The successful passage of age of consent legislation through state parliament is far from assured, the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby warned this week.
The age of consent bill is expected to be debated in the lower house on Tuesday; however, proponents of the bill have warned that it will face an even tougher test in the upper house, where the numbers of supportive MPs are said to be very tight.
But the man who introduced the bill to state parliament, attorney-general Bob Debus, told Sydney Star ObserverÂ yesterday afternoon that the chances of the bill’s success were quite good.
It’s still too soon to be confident of the final numbers, but I have some optimism, he said.
Slightly more cautious, the co-convenors of the Lobby joined with supportive parliamentarians this week in urging members of the lesbian and gay community to lobby MPs on the age of consent issue.
Independent MLA Clover Moore said all members of the community should be lobbying parliamentarians.
Without a concerted campaign of phone calling, emailing and letter writing, this important reform could be defeated by a rare -˜conscience vote’ that permits party MPs to step outside the rigid control usually imposed by the major parties, Moore said.
Democrats MLC Arthur Chesterfield-Evans said the vote was going to be close, whichever way it goes, while Greens MLC Lee Rhiannon stressed it was absolutely vital for concerned individuals to make their feelings known without delay.
There is absolutely no guarantee the bill will get the
support of a majority of MPs, Rhiannon said. When this issue came to a vote in the upper house in 1999, it lost by one vote. On that occasion, seven Labor MPs voted against it, five of whom are still in parliament. Those MPs might hold the deciding votes again, and we must do all we can to persuade them to vote in favour.
Rhiannon named the five Labor MPs -“ John Della Bosca, Henry Tsang, John Hatzister-gos, Tony Kelly and Eddie Obeid -“ but the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenors stressed the need for community members to lobby strategically on this matter.
We really need to focus on the people who are undecided, said Lobby co-convenor Somali Cerise. It’s a waste of time to focus our energy on people like Fred Nile. We know that they’re not going to change, and what we really need is to make our voice heard on this issue, and we can do that best by trying to influence the people who are undecided.
It is these parliamentarians -“ the undecideds -“ who hold the fate of the age of consent bill in their hands. They include members of the Labor and Liberal parties (although not the Nationals, who have already indicated they will vote against the bill). The StarÂ understands that John Aquilina, Morris Iemma and Michael Costa are among the Labor MPs who have yet to commit to supporting the bill, and Andrew Constance, Andrew Humpherson and Judy Hopwood are among the Liberal MPs yet to show their support. A list of politicians thought to be in the undecided category is included below -“ with their office fax numbers.
Lobby co-convenor Rob McGrory emphasised the importance of acting now, saying that if this push to equalise the age of consent gets defeated, no further attempt would be made for many years.
A defeat of the legislation would have other repercussions, added Cerise.
If this legislation is voted down it will have a ripple effect, she said. The government is not going to have any motivation to act on other areas of gay and lesbian law reform which are desperately needed, if they’re not successful getting this through.
One thing which could stymie the bill is a proposal -“ flagged by opposition leader John Brogden -“ to split the bill in two: one part to deal with the equalisation of the age of consent, and one part to deal with child protection.
Bob Debus said the government would reject any such proposal.
Any proposal to split the bill would actually destroy its basic intention, which is to provide equal treatment, he said. Paradoxically, if you split the bill you would effectively increase the discrimination between young gay men and all other people.
Labor MLC Jan Burnswoods said the bill-splitting proposal was most likely a political ploy.
The [child protection] safeguards and the equalisation [of the age of consent] are inextricably linked, she said. It’s just that some people have a political need to be seen to fight every step of the way.
McGrory and Cerise said they were not supportive of the proposal to split the bill in two, despite the fact that they had not supported the inclusion of the child protection measures in the first place (as quoted in last week’s Star).
We say that the bill shouldn’t be split, for the simple reason that in the past when opposition has come up to equalising the age of consent, those people opposing it have often spoken of the need for child protection, so for that reason we think it needs to be included in the same bill, McGrory said.
Cerise said the government would be forced to withdraw the bill and introduce two new pieces of legislation if the bill-splitting proposal gained momentum, but said that outcome was unlikely.
Debus said it was his hope the Liberals would not proceed with a bill-splitting amendment.
I hope that some good sense will be exercised and we won’t actually be afflicted with a debate about whether the bill should be split or not, he said. [The bill’s] purpose is clear-cut, and that’s what parliament should vote on.
WHO TO CONTACT
The Star understands that the following members of parliament have yet to decide whether they will vote for or against the age of consent bill. Note: the numbers listed below are fax numbers, not phone numbers.
Marie Andrews (Peats) 4341 2368
John Aquilina (Riverstone) 9831 2795
Barry Collier (Miranda) 9540 2517
Kevin Greene (Georges River) 9580 9103
Morris Iemma (Lakemba) 9584 1945
Barbara Perry (Auburn) 9644 8290
Peter Draper (Tamworth) 6766 6765
Richard Torbay (Northern Tablelands) 6772 5026
Gladys Berejiklian (Willoughby) 9439 9299
Andrew Constance (Bega) 6492 3578
Shelley Hancock (South Coast) 4422 1180
Judy Hopwood (Hornsby) 9476 2695
Andrew Humpherson (Davidson) 9880 7488
Steven Pringle (Hawkesbury) 4577 8013
Peta Seaton (Southern Highlands) 4861 3546
Michael Costa 9228 5699
John Della Bosca 9230 2469
Kayee Griffin 9230 2766
John Hatzistergos 9230 2139
Eddie Obeid 9230 3324
Christine Robertson 9230 2160
Henry Tsang 9230 3535
Malcolm Jones 9230 2205
David Oldfield 9230 3505
John Tingle 9230 2613
Peter Wong 9230 3312
Catherine Cusack 9230 2385
Patricia Forsythe 9230 2992
Robyn Parker 9230 2891
Gregory Pearce 9230 2767
John Ryan 9230 2992