This would possibly have been higher on the list, were it not for the fact the outcome was pretty much inevitable, long before polling day (and certainly by the time I finished working at Parliament House in mid-2012).
But the September 7 election was still a significant moment, because it drew the final curtain on the Rudd & Gillard (& Rudd again) Labor Government that, in less than 6 years, achieved more for LGBTI rights than any other federal Government in history.
Perhaps we, as a community, took some of those achievements for granted. Perhaps, because many of those reforms were so long overdue (case in point: de facto relationship recognition) that they didn’t feel like achievements at all, instead they were simply the actions of a Parliament finally catching up to where the population already was.
More likely, for many of the LGBTI people of Australia, the achievements of the Labor Government were overshadowed by one major law reform which they didn’t implement. As someone who is engaged to be married myself, I understand that frustration (and I would add another couple of major policy failures as well – but more on them later in this countdown).
Nevertheless, the fact that the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd Government did not introduce marriage equality should not mean that we completely disregard their achievements in other areas. After all, they accomplished infinitely more in a little over 5 and a half years than the Howard Government did in twice that time (to be honest, the only positive Howard Government LGBTI achievement I can think of was allowing same-sex couples access to their partner’s superannuation, but even that wasn’t mandated, didn’t cover Commonwealth public sector employees, and was only passed as a trade-off when they introduced the marriage ban in 2004).
The positive list of Labor achievements between 2007 and 2013 includes:
- De facto relationship recognition (and access to the Family Court on relationship breakdown)
- The inclusion of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status in federal anti-discrimination legislation for the first time (again, more on that later in the countdown)
- Another first, this time the first National LGBTI Ageing and Aged Care Strategy
- Providing funding for the National LGBTI Health Alliance for mental health projects
- Providing funding for QLife, the national network of LGBTI telephone counselling services, to allow a 1800 number to be operational across the country 7 nights a week (the importance of which really shouldn’t be underestimated)
- Introducing trans* and intersex passport reform, with M, F and X categories (where X includes indeterminate/unspecified/intersex)
- Permitting LGBTI inclusive couples to access Certificates of No Impediment, to at least allow them to be married overseas, if not at home
- Providing Gardasil vaccinations to teenage boys, so that future generations of gay and bisexual men are protected from anal, penile and throat cancer
- Introducing Australian Government Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender, and
- Removing some gender requirements for PBS medicines, meaning easier access to some treatments for trans* and intersex people.
The above list (which I am sure is not exhaustive) is, all things considered, a pretty impressive one.
It is a shame that, through their own actions (or, more specifically, inaction), the Rudd and Gillard Government will, for many, be remembered more because of the failure to recognise the fundamental equality of love, than any of the things I have noted above. Because, in reality, they left the state of LGBTI affairs in Australia a far better place on 7 September 2013, than what they inherited on 24 November 2007.
Still, there is one way in which the outgoing Labor Government could be remembered more fondly over time – and that is if the actions of the newly-elected Abbott-led Liberal and National Government make them seem better in hindsight.
Already, that looks like a distinct possibility. The first LGBTI-related action of the Abbott Government was taking the ACT and their same-sex marriage laws to the High Court (thus seeing them overturned). And there are plenty of other tests to come over the next 12-24 months, including deciding whether to continue funding for some of the above-named initiatives. Not to mention the potential threat to anti-discrimination reforms, and in particular the possibility of Brandis & co reintroducing an exemption for religious aged care service providers.
So, while we (quite rightly) criticise the Rudd & Gillard Labor Government for what it didn’t do, perhaps every once in a while we should also reflect on the good things that it did accomplish.