Labor denies lack of courage on social reform
Labor's plan to scrap its anti-discrimination reforms and go back to the drawing board has brought stinging criticism.
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus (pictured) formally announced today that he was not proceeding with the consolidation of the five anti-discrimination acts, a process launched by his predecessor, Nicola Roxon.
The plan caused controversy because some people interpreted section of the bill to be an attack on freedom of speech.
Instead, Dreyfus will be introducing an amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act to protect Australians against discrimination on the basis of sexuality and gender identity.
Leader of the Greens Christine Milne said the move was "nonsensical" and accused Labor of lacking the political will to pursue equality.
Greens spokesperson on LGBTI issues Senator Sarah Hanson-Young joined the criticism.
“Gay and lesbian Australians deserve to be protected from discrimination across the board but today Labor have shown they don’t have the conviction to deliver that,” Hanson-Young said.
She also criticised plans to keep religious exemptions in place.
“While it is good that the Sex Discrimination Act will be amended to include protections for LGBTI Australians it is unacceptable that exceptions remain allowing religious organisations, including those that receive government funding, to discriminate," Hanson-Young said.
“If an organisation is getting public money they shouldn't be given exemptions to discriminate against someone just because they're gay."
“Reforming the Sex Discrimination Act to protect LGBTI Australians is an important step, but it does little to tackle some of the largest organisations in the country who are still free to discriminate at will,” she concluded.
Dreyfus rejected the criticism, saying "I don't think anyone could suggest a government who is here announcing, as I am, that we are bring forward the additional ground to protect gay, lesbian, transgender, intersex Australians from discrimination could be said to be lacking courage in respect to social reforms."
Dreyfus will introduce his amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act tomorrow (Thursday March 21) and urged the Parliament to pass the bill.
"It's something that has been very clear Labor policy for a very long time, certainly a commitment at the 2010 election, and has been subject to five inquiries over 17 years," he said.
He said there was a "tension" between protecting society's vulnerable and protecting freedom of speech.
"It's always necessary to get the balance right: this is no small task," he said.
LGBTI organisations have welcomed the reform but also criticised blanket expemptions.
Justin Koonin of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby said the reforms were "long overdue".
"They are fundamental in the struggle to end discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status in Australia," Koonin said.
"However, we would have liked to have seen a clear commitment to the removal of religious exceptions in the context of all service delivery, as recommended in a recent Senate Committee report.”
Anna Brown of the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby said it was a particular concern that federal legislation not water down state-based legislation that denied blanket exemptions to religious organisations.
“The Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill would have strengthened protections for all vulnerable groups, including LGBTI people, and delivered a fairer and more accessible system for victims of discrimination, Brown said.
"We encourage the Government to do all it can to introduce the legislation before the parliament rises.”
Peter Hyndal, Executive Director of A Gender Agenda also called amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act a "welcome move."
"Importantly we understand the Government will use the Tasmanian definition, which will ensure all transgender people will be covered including based on their appearance, mannerisms or their identity," he said.
But, he added, "There should be no blanket exceptions for any organisation, particularly when vital medical treatments are affected, as is the case with transgender people.
However, Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group spokesperson, Rodney Croome dismissed the government's proposed amendment as ineffective.
"The Sex Discrimination Act is almost thirty years old and is so full of religious exemptions that it will do little to prevent anti-gay discrimination," Croome warned.
"If anything, bigots will see this as a license to discriminate even more than they do now."
Croome said the government should adopt the Tasmanian model in which religious organisations have to seek time-limited exemptions from the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner if they want to discriminate against GLBTI people.
"This model is considered the best in Australia and was recommended by the recent Senate inquiry into federal anti-discrimination law," he said.
Croome also said he believes relegating discrimination against LGBTI people to the Sex Discrimination Act was a "slap in the face" for that community.
"Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity is one of the most serious forms of prejudice facing Australia today," he said.
"To effectively make it a subset of sex discrimination sends exactly the wrong message that it doesn't matter as much as other forms of discrimination."
- Tags: A Gender Agenda, Anna Brown, Blaze, Christine Milne, discrimination, Justin Koonin, Mark Dreyfus, MCV, Nicola Roxon, NSW Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby, Peter Hyndal, Queensland Pride, Rodney Croome, Sarah Hanson-Young, Sex Discrimination Act, SX, Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group, TGLRG, VGLRG, Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby
About the Author
Ron Hughes is the editor of SA's only LGBTI magazine, blaze.