Albanese Government Must Do Better, and Do More, on LGBTIQ Rights in Second Year

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the election of the federal Albanese Labor Government. Looking back on those first 12 months, there have been some small but important wins, and some disappointing losses. But above all, there has been plenty of unfinished – and in many cases, un-started – business.

First, to the wins. In November last year, as part of the Fair Work Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Act 2022 reforms, the Government added gender identity and intersex status as protected attributes in relation to the Fair Work Act’s adverse action and unlawful termination provisions. These amendments ensured trans, gender diverse and intersex workers were explicitly included in this law for the first time (although the Government still needs to update the out-dated terminology of intersex status, replacing it with sex characteristics, something Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke has thankfully committed to do).

The second set of wins were the announcements from the Government which coincided with Sydney World Pride earlier this year, including:

  • Development of a 10 Year National Action Plan for the Health and Wellbeing of LGBTIQA+ Australians,
  • $26 million in grants for research projects seeking to improve the treatment and care of LGBTIQA+ people, through the Medical Research Future Fund, and
  • A new inclusion and equality fund to support LGBTIQ human rights in the Asia-Pacific region, with initial funding of $3.5 million.

On the other hand, the second half of 2022 saw some disappointing losses. This includes the decision by the Government to reject Greens amendments, supported by the cross-bench, to create an LGBTIQA+ Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission. Even if the Government believed the Bill being amended at the time (which related to the method of appointment for Commissioners) was the wrong vehicle for these amendments (which is the excuse they used), they have still not committed to introducing their own legislation to establish this stand-alone independent national voice on LGBTIQA+ rights which, based on recent events, is more needed than ever.

Another disappointing loss was the complete exclusion of LGBTIQ groups, and issues, from one of the major set-pieces of the first year of the Albanese Government: the Jobs and Skills Summit. Not only were LGBTIQ organisations not invited to attend the Summit itself, the Government also did not hold any specific consultations with LGBTIQ groups in the lead-up to it (out of more than 100 it conducted). It is therefore no surprise that the outcomes document from the Summit did not address any specific LGBTIQ issues – at a time when many cohorts within the LGBTIQ community experience significant workplace discrimination and exclusion (especially trans and gender diverse workers).

The above wins and losses could, in some respects, be seen as a decidedly mixed scorecard. Instead, I see it as a fundamentally incomplete one – after all, the issues identified are a long way from a comprehensive LGBTIQ agenda. There are many, many more priorities that the Government has not reached an outcome on – including plenty that haven’t even commenced.

Take, for example, one of the few explicit LGBTIQ commitments the Albanese Government took to the May 2022 election: to protect LGBTQ students and teachers in religious schools against discrimination.

In November 2022, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus asked the Australian Law Reform Commission to undertake an inquiry on this topic, with a deadline of 21 April 2023. Except, the day before the final report of that review was due to be handed to the Government, the ALRC was given an 8-month extension to 31 December. There is really no need for such an extension – especially when this law reform itself is actually quite straight-forward (after all, Tasmania, the ACT, Victoria and NT all already protect both LGBTQ students and teachers).

The outcome of this process is that it is highly unlikely LGBTQ students and teachers will be protected this year, with any amendments not taking effect until well into 2024. As I wrote at the time of this delay in The Canberra Times, it is example of the ways in which the LGBTQ class of 2023 has been comprehensively failed, by Governments of both persuasions.

On a related note, the Government has not made any commitments to remove broader religious exceptions, found in both the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 and Fair Work Act, which allow religious organisations to discriminate against LGBTQ workers, and people accessing services, across health, housing, disability, aged care and other welfare and community services. The majority of these services are funded by us, the taxpayer, including in aged care – meaning the large increases in aged care funding in the recent federal Budget are going to organisations that can use that money to discriminate against LGBTQ workers.

There are a range of other important LGBTIQ policy areas where the Government has not yet taken concrete action, including:

  • Inclusion in the 2026 Census. While the Australian Bureau of Statistics has started consultation on the questions which should be included in the next Census, the Government has not given an unequivocal promise that questions on sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics will be included. Such questions are necessary to help deliver essential services to our communities – after all, if we are not counted, we do not count.
  • Medicare funding for gender-affirming health care. Far too many trans and gender diverse Australians still cannot afford what are vital, and in many cases life-saving, health services. Gender-affirming health services should be publicly-funded via Medicare, removing out-of-pocket costs for this community.
  • Ending non-consenting surgeries on intersex kids. With the ACT Government soon to pass historic legislation banning many non-consenting surgeries and other medical interventions on children born with variations of sex characteristics (the first jurisdiction in Australia to do so), I am unaware of any Commonwealth Government actions to help ensure intersex kids are protected around the country.
  • Re-introduction of Safe Schools. The Albanese Government continues to fund the National School Chaplaincy Program to the tune of more than $60 million per year (and even though they have formally removed the requirement that these office-holders must be appointed on the basis of religion, the vast majority still are). In contrast, the Government has had two Budgets to date but is yet to find any money to re-introduce what was an effective, and necessary, program against anti-LGBTIQ bullying in schools.
  • LGBTIQ policy infrastructure. In addition to an LGBTIQA+ Human Rights Commissioner at the AHRC, there is a clear need for a Minister for LGBTIQ Communities, as well as formal consultative bodies in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, as well as portfolios like Health, Education and Attorney-General’s. Currently, none of these exist.

[For a more comprehensive LGBTIQ Report Card on the Albanese Government’s First Year in Office, check out this helpful graphic from Just.Equal Australia.]

Even on more symbolic matters, the Government’s record is mixed. While in late February Anthony Albanese became the first Prime Minister to march in the Mardi Gras Parade, and also participated in the World Pride March over Sydney Harbour Bridge in early March, these efforts at visible (some might say performative) inclusivity are undone by his apparent aversion to even saying the word transgender, let alone doing the bare minimum to publicly combat the growing culture war against trans and gender diverse Australians.

Speaking of which, it certainly feels like the Government is missing in action as the LGBTIQ community comes under increasing attacks, and even threats of violence, including the TERF and neo-Nazi rally on the steps of Victorian Parliament, the Christian Lives Matter riot in Belfield in Sydney, and the wave of intimidation against Drag Story Time events in Victoria and now elsewhere around Australia.

Local Councils have been left on their own to deal with what is a growing national crisis of far-right extremism, in a way that may not have happened if the targets had been from other communities. This is perhaps illustrated by the Attorney-General’s ill-timed announcement this week of $40 million in ‘Securing Faith-Based Places’ grants, to protect religious schools and places of worship against violence and discrimination.

Without debating the merits of this scheme – and I obviously agree people should be free to worship in safety – it was a mistake to announce this on IDAHOBIT, certainly without providing equivalent funding for LGBTIQ community security against similar (and in some cases, probably the same) extremists. Nor has the Government made any promises to introduce Commonwealth anti-vilification protections for LGBTIQ Australians, despite committing to prohibit religious vilification.

The Albanese Government still enjoys a large amount of public goodwill, including from many LGBTIQ people – at least partly due to the fact it is not the Morrison Liberal/National Government, a dreadful period during which our community came under relentless and sustained attack.

However, simply not being Scott Morrison is not enough as the Albanese Government enters its second year in office. From an LGBTIQ community perspective, they clearly need to do better, and do more, on the issues which affect us.

Oh, and one final thing. I raise the spectre of Scott Morrison here quite deliberately (despite the risk of PTSD, including my own). Because the coming 12 months is also likely to see the Albanese Government introduce its own Religious Discrimination Bill.

As a community we will need to be on high-alert to ensure this legislation protects people of faith against discrimination on the same basis as existing anti-discrimination laws, without permitting lawful discrimination against others, including LGBTIQ Australians. If it does include anti-LGBTIQ provisions, the Government should be in no doubt we will fight against its law just as hard as we fought against Morrison’s Bill.

Anthony Albanese on election night, 21 May 2022.

If you have enjoyed reading this article, please consider subscribing to receive future posts, via the right-hand scroll bar on the desktop version of this blog or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus

The Jobs and Skills Summit and LGBTIQ Australians

The Albanese Labor Government’s Jobs and Skills Summit will be held on September 1 and 2, 2022, now just eleven days away.

While there has been significant coverage of a wide range of issues relevant to this conference, there has been little to no reporting of how it will affect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) workers.

The letter below, to Prime Minister Albanese, Treasurer Chalmers and a number of other Ministers, seeks to place at least two important and urgent LGBTIQ policy matters onto the Jobs and Skills Summit agenda.

As always, I will publish any responses received.


Prime Minister Anthony Albanese

Treasurer Jim Chalmers

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus

Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Tony Burke

Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler

Minister for Aged Care Anika Wells

Minister for Education Jason Clare

Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth

Minister for the NDIS Bill Shorten

Sunday 21 August 2022

Dear Prime Minister Albanese and other Ministers

Please include LGBTIQ workers in the Jobs and Skills Summit

I am writing to you about the upcoming Jobs and Skills Summit, and the need to include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) workers and the issues which affect them.

I was initially encouraged to observe the Summit would include a focus on ‘expanding employment opportunities for all Australians including the most disadvantaged.’[i]

However, I am both concerned and deeply disappointed by the Jobs and Skills Summit Issues Paper, released on 17 August,[ii] which completely omits LGBTIQ Australians as one of the groups which should be considered as part of this focus.

Specifically, page 2 of that document states:

‘While the participation rate is around historically high levels, many Australians still face barriers to secure and well-paid employment. In particular, women, First Nations people, people with disability, older Australians, migrants and refugees, and those living in certain regional and remote areas face specific barriers to entering the workforce. This means there are further opportunities and obligations to ensure the benefits of strong labour market conditions are accessible to all people in Australia.’

There is no mention of LGBTIQ workers here, nor on any other of the Issues Paper’s 14 pages.

This is despite the fact employment-related discrimination against LGBTIQ workers, including and perhaps especially transgender and gender diverse workers, is well-documented.

For example, a 2021 paper[iii] found that for transgender, including gender diverse and nonbinary (trans), people:

‘The unemployment rate of 19% was three times that of the Australian general population rate of 5.5% in May 2018 and well above the youth unemployment rate (12.2%). Notably, 33% of respondents perceived discrimination in employment. Unemployment may also occur due to difficulty with name and identity documents, discrimination in basic housing and health care, and the impact of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety on an individual’s ability to seek or maintain employment. Conversely, levels of depression and anxiety may be higher due to unemployment.’

The omission of LGBTIQ workers from the Jobs and Skills Summit Issues Paper also comes despite many LGBTIQ workers enjoying lesser workplace rights and protections than other employees, and a large number of employers being legally entitled to fire, to refuse to hire, or to otherwise discriminate against, LGBTQ workers simply because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. This often includes the use of taxpayers’ money in said discrimination.

These issues must be addressed if the Jobs and Skills Summit is to indeed focus on ‘expanding employment opportunities for all Australians including the most disadvantaged.’

I include below two fundamental, urgent issues which therefore must be included in the Summit’s agenda.

  1. Protect transgender, gender diverse and intersex workers under the Fair Work Act

Currently, transgender, gender diverse and intersex workers do not enjoy the same legal status under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) as other employees, including women, people with disability, and even lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

This is because the adverse action protections in section 351, and unlawful termination protections in section 772, contain a long list of protected attributes – such as ‘race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer’s responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin’ – but omit the protected attributes of gender identity and sex characteristics (intersex status).

In practice, this means transgender, gender diverse and intersex workers may not have the same guaranteed access to the low-cost, low-barrier Fair Work Commission as other employees who are subjected to mistreatment or unfair dismissal simply because of who they are.

Despite raising the lack of explicit Fair Work Act protections for these workers with the previous Government for several years,[iv] they refused to take any action to address this discrepancy, even voting against straight-forward Greens amendments to the 2021 Respect@Work Bill which would have remedied the situation, providing much-needed remedies to workers.[v]

I note the then-Labor Opposition voted for some, although not all, of those Greens amendments.[vi] I also note that, as a result of advocacy from myself and others, the 2021 ALP National Conference passed the following special resolution:[vii]

‘Aligning the Fair Work Act and Sex Discrimination Act

Labor will amend the relevant sections of the Fair Work Act to align with the Sex Discrimination Act to cover workers who are currently not protected.’

Unfortunately, while implementing this commitment – which would involve adding gender identity and intersex status as protected attributes in the Fair Work Act – would achieve some improvement, it would not bring that legislation up to best practice.

This is because sex characteristics[viii] is considered a more accurate, and more inclusive, protected attribute, and is the terminology preferred by intersex advocates, including Intersex Human Rights Australia.

Therefore, at least part of the response to this question on page 5 of the Jobs and Skills Summit Issues Paper:

‘How can we ensure workplaces are safe and fair, particularly for those people at higher risk of harassment, discrimination and other breaches of workplace minimum standards?’

is to add gender identity and sex characteristics as protected attributes in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), including in relation to adverse action (s351) and unlawful termination (s772), so that transgender, gender diverse and intersex workers have the same rights and protections as everyone else.

Recommendation 1: The Jobs and Skills Summit must ensure transgender, gender diverse and intersex workers have the same rights and protections under the Fair Work Act as other employees, including in relation to adverse action and unlawful termination.

2. Remove special exceptions allowing religious organisations to discriminate against LGBTQ workers

That same question – ‘How can we ensure workplaces are safe and fair, particularly for those people at higher risk of harassment, discrimination and other breaches of workplace minimum standards?’ – is also relevant to the second issue which I submit must be on the Jobs and Skills Summit agenda: removing special exceptions which allow religious bodies to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) workers.

In fact, this issue is pertinent to a range of discussion, and questions, covered in the Issues Paper, including this statement on pages 6 and 7:

‘Addressing the barriers to participation and promoting equality of opportunity will contribute to a stronger and more inclusive economy, enable more Australians to realise their full potential, and help address current labour market challenges. This, in turn, will help ensure that the benefits of full employment are shared fairly across our community.’

And the associated questions on page 7:

  • ‘How can we reduce the barriers to employment for some Australians? How should governments, unions, business and the broader community best coordinate efforts to achieve this?’ and
  • ‘What strategies can be used to reduce discrimination and increase awareness of the value that diversity can bring to business and the broader economy?’

And on page 11: ‘How do we navigate workforce shortages in the care economy while supporting our frontline workers?’

Many people are aware of this issue because of public debate over the past five years surrounding ‘religious freedom’, the previous Government’s proposed (but thankfully-defeated) Religious Discrimination Bill, and the discriminatory (mis)treatment of LGBTQ students, teachers and other staff under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).

Many people may not be aware of how broad these exceptions are in practice, not just under the Sex Discrimination Act, but also under the Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Cth), Fair Work Act itself (undermining both its adverse action and unlawful termination protections), and the majority of state and territory anti-discrimination laws (including in my home state of NSW where the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 has the broadest religious exceptions in the country).

The effects of these exceptions are all-too-real for LGBTQ workers.

Not only can LGBTQ teachers be denied, or fired from, jobs for which they are otherwise eminently qualified, simply because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

But so too can LGBTQ aged care workers, nurses, doctors, social workers, disability workers and other employees across what is described in the Issues Paper as the care economy.

There are a range of serious consequences which flow from this discrimination, including:

  • For LGBTQ workers, obviously this includes being denied employment, and losing significant financial benefits, or alternatively being forced to stay closeted while in the workplace, with associated mental health harms.
  • For the LGBTQ community more broadly, this discrimination reinforces poorer health and well-being outcomes, as well as entrenching economic disadvantage.
  • For the services themselves, they are rejecting the best person for the job on the basis of criteria which has nothing whatsoever to do with their ability to do the job. Alternatively, they are forcing some employees to not bring their whole selves to work, thereby diminishing the quality of the work those employees do.
  • This also means that, for people accessing these services, they are effectively denied being served by the most qualified person for the role. A person in an aged care home deserves the best aged care worker possible, not the best cisgender-heterosexual worker. A student deserves to learn from the most qualified teacher, not the most qualified cisgender-heterosexual one. And so on. And so on. Across society.
  • It should be remembered that the vast majority of these roles are delivering what are basically public services, like education, health, aged care, or social and disability services, and in nearly all cases using public – or taxpayers’ – money to do so. That means every Australian is helping to fund this discrimination, and even more egregiously, that LGBTQ workers are being asked to subsidise their own oppression.
  • Finally, in an era of large and growing worker shortages across education, health, aged care, and social and disability services, permitting lawful discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity discourages at least some members of the LGBTQ community from considering careers in these areas – which is perhaps a rational response to the knowledge that large employers in your chosen profession may be lawfully able to refuse to hire you, or fire you, just because of who you are.

For all of these reasons, a Jobs and Skills Summit that is focused on ‘expanding employment opportunities for all Australians including the most disadvantaged’ must seriously consider the harmful impacts of special exceptions which allow religious organisations to discriminate against LGBTQ workers simply because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

And I submit it should recommend that such exceptions be abolished, not just for the benefit of those LGBTQ workers, but for the benefit of people accessing publicly-funded services in education, health, aged care, and social and disability services, and the benefit of the Australian community generally.

Recommendation 2: The Jobs and Skills Summit should call for the repeal of special exceptions allowing religious organisations to discriminate against LGBTQ workers simply because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

Thank you in advance for considering the above issues ahead of the Jobs and Skills Summit. Please do not hesitate to contact me at the details provided should you require additional information.


Alastair Lawrie

Will Prime Minister Anthony Albanese ensure that significant issues affecting LGBTIQ workers are considered at the Jobs and Skills Summit?

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

If you have enjoyed reading this article, please consider subscribing to receive future posts, via the right-hand scroll bar on the desktop version of this blog or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus


[i] Prime Minister and Treasurer Joint Media Release, ‘Jobs and Skills Summit to be Held in September’, 11 July 2022, available at:

[ii] Department of the Treasury, ‘Jobs and Skills Summit Issues Paper’, 17 August 2022, available at:

[iii] Ingird Bretherton et al, ‘The Health and Well-Being of Transgender Australians: A National Community Survey’, LGBT Health Vol 8, No 1, 12 January 2021, available at:

[iv] See for example: Unfairness in the Fair Work Act.

[v] See: Pathetic and Antipathetic, in Equal Measure.

[vi] The Labor Party supported the inclusion of gender identity and intersex status as protected attributes in the Fair Work Act – which are the same attributes already covered under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) – but did not support amendments which would have added gender identity and sex characteristics as protected attributes, with the latter terminology now considered best practice, and supported by intersex community organisations including Intersex Human Rights Australia.

[vii] ALP 2021 National Platform, page 137, available at:

[viii] This is defined in section 4(1) of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) as:

‘sex characteristics means a person’s physical features relating to sex, including-

(a) genitalia and other sexual and reproductive parts of the person’s anatomy; and

(b) the person’s chromosomes, genes, hormones, and secondary physical features that emerge as a result of puberty.’