Labor’s draft Sexuality Discrimination Bill, which seeks to protect gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people from harassment and discrimination under commonwealth law, has come under fire for not going far enough.
The private member’s bill by shadow attorney-general Nicola Roxon was released for public feedback on Friday. It seeks to eliminate discrimination, harassment and incitement to violence on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace, in clubs, accommodation, education and in the provision of goods, facilities and services.
Discrimination is unlawful on the grounds of sexuality in all our states and territories now, but there is still a gap in the federal area and there are some instances that can only be covered by federal legislation, Roxon told Sydney Star Observer.
The bill does not intend to exclude or limit the operation of state or territory laws that are capable of operating concurrently with the act.
It also calls on the government to audit all commonwealth legislation within the next two years to identify areas that discriminate against LGBT people.
While Roxon believed it was unlikely the Coalition would allow the bill to be debated in parliament, she hoped it would help keep the issue alive amongst parliamentarians.
I’m hopeful to move the debate further and we know there are some people in the government who are talking about moving legislation and changes to particular pieces of legislation, and if that happens of course Labor will support it, she said.
One of those people is Liberal MP Warren Entsch, who plans to introduce his own private member’s bill to remove discrimination against same-sex couples from federal law.
Asked if he would support Labor’s bill, a spokesperson for Entsch told the Star he was concentrating on his own bill which he hoped to present to parliament in the spring sitting, starting in August.
The Sexuality Discrimination Act did not cover the issue of same-sex relationship recognition. Roxon said Labor was currently discussing federal relationship models and should make a final decision in coming months.
Two gay rights groups complained the bill was inadequate.
The Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group said the legislation provided less protection than some current state laws and offered very limited protection for transgender people, especially as it allows discrimination exemptions for charities, religious bodies, employers and competitive sports.
For instance the bill states an employer may discriminate against another person on the basis of gender identity if hiring the person would have a negative financial impact on the employer.
Spokesperson Jen Van Achteren said the exemptions would encourage religious groups to demand more exemptions under state laws.
This bill is an insult to the LGBT community, and must either be redrafted or dumped, Van Achteren said.
Peter Furness, convenor of Australian Marriage Equality, asked why the bill called for a two-year audit instead of including a list of the discriminatory legislation, which Labor has promised it would amend if voted into power.
The mere tabling of a list of discriminatory legislation in parliament two years after the passage of this bill does not guarantee the amendment of such legislation. The Sexuality Discrimination Bill doesn’t actually put an end to discrimination, Furness said.
He said discrimination could be removed swiftly by lifting the ban on same-sex marriage and amending the definition of de facto to include same-sex couples.
The NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, on the other hand, welcomed Labor’s initiative. Any bill which seeks to highlight the fact same-sex couples, and gay and lesbian people in general, face discrimination under federal law is a positive step forward, co-convenor David Scamell said.
The reason we’re supportive of this bill is that it will keep the issue alive in parliament.