The ALP has cut back on LGBTIQ policy commitments in its party platform. Again.

In 2015 and 2018, under then-Leader Bill Shorten, the Australian Labor Party adopted national party platforms with wide-ranging policy commitments on LGBTIQ issues. These helped to inform the promises taken to the federal elections in the following years, which were similarly-broad in scope.

In 2021, the ALP, under Shorten’s replacement Anthony Albanese, adopted a much more narrowly-drafted party platform, which involved jettisoning some previously-held LGBTIQ policies (although a few of these were restored via conference resolutions from the floor). This was then reflected in an relatively narrow range of LGBTIQ promises at the May 2022 election.

With the next ALP National Conference coming up in Brisbane on August 17-19 2023, this week the Party’s national policy forum released its draft Platform for public consultation.

Unfortunately, the LGBTIQ policy commitments it contains have been pared back even further than the already-limited 2021 offerings, including in the following key areas:

  1. The draft platform axes previous support for LGBTIQ vilification protections

 The 2021 National ALP Platform includes a commitment that:

‘Labor will work closely with LGBTIQ Australians and advocates to develop policy that will…

b. strengthen laws and expand initiatives against discrimination, vilification and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics.’ (p64).

The 2023 draft Platform instead includes the general statement that: ‘Labor will work closely with LGBTIQ+ Australians and advocates to develop policy that meets the specific needs of the community to ensure equality with broader Australian society.’ (p56).

This clause is so generic, and so bland, as to be almost meaningless.

It is difficult to comprehend why previous ALP support for vilification protections has been axed in the current political climate, with TERFs and neo-Nazis rallying on the steps of Victorian Parliament, Christian Lives Matter rioting in Sydney, Mark Latham being Mark Latham, and escalating violent threats against local councils hosting Drag Story Time events (and LGBTIQ community events more broadly).

What makes this axing even worse is that, just two pages later, under the heading ‘Freedom of thought, conscience and religion’, the 2023 draft Platform actually retains its previous commitment from the 2021 Platform for Commonwealth religious vilification laws:

‘Labor believes that people of faith deserve the same human rights, equality, respect and safety as every other Australian. No Australian should ever be vilified, discriminated against or subjected to violence or threats of violence because of that person’s religion or religious belief. Labor will work to ensure that Australia’s anti-vilification laws and discrimination framework are fit for purpose.’ (p58).

Those are strong sentiments. I, and I’m sure many other LGBTIQ Australians, could perhaps suggest another community, currently under sustained attack from far-right extremists, who could perhaps do with a similar expression of support…

But the piece de resistance of this shameful situation is that the draft Platform actually repeats the promise of religious vilification laws on the following page for a second time:

‘Labor believes that people of faith deserve the same human rights, equality, respect and safety as every other Australian. No Australian should ever be vilified, discriminated against or subjected to violence or threats of violence because of that person’s religion or religious belief. Labor will therefore ensure that Australia’s anti-vilification laws are fit for purpose.’ (p59).

So, the draft 2023 ALP Platform axes support for LGBTIQ vilification protections, at a time when we need them more than ever, while promising it to people of faith. Twice.

That’s the opposite of great.

2. The draft platform axes previous support for affordable trans health care

The 2015 and 2018 ALP National Platforms included commitments to, where possible, reducing out-of-pocket medical costs for gender-affirming health care.

While this was cut from the official platform in 2021, a conference resolution was passed which included the following:

‘Labor acknowledges the needs and rights of transgender and gender diverse people to fair, equal and affordable access to health care services. For many, this many include accessing vital specialist health services and gender-affirming medical technologies. Labor commits to removing, wherever possible, barriers to accessing these services in consultation with medical experts and government.’ (p140).

That statement appears to have been significantly cut back, reappearing in the following form in the 2023 draft:

‘Labor supports queer, transgender and gender diverse Australians and their families, and will work to support their agency in health decisions. Labor will provide access to the vital health and support services LGBTIQ+ Australians need.’ (p44).

Worryingly, this redrafted clause removes any specific reference to the affordability of trans health care, which is really the point: far too many trans and gender diverse people are currently blocked from accessing the care they need because they simply cannot afford it.

3. The draft platform axes most intersex-specific commitments

Intersex Australians fare even worse than their trans and gender diverse counterparts in the draft 2023 Platform.

The 2021 version included a commitment to: ‘support intersex-led organisations to provide support to intersex persons and their families, and advocate on intersex issues.’ (p64).

The 2021 conference also passed multiple resolutions from the floor, including statements that:

‘Labor will recognise the bodily integrity of intersex persons, prohibiting modifications to the sex characteristics of people with innate variations of sex characteristics performed for social or cultural reasons, and ensuring respect for intersex persons right not to undergo sex normalisation treatment. Labor commits to supporting the development and implementation with community participation of human-rights affirming oversight and standards of care, including for accessing lifetime medical treatments and procedures.’ (p140).


‘Labor will ensure that the actions of a Federal Labor Government are informed by the Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in Relation to sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics and the Plus 10 Supplementary Principles. Further, Labor acknowledges the Darlington Statement as a guide to intersex policy responses within Australia.’ (p142).

As far as I can tell, not one of these commitments made it into the draft 2023 Platform. This is deeply troubling given the human rights abuses experienced by intersex Australians aren’t just the worst of those affecting the LGBTIQ community, they are some of the worst affecting any group in Australia.

4. The draft platform fails to support an LGBTIQA+ Human Rights Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission

One area where the draft Platform hasn’t gone backwards from 2021 is on the question of a stand-alone, dedicated Commissioner for Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Sex Characteristics at the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) – because neither version commits to creating this much-needed role.

However, the 2015 and 2018 platforms did, with the Shorten Labor Opposition promising to introduce one at both the 2016 and 2019 federal elections.

Recent events have, I believe, demonstrated the urgent need for such a position. Unfortunately, in the absence of an LGBTIQA+ Commissioner, the AHRC has not issued any media releases in response to the TERF and neo-Nazi rally, Christian Lives Matter riot, or escalating threats of violence against Drag Story Times.

The LGBTIQ community is under attack, and it feels like nobody federally is on our side.

Instead of seeking to rectify this situation, the draft 2023 Platform offers this acceptance of the unsatisfactory status quo: ‘Labor supports the Australian Human Rights Commission and its commissioners, including the important work they do to promote a more inclusive and respectful society.’ (p59).

We need an LGBTIQA+ Commissioner, and we need it yesterday.

Who knows, perhaps if there already was such an office-holder, the people responsible for drafting the consultation version of the 2023 national platform might have done a better job at understanding the need for more, and more-detailed, LGBTIQ policy commitments?


If you haven’t guessed by now, I am genuinely disappointed (#understatement) by the draft national ALP platform released this week, and its omission of key policy commitments affecting the LGBTIQ community.

Beyond that, I am perturbed by the thought process that must have gone into the decision to cut support for things like LGBTIQ vilification protections, at a time of growing threats of violent extremism against our community.

The four issues outlined above are just those I have identified today. I am sure there will be others, affecting different parts of our community, which will become apparent in the coming days.

But there is an urgency to this analysis, because the draft platform is only open for public consultation until 23 June (ie just over three weeks away).

You can find the draft 2023 platform, and consultation form, at this link:

You can find the 2021 Platform for comparison, including to see which previous LGBTIQ commitments have been axed, here:

It’s time to get writing – and get lobbying – because what the ALP national policy forum has released this week is simply not good enough on LGBTIQ issues.

Anthony Albanese at the 2021 ALP National Conference.

LGBTIQ Law Reform Priorities for 2023

Yes, I acknowledge it’s early April (and a lot has already happened this year, including Better Together in Adelaide, Sydney World Pride, TERF tours, neo-Nazi rallies, Christian Lives Matter riots and Mark Latham being, well, Mark Latham ie a homophobic and transphobic bigot).

But there’s still plenty of 2023 yet to come. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to set out what I think are, or should be, some of the law reform priorities for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) community in Australia.

  1. Ending non-consenting surgeries and other harmful medical interventions on children born with variations of sex characteristics

The ongoing mistreatment of intersex kids, which includes egregious violations of the fundamental right to bodily autonomy, remains the worst human rights abuses against any part of the LGBTIQ community.

Thankfully, on this issue we have started 2023 with good news – on 22 March, the Australian Capital Territory Government introduced the Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2023.

Once passed, the ACT will become the first jurisdiction in Australia to prohibit many of these non-consenting surgeries and other harmful medical interventions.

This achievement obviously reflects the leadership of ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, and his Government. But above all, it is a tribute to the relentless advocacy of Intersex Human Rights Australia, its tireless Executive Director Morgan Carpenter, and the intersex community and movement more broadly.

However, even after this historic legislation is implemented, there will remain seven other states and territories where children born with variations of sex characteristics are not protected.

October 2023 will mark ten years since the Final Report of the Senate Inquiry into ‘Involuntary or coerced sterilisation of intersex people in Australia’, which first recommended such surgeries should end. At the current rate – of one jurisdiction legislating every ten years – it will take until 2093 before all intersex children are protected around the country.

That is clearly not good enough. We need the Governments of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory to follow the lead of the ACT and urgently introduce their own Bills to outlaw these abhorrent practices.

2. Reforming trans birth certificate laws in NSW, Queensland and WA

It is appalling that, in 2023, trans and gender diverse people in NSW and Queensland are still required to undergo genital surgery in order to update identity documents, including birth certificates, to reflect their gender identity. WA is almost as bad – trans people there must demonstrate they have engaged in some form of physical treatment (which may include genital surgery, top surgery and/or hormone treatment), to do the same.

As with the issue of intersex surgeries, on trans birth certificates we start 2023 with good news – in two of these three jurisdictions anyway.

The Queensland Government has introduced the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Bill 2022 which, once passed, will remove all requirements for genital surgery, as well as other forms of medical treatment or approval from psychologists or counsellors. I urge the Queensland Parliament to pass this vital law as quickly as possible.

The WA Government meanwhile has publicly committed to abolish their Gender Recognition Board, and remove the serious barriers which confront trans and gender diverse people who simply want identity documents to accurately reflect their identity. Hopefully, the WA reform Bill can be developed, introduced and passed before the end of this year.

Which just leaves NSW – and, assuming both the above Bills do pass, will leave NSW as the only jurisdiction in Australia which mistreats its trans and gender diverse community in this way.

While March saw a change of Government in NSW, the new Minns Labor Government has not made specific commitments to change the laws here. Their response to a question on this topic in the LGBTIQ pre-election community survey, led by ACON, only noted ‘Labor will review these provisions in consultation with the community and trans and gender diverse communities’.

There is therefore a need for significant community pressure to be applied on the NSW Government to reform trans birth certificate laws as a matter of priority – and that pressure should come not just from the trans and gender diverse community, but also from cisgender allies who support trans human rights.

For more on this subject, see: Did You Know? Trans People in NSW and Queensland Still Require Surgery to Update Their Birth Certificates.

3. Banning conversion practices nation-wide

As at April 2023, only two Australian jurisdictions have prohibited sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices generally: Victoria and the ACT.

A third, Queensland, has only done so in health settings, which means the places where conversion practices primarily occur – religious settings – are not covered.

Therefore, we need 6 of 8 Australian states and territories to either introduce, or upgrade, bans on conversion practices.

There are signs of movement in at least some of those jurisdictions:

  • The Western Australian Government promised in December 2022 that it would introduce legislation banning conversion practices (although some of the language used at the time suggested it may follow the flawed Queensland approach, rather than the more comprehensive Victorian and ACT models), and
  • The Tasmanian Government has also committed to implement the recommendations of a Tasmanian Law Reform Institute inquiry into conversion practices (although there have been some delays in the introduction of its legislation).

Meanwhile, the newly elected Labor Government in NSW sent mixed signals on conversion practices during the recent state election campaign. After first promising to ban conversion practices outright, the now-Premier Chris Minns later indicated it may not apply to religious settings, telling faith leaders that:

‘Taking offence at the teachings of a religious leader will not be banned, expressing a religious belief through sermon will not be banned, and an individual, with their own consent, seeking guidance through prayer will not be banned either.’

Advocates will need to spend considerable time explaining to Minns and his Cabinet colleagues why such a limited ban would be almost pointless in addressing the serious harms caused by conversion practices.

At this stage, I am unaware of current proposals in either South Australia or the Northern Territory to prohibit conversion practices – if you know more, please add the details in the comments section, below.

Let’s hope all six jurisdictions named (NSW, Queensland, WA, SA, Tasmania and the NT) take concrete steps this year to consign conversion practices to history (I was going to add ‘… where they belong’, but really, conversion practices have always been torture, and were never acceptable).

4. Modernising LGBTIQ anti-discrimination laws

2022 ended with two important developments in Australian LGBTIQ anti-discrimination legislation. The first saw the NT Parliament pass a major update to its Anti-Discrimination Act 1992, including covering non-binary and intersex people for the first time, and finally protecting LGBTQ teachers in religious schools against discrimination.

The second was the Commonwealth Government amending the Fair Work Act 2009 to explicitly include gender identity and intersex status as protected attributes for the purposes of adverse action and unlawful termination protections (after more than four years of campaigning, by myself and others, including Intersex Human Rights Australia and Just.Equal Australia).

Nevertheless, there remains a long way to go before the patchwork of our anti-discrimination laws finally ensure all LGBTIQ people, all around the country, can live our daily lives free from the threat of discrimination just because of who we are.

In (the remainder of) 2023, some of the main areas of activity will include:


At Commonwealth level, the primary focus is obviously the Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry into religious exceptions allowing discrimination against LGBTQ students and teachers at religious schools, which is currently due to report on 21 April. Demanding that any subsequent Bill passed protects students and teachers, without allowing discrimination via alternative means, is essential.

But it is by no means sufficient. We also need to reform religious exceptions under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984more broadly, to ensure LGBTQ people accessing services, and LGBTQ workers, are not discriminated against by faith-based bodies across a range of public services, including health, housing, disability, welfare and other community services. As well as lobbying to include similar reforms to protect LGBTQ workers in the Fair Work Act(which also has incredibly broad religious exceptions), including via the Commonwealth Government’s Employment White Paper process.

New South Wales

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 is the worst LGBTIQ anti-discrimination law in Australia. It fails to protect bisexual people. And non-binary people. And intersex people. It has the broadest exceptions allowing discrimination against LGBTQ students. And teachers. And the broadest religious exceptions generally. (For more background, see: What’s Wrong With the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977?)

While the previous Government effectively ignored these problems, the new NSW Government has at least agreed to refer the Act to the NSW Law Reform Commission for comprehensive review. This review needs to take place as quickly as possible, as does any legislation which emerges from it, to finally drag the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act into the 21st century.


Queensland’s Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 is already much better than NSW’s – and, by the end of 2023, it’s LGBTIQ anti-discrimination laws should move even further ahead (and approach those of Tasmania, Victoria and the ACT which are now the best in the country). That’s because the Bill updating trans birth certificate requirements, described earlier, also modernises the definition of gender identity, to protect non-binary people, and introduces a new protected attribute of sex characteristics.

Even more significantly, the Government has agreed in-principle to all of the recommendations of last year’s review of the Anti-Discrimination Act by the Queensland Human Rights Commission, and vowed to introduce a new Act by the end of this year. That Bill should finally remove the ‘Don’t Act, Don’t Tell’ regime which still applies to LGBTQ teachers in Queensland’s religious schools, and replace it with a system where teachers are judged on their ability, not their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Western Australia

Western Australia has much, much worse LGBTIQ anti-discrimination laws than Queensland – indeed, they are almost as bad as NSW’s – but they are on track to make a great leap forward this year. The WA Government has similarly accepted the recommendations of its own Law Reform Commission review of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984, including to ensure all trans and gender diverse people, as well as intersex people, are finally covered, and to modernise its approach to religious exceptions, including to protect LGBTQ students and teachers in religious schools. This legislation needs to be introduced and passed as a matter of priority – because LGBTIQ people in WA have waited for far too long already to enjoy effective anti-discrimination laws.

South Australia

The only Australian jurisdiction which does not already unequivocally protect LGBTQ students and teachers in religious schools against discrimination and which also does not have at least a process in place (or promised) that could lead to these exceptions being removed is South Australia. It’s time for the South Australian Government to take urgent steps to remedy this situation.

For comparative analysis of LGBTIQ anti-discrimination laws around the country, see: A Quick Guide to Australian LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Laws.

5. Protecting LGBTIQ people against vilification

The same NT laws which modernised their Anti-Discrimination Act 1992 also prohibited vilification there for the first time through the introduction of new section 20A, which provides:

‘A person must not do an act that (a) is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and (b) is done because of an attribute of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.’

Despite this positive development, there are still four Australian jurisdictions which do not prohibit anti-LGBTIQ vilification in any way: the Commonwealth, Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia.

Of these, the WA Law Reform Commission review of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 recommended that anti-LGBTIQ vilification should be prohibited, so hopefully this gap will be addressed this year.

While the Victorian Government has a long-standing commitment to introducing anti-LGBTIQ vilification laws, a commitment which seems to have been revived following the recent TERF and neo-Nazi rally on the steps of Victorian Parliament.

Indeed, the events of the past few months, including that TERF tour and neo-Nazi demonstration, as well as the Christian Lives Matter riot in Sydney and Mark Latham’s potentially vilifying, and definitely homophobic, tweets, have reiterated the need for vilification protections nation-wide, meaning the Commonwealth and South Australia Governments must address this menace too.

For further analysis of LGBTIQ vilification laws around Australia, see: Did You Know? Most Australian Jurisdictions Don’t Prohibit Anti-LGBTI Vilification.

6. Creating an LGBTIQA+ Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission

The disturbing events of the past few months have confirmed one of the other major holes in Australia’s LGBTIQ rights framework – the absence of a dedicated LGBTIQA+ Human Rights Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).

While there are existing Commissioners for Race, Sex, Disability, Age, Children, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice, there is no stand-alone, independent office-holder with primary responsibility for advocating on issues affecting the LGBTIQA+ community.

This gap meant there were many missed opportunities for commenting on, educating about and generally advancing the rights of LGBTIQA+ Australians when those same rights came under sustained attack.

In my view, it is simply not good enough to ask the Sex Discrimination Commissioner to take on additional responsibility for sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex human rights issues within the AHRC with whatever spare capacity they have left after addressing discrimination against women (hint: not much).

Indeed, as far as I can tell, there have been exactly zero media releases and/or news items on the Commission’s website about the awful attacks on our community over the past month (while the LGBTI section of the website has not been updated since October 2021).

Please note, this is not a criticism of the many good people who work at the Commission. It is simply an inevitable consequence of the severe structural weakness of a model where LGBTQA+ rights are only ever an add-on to someone else’s existing role.

It is beyond time for this structural weakness to be remedied, by the creation and appointment of an LGBTIQA+ Commissioner at the AHRC.

For more arguments about this topic, see: Where’s Our LGBTIQA+ Commissioner?

7. Supporting LGBTIQ refugees and people seeking asylum

This priority is both a law reform issue, and something where policies need to be improved and increased funding provided. Australia’s abhorrent refugee laws also obviously harm all people seeking asylum, rather than just LGBTIQ people. In that context, it should be stated that mandatory detention, and off-shore processing, must both be ended for all people seeking asylum.

However, there are some issues which do have a particular impact on LGBTIQ people seeking asylum, including that Australia’s off-shore processing scheme could still involve sending LGBTIQ refugees to Papua New Guinea, a country where male homosexuality remains criminalised (and from which all refugees should be repatriated to Australia).

Our processes for the intake of people seeking asylum are still not suitably tailored to deal with the needs of LGBTIQ people, and in my view we should be increasing the intake of LGBTIQ refugees from countries which are newly–criminalising same-gender sexual activity (including Uganda).

Finally, Australia needs to better support the LGBTIQ refugees and people seeking asylum who are in Australia, including by funding dedicated LGBTIQ refugee support services and the LGBTIQ refugee peak body, Forcibly Displaced People Network (FDPN).

8. Supporting the Voice to Parliament at the upcoming referendum

Even after writing just that heading, I can already hear some people respond: ‘But that isn’t an LGBTIQ issue.’

Except that all LGBTIQA+ people living in Australia are either First Nations LGBTIQA+ people, including brotherboys and sistergirls, or non-Indigenous LGBTIQA+ people living on Aboriginal land.

Meaning all of us have an interest in supporting reconciliation and, in my personal view, the best chance we have of making progress on that in 2023 is by supporting the generous invitation extended by First Nations people through the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which includes commitments to the three inter-related pillars of Voice, Treaty and Truth.

The first step in making that happen is by campaigning, and voting, for a constitutionally-enshrined Voice when it is the subject of a referendum later this year.

LGBTIQA+ Australians, as the community most-recently subjected to a national public vote on our human rights, also have an intimate understanding of what it is like to be at the centre of this type of debate, including consistent attacks from extreme-right politicians and the Murdoch press.

My sincere hope is that many non-Indigenous LGBTIQA+ Australians demonstrate solidarity with LGBTIQA+ First Nations people, and Indigenous people more broadly, by supporting the Voice as it too is attacked by the same people who attacked us. In other words, Vote Yes.

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Where’s Our LGBTIQA+ Commissioner?

This week saw the 100-day milestone for the new Albanese Labor Government, with lots of attention on issues like climate change, a federal Independent Commission Against Corruption, a referendum to create a constitutionally-enshrined Voice to Parliament, and of course the Jobs and Skills Summit (which I have written about here, and here).

One issue that has received comparatively little focus, but which will be considered by the Senate next week (beginning 5 September), is the possible creation of a Commissioner for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer and Asexual (LGBTIQA+) issues within the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHCR).

I bring this to your attention because there is a strong chance the Government will reject amendments to establish this much-needed position, and this weekend is your last chance to take action to let Prime Minister Albanese and his ministerial colleagues know that you support an LGBTIQA+ Commissioner. But first, some background.

Why an LGBTIQA+ Commissioner?

The AHRC is our national anti-discrimination body, with responsibility for receiving and conciliating discrimination complaints under Commonwealth anti-discrimination laws, including the Racial Discrimination Act 1975Sex Discrimination Act 1984Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and Age Discrimination Act 2004.

The AHRC also has a number of statutory office-holders, with responsibility for publicly advocating for equality and human rights generally, including the President and the Human Rights Commissioner, as well as positions dedicated to specific attributes or communities, including the:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner
  • Age Discrimination Commissioner
  • Children’s Commissioner
  • Disability Discrimination Commissioner
  • Race Discrimination Commissioner, and
  • Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

Notice who’s missing? That’s right, there’s no Commissioner with responsibility for LGBTIQA+ issues.

That’s because the 2013 amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act which added sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status as protected attributes in that law did not create such a position. These are now the only attributes in the four main Commonwealth anti-discrimination laws not to have a Commissioner attached to them.

This omission has left LGBTIQA+ Australians at a distinct disadvantage over the past nine years, with no Commissioner with primary responsibility to speak on issues affecting our community, including during the marriage equality debate (while former Human Rights Commissioner Ed Santow did a good job, it was still only a small part of his overall role).

With ongoing attacks on LGBTIQA+ rights, including the rise of transphobia in both politics and the media, I believe it is beyond time there was a Commissioner within the AHRC empowered to advocate on our behalf, without other competing responsibilities.

The Australian Human Rights Commission Legislation Amendment (Selection and Appointment) Bill 2022

The absence of an LGBTIQA+ Commissioner has become topical in the context of the Government’s Australian Human Rights Commission Legislation Amendment (Selection and Appointment) Bill 2022, one of the first laws introduced since the election.

This is an important Bill, which seeks to enforce a transparent and merit-based appointment process for the statutory office-holders discussed above, both to prevent a repeat of the previous Government’s appointments which failed to meet these criteria, and to maintain the AHRC’s international accreditation as an ‘A-status’ national human rights institution (which is under threat because of those same non-transparent appointments). I support its passage.

However, introducing legislation which focuses on the appointment of Commissioners under national anti-discrimination laws obviously draws attention to the lack of an LGBTIQA+ Commissioner under those same laws. 

In this context, and responding to lobbying from LGBTIQA rights group Just.Equal Australia, new Greens MP for Brisbane Stephen Bates introduced the following amendment during the Bill’s Second Reading debate in the House of Representatives in early August:

‘whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House calls on the Government to establish a Human Rights Commissioner for LGBTIQA+ people within the Australian Human Rights Commission.’

In the words of Mr Bates:

‘The lack of such a commissioner is an obvious oversight that we can remedy here today. This remedy would send a strong and clear message to the LGBTIQA+ community that the era of the homophobia and transphobia from the previous government has come to an end, and signal a new approach in engaging with and protecting communities that have suffered systemic oppression for centuries. The community is not asking for anything unreasonable. There already exist commissioners for race discrimination, disability discrimination and so many others. It is vitally important that the LGBTIQA+ community have the same protection of our rights afforded to us.’

This amendment was supported by a number of cross-bench MPs. This includes MP for Kooyong, Dr Monique Ryan, who said:

‘There is a clear and urgent need for a dedicated LGBTIQA+ human rights commissioner. The absence of such diminishes the reality of discrimination against this group of individuals. The absence of such means that no-one at the AHRC has the resources or experience to advocate for and articulate the concerns of the community in legislation, policy reform or public education.’

And the MP for Goldstein Zoe Daniel, who noted:

‘Traditionally, the human rights of the LGBTQI+ community were part of the Human Rights Commissioner’s portfolio, but with that portfolio also holding religious freedom, in recent history I think there’s been a conflict between those two areas. We know that in the last parliament this led to a toxic debate that caused great distress to members of the LGBTQI+ community, particularly trans people, compounding mental health issues for children in this community particularly. For that reason, I think that direct representation is needed.’

While the MP for Warringah Zali Steggall spoke of her front-row view of the transphobic campaign of her failed Liberal Opponent during the recent election:

‘it is clear that in Warringah during the election we had very inflammatory debates about members of our community and their opportunity for inclusion. I have to say that it did raise concerns for me. There was a lack of information in the public domain about the real status of the law when it came to transgender rights and issues within the LGBTQI community. I am concerned that issues that are specific to members of the LGBTQI community do at times get overlooked or submerged into the greater responsibilities of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, so I think there is merit in there being a more specific mandate for addressing those issues.’

Despite these, what I would describe as compelling, reasons, the Government chose to vote against the Bates amendment, ensuring its defeat.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus made two main arguments against the amendment in his own speech:

‘The government will not support that second reading amendment. Let’s be clear about this: the effect of the second reading amendment, if it succeeds, would be to negate the bill, to stop these important measure that are contained in this bill from coming into effect…

‘While we of course understand the strong sentiment expressed by members of the community in support of a dedicated LGBTIQA+ commissioner, this bill is not the vehicle to create such a position. The government recognises that it is important to consider how best the commission can operate to promote and protect the human rights of all members of the Australian community, including LGBTIQA+ people. I acknowledge and commend the work that the commission already undertakes in relation to LGBTIQA+ rights, which is led by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins. There will no doubt be further discussion on this proposal, as well as, I hope, discussion on other opportunities to strengthen the work of the commission in the future.’

The first argument is a matter of debate around the wording of the Bates amendment, and may or may not be correct. It is also probably not relevant to the different, substantive amendments proposed by Greens Senator David Shoebridge and to be voted on in coming days (discussed in more detail below).

However, the second argument is incredibly weak. Claiming LGBTIQA+ rights are already worked on by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner is simply not good enough, for at least two reasons. First, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner has a full-time role of their own, with plenty to focus on in terms of sexism, and sexual harassment – they, understandably, have limited capacity to simultaneously focus on anti-LGBTIQA+ discrimination. 

Second, this arrangement does not seem to be working, especially when checking the LGBTI section of the AHRC website itself. Where not only are there no current projects on LGBTI issues – and haven’t been any since October 2021 – there are no news items from the past eleven months either. After all, it’s not like there are any substantive issues of LGBTIQA+ equality which still need to be addressed, or any major debates involving transphobia which have happened during that time… [sarcasm]

What is perhaps most disappointing about the Attorney’s comments is that, irrespective of the Government’s position on the specific Bates amendment, he was unwilling to make a commitment to creating an LGBTIQA+ Commissioner at all, even at some point in the future.

This disappointment was compounded two days later when the Government and Opposition united to defeat a Greens motion in the Senate to at least hold an inquiry into the Bill, to allow for consultation with the LGBTIQA+ community about the need to create a Commissioner within the AHRC.

All hope is not lost

While there is no denying those two votes were setbacks, there is still a third chance for this issue to be progressed.

As mentioned above, Greens Senator for NSW David Shoebridge has introduced a more comprehensive set of amendments to the Bill, which would create an LGBTIQA+ Commissioner on exactly the same basis as the other attribute-based Commissioners. You can see the details of those amendments here

I understand these amendments are likely to be voted on in the Senate this coming week, and potentially on Tuesday 6 September. Which means we have just days left to convince the Government, as well as cross-benchers like David Pocock, Jacqui Lambie and Tammy Tyrrell, to support these amendments.

The easiest thing you can do, right now, is to sign and then share this petition from Just.Equal Australia calling on the Government to support an LGBTIQA+ Commissioner.

If you have more time, you can also write to the Prime Minister, Attorney-General and/or other members of the Government (like your local MP or Senator), urging them to support the equal treatment of LGBTIQA+ people by establishing an AHRC Commissioner for our community.

Below is the letter I have sent this morning to Attorney-General Dreyfus.


3 September 2022

The Hon Mark Dreyfus QC MP


PO Box 6022

House of Representatives

Parliament House


Dear Mr Dreyfus

Please create an LGBTIQA+ Commissioner within the Australian Human Rights Commission

I am writing to call on you to create a Commissioner for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer and Asexual (LGBTIQA+) issues within the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).

The establishment of this position is long-overdue. While there are Commissioners at the AHRC for a number of other attributes within Commonwealth anti-discrimination law, there are none with specific responsibility for advocating for LGBTIQA+ equality and human rights.

This has caused a distinct disadvantage for the LGBTIQA+ community when our rights are up for debate, including during the emergence of transphobic campaigns in politics and in the media over the past 12 months.

The creation of an LGBTIQA+ Commissioner within the AHRC would also be consistent with the 2021 ALP National Platform, which was developed ahead of the election. This included commitments that:

‘Labor will work closely with LGBTIQ Australians and advocates to develop policy that will… strengthen laws and expand initiatives against discrimination, vilification and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics’ (page 64), and

‘All Australians should be able to go about their lives free from discrimination. Labor is the primary architect of the anti-discrimination law framework in Australia. We will continue to defend and enhance that framework to ensure that it is fit for purpose, accessible and promotes equality’ (page 66).

I hope you would agree that creating an LGBTIQA+ Commissioner will ‘strengthen’ and ‘enhance’ initiatives against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics, while ‘enhancing’ the Commonwealth anti-discrimination framework.

I note that you, and therefore the Government, opposed a second reading amendment in the House of Representatives to your Australian Human Rights Commission Legislation Amendment (Selection and Appointment) Bill 2022 from the Greens which called on the Government to ‘establish a Human Rights Commissioner for LGBTIQA+ people’ within the AHRC.

While one of your arguments was technical (which has hopefully been addressed by the revised, comprehensive amendments proposed by the Greens in the Senate), I am disappointed by another argument you raised, that this work is already being performed by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

In my opinion, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner already has a (more than) full-time role in advocating on issues of sexism, and sexual harassment. They do not have the capacity to address LGBTIQA+ discrimination as well, nor should addressing LGBTIQA+ discrimination be treated as some kind of add-on to somebody else’s role, with the consequence that our community’s issues are inevitably ignored (noting, for example, that the AHRC has no current projects on LGBTI discrimination listed on its website, and have not posted even a news item since October 2021).

Now that the Bill has progressed to the Senate, I urge you and the Albanese Labor Government to support Senator David Shoebridge’s amendments to create an LGBTIQA+ Commissioner with the same powers and responsibilities as existing office-holders within the AHRC.

In the event you continue to oppose these specific amendments, for whatever reason, I call on you to:

  • Commit to the Government itself creating an LGBTIQA+ Commissioner within the AHRC, and
  • Provide a clear timeline for when this position will be established.

Thank you in advance for considering the issues raised in this correspondence. Please do not hesitate to contact me at the details provided should you like to discuss the above.


Alastair Lawrie


Update: I received the following reply from a Director in the Human Rights Branch of the Attorney-General’s Department:

4 October 2022

Dear Mr Lawrie

Thank you for your email of 3 September 2022 to the Attorney-General, the Hon Mark Dreyfus KC MP, regarding the creation of a LGBTIQA+ Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission (the Commission). The Attorney-General has requested that the Attorney-General’s Department respond to you on his behalf.

The Government believes that all Australians are entitled to respect and dignity, the opportunity to participate in society, and receive the protection of the law regardless of their gender identity, sexual orientation and intersex status. The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) prohibits discrimination on the grounds of gender identity, sexual orientation and intersex status in many areas of public life, including employment, education, in the provision of goods, services and facilities. The Government acknowledges the work that the Commission already undertakes in relation to LGBTIQA+ rights, led by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins.

The Government recognises that it is important to consider how best the Commission can operate to promote and protect human rights of all members of the Australian community, including LGBTIQA+ people. The Government understands the strong sentiment expressed by members of the community in support of a dedicated LGBTIQA+ Commissioner. There will no doubt be further discussion on this proposal, as well as other opportunities to strengthen the work of the Commission, in the future.

Thank you for bringing your concerns to the Attorney-General’s attention.

Yours sincerely

[Details redacted]

Commonwealth Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus QC MP.

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

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