An election forum held in Melbourne over the weekend to discuss topics affecting the LGBTI communities heard from leading members of the three major parties, with issues such as paid parental leave, LGBTI asylum seekers rights, intersex health, foreign affairs as well as marriage equality all being debated.
Organised by the Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby (VGLRL) in partnership with TransGender Victoria and Organisation Intersex International (OII) Australia, the event on Saturday, August 31 saw Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus attend on behalf of Labor, Higgins MP Kelly O’Dwyer turn out for the Liberal Party and Melbourne MP Adam Bandt represent The Greens.
The forum came after all three major parties were sent a survey highlighting key issues of interest to LGBTI people and gauging their responses.
Though the audience heard early on that the Liberal Party’s newly announced Paid Parental Leave Scheme would not be discriminatory towards LGBTI people, perhaps the most illuminating interaction of the afternoon was when O’Dwyer admitted the Liberal Party was unsure about issues affecting the intersex community, such as forced genital or ‘normalisation’ surgery as well as access to identity documents.
“To be honest, I’m here to hear from you about the issues that are most important, not to tell you what I think they are,” O’Dwyer told the room to silence.
Dreyfus remarked that the issues affecting intersex people required greater discussion amongst the broader community.
“It’s something that needs a tremendous more amount of discussion in the community, work with the medical profession and almost certainly work to displace what may well be centuries-old practice to get us to a position that more properly accords to a non-discriminatory society that we should have,” Dreyfus said.
Bandt said The Greens will continue to campaign to amend laws around birth and identity certificates so that intersex people can choose how to identify themselves.
“I think we need to move to a situation where as far as official documentation and acknowledgement is concerned the key test is a person’s own affirmation of how they want to be recorded,” Bandt said.
Understandably, debate surrounding marriage equality was a hot topic during the forum with The Greens the only major party which supports it both in its policy and inside parliament.
“The fact is that if the Labor Party were truly committed to achieving marriage equality they could have done that in the last parliament,” O’Dwyer said. “If they had kept their platform and everyone had voted in the same way, this would in fact be a non-issue and we would not be discussing it today.”
In response, Dreyfus said it was more important for the Coalition to allow for a conscience vote when another marriage bill is introduced.
“I believe that we can get to a law for marriage equality in Australia if the conservative parties in the parliament move to the same position of the Labor Party, which is a conscience vote,” he said.
The parties were also quizzed on their views on transgender issues, including the issuing of birth certificates, plans to make access to gender-affirmation surgery and treatments easier for by providing more assistance through Medicare as well as educating health professionals on issues affecting transgender people.
“We have always believed that as much as possible that should be covered under Medicare,” Bandt said.
“As far as health goes I think there is a very strong case to be made for parts of the health budget to go towards education of health professionals.”
Dreyfus said Labor was very well aware that there were ‘gaps’ in the kind of services that were important to transgender people.
“I think I can say fairly that we have had a very clear orientation to make sure that LGBTI issues are considered in every aspect of the health system, every aspect of the aged care system … and on this surgery issue … there is a gap. I think that’s unresolved,” Dreyfus said. “It’s a matter that we will continue to talk to the community about.”
On issues of foreign affairs, Dreyfus came in for criticism over Labor’s asylum seeker policies which include transporting LGBTI asylum seekers to Papau New Guinea despite criminal laws against homosexuality in that country. The Attorney-General also declined to say whether Labor would raise LGBTI issues with Russia at the G-20 meeting this week amidst growing calls for a boycott of next year’s Winter Olympics in Russia over it’s recently introduced anti-gay laws.
“We’re very concerned about what happens in other countries, particularly about what has recently been occurring in Russia,” O’Dwyer said.
Bandt indicated The Greens will continue to advocate and raise matters relating to LGBTI rights and equality with other nations following on from his party’s call for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics.
“I think we also need to make it crystal clear that we will not start tying Australia’s aid spending to certain conservative, religious ideas,” he said.