The Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby this week expressed a degree of optimism about the prospects for gay law reform in NSW before the next state election. However, co-convenor Anthony Schembri urged community members to maintain the current pressure on the state government by calling and emailing the offices of Premier Bob Carr and Attorney-General Bob Debus.

It’s really important for community members to keep the pressure on, and if you haven’t phoned one of the two Bobs, now is really the time to do it, Schembri told Sydney Star Observer. We need to demonstrate that there are more votes in equality than there are in homophobia.

The new mood of optimism around the prospects for law reform stems in part from the government’s current sensitivity to all things gay and lesbian. Labor MPs were grilled in parliament last week about the use of gay and lesbian equality issues as political footballs, leading Premier Bob Carr to make his first public remarks on the age of consent issue.

Schembri described Carr’s parliamentary statement in support of an equal age of consent last week as a major breakthrough.

This is the first time that Carr has expressed on the public record his personal view on age of consent, he said. I think there’s a degree of optimism that hasn’t been there in the last three years -“ not just with age of consent, but with the -˜missing pieces’ reform and some anti-discrimination reform.

The much-talked-about missing pieces legislation refers to a proposed act which would bring a range of miscellaneous laws into line with the gay- and lesbian-inclusive provisions of the Property (Relation-ships) Legislation Act 1999. The laws in question include the Health Insurance Levies Act, the Landlord and Tenant Act and the Liquor Act.

Independent MP for Bligh, Clover Moore, added her voice to the calls for government action on gay and lesbian law reform. A letter she wrote to the attorney-general earlier this month requests him to provide her with a time-line for the introduction of the government’s missing pieces legislative package and urges action on age of consent; however, the attorney-general has yet to respond.

Schembri said the passage of the missing pieces legislation was achievable before the state election, but getting age of consent legislation up would still be difficult.

At the moment we are quietly confident that should a vote be taken next month in the upper house (on age of consent) it’s going to be close, but we’re hopeful that it will be successful, he said. The Lobby would be meeting with MLCs over the next month to shore up support for an equal age of consent, he said.

Schembri also revealed that Labor MLC Jan Burnswoods plans to resurrect the age of consent bill she introduced to parliament in 1999, which was defeated by one vote. Currently on the notice paper is a similar bill, introduced by Democrat Arthur Chesterfield-Evans.

[Burnswoods] has every expectation that her bill will be brought back for reading in the middle to the end of May, Schembri said, adding that she had been working really hard to shore up support within her own party.

The Lobby hopes to meet with both the premier and the leader of the opposition within the next month to discuss the age of consent issue and other law reform initiatives.

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