Liberal-National Policies on LGBTI Issues for Federal Election 2013

I was tempted to leave the content of this article completely blank, because that would be a reasonably accurate reflection of the LGBTI policies of the Liberal-National Parties for the election that is now only two days away. That is because, outside of two not very encouraging exceptions, the Coalition doesn’t appear to have any LGBTI policies for this year’s poll.

The Real Solutions booklet, which Tony Abbott and his team have been clutching tight for most of this year, makes no mention of LGBTI Australians. And, as far as I can tell, none of the policies which have been put up on the Liberal campaign website do so either (although I am happy to be corrected).

The two exceptions that I mention include Abbott’s signature Paid Parental Leave scheme (covered in my blog post earlier this week, a commitment which does not include references to same-sex couples in the formal policy document, but which Abbott, Hockey and O’Dwyer have subsequently been forced to confirm will include LGBTI parents).

And the second exception is marriage equality, which does not actually involve a policy commitment at all, only that the decision will be left to a post-election party-room to decide whether to have a conscience vote in the next term, rather than having a formal position against (although the Opposition Leader has made his own views – which remain strongly opposed to marriage equality – very clear).

This paucity of policies was confirmed through the 2013 LGBTI Federal Election Survey, which was recently conducted by the NSW Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby, Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby, Transgender Victoria and Organisation Intersex International Australia. This was a question and answer document, with 43 different questions spread over 12 distinct topics.

Unfortunately, while the ALP and Greens provided individual answers to all 43 questions, the Liberal-National Coalition did not provide individual answers, instead they provided a cover letter, and two-and-a-bit page attachment, which provided broad brushstrokes but very few details of what they will (and won’t) do.

The LGBTI groups I mentioned then analysed this response according to four different categories: Yes/Good Response, Qualified/Partial Response, No/Bad Response and Response does not answer the question. (For a copy of the survey documents, including the Liberal-National letter and the assessment made by the four groups, go to www.lgbti2013.org.au)

The result: for a full 29 of the 43 questions asked (ie two thirds of the total), the Liberal-National Parties’ response was deemed to not answer the question at all. In fact, in only 4 out of 43 responses (less than 10%) were the Liberal-Nationals deemed to give a positive response, with 8 qualifieds, and 2 outright nos. By way of comparison, the LGBTI groups deemed that the ALP did not answer 4 questions out of 43, and the Greens only 1 out of the 43 questions, and the clear majority of both responses were deemed to be Yes/Good.

Given that they answered less than a third of the questions asked, it is no surprise that there are entire policy areas which the Liberal-National Coalition have simply not taken a position on, and these touch a number of things which are very important to different sections of the LGBTI community.

Specifically, the Abbott Liberal-National Coalition failed to provide an answer on:

  • Whether they support the recent amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act which have prohibited discrimination against LGBT people by religious organisations in aged care services
  • Whether they oppose the introduction of civil unions before the passage of marriage equality
  • Whether they will continue to issue Certificates of No Impediment, which currently allow Australian couples to marry in other countries which have already legislated for marriage equality
  • Whether they will attempt to overrule States and Territories that introduce marriage equality (either through new legislation or High Court challenge)
  • Whether they will continue to fund dedicated LGBTI health initiatives, outside of HIV, and (possibly) some mental health initiatives
  • Whether they will retain the dedicated National LGBTI Ageing and Aged Care Strategy, and keep LGBTI as a special needs group in the Aged Care Act
  • Whether they will provide public funding for trans* surgeries
  • Whether they would help end ‘normalising’ surgery (including coerced sterilisation) on intersex infants
  • Whether they will use foreign policies resources to advocate specifically for decriminalisation of homosexuality around the world and
  • Whether they support the ‘resettlement’ of LGBTI refugees in countries that criminalise homosexuality (such as Papua New Guinea and Nauru).

As you can see, that is a pretty impressive roll-call of issues which the Liberal-National Coalition failed to provide an answer on. In my personal opinion, I think that this is a pretty disappointing (*alert: possible understatement) level of detail from people who will likely be occupying the Government benches from next week.

One interpretation of this would be that, by not answering these questions, they are leaving open the possibility of doing any and all of them (which could include doing positive things which they have not answered, but could equally involve doing a range of negative things, including taking away rights for LGBTI people or funding for LGBTI initiatives).

Another interpretation would be that, by failing to outline any concrete negative plans – for example, by failing to state that they will bring back religious exemptions in aged care services in the Sex Discrimination Act – even after being specifically asked, they will not have a mandate to do these when in Government. After all, it is difficult to claim a mandate to roll back rights or strip funding when you keep those policies (if you have them) a secret. And that is an argument that I expect the LGBTI community will be using if the Abbott Government does adopt negative policies in these areas after the election.

#QandA, Senator Brandis and LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Reforms

On Monday night (June 24th) I had the opportunity to attend the filming of QandA at the ABC studios in Ultimo, Sydney. As on two previous occasions, I was told that my question had been shortlisted. However, unlike those previous occasions, this time I got to ask it.

I feel privileged to have done so. I got to ask Senator George Brandis, the Shadow Attorney-General, live on national television why the Liberal and National Parties were so desperate that religious aged care facilities should be able to discriminate on the basis on sexual orientation and gender identity, that they would scupper the entire anti-discrimination reform if this exception was not preserved.

And it was also timely – the Senate had voted on the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Bill 2013 that evening (where it was passed by the Labor Government and the Greens), and it was due to be voted on by the House of Representatives the following day (and where the numbers were also far closer).

The answer given by Senator Brandis to my question (and to my supplementary) was of course disappointing, confirming that the Liberal and National Parties do not believe that the right of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians not to be discriminated against is either fundamental or universal.

But it was his answer to Tony Jones’ follow-up that was truly extraordinary, particularly this exchange:

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

George Brandis: Yes, I am, as a matter of fact. Yes I am.

All Australians, and especially LGBTI Australians, should consider this statement, from the likely Attorney-General under a Tony Abbott-led Government, before casting their ballot later this year.

There was one final bonus of my appearance on QandA, and it was unexpected. On Thursday (June 27th) the Australian Christian Lobby put out a media release condemning the Government for the passage of the Sex Discrimination Amendment Bill, and supporting Senator Brandis’ position. This media release included the full transcript of my exchange with Senator Brandis, as well as Tony Jones’ questions.

So, not only do I now have the ‘street cred’ of having been quoted disapprovingly in an ACL media release, but they also saved me the time and effort of having to put together the following transcript. Thanks ACL!

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

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

TONY JONES: Okay, George.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GEORGE BRANDIS: No.

TONY JONES: Why shouldn’t it?

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

TONY JONES: So religious…

GEORGE BRANDIS: And if I may say…

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

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

2nd Anniversary of Election of O’Farrell Government

So, last week I wrote a column on behalf of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (GLRL) for the Star Observer, looking at the 2 year anniversary of the election of the O’Farrell Liberal-National Government in NSW. It has been published today, and can be found at the following link: http://www.starobserver.com.au/opinion/2013/04/03/speaking-out-6/101597 . I will publish the full text of the article here next week (ie after the current edition).

Basically, NSW has not gone backwards on LGBTI law reform over the past 2 years, unlike our neighbours North of the Tweed under Premier Campbell Newman (who continues to wage war against the rights of and services for the Queensland LGBTI community). It is unclear which model the likely incoming Prime Minister Tony Abbott will follow (although one has to suspect he will be more like Newman than O’Farrell).

But just because O’Farrell and his Government have not gone backwards doesn’t mean there has been any great progress either. The next 12 months will be key, in particular seeing whether he and his Government support state-based marriage equality, abolish the homosexual advance or gay panic defence and continue, and hopefully expand, the Proud Schools program.

Full text:

As always, there has been a lot going on over the past month, including the community’s response to police (mis)conduct during the Mardi Gras Festival, as well as the Legislative Council’s hearings into State-based marriage equality laws.

One event which almost went unnoticed was the 2nd anniversary of the election of the O’Farrell Government, which happened last week. This officially marked the halfway point of this term of Parliament.

Many people in the LGBTI community probably greeted the election of a Liberal/National Government back in March 2011 with a degree of trepidation, not knowing exactly what to expect on gay and lesbian issues. The good news is that there have not been any major backwards steps on gay and lesbian law reform in NSW.

In fact, there have been some small wins, with the continuation of the Proud Schools pilot, and the passage of a symbolic motion in favour of marriage equality by the Legislative Council in mid-2012. However, there have been no major advances on gay and lesbian rights under the O’Farrell Government so far either.

As the Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby, we believe that over the next 12 months it is time for the Liberal/National Government, and the Parliament more broadly, to demonstrate its commitment to treating the LGBTI people of NSW equally.

There are three major legislative and policy issues which are already on the agenda for the coming year. The first is the Upper House Inquiry into the partial defence of provocation, which is due to report by 2 May. We will be looking for the O’Farrell Government to abolish the homosexual advance or ‘gay panic’ defence, because non-violent sexual advances should never be a justification to downgrade a murder conviction to manslaughter.

The second issue is the State-based marriage equality Bill, which should be voted on later in 2013. The GLRL wants parliamentarians of all political persuasions to support the legal recognition of the equality of same-sex relationships.

The third issue which is already on the agenda is a decision on the long-term future of Proud Schools. At the Lobby, we believe that all LGBTI students deserve to have an education free from bullying, prejudice and discrimination. Consequently, we want to see Proud Schools continued and indeed expanded across NSW.

This is obviously not an exhaustive list, and the Lobby will be campaigning on other issues, including removing religious exceptions in anti-discrimination law and calling for a review of the criminalisation of commercial surrogacy arrangements, during the ‘second half’ of this term.

But, by acting on the three issues identified above, the O’Farrell Government, and the NSW Parliament generally, would demonstrate that they genuinely believe LGBTI people should be treated equally. Time will tell.

OFarrell hand

Premier O’Farrell – We won’t let you put these issues to one side this year…