State members of the Australian Labor Party have been trying to incite homophobia in order to score political points against the new leader of the NSW Opposition, John Brogden.

A copy of a Sydney Star Observer cover story from two weeks ago, detailing Brogden’s position on the age of consent issue (he has called for an equal age of consent), was faxed out to rural and regional media outlets, in an apparent attempt to position Brogden as a gay-friendly, small l liberal in country heartland electorates. The accusation that this fax came from a government office was first aired in the Sun-Herald’s Naked City column last Sunday.

The convenor of Country Labor, Tony Kelly, has followed a similar wedge politics strategy by issuing a press statement demanding to know whether the National MP for Barwon (Ian Slack-Smith) supported Brogden’s position on the age of consent, drug rehabilitation and the medically supervised heroin injecting room. (see inset story)

The two strategies have outraged lesbian and gay activists, and questions have been asked in both houses of parliament.

During question time in the Legislative Assembly yesterday, independent MP for Bligh Clover Moore asked Premier Bob Carr, in the light of the accusation that the Star story had been faxed to rural news outlets, to give a commitment that Labor would not use homophobic prejudice as a political tool in future.

Premier Carr said he knew nothing of the incident, but went on to make his first public statement on the age of consent debate -“ indicative, perhaps, of Labor’s embarrassment over the issue:

I will say this: I can think of no substantial argument against introducing a uniform age of consent. The last time the matter was debated in parliament it failed by one vote to pass the upper house. There-fore, any new legislation presented to this and the other place [legislative council] would need to address the concerns of whatever element in the upper house found it impossible to accept the previous legislation. Members of this house and the other place would look to such legislation to provide guarantees regarding the protection of people aged under 16 years.

I will seek the advice of the Attorney-General and inquire about the matter to which the Honourable Member for Bligh referred.

However, I repeat: providing such legislation offered an appropriate guarantee, the matter would be considered as reasonable for debate in this and the other place. However, any future legislation would have to go further in addressing community concerns than the legislation that was recently rejected by a narrow margin in the Legislative Council.

Clover Moore’s question without notice followed a similar attempt by Greens MLC Lee Rhiannon on Tuesday, who asked treasurer Michael Egan about the faxed story. However, Egan dodged the question in his response.

Treasurer Michael Egan effectively refused to answer the question, Rhiannon said. This is clearly playing -˜wedge politics’ just like Prime Minister John Howard did on the refugees issue and then with Senator Heffernan’s allegations against Justice Michael Kirby.

Labor is two-faced to parade the pink vote in Sydney and then play a reactionary agenda outside the city. The treasurer should be straight about Labor’s position, she said.

The Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby was swift to condemn the faxing of the Star article.

If it can be substantiated that it [the fax] has in fact come from a government minister’s office, then the gay and lesbian community has been let down yet again by this current government, co-convenor Anthony Schembri told the Star. To have a suspected ministerial office attempting to use homophobia, or gay and lesbian rights, as a political tool to get at an opponent is pretty damn outrageous.

Schembri said the Lobby would be calling for an urgent meeting with the Premier to discuss the use of wedge politics tactics, as well as the current status of gay and lesbian law reform.

We’re also calling on Labor MPs to stand up in caucus with the view of getting party support to ensure that homophobia is not used as an election strategy, he said.

Schembri also stressed the importance of ordinary gay and lesbian community members writing, emailing or phoning the office of the premier or the attorney-general and voicing their concern about the government’s stance on lesbian and gay matters.

We need people to call Bob Carr’s office and call Bob Debus’s office in the next few days and let them know that homophobia is not okay, and demand to know what they’re doing about gay and lesbian rights in NSW, Schembri said. The political reality is that when punters start ringing and asking questions, there’s a stronger chance of change.

The phone number for Bob Carr’s office is 9228 5239 and for Bob Debus’s office, 9228 8188.

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