Progress on LGBTIQA+ rights under the Albanese government will come from grassroots community activism and from MPs outside the government.
Australian human rights activist Rodney Croome AM is a leading advocate for the rights of LGBTIQA+ people in Australia. He is the co-founder of Equality Tasmanian and of Just.Equal Australia. Rodney has been involved in numerous groundbreaking campaigns and legal cases related to LGBTIQA+ rights in Australia since the 1980s.
A cautious government
Since winning the 2022 election, the Federal Government has remained as cautious on LGBTIQA+ rights as it was in opposition.
It refused to invite LGBTIQA+ organisations to its much-hyped jobs and skills summit.
It has shown no interest in removing the blood donor ban on gay men, and bisexual men and trans women who have sex with men.
Behind the scenes, it is vacillating on one of the few election commitments it gave the LGBTIQA+ community: including us in the next Census.
Anthony Albanese highlighted his government’s wariness in a December letter celebrating the fifth anniversary of marriage equality. The letter did not mention a single outstanding reform.
It is impossible to imagine Joe Biden, Justin Trudeau or Jacinda Arden doing that. It highlights just how afraid of the religious right the ALP continues to be.
Labor seems not to have changed much since it voted to support Scott Morrison’s discriminatory Religious Discrimination Bill in the House of Representatives in February.
That Bill threatened to override existing LGBTIQA+ state discrimination protections, something Labor said it wouldn’t support but did.
I revisit that awful time not because I want Labor to fail on LGBTIQA+ rights. I want it to succeed.
The first step in that direction is to acknowledge how far Labor has to go before it can rejoin the top tier of the world’s pro-LGBTIQA+ social democratic parties.
Wins in 2022
Despite the Government’s reticence, there were wins for LGBTIQA+ equality in 2022.
After years of advocacy from groups including Just.Equal Australia, the Government finally moved to protect trans and intersex people from workplace discrimination under the Fair Work Act.
This was a welcome move. Full credit to Labor Employment Minister, Tony Burke, for listening to the voices of trans and intersex Australians.
The Government did not adopt best practice terminology for intersex coverage.
But following advocacy from intersex groups and negotiations with independents and the Greens, the Government agreed to reform all discrimination laws to reflect best-practice intersex protection, including the Sex Discrimination Act.
LGBTIQA+ Human Rights Commissioner
Another win was the parliamentary debate on appointing an LGBTIQA+ Human Rights Commissioner.
Just.Equal prompted the Greens and independents to seize on the opportunity offered by a bill about appointing Australian Human Rights Commissioners, to raise the conspicuous absence of an LGBTIQA+ Commissioner.
The Government’s excuse for not supporting this move? LGBTIQA+ issues, they claim, are covered by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner. But that was blown away during Senate Estimates. The Sex Discrimination Commissioner noted she had no staff or resources to cover LGBTIQA+ issues.
The issue is now one the Government can no longer dodge or dismiss.
Advocacy on blood donation from groups like Let Us Give prompted MPs like Stephen Bates and Bridget Archer to speak out.
It even saw the Red Cross Lifeblood Service instigate a research project on replacing the current bans with individual risk assessment.
There is still a long way to go. But it’s a big step for the Red Cross to admit it’s time to consider allowing gay, bi and trans donors.
As for the Census, to ensure the Government sticks to its commitment we must elevate our voices.
Just.Equal is doing just that. Thanks to a new partnership with a major retailer we will see thousands of Australians involved in the campaign through retail outlets across the nation.
Making change in 2023
The picture is clear. During this term of federal parliament, change will come from persistent advocacy, seizing opportunities, widely-based campaigning and working closely with minor parties, independents and dissidents.
Where this approach will matter most in 2023 is on the issue of exemptions allowing discrimination against LGBTIQA+ people in faith-based schools and services.
The Government hand-balled that to an Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry a couple of months ago.
The terms of the inquiry were unnecessarily narrow, leaving out faith-based services.
The Albanese Government has also refused to rule out allowing discrimination during staff recruitment under cover of “religious ethos”.
We need to ensure whatever legislation ends up passing parliament eliminates all discrimination, not just some.
It must cover all LGBTIQA+ people working for, educated by and/or accessing services through faith-based organisations.
There must be no loopholes that continue to allow discrimination.
This was achieved in Tasmania in 1998. The other states and the federal parliament must rise to this existing benchmark.
To do this we must learn the lessons of 2022 and apply them on a grander scale.
For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.