality portfolio when he was elected leader late last year, there is no reason why the 2015 National Conference shouldn’t create one for him.

Of course, putting LGBTI policies on a sustainable footing takes more than simply appointing one spokesperson within caucus. If elected, the ALP should also introduce LGBTI ministerial advisory bodies, either reporting directly to the Equality Minister/Assistant Minister, or separate bodies advising key portfolios which affect the LGBTI community (including Health, Education and Attorney-General’s). This is essential to help ensure the voice of the LGBTI is heard, loud and clear, by the government.

10. Support anti-homophobia, -biphobia, -transphobia and -intersexphobia campaigns and initiatives

Law reforms aimed at combatting the suite of ‘phobias’, such as the removal of religious exceptions from the Sex Discrimination Act, and introducing LGBTI anti-vilification protections, are absolutely essential, but are not in and of themselves enough to address the problems of anti-LGBTI discrimination in society.

That requires a more co-ordinated and sustained effort, including support for public education campaigns, like the Victorian Government’s support for the No To Homophobia initiative. There is no reason why a similar, broad-based national campaign should not be funded.

It also means supporting the efforts of organisations like the Australian Human Rights Commission in addressing discrimination outside specific complaints (such as their work with sporting groups on lesbian, gay and bisexual discrimination and, hopefully sometime in the near future, on anti-trans* and -intersex prejudice on the playing field, too).

Speaking of the AHRC, it is simply unacceptable in 2014 for there not to be a dedicated, full-time LGBTI commissioner. The challenges presented by LGBTI discrimination are complex and unique, and should not be subsumed within another policy area – and certainly not be seen as a part-time job of the so-called ‘Freedom Commissioner’, who only last year was arguing the LGBTI people should not be protected from discrimination under the law, unless that discrimination was by Government. ALP National Conference 2015 should support a real, full-time LGBTI commissioner at the Human Rights Commission.

11. Make support for LGBTI human rights an explicit goal of Australia’s foreign policy

One of the more pleasing political developments in recent years has been the growth in bipartisan support for Australian engagement to support LGBTI human rights internationally.

Of course, with roughly 80 countries criminalising homosexuality – and more than half of those countries members of the Commonwealth – there is plenty of scope for Australia to do more, and specifically to support any and all moves towards decriminalisation, as well as broader legal and cultural acceptance of diversity in sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.

Given the scale of this challenge, I believe the ALP should adopt support for LGBTI human rights as an explicit priority of international engagement and foreign policy in the 2015 National Platform.

12. Introduce a binding vote for ALP MPs on marriage equality

This is the issue which will dominate discussion, at least from an LGBTI perspective (and possibly in terms of media coverage as well), ahead of next year’s national conference. I have listed it at number 12, not because I think it is any more or less important than the other issues included, but to highlight the fact that there are actually other important topics that require our attention prior to next July’s gathering.

Having said that, readers of my blog would be aware that this is something that I feel passionately about, having already written a lengthy post about why #ItsTimeToBind for Australian Labor on marriage equality (see: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/07/13/hey-australian-labor-its-time-to-bind-on-marriage-equality/ ).

In short, there is absolutely no justification whatsoever why a collectivist party, which binds on nearly all policy issues, should make an exception to allow some of its MPs to vote against the fundamental equality of all couples. That is simply legitimising prejudice on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status, it is wrong, and it must end.

13. Abolish the National School Chaplaincy Program

This issue, and the next, are not explicitly (or at least not exclusively) LGBTI policy issues. But they are issues which do have an impact, and a potentially disproportionate impact at that, on the LGBTI community.

In the case of the National School Chaplaincy Program, not only is it a gross waste of money (especially in a supposedly ‘tight’ fiscal environment), as well as a completely unjustified breach of the separation of church and state, it is also a program which potentially exposes thousands of young LGBTI students to the prejudices of religious fundamentalists who are keen to tell them that they are wrong for simply being who they are.

There have already been multiple reports of such abuse (including those outlined in one of Senator Louise Pratt’s final speeches in the Senate – see here for a transcript <http://thatsmyphilosophy.wordpress.com/2014/06/18/senator-louise-pratt-on-school-chaplaincy/ ) and it would be unsurprising, to say the least, if they were simply the tip of the iceberg, given the hate-driven ideology of some groups involved in religious programs and activities in schools around the country.

Overall, the main reasons to abolish the National School Chaplaincy Program aren’t necessarily LGBTI-related (see my post Dear Joe Hockey, $245million for Schools Chaplains? You Cannot Be Serious <https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/05/15/dear-joe-hockey-245-million-for-school-chaplains-you-cannot-be-serious/ ). But the LGBTI community still has an undeniable interest in supporting a platform change so that the ALP commits to abolishing the scheme, in its entirety, when it returns to office.

14. End the offshore processing & resettlement of refugees

As with chaplaincy, this is not an exclusively LGBTI policy issue – after all, the fact that Australia ‘exports’ asylum-seekers who arrive by boat, imprisoning them for several years in either Nauru or Papua New Guinea (tragically it seems at the risk of being killed, by violence or by criminal negligence), with the aim of ‘resettlement’ in those same countries despite their comparative lack of resources, is wrong no matter what the sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status of the person(s) involved.

But the fact that LGBTI refugees are being placed at increased risk, given both Nauru and PNG retain colonial (including Australian colonial) era laws criminalising homosexuality, adds both an extra layer of oppression, as well as additional motivation for LGBTI advocates and activists to call for the end of offshore processing and resettlement – something that, depressingly, was reintroduced by the last Labor Government. It’s up to delegates at the 2015 National Conference to correct this appalling mistake.

For more on this issue, see my letter to Minister Scott Morrison, calling for an end to this situation (including his Department’s exceptionally disappointing response: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/02/02/letter-to-scott-morrison-about-treatment-of-lgbti-asylum-seekers-and-refugees-sent-to-manus-island-png/ ) as well as my piece 13 Highs & Lows of 2013: No 1. Australia sends LGBTI refugees to countries which criminalise homosexuality (<https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/12/27/no-1-australia-sends-lgbti-refugees-to-countries-which-criminalise-homosexuality/ ).

15. Support the pre-selection of openly-LGBTI candidates for winnable seats

This issue potentially can’t wait until National Conference 2015, with some jurisdictions having already commenced the pre-selection process for the next federal election, due in September 2016. However, if nothing is done on this between now and next July then I believe National Conference should step in.

As I have written previously, there has still never been an openly LGBTI MP in the Australian House of Representatives (see: <
https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/11/16/lgbti-voices-absent-from-the-chamber/ ), leaving us well behind our counterparts in the UK, Canada, New Zealand and even the US.

From an ALP point of view, while former Cabinet Minister Senator Penny Wong continues to blaze a trail (and is now Leader of the Opposition in the Senate), LGBTI-community representation has actually halved this year, with the homophobe Joe Bullock replacing Louise Pratt at April’s WA election re-run.

The issue of LGBTI under-representation in Parliament was actually identified as a priority to be addressed by Bill Shorten while he was campaigning for the Labor leadership in September and October 2013. While his possible solution was controversial (he suggested that quotas be considered, in a similar way to affirmative action rules for women), he was right to highlight the lack of diversity in caucus as a long-term problem to be overcome (noting of course that it also took until 2013 for Labor to elect an Aboriginal MP in either House).

Well, history shows he won that ballot, and it is now almost 12 months later, with pre-selections commencing – so it’s time for Opposition Leader Shorten to follow through on his interest in this issue and put forward his ideas on how the ALP can overcome any structural barriers that it has that has meant no openly LGBTI candidate has ever been pre-selected for a winnable seat.

If he does not, if the pre-selection process continues as normal with LGBTI candidates continuing to be excluded, and Mr Shorten does not put forward any concrete proposals for increasing LGBTI representation inside the ALP, then I think we should be actively considering quotas, or other potential ideas to increase LGBTI representation in the Commonwealth Parliament, as amendments to the Party’s Rules at next year’s conference.

So, there you have it, my list of 15 LGBTI policy priorities for next year’s ALP National Conference. As you can see, it’s not comprehensive by any stretch of the imagination. In particular, I have not included nationally-consistent, best practice birth certificate reforms (affecting both trans* and intersex individuals, in different ways), in part because, being honest, I do not fully understand the issues involved, and in part because some activists may prefer to pursue this at state level (which currently has constitutional power), rather than federally. But I very much welcome feedback on what possible platform amendments in that area would look like (hint: feel free to leave a comment below).

Of course, this list will nevertheless still be criticised by some within the ALP – either because they see it as somehow too radical, or because they would prefer to adopt a ‘small target’ strategy ahead of the next election. And of course it would attract negative comments from those opposed to any form of LGBTI equality.

But I make no apologies for the fact that we should be pursuing what these critics might attack as a ‘gay agenda’ – because there is nothing wrong with pursuing an agenda of inclusivity and equality. None of the reforms above are unnecessary, or unjustified. Each would improve the lives of LGBTI people.

And all of them should be adopted by a Party that, even if only occasionally, still likes to use the word progressive to describe itself. It’s up to us to make sure that as many of these policies are adopted as possible at next year’s National Conference. It’s time to make sure the ALP stands up for substantive LGBTI equality.

Letter to Scott Morrison about Treatment of LGBTI Asylum Seekers and Refugees Sent to Manus Island, PNG

UPDATE: Sunday 20 July 2014

On Friday 18 July, I received the following response from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, to my correspondence about the treatment of LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees:

Dear Mr Lawrie

Treatment of homosexual, bisexual, transgender and intersex asylum seekers

Thank you for your letter of 2 February 2014 to the Hon Scott Morrison MP, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, concerning the treatment of homosexual, bisexual, transgender and intersex asylum seekers. The Minister appreciates the time you have taken to bring these matters to his attention and has asked that I reply on his behalf. I regret the delay in responding.

As a party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol (the Refugees Convention), Australia takes its international obligations seriously. Australia is committed to treating asylum seekers fairly and humanely, and providing protection to refugees consistent with the obligations set out in the Refugees Convention, and other relevant international treaties to which Australia is a party.

The Australian Government has taken a number of measures to deter people smuggling and to ensure that people do not take the dangerous journey to Australia in boats organised by people smugglers. Under Australian domestic law, all illegal maritime arrivals (IMAs) entering Australia by sea without a visa will be liable for transfer to Nauru and Papua New Guinea (PNG) where any asylum claims they may have will be assessed, and if found to be a refugee, they will be resettled in Nauru and PNG or in another country.

Any claims made against Nauru and PNG by an IMA, including claims concerning the treatment of homosexuals, bisexual, transgender and intersex asylum seekers in either country, are considered prior to transfer. Where an IMA makes such a claim, consideration is given to whether the IMA can be transferred to the proposed country, or an alternative country, or whether the IMA’s case should be referred to the Minister for consideration or exemption from transfer.

Nauru and PNG are also both parties to the Refugee Convention. The Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) they have signed with Australia on the offshore processing arrangements reaffirm their commitment to the Refugees Convention and to treating people transferred with dignity and respect in accordance with human rights standards.

The enforcement of PNG domestic law is a matter for the Government of PNG. The government is aware of laws relating to homosexual activity in PNG and understands that there have been no recent reports of prosecution under those laws.

If homosexual activity should occur in the OPC, there is no mandatory obligation under PNG domestic law for Australian officers or contracted services providers to report such activity to the PNG Government or police.

The department notes the release of the reports by both the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Amnesty International on the Manus OPC. Any reports received by the department will be reviewed, and observations or comments verified. Where reports make practical observations that can be implemented and would improve the operations of the centres, the government will address these in partnership with Nauru and PNG to address any deficiencies in good faith.

Any claims of mistreatment at the Manus OPC would be primarily a matter for the Administrator of the OPC. The Manus OPC is administered by PNG under PNG law, with support from Australia. The PNG Minister for Foreign Affairs and Immigration appoints the Administrator of the Centre (a PNG national) under section 15D of the Papua New Guinea Migration Act 1978 (the Act). The Administrator, who, under the Act has control and management of the Centre (currently the Chief Migration Officer, Head of the PNG Immigration and Citizenship Service Authority) has an Operations Manager at the OPC reporting to him, who has oversight of the day-to-day operations of the OPC.

To assist PNG in the implementation of the MOU, the government has contracted appropriately trained and experienced service providers to ensure that transferees’ needs are adequately met, including through the provision of health and welfare services. Transferees can report any concerns to OPC staff.

Regarding the distribution of condoms, I can assure you that condoms are available at the Manus OPC, and the department’s contracted health service provider, International Health and Medical Service, conduct regular health information sessions on safe sex practices.

Thank you for bringing your concerns to the Minister’s attention.

Yours sincerely

[Name withheld]

Acting Assistant Secretary

Community Programmes Services Branch

9 / 7 / 2014

Some quick thoughts on the above:

  • Even though we are more than a decade into our post-Tampa nightmare of refugee policy in Australia, it is still shocking to see people simply seeking asylum in Australia described, by government officials, as Illegal Maritime Arrivals (IMAs). And it is probably almost as shocking realising that the same government official doesn’t even need to spell out what an OPC is anymore, instead it is taken as a given.
  • While the letter acknowledges there is no mandatory reporting of homosexual activity under PNG law, it explicitly does not state that there is no reporting of homosexual activity to PNG Police, or refute the claim that asylum seekers have been told they will be reported if found to engage in such activity.
  • It is difficult to accept the statement that “[t]o assist PNG in the implementation of the MOU, the government has contracted appropriately trained and experienced service providers to ensure that transferees’ needs are adequately met” from the same Government that is responsible for the death, in custody, of Reza Berati just over two weeks after I wrote my initial letter.
  • It is obviously welcome that, at least on paper, the Government claims it makes condoms available to asylum seekers on Manus Island – although whether they are made available in reality would be difficult to verify (given the shroud of secrecy surrounding, and lack of journalist access to, the detention facilities in PNG and Nauru).
  • The main problem remains however, and that is there is no firm commitment not to send LGBTI asylum seekers for ‘processing’ to countries which criminalise homosexuality, and no commitment that LGBTI refugees will not be permanently resettled in countries where they are liable to punishment merely for sexual intercourse.
  • The process outlined in the letter – that an asylum seeker must make a claim against the laws of PNG or Nauru prior to their transfer, is farcical given what we know about the current way asylum seekers are being assessed: while they are detained on navy or customs vessels, on the open sea, through a short interview (with as few as four questions by some reports) via teleconference to officials in mainland Australia. It is outrageous to suggest that the only way a gay asylum seeker can avoid being sent to another country which criminalises their sexual orientation is to declare their sexual orientation at short notice, whilst intimidated by naval or customs personnel (and potentially while intimidated by other asylum seekers, including possible family members), and to specifically claim protection against countries which they may not even be aware they are being taken to, and may not know criminalise homosexuality.

While I certainly wasn’t expecting to take much comfort from this response from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, it is still depressing to realise that, yet again, so little solace is to be found.

ORIGINAL LETTER

The Hon Scott Morrison MP

Minister for Immigration and Border Protection

PO Box 6022

House of Representatives

Parliament House

CANBERRA ACT 2600

Sunday 2 February 2014

Dear Minister

TREATMENT OF LGBTI ASYLUM SEEKERS AND REFUGEES SENT TO MANUS ISLAND, PAPUA NEW GUINEA

I am writing regarding the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) asylum seekers and refugees sent to Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, both for offshore processing and permanent resettlement.

In particular, I am writing about concerning allegations raised in the Amnesty International Report This is Breaking People: Human rights violations at Australia’s asylum seeker processing centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, which was released on 11 December 2013.

Chapter 8 of that report, titled ‘Asylum claims on the basis of sexual orientation’ (pages 73-75), details a range of serious allegations about the mistreatment of LGBTI asylum seekers sent to Manus Island for processing.

Specifically, Amnesty International found that:

  • Section 210 of the PNG Penal Code, which makes male-male penetrative sexual intercourse a criminal offence punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment, applies to asylum seekers detained on Manus Island
  • Section 212 of the PNG Penal Code, which makes other sexual activity between men, termed ‘gross indecency’, a criminal offence carrying a maximum penalty of 3 years’ imprisonment, also applies to asylum seekers detained there
  • Asylum seekers held on Manus Island have been informed that if they are found to have engaged in male-male sexual intercourse, they will be reported to PNG Police (despite no requirement for mandatory reporting)
  • Gay asylum seekers have reported being subject to bullying and harassment from other detainees and staff, including physical and verbal abuse and attempted molestation, but are not reporting this abuse because of fear of prosecution for their homosexuality
  • Interviewees have indicated that some gay asylum seekers have changed or are considering changing their asylum claim, from persecution on the basis of sexual orientation to persecution on another ground, in order to avoid prosecution (thereby jeopardising the chances of their claim ultimately being accepted)
  • Interviewees have indicated that some gay asylum seekers have chosen to return home, despite the risks involved to the personal safety/liberty, rather than be subjected to ongoing mistreatment because of their sexual orientation on Manus Island and
  • Condom distribution has been banned within the Manus Island detention facility, despite the risk of HIV transmission.

In these circumstances, it is perhaps unsurprising that Ms Renate Croker, the senior official from the Department of Immigration & Border Protection located at the Manus Island detention facility, told Amnesty International that “she was unaware of any asylum claims being made on the basis of LGBTI identity.”

Not only is this contradicted by the Amnesty Report – which interviewed a man who reported that his claim was based on persecution due to his sexual orientation, and who expressed concern about being transferred to Manus Island for this reason – it also ignores the fact that some gay asylum seekers may have changed their claims to other grounds (for the reasons outlined above), or that some asylum seekers may happen to be LGBTI but their claim is in fact based on persecution on other grounds (for example, race or religion).

Irrespective of how their claim is being dealt with, the Australian Government has a responsibility to protect the human rights of any and all LGBTI asylum seekers who have sought protection in Australia. This includes the right to freedom from prosecution on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, the right to claim asylum and the right to health.

From the information contained in the This is Breaking People report, it seems the Australian Government is falling well short of its obligations in this area.

I should note at this point that I am strongly opposed to the offshore processing and permanent resettlement of any asylum seekers by the Australian Government. This policy does not constitute a humane response, nor does it live up to our international humanitarian and legal responsibilities.

However, the mistreatment of LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees raises particular problems, problems that do not appear to be recognized by the Australian Government. Nor does there appear to be any evidence the Government is taking action to remedy them.

Even if the offshore processing and permanent resettlement of refugees continues, this must not include the processing and resettlement of LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees in countries which criminalise homosexuality (which both PNG and Nauru currently do).

If you, as Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and therefore Minister responsible for the welfare of asylum seekers and refugees, cannot guarantee that sections 210 and 212 of the PNG Penal Code do not apply to detainees on Manus Island, then you cannot send LGBTI people there in good conscience.

If you, as Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, cannot guarantee that LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees will not be subject to homophobic bullying and harassment, and will be free to lodge claims for protection on the basis of persecution due to their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, then you must not detain them in such facilities.

If you, as Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, cannot guarantee that all asylum seekers and refugees, including but not limited to LGBTI people, have access to condoms, then you are potentially endangering their lives and you should be held accountable for any health problems which occur as a result (noting that HIV continues to be life-threatening in the absence of treatment).

It has been clear since the reintroduction of offshore processing of asylum seekers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, passed by the previous Labor Government and supported by the Liberal-National Opposition in mid-2012, that the criminalisation of homosexuality in these countries constituted a significant threat to the human rights of LGBTI asylum seekers sent there.

Indeed, I wrote to you as Shadow Minister for Immigration expressing my concerns about this exact issue in September 2012. I did not receive a response addressing the subject of LGBTI asylum seekers prior to your assumption of the role of Minister for Immigration and Border Protection in September 2013.

I sincerely hope, now that you are the person directly responsible for the health and wellbeing of asylum seekers and refugees, and especially after the Amnesty International Report This is Breaking People has confirmed that these human rights abuses are real, that you take this issue, and your responsibilities, seriously.

I look forward to your response on this important issue.

Yours sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

A copy of the Amnesty International Report This is Breaking People, can be found here: <http://www.amnesty.org.au/images/uploads/about/Amnesty_International_Manus_Island_report.pdf

No 1 Australia Sends LGBTI Refugees to Countries which Criminalise Homosexuality

I wish that I could have finished this countdown with something more positive. Indeed, I was tempted to elevate the achievement of the Sex Discrimination Amendment Act 2013 to No 1, just so I could end on a high note.

Alas, Australia’s ongoing mistreatment of refugees, including the gross violation of their human rights, is simply too heinous to ignore, and too severe to downplay. And in 2013, these abuses reached a new low, with the then Rudd Government introducing, and the incoming Abbott Government retaining, a new policy to permanently resettle refugees who arrive by boat in Nauru and on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

More than just a fundamental breach of Australia’s international obligations, this policy is an attempt to permanently turn our backs to the humanity of people fleeing persecution in other countries, people who were seeking our compassion but, when they arrived, found none.

All of this is bad enough to attract the opprobrium of anyone interested in human rights, including LGBTI rights. But there is a special reason for LGBTI activists and advocates to oppose the resettlement of refugees in Nauru and Papua New Guinea – and that is that both countries continue to criminalise male homosexuality, by up to 14 years imprisonment.

While the letter of the law only applies to male homosexuality, any place which criminalises sex between people of the same-sex is not a safe environment to send refugees who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex. The potential dangers of doing so were apparent when the then Gillard Government first announced that Nauru and Manus Island were to be re-opened as ‘offshore processing centres’ in mid-2012.

At the time I wrote to the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, asking him whether the Government supported the rights of LGBTI asylum-seekers, and whether they could guarantee that the laws criminalising homosexuality would not be applied to the people we sent there (original letter: https://alastairlawrie.net/2012/09/07/letter-to-chris-bowen-on-lgbti-asylum-seekers/). A similar letter was sent to then Opposition Immigration Spokesperson Scott Morrison.

It took almost ten months, and some harassment, for the Government to reply, and when they finally did, in June 2013, they did not answer the question – effectively conceding that the criminal laws of Nauru and Papua New Guinea do apply to LGBTI refugees we send there (response here: https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/06/30/lgbti-refugees-on-nauru-manus-island/).

In a sign of things to come, Mr Morrison never replied. All of which meant that I was completely unsurprised by the Amnesty International Report “This is Breaking People”, released on 11 December 2013, which spelled out just how awful the consequences of this policy are for LGBTI asylum seekers (report here: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ASA12/002/2013/en/b2f135dc-3353-420d-b587-05d2b3db6e2f/asa120022013en.pdf see especially discussion on pages 73-75).

But just because I am unsurprised, does not mean I am not outraged – and you should be too. In short, gay refugees sent to Manus Island are:

  • Told that same-sex sexual activities are prohibited
  • Told that, if they engage in same-sex sexual activities, they will be reported to PNG Police (despite there being no legal onus for the operators to do so)
  • NOT provided with condoms (and with safe-sex education comprising a talk telling them not to have sex) and
  • Subject to bullying and harassment from other detainees on the basis of their sexual orientation.

In such circumstances, it is even less surprising that the senior Australian Government official at the camp, Renate Croker, said she was unaware of any person claiming asylum on the basis of persecution due to their LGBTI status.

Not only is this apparently incorrect – with Amnesty International interviewing several gay male asylum-seekers, including at least one quoted as saying he had made a claim on that basis – it also ignores the fact that people can be LGBTI but claim asylum because of persecution on other grounds (eg race, religion).

Indeed, one of the refugees interviewed claimed that other people have considered changing and/or changed their applications to be refer to other grounds, rather than be exposed to further bullying or harassment inside the camp, as well as to minimise the threat of being reported to PNG Police. He further “explained that some gay men have chosen to return to their home countries with IOM [International Organization for Migration]’s assistance, despite the risks they face upon return.”

All of which made the comments of Minister Morrison in response to the report all the more chilling. The following excerpt is taken from Oliver Laughland’s excellent article in the Guardian Australia on 13 December (titled Scott Morrison denies Amnesty report findings on Manus island detention):

Morrison said this [automatic reporting to PNG Police] was not the policy of the government but added all asylum seekers on Manus were provided with “clear advice” on “relevant laws” in Papua New Guinea. Homosexuality is illegal in PNG and can carry a 14-year sentence. Morrison was asked repeatedly by Guardian Australia if the “relevant laws” included those relating to homosexuality but he declined to go into detail, adding: “In these press conferences you get to ask the questions, you don’t get to give the responses as well.” Morrison added that the department was “unaware of any claims or declarations of homosexuality or of any reports of homosexuality being investigated by the police at the centre”. [full article here: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/13/scott-morrison-denies-amnesty-report-findings-on-manus-island-detention).

In short, our current Immigration Minister has all-but confirmed that PNG laws criminalising homosexuality apply to LGBTI refugees sent there, as well as expressing a clear lack of understanding about the nature of sexual orientation, homophobia and the reasons why LGBTI refugees might not want to make a ‘declaration’, including but not limited to the risk of criminal punishment.

All-in-all, the situation confronting LGBTI refugees sent to Manus Island, and by extension, Nauru, is a nightmare. But it cannot be divorced from the broader nightmare that is Australia’s bipartisan ‘Pacific Solution Mark II’. The fact that we are sending any refugees to be processed, and permanently resettled, on Nauru and in PNG is a massive failure of our political system, and of the Australian people for allowing it to happen, for it to be done in our name.

Tragically, as 2013 draws to a close, it is unclear how any of this is going to change. I would like to be able to end this article, and this countdown, by saying something like “Here’s hoping in 2014 we take the first steps towards a humane refugee assessment system.” But the pessimist in me, reflecting on all of the events of the past 12 to 18 months, wants to say instead “Please just don’t let it become any worse”.

LGBTI Refugees and the 2013 Federal Election

It appears that my previous post on LGBTI asylum seekers was overly optimistic (well, to be perfectly honest it wasn’t that optimistic to begin with – it’s just that the reality has turned out to be even worse than the already dire situation).

After more than 9 months of trying to get an answer out of the Commonwealth Immigration Minister (first Chris Bowen, and then Brendan O’Connor), when I eventually received a response from the Immigration Department instead in June, it failed to answer whether the criminal laws against homosexuality of Nauru and Papua New Guinea applied to refugees in processing centres there.

This omission clearly implied that the criminal laws do in fact apply. However, the letter left open an interpretation that refugees who were LGBTI, and feared persecution (or prosecution) in these countries, could apply to the Minister to be transferred to Australia, on the basis that their rights could not be guaranteed in those countries.

Unfortunately, that no longer appears to be the case. In the time since that response the Prime Minister changed, and within a month of Rudd’s return he had announced the ‘PNG Solution’, with a similar deal with Nauru revealed shortly afterwards. These policies moved beyond offshore processing, to include the permanent ‘resettlement’ in those countries of any and all refugees who arrive in Australia by boat.

Now, let me say from the outset that I completely oppose these policies, and believe them to be unconscionable, inhumane, and probably contrary to international law. Australia should not be in the business of abrogating its responsibility to offer protection to people who are fleeing persecution by simply dumping these people in other countries. And my opposition applies to the ‘resettlement’ of all refugees, irrespective of the grounds of their persecution (eg race, religion, nationality etc).

However, as a gay man, and in particular as a passionate advocate for LGBTI rights, I find policies that involve the resettlement of LGBTI refugees in countries that criminalise homosexuality particularly abhorrent. That is exactly what Australia is doing – taking any LGBTI refugee who arrives by boat and sending them to countries which make male homosexuality a criminal offence, liable to up to 14 years’ imprisonment.

I know that many other people agree with me – in fact, the only pleasing thing arising from this horrible situation has been the emergence of a variety of voices condemning these policies. This has meant that the Labor Government has been unable to avoid questions on this particular topic (something which they had largely managed to successfully do in the previous 10 months).

But it doesn’t make the answers given by Government Ministers any easier to stomach. On 8 August, Serkan Ozturk of the Star Observer reported that the Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus (an intelligent man who really should know better): “confirmed the government intends to send all asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat without a visa – including LGBTI people fleeing persecution and people living with HIV – to Papua New Guinea (PNG) for processing and permanent resettlement despite laws criminalising homosexual sex, high rates of HIV infection and limited medical and social infrastructure on the impoverished island-nation…

When questioned by the Star Observer on whether LGBTI asylum seekers would be sent to PNG, Dreyfus was unequivocal.

“You’ve outlined an aspect of PNG law which is of general application but as I say we are not ruling out any group,” Dreyfus said.

“At the same time our Minister for Immigration, Tony Burke, has made it very clear that those transfers won’t occur until there is appropriate accommodation and appropriate circumstances for everyone who is sent.”

Pressed on whether that meant the Australian government would be placing pressure on PNG to reform legal codes, Dreyfus said he would not be drawn “giving a running commentary” on the laws of neighbouring countries, including PNG, Indonesia or Malaysia.

“We don’t think that’s necessary in order for Australia to comply with our international legal obligations and the obligations we have under the Migration Act.””

The fact that the Government is aware of this situation, and specifically the potential consequences of sending LGBTI refugees to these countries, but has continued on along this path irrespective of the dangers, is damning.

Sadly, the Foreign Minister, Senator Bob Carr, isn’t any better. On 6 August the ABC reported (from what I believe was a response to an oursay question from Senthorun Raj) that Senator Carr similarly confirmed that homosexual asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat will be resettled in PNG despite facing prison under local laws, even though those laws conflict with contemporary Australia values.

“I am concerned about… what we see as a grotesquely outdated, legal position applying in PNG. I understand – and I know this is little comfort – but there have been few if any charges laid or prosecutions made under laws prohibiting homosexual activity in PNG,” he said. You are right on one thing, Senator Carr: that is little comfort.

Tony Burke, the current Minister for Immigration (and the third person to hold that post this year), also believes that this policy is appropriate. However, in one of the most Orwellian moments of the 2013 federal election campaign (or indeed in recent Australian politics more generally), he stated that he had been advised that ‘no part of the caseload so far’ had arisen (ie no LGBTI person had been sent to Nauru or PNG so far).

The transcript, from a media conference on 1 August, is as follows:

Question: Sorry Minister, just to go out to Manus Island for a moment. Given that homosexuality is still considered a crime in PNG, but our government has pledged to transfer all asylum seekers regardless of their sexuality, what efforts have been undertaken to make sure that those transferred will not be persecuted for their sexuality, either as detainees, or if they are then settled in PNG?

Tony Burke: In the first instance we have no part of the caseload so far where this issue has arisen, no part of the caseload where this has arisen. In…

Question: So does that mean…

Tony Burke: Please, please, when other people were talking over you I made sure you got the run so allow me to answer your question.

I’ve been very careful throughout all of this to not carve out any exclusions from the policy. And I explained the implications of that with the specific reference to what the Opposition have attempted to do with women and children. There are very deep implications if we start carving people out. And if you do that, you are by no means taking a – I’m saying you, but anyone doing that is by no means taking a compassionate response because of the automatic reaction that people smugglers will engage in.

My language on this has not changed, which is people will be sent when we are confident they will be safe, when we are confident that appropriate accommodation and services are in place, and I’m not going to define it further than that.”

Which raises far more questions than it provides answers. It is possible that what he meant to say was that no-one sent to Manus Island has lodged a refugee claim on the basis of persecution of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status. But that doesn’t mean those claims won’t emerge at a later point (it is definitely possible that a LGBTI refugee will not disclose their status in the limited time after arrival in Australia and before transfer, but that it would instead emerge at a later point).

And it ignores the fact that someone who is seeking refugee protection on the basis of race, religion or other grounds can also be LGBTI (even if just as someone who has sexual intercourse with someone else of the same sex). This would not be immediately apparent to an interviewer and there are foreseeably several reasons why they would NOT disclose their particular circumstances (especially if fleeing as part of a family group where their family is unaware of their sexual orientation).

But the most obvious flaw in Minister Burke’s advice is that all refugees who arrive by boat, including children, are being ‘resettled’ in PNG and Nauru. Those children could grow up to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, or they may have been born intersex, and it may not be known to that child, their family or indeed anyone else at the time of resettlement. It does not make it any more acceptable that as a country we exposed that child to future criminal prosecution (or at the very least, societal discrimination), simply because we didn’t know of their status.

We DO know that this policy is wrong and should be stopped, which means that we are collectively responsible for what happens in the future as a result of it.

Unfortunately, while some of the positive reforms of the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd Labor Governments will be dismantled by the incoming Abbott Liberal-National Government it seems there is bipartisan agreement on the idea of resettling refugees in South Pacific countries. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, and Shadow Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison, both appeared to welcome the announcement by Rudd of the PNG policy, while they have also announced their own plans to resettle refugees in Nauru (aka “tent city”).

It should also be pointed out that, last September, at the same time that I wrote to the Immigration Minister (and Prime Minister and Attorney-General), I also wrote to the Shadow Minister, Opposition Leader and Shadow Attorney-General, raising the same concerns about the processing or resettlement of LGBTI refugees in countries which criminalise homosexuality. No-one from the Opposition ever responded to these letters, which perhaps indicates how seriously they take those concerns.

The fact that, as it stands, both major parties endorse this policy means that, no matter who is elected on Saturday, the incoming Government will continue to abrogate its responsibilities to offer protection to all refugees, including refugees who are LGBTI. That it will inevitably continue to be cheered along by sections of the press will make it even harder to endure.

Perhaps the only ray of hope in this awful mess is that the High Court might do what the public should (but won’t) on Saturday – tell our MPs, from both the ALP and the Liberal-National Coalition, that resettling refugees in PNG and Nauru is unconscionable, inhumane, and, hopefully, unlawful. So, to our distinguished High Court Justices I say: no pressure, but it seems this is now entirely up to you.

LGBTI refugees on Nauru & Manus Island

So, the past few weeks have been pretty busy (with the SDA Bill and my Change.org petition to help ensure the national Health & Physical Education curriculum is genuinely LGBTI-inclusive). One thing which happened earlier in June, which I had previously committed to place on my blog, is that I finally received a response to my letter to the then Minister for Immigration, Chris Bowen – which I first sent in September 2012!

It has only taken 9 months, including a follow up letter to Minister Bowen, a new message to Minister Brendan O’Connor, who was appointed in February, and then some ongoing twitter harassment/stalking. Even after all of this the response which I have received is not from the Minister himself (either of them) but rather from the Director of the relevant Branch in the Department.

I have included the full text of the letter below. But I have chosen to omit the name of the Branch Director, because as a former public servant I can only imagine that they were instructed to draft the letter in this particular way, and after all, this is about the Government’s policy and not an individual.

In my original letter (see: https://alastairlawrie.net/2012/09/07/letter-to-chris-bowen-on-lgbti-asylum-seekers/), amongst other questions, I asked whether the Government supported the rights of LGBTI people to seek asylum, as well as whether these asylum seekers would be subject to the laws of Nauru and Papua New Guinea (Manus Island) which still criminalise homosexuality.

The response to the first question appears to be yes – the letter at least accepts the fact that people can claim refugee status on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity (although it is less clear that intersex status is accepted). How well Australia implements this commitment is, of course, a much longer discussion.

However, the letter refuses to answer the second key point. I can only assume that, based on the Director’s avoidance of this issue, the criminal offences relating to homosexuality in Nauru and Papua New Guinea do, at the very least, technically apply to the asylum seekers which we as a country distressingly continue to send to these places.

The letter then rather cryptically goes into detail about what individuals can do if they object to being transferred to a particular Regional Processing Country. While I would fully expect that the ‘Ministerial discretion’ which is alluded to would be exercised to override such concerns, I believe that the lawyers who represent LGBTI asylum seekers being sent to Nauru or Manus Island should at the very least raise their concerns under s198AE with the Minister (whoever that might be after the reshuffle tomorrow).

As an aside I don’t actually think that it matters whether the particular asylum seeker is seeking protection because of persecution on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity (or intersex status), merely that they are LGBTI and fear persecution by the Governments of Nauru or Papua New Guinea because of their ongoing criminalisation of same-sex activity.

I will now endeavour to ensure that LGBTI and/or general refugee advocates are aware of this advice and can take any appropriate steps (noting that these applications may have already been made to, and rejected by, the Minister for Immigration since the detention centres were reopened last August).

Overall, of course, even if LGBTI asylum seekers were removed from Nauru and Manus Island, this would only be ‘fiddling at the edges’ of the revived Pacific Solution, a policy so awful that it brings shame to the entire Australian population, myself included. No asylum seeker, whether LGBTI or not, should ever be sent to such places, for an indefinite period, merely for exercising their fundamental right to seek protection from persecution.

Most depressingly of all, the upcoming federal election doesn’t appear like it will change these policies – if anything, the probable election of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister, with Scott Morrison as Minister for Immigration, will make things substantially worse.

On that ‘glass-completely-empty’ note, here is the response from the Department which only took 9 months to conceive:

Dear Mr Lawrie,

Thank you for your email of 7 September 2012 to the former Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, the Hon Chris Bowen MP, concerning the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) asylum seekers. Your letter has been referred to me for a reply. I apologise for the delay in responding.

The Australian Government’s commitment to removing discrimination was demonstrated by its reforms to remove discrimination from 85 Commonwealth laws. These reforms, which passed in 2009, removed discrimination and equalised treatment for same-sex couples in areas of taxation, social security, health, aged care, superannuation, immigration, child support and family law.

The Government is also proceeding with introducing long overdue protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status. On 21 March 2013, the Attorney-General introduced the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Bill 2013. This Bill will ensure that protections from discrimination for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex are put in place as soon as practicable.

Concerning the transfer of post-13 August 2012 irregular maritime arrivals (IMAs) to Regional Processing Countries (RPC) and the treatment of LGBTI asylum seekers, as a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol (the Refugee Convention), Australia takes its international obligations seriously and is committed to providing protection to refugees consistent with the obligations set out in the Refugees Convention and other human rights treaties to which Australia is a party. Any person has the right to seek protection in Australia from persecution in their home country.

The Government has signed Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with the Governments of Nauru and Papua New Guinea which permit people who arrived irregularly by boat on or after 13 August 2012 to be taken to Nauru or Papua New Guinea (Manus Island) for assessment of their claims against the Refugee Convention. Changes to the Migration Act 1958 (the Act) which give effect to regional processing arrangements were passed by the Australian Parliament and became law on 18 August 2012.

The MoU signed with Nauru and Papua new Guinea reaffirms the commitment of both countries to the Refugee Convention, with people transferred to the Regional Processing Country (RPC) to be treated with dignity and respect in line with human rights standards.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship recognises that human rights abuses and gender-related persecution can also be experienced by people on the basis of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. As such, an applicant’s gender-related claims may include claims relating to their
sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

In the guidelines set out in the Departmental Procedures Advice Manual 3 (PAM3), for the guidance of interviewing officers, they are advised that

“Unlike other persecuted groups, sexual orientation and gender identity is not a readily visible characteristic and has to be revealed by the individual. Homosexual and transsexual applications may, therefore, have only spoken to a handful of people, or none at all, about their sexuality and have kept it a secret. Interviewers and decision makers should, therefore, not be surprised if an applicant suddenly raises the issue of sexual orientation or gender identity late in an application process, prefaced perhaps by an earlier weak or false claim on other grounds.”

Pre-Transfer Assessment is undertaken prior to a person’s transfer to an RPC to consider whether there are specific circumstances or special needs that mean it is not reasonably practicable to transfer an asylum seeker to an RPC at this time.

Where a person raises concerns against a designated RC, the Departmental officer refers to relevant country information, as well as the assurances received by Australia from the RPC governments, to assess if those charges are credible. If the person makes credible protection claims against all RPCs, the case is brought to the Minister’s attention in accordance with his guidelines for considering the exercise of his power under section 198AE of the Migration Act 1958 to exempt that person from transfer.

A copy of the Minister’s s198AE guidelines and the Pre-Transfer Assessment form and guidelines can be found at the Department’s website at: www.immi.gov.au/visas/humanitarian/whatsnew.htm

Also for your information, I attach a copy of the relevant sections of PAM3 regarding gender and sexual orientation. For a full interactive copy of that document you may need to contact your nearest public library which should be able to provide free access.

Thank you for writing about this matter and I apologise again for the delay in respond.

Yours sincerely

[Name withheld]

Director

Protection Policy Section

6 June 2013

My Top 12 of 2012

On the last day of 2012, I thought it might be an opportune time to reflect on the major achievements, and disappointments, for the LGBTI community over the past 12 months. The following list of 12 highlights (or indeed ‘lowlights’ for a few) include a mix of domestic, and international, developments, as well as a couple which are not directly LGBTI-related, but which indirectly could have a major impact on LGBTI people. Of course, any ‘list-making exercise’ involves inherently subjective judgments about what is important, and I would be interested to hear your views about what should have made the list but is not included (and vice versa).

And so, in no particular order, here are my 12 highs and lows of 2012.

Gardasil Vaccine Image

1. Boys to get free Gardasil vaccine

On 12 July, Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek announced that, from next year, boys aged 12 and 13 would be provided with three free doses of the Gardasil vaccine, which protects against the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). This is a massive long-term win for the LGBTI community – and in particular gay and bisexual men – and finally overturns the homophobic decision of the previous Government to exclude teenage boys from the National Immunisation Program.

The then Health Minister, Tony Abbott, who initially resisted listing Gardasil for anyone, eventually chose to restrict free access to Gardasil to school-age girls on the basis that this would protect these girls from HPV, and the boys who would in future sleep with them, thereby reducing the prevalence of HPV across the ‘broader community’. Except that, obviously, it would do little to reduce HPV prevalence amongst men who have sex with men, who would not be immunised.

This is significant because, while most people understand that HPV causes cervical cancer, it also causes penile, anal, and mouth and throat cancers. So, as a result of Tony Abbott excluding boys from accessing this vaccine from its commencement in 2007, there will be a six year cohort of gay and bisexual men who could have been protected against the cause of many types of cancer, but will instead potentially suffer long-term serious health consequences. To me, that is the epitome of the phrase blood on his hands.

Still, this is not to detract from the announcement by Minister Plibersek, and the amazing achievement that all gay and bisexual men born in Australia from the year 2000 onwards will have a dramatically reduced risk of developing cancer. Well done, Tanya.

2. National LGBTI Aged Care and Ageing Strategy

Another major achievement by the Federal Government this year was the release of the National LGBTI Aged Care and Ageing Strategy by the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler. This strategy, released on 20 December, is absolutely essential to help end the stigma of silence surrounding, and the direct and indirect discrimination confronted by, older LGBTI people as they engage with aged care services and enter aged care facilities.

The fact that it was released at all is a testament to the hard work, over many years, by people such as academic Jo Harrison, and the National LGBTI Health Alliance, and of course to a Minister and Government that was willing to both listen to, and work with, the community on this issue. The strategy is also backed up with a commitment of funding (at least $2.5 million), which will help aged care service providers to learn how to be inclusive of LGBTI individuals, couples, carers and their families.

However, this is funding that must also be protected from a Shadow Treasurer, Joe Hockey, who has already identified this bucket of money as a potential saving should the Coalition win Government next year. So, well done Mark, and hands off, Joe.

3. Government MPs, including PM Gillard, join with Coalition to vote down marriage equality

Of course, when it comes to assessing the record of the Federal Government on LGBTI rights in 2012, most people will (quite understandably) not be able to look past the failure of the parliament to pass marriage equality. Dozens of ALP MPs, including Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan, and former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, joined with all but one member of the Coalition (Liberal Senator Sue Boyce, who notably abstained), to vote against legislation which would have finally granted genuine equality to same-sex relationships.

This defeat was inevitable because of the decision by the ALP national conference in December 2011 to grant a conscience vote to its parliamentarians, rather than enforce a binding vote in favour of marriage equality. But just because defeat was inevitable, and expected, does not mean it was any less devastating for those of us longing to be acknowledged as first-class citizens.

Indeed, the scale of the defeat – 98 votes against and 42 in favour in the House of Representatives, and a somewhat closer 41 votes against and 26 in favour in the Senate – was particularly disheartening, especially as it shows the fight for equal marriage is likely ten or more years away from success.

The fact that the Prime Minister was one of those who stood intransigently against LGBTI Australians is something that will never be forgotten. This is someone who is able to identify and eloquently denounce sexism and misogyny ‘wherever she sees it’, but who either has a blind spot when it comes to homophobia, or who warmly embraces it. Shame, Julia, shame.

*The one positive development when it comes to marriage equality under federal law came in January when the Attorney-General Nicola Roxon implemented another ALP national conference decision, which was to allow same-sex couples marrying overseas to be issued with Certificates of No Impediment (CNI). As well as overturning the homophobic policy of previous Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock, this decision means that many more Australian couples – like Steve and I – will at least be able to marry elsewhere, even if our own country doesn’t recognise it.

4. Campbell Newman rolls back the clock

One of the most disappointing developments of 2012, especially for someone who grew up in Queensland during the 1980s and early 1990s, was the speed and scale of the newly-elected Liberal-National Party Government’s ‘crusade’ against LGBTI rights. Elected with a huge majority (78 seats out of a parliament of 89), Campbell Newman and his colleagues wasted no time in identifying the number one issue which they needed to address – the fact that LGBTI Queenslanders had come dangerously close to being accepted as equal.

In their first 9 months in office, the Newman LNP Government has:

  • Removed funding for the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities (QAHC), the only HIV/AIDS peak body in the state which services the men who have sex with men (MSM) community. The Health Minister Lawrence Springborg attempted to justify this decision on the basis that HIV rates were rising faster in Queensland than in the rest of the country – but the figures released later in 2012 showed that HIV rates have actually declined in Queensland, counter to a national rise. Which leaves just one possible explanation for why QAHC was defunded – the homophobia of the LNP and Minister Springborg.
  • Amended the civil union laws, which had been introduced by the Bligh Government at the end of its term, to remove the ability of same-sex couples to have a legally-binding ceremony. Apparently having any ceremony at all was ‘mimicking’ marriage and needed to be outlawed as a matter of priority.
  • Announced that it will remove the ability of same-sex couples (as well as single people) to access surrogacy. It is still unclear what the penalty will be for couples who break this proposed law, although at various times during the year it appeared the Newman Government would introduce gaol terms for people whose only crime was attempting to found a family.
  • Introduced a new ‘student protection’ policy which will require school staff, including counsellors, to report to the principal any sexual activity between a student under 16 with someone over 16 (irrespective of their actual age difference), and of any student between the ages of 16 and 18 who has engaged in ‘sodomy’. This policy further entrenches the discriminatory age of consent provisions in Queensland (which has a higher age of consent for anal intercourse), and poses a danger to the health and safety of students who are simply seeking counselling and advice. At this stage it appears that school nurses – who are employed by Queensland Health rather than the Education Department – are exempt from this policy, although how long that exemption lasts remains to be seen.

The christian fundamentalist war against LGBTI people being waged north of the Tweed is a possible blueprint for a newly-elected Abbott Liberal-National Government to implement federally. Which makes the federal election to be held sometime during 2013 all the more important. In the meantime, the LGBTI people of Queensland are watching their rights being dismantled, one at a time. Shame, Campbell, shame.

5. Uganda debates ‘kill the gays’ bill

There have been several distressing stories internationally during the year. The appeals court in Cameroon upholding a three-year gaol term for Jean-Claude Roger Mbede simply for sending a text message to another man saying “I’m very much in love with you” was heart-breaking. The backwards steps being taken in Russia are also an obvious concern (not only do gay pride parades remain banned, but attacks against LGBTI Russians are rising at the same time the Russian parliament is considering legislation to outlaw ‘propaganda of homosexuality among minors’).

But without doubt the number one ‘lowlight’ internationally this year was the move by parliamentarians in Uganda to introduce capital punishment for homosexuality. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill (or Kill the Gays Bill as it is commonly referred), if passed, would mean Uganda would join 7 other countries where homosexuality is subject to the death penalty, out of 76 countries where being LGBTI is still a crime.

As the year ends there has been a short reprieve, with the Bill not coming on for a vote until at least February 2013, and some reports that the death penalty may ultimately be dropped from the Bill – although sadly not imprisonment. Still, the prospect of a country potentially introducing capital punishment for homosexuality this decade is almost too depressing for words.

Allout image

6. The emergence of AllOut (@allout)

One of the key groups which emerged to draw attention to, and fight against, the Kill the Gays Bill, was AllOut (a New York-based organisation which uses online and real-world tools to help the global LGBT movement for equality). In fact, I would argue that the emergence of AllOut is itself a major highlight of 2012.

AllOut is taking the best and most up to date models of activism and applying them to causes as diverse as LGBTI equality in Brazil, same-sex parenting in the EU, ending gay ‘cures’ in California, as well as trying to help stop the Ugandan Kill the Gays Bill. Here’s hoping that AllOut has a long and proud future, as it complements the work of existing and established organisations like the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA).

7. International moves towards marriage equality

Another highlight of 2012 was the ongoing progress of the marriage equality movement. Leaving aside victories in the US (which I will discuss below), marriage rights were extended to LGBTI couples in Denmark in June. And the governments of Scotland, Luxemburg and France have all committed to marriage equality in the next few years. In England and Wales, and New Zealand, it appears likely that equal marriage will be passed next year by parliaments with conservative governments (Tory Prime Minister David Cameron is helping to drive legislation in Westminster, while National Party Prime Minister John Key has indicated he will support a private member’s bill in the Beehive).

The fact that two conservative leaders have embraced marriage equality shows just how far this movement has come over the past few years, and the fact that further progress is inevitable. Of course, it also further underscores just how out of touch and embarrassing Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott are on this issue, but one day they too will be mere footnotes to our record of achievement.

8. The United States takes a giant leap for LGBTI ‘humankind’

It seemed like 2012 was the year in which the United States of America, and its people, finally ‘got it’ when it comes to LGBTI equality. The President, Barack Obama, announced that he supported marriage equality back in May (in part because he could muster no arguments against it when discussing the topic with his daughters). He was subsequently re-elected to serve a second term, and it seems that his pro-equality stance was a help rather than a hindrance (something which Julia Gillard should – but probably won’t – notice).

But Obama’s re-election was just one of many victories on Tuesday November 6 – a date on which LGBTI rights in the US took a bigger step forward than any single day since the Stonewall Riots in 1969. After 32 consecutive losses in state-wide referenda on same-sex marriage, all four states which voted in November bucked the trend and supported equality. As a result, Maine, Maryland and Washington became the 7th, 8th and 9th US states to introduce marriage equality, while a referenda to ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota was also defeated.

The significant of these victories should not be underestimated. For years, the radical right in the US has used these ballots to ‘get out the christian vote’ – indeed, Karl Rove employed this strategy to help George W Bush secure re-election as recently as 2004. Instead, in 2012, the American people decided to vote for acceptance and inclusion rather than intolerance and hate. What. A. Change.

To top things off, in Wisconsin, Tammy Baldwin was elected as the first openly gay person ever to serve in the US Senate. And that’s not even counting the fact the most influential political analyst of the US election was a gay man, Nate Silver.

This truly was a watershed election, and paves the way for bigger changes in the future. Which might be upon us sooner than we thought, with the US Supreme Court to hear cases considering both Proposition 8 (the Californian ban on same-sex marriage), and the constitutional validity of the Defense of Marriage Act, in 2013. Let’s hope that the Court’s decisions are amongst the highlights (and not lowlights) of next year.

120525_nelderkin_idjfrankocean_055x

9. Hip-hop comes of age

There was a similar sea-change when it came to US popular culture this year. After many, many, many years of waiting, it seems like hip-hop finally started to change its homophobic ways, and to deal with the subject of homosexuality with a little bit of respect rather than just a whole lot of ‘faggots’ and ‘fucking homos’.

Leading the charge was Jay-Z, who followed Obama’s announcement by declaring that he too backed equal marriage rights. Other hip-hop stars also expressed their support. Rappers Macklemore and Ryan Lewis then released one of the best bits of pro-LGBTI propaganda of the past few years (well, outside of the 2011 GetUp! video anyway) in the form of single Same Love, which was also used in the successful marriage equality referendum campaign in Washington State. And Azealia Banks (of 212 fame) came out at as bisexual in February, a statement which may take on even more significance in February 2013 when she releases her debut album.

But for mine the most important development in hip-hop in 2012 was the beautiful and tender letter written by rapper Frank Ocean, talking about his first love – a man – and published the week before his full-length debut Channel Orange was released. This was a hip-hop star not just coming out, but coming out at the start of his career, and making no apologies for who he was and who he loved.

Of course, there have been other music stars who have come out (Elton John, George Michael, KD Lang, Melissa Etheridge, and countless others), but usually this has been at the end of their careers – or at least long after they were well established. Even ‘out and proud from the beginning’ groups like the Scissor Sisters (personal favourites of mine) have played in the more traditionally gay-friendly genres of pop and dance, rather than the decidedly less accommodating field of rap/hip-hop.

What made Frank Ocean’s declaration even more significant was that he backed it up with what has been widely recognised as the best album of the year – which is just one of six categories in which he is nominated for a Grammy. Channel Orange is a brilliant collection of highly personal songs, including several which are sung to or about a male love interest. Bad Religion is just about the best piece of art on the subject of unrequited (same-sex) love ever. Frank Ocean didn’t just make gay hip-hop for a gay audience, he made great hip-hop that covered many topics, including same-sex love, and looks to have found a large audience around the world. Even if you don’t like his music, you cannot help but admire his accomplishments.

10. Royal Commission into Child Sex Abuse

This is the first of two developments which are not explicitly LGBTI-related but which are fundamentally important to all Australians, including the LGBTI community. The decision by the Federal Government to appoint a Royal Commission into child sex abuse is a necessary first step in dealing with this evil scourge, as well as recognition of the courage of people like Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox and numerous others in pushing for it, despite many setbacks along the way.

There are two potential long-term consequences for the LGBTI community as the Royal Commission runs its course. The first is that the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, and other religious organisations, will become ever more apparent. Some of the same religious figures who have been arguing about the so-called ‘perils’ of recognising the love between two consenting adults, have also been involved in negligent inaction within their own churches about the very real problem of child sex abuse. Some may even ultimately be found to have engaged in the criminal cover-up of child sex abuse, instead preferring to pay hush money to the victims and simply moving the offenders around. The fact that the broader community will be able to see through the hypocrisy of these figures should make it much easier to push for LGBTI equality in the future.

The second consequence is much more ambiguous. One tactic which christian fundamentalists could resort to during the Royal Commission is to blame ‘gay priests’ for child sex abuse, and to try to link homosexuality and paedophilia in the public debate. This strategy, blaming ‘the gays’ for child sex abuse, was used by bigots like France Arena in NSW in the 1990s, and it is easy to see it being attempted again – with much unpleasantness all round.

But I think this ultimately could be a good thing. Public understanding of these issues has moved on since then. Provided the Royal Commission is handled sensitively and gay and lesbian lobby groups are ready for the debate, this could actually be an opportunity to forever break any connection between these two essentially unrelated ideas (homosexuality and paedophilia).

11. Asylum seekers are sent to Nauru and Manus Island

Again, this ‘lowlight’ is not directly LGBTI related. But I would include it here because any time a country turns its backs on asylum seekers – to the extent that it chooses to send them to detention centres in other countries for unspecified periods of time – is something so terrible that it cannot, and must not, be ignored. To put it bluntly, this is a national disgrace, and something which the Labor Government and Liberal-National Opposition should forever be ashamed about. Unfortunately, given the current state of political debate in our country, there does not seem to be much hope this situation will change any time soon.

Of course, as I have written previously, there are LGBTI dimensions to this issue as well. There will inevitably be some asylum seekers who are sent to Manus Island and Nauru who were seeking asylum in Australia because of LGBTI persecution in their home country. It should also be noted that, for gay and bisexual men who are detained in either of these centres, both Nauru and Papua New Guinea criminalise male homosexuality, and so they may be exposed to prosecution on that basis. Still, this is an issue which is larger than just these injustices to LGBTI asylum seekers – no asylum seeker should be imprisoned simply for seeking safety from persecution. Not now, not ever.

12. Exposure Draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012

I thought I might end on a positive note – and also something which represents unfinished business for 2013. In November, the Federal Government finally released the exposure draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012. As well as consolidating the existing protected attributes of race, sex, disability and age, this Bill would for the first time provide federal anti-discrimination protection to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Australians (*at this stage, intersex people are not properly protected, although hopefully that will be rectified during the committee stage).

If passed, this legislation would be another significant LGBTI-related achievement by the Labor Government. Building on relationship recognition and public sector superannuation reforms in 2008, passport changes for transgender people, Gardasil vaccinations for boys and the National LGBTI Aged Care and Ageing Strategy (both above), this would contribute to a fairly broad-based and substantial record of reform. To some extent, it is a shame that the failure to recognise marriage equality is so large a defeat that it overshadows much of this significant level of achievement. But then the Government has no-one to blame for that than itself.

Still, that is getting ahead of ourselves. Returning to the Bill, there are two major hurdles left to overcome. The first is in securing sufficient cross-bench support so that the Bill passes the House of Representatives, although the noises on this seem to be positive. The second, much more difficult, hurdle to overcome is ensuring that the legisation is passed before the federal election is called. With at most five months of sitting time left in this parliament, it is touch and go whether the Bill will be passed in time. Whether it does is the most important domestic LGBTI story of the first half of 2013. Fingers (and toes) crossed.