With a raft of gay law reforms including parenting and anti-discrimination yet to be delivered, Jan Burnswoods knows there will be unfinished business when she leaves NSW parliament at the state election next March.
But after 16 years in the upper house, the Labor politician will exit Macquarie Street confident her gay rights legacy will endure.
Long before the Carr Labor government passed landmark legislation equalising the age of consent in 2003, Burnswoods forced the issue onto the agenda with a series of private member’s bills.
Though the bills failed, Burnswoods’ efforts were vital to the eventual reform.
Most people in parliament who are backbenchers have not much that they can point to that is an achievement of their own, Burnswoods told Sydney Star Observer this week.
With the age of consent, I feel that if I hadn’t kept pushing and pushing and if the government hadn’t known that I intended to keep doing it, maybe it wouldn’t have happened.
Burnswoods entered parliament for the first of two eight-year upper house terms in 1991. She took up the gay rights struggle because she had a number of gay friends and was conscious of a huge injustice.
It’s always seemed to me unfair and unbalanced.
Burnswoods continued to speak out until the end, using her valedictory speech to parliament last week to decry the involvement of religious extremists in state politics.
Never will I understand why the god that these people worship is obsessed with sex, sexuality and the human body, and has apparently no interest in social justice or the general good, she said.
And Burnswoods said she had no intention of abandoning activism after stepping down as planned next year.
I’m not quite sure what I’ll be doing but I certainly won’t be going away, she said this week.
The NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby praised Burnswoods’ tireless advocacy.
Over the years, Jan helped enlighten her colleagues in parliament about the importance of law reform, Lobby spokesperson May Miller-Dawkins told the Star.
We hope that the next generation of members of parliament for the Labor party continue this tradition.
Also leaving state parliament at the upcoming election are long-term community supporter and upper house president Meredith Burgmann and attorney-general Bob Debus, who oversaw important gay law reform.