It's crunch time
Still basking in the afterglow of Midsumma and the “best Pride March ever” (in the style of the Olympics), it’s time to turn our minds to the task ahead – ensuring the Federal government introduces discrimination protections for our community before the election in September.
The Government’s Human Rights & Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 (HRAD) is a long overdue opportunity to introduce national protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. We have federal discrimination laws for race, age, disability and sex – what about the LGBTI community? The idea of protections for our community was first raised in federal parliament 17 long years ago. This reform has been a long time coming. As we get closer to the federal election, it’s time for us to unite and ensure our rights don’t become a political football.
And the HRAD Bill is facing some challenges. The draft law is bruised and battered after a heated public debate over the ‘right to offend’ and free speech – sparked off by the use of the words ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ in the definition of discrimination (so much so the Government is already canvassing options to remove these words).
The Bill has also rightly been criticised for privileging the interests of religious groups above the rights of individuals to be free from discrimination. The broad carve outs in the Bill allow religious organisations, including schools, hospitals and social service providers, to discriminate against LGBTI people, single mothers, unmarried couples and - the corker - “potentially pregnant” women if it accords with their doctrine or offends religious sensibilities.
With all this negativity dominating the media over the silly season, it is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture or not be aware of it in the first place, thanks to the exaggerated claims and misinformation that that have characterised much of the commentary.
Apart from adding protections for the LGBTI community, the HRAD Bill is simply a consolidation and modest improvement of five separate Commonwealth laws covering discrimination. Our first national law protecting against race discrimination is over 40 years old. The many different laws passed since then have left our regulatory landscape in dire need of some re-working to harmonise and simplify the law.
Moreover, the complex technicalities and design flaws of our current laws represent a significant barrier to victims of discrimination. The HRAD Bill’s simplified definitions, shared (not reversed) burden of proof and aspects that require parties to pay their own costs are significant improvements that go some way to addressing the failings in the current set up. These changes will ensure that LGBTI people, as the new kids on the block, benefit from a system that is fairer and accessible.
Both the federal government and opposition committed to introducing discrimination protections for our community at the last federal election. It’s time to hold them to account. The VGLRL is working hard but we need your help. We are entirely volunteer run without government funding. We need to raise funds to travel to Canberra to lobby MPs and campaign to make this reform happen.
Please take the time to visit our website and donate to help us continue the fight www.vglrl.org.au