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:
- 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: https://alp.org.au/2023-draft-Platform
You can find the 2021 Platform for comparison, including to see which previous LGBTIQ commitments have been axed, here: https://www.alp.org.au/about/national-platform/
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.