The Albanese government has rejected a Greens proposal to establish a dedicated LGBTIQ+ commissioner to sit on Australia’s independent Human Rights Commission.
The Human Rights Commission investigates discrimination complaints and promotes human rights in Australia and internationally.
On Tuesday, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus (right) passed a bill to address transparency around the appointment processes for commissioners.
Greens MP Stephen Bates (left) proposed an unsuccessful amendment to also establish a dedicated LGBTIQ+ commissioner to sit on the Commission.
Bates said the absence of one in the national institution is “an obvious oversight” the parliament should address.
“This would send a strong and clear message to the LGBTIQ+ community that the era of homophobia and transphobia from the previous government has come to an end,” he said.
“[It would] signal a new approach in engaging with and protecting communities that have suffered systemic oppression for centuries.”
Attorney-General rejects Greens proposal
Independent MPs including Zali Steggall and Zoe Daniels also supported the Greens’ proposal.
Steggall said “leadership” was needed, for example, to combat anti-trans misinformation.
During the election campaign, her Warringah Liberal opponent Katherine Deves started a damaging debate on trans Australians and sport.
“There was a huge amount of misinformation when it came to transgender women’s participation in sport,” Steggall said.
“There was a lack of leadership coming from the Human Rights Commission to establish clearly the true facts and where the law actually sits.
“I do believe for many groups in our society it’s important that there’s a human rights commissioner taking care of their specific issues.”
But in the parliament, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus refused the Greens amendment. The bill passed the Lower House with the support of the Coalition on Tuesday.
Dreyfus said the government’s legislation was focused only on establishing a transparent, merit-based selection and appointment process, not the commissioners’ roles themselves.
The independent Human Rights Commission lost its international A-status accreditation in March.
An international review took aim at funding cuts and previous Coalition governments’ handpicking of commissioners, in breach of principles.
Responding to the Greens, Dreyfus said, “The government recognises it’s important to consider how best the commission can operate to promote and protect the human rights of all members of the Australian community, including LGBTQIA+ people.
“This bill is not the vehicle to create such a position. [It] solely concerns the process for the selection and appointment of existing statutory members of the commission.
“There will no doubt be further discussion on this proposal, as well as, I hope, discussion on other opportunities to strengthen the work of the commission in the future.”
‘It sends message that discrimination against us matters less’
LGBTIQ group Just.Equal Australia, who’ve campaigned for a commissioner, panned the Albanese government for rejecting the “overdue” Greens proposal.
“We’re disappointed Labor passed up this opportunity,” spokesperson Brian Greig said.
“If this Bill isn’t the right one, we want to know which will be.”
Greig said there are “commissioners for race, sex, age, indigenous people, people with disability and children.”
“The absence of an LGBTIQA+ Human Rights Commissioner sends the message that discrimination against us matters less,” Greig said.
Others including the Human Rights Commissioner and the AHRC President have typically dealt with the portfolio of LGBTIQ+ human rights.
Appointing a dedicated commissioner would show “support and allyship for the LGBTIQA+ community after too many years of Government-sponsored attacks on our rights,” Greig said.
“It is more important than ever for there to be a Commissioner who has the time, resources and expertise to defend our human rights.”