The push to equalise the age of consent in New South Wales may be given fresh impetus through the emergence of a new contender for leadership of the state Liberal party.

A party room meeting to be held this morning will decide whether the Liberals will go to the next state election under the leadership of incumbent Kerry Chikarov-ski, or with moderate John Brogden at the helm.

Brogden is renowned for holding progressive views on a range of social issues, including equalising the age of consent for homosexual sex.

If the state has no place in the bedroom, then it has no place in discriminating against homosexual males on the basis of age, Brogden wrote in a newspaper article in 2000.

Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor Anthony Schembri said the elevation of a small l liberal to party leader could be a very important step.

Party leaders have immense authority in dictating the agenda within their party and a lot of latitude in putting a range of issues on and off the table, Schembri told Sydney Star Observer. In NSW at the moment we don’t have any commitment or leadership from Premier Carr on (age of consent), and that really does contrast with Brogden’s position, which is one of very public support.

Schembri stated that Chikarovski had met with Lobby representatives, often at short notice, and held a very open mind to issues of gay and lesbian law reform. She had also placed no significant barriers to the 1999 relationships legislation, he said.

State Democrats MLC Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans, who introduced a private member’s bill calling for an equal age of consent of 16 earlier this month, told the Star he was hopeful that Brogden’s stance would influence the views of his colleagues, should he (Brogden) win the leadership contest.

However, it is anticipated that Brogden would not enforce a party vote on Liberal MPs on the age of consent issue.

If they have a conscience vote, it means that the ones who don’t want to vote for [age of consent] are voting with their conscience against the party, rather than with their conscience for the party, Chesterfield-Evans said. How many people in the upper house would change their vote because the leader in the lower house changed the position of the party is a difficult question.

A Liberal Party source who did not wish to be named said Brogden can’t turn the party around overnight, but he would be a huge step forward.

The momentum on age of consent was given another push last week with the passage of gay law reform measures in Western Australia, leaving NSW in the invidious position of being the only state with age of consent legislation which discriminates against young gay men.

The Lobby was quick to react to the Western Australia news, issuing a press statement titled NSW: the pariah state.

The once proud record of NSW on human rights for gay men and lesbians is in tatters, declared Lobby co-convenor Alex Sosnov. NSW now has the most draconian age of consent laws in the country and is falling behind in almost every area of lesbian and gay rights. It is no longer the Premier state but the Last State.

Chesterfield-Evans said the law reform success in the West might help to spur action in the NSW parliament.

People are influenced by what happens in other jurisdictions. The fact that everyone else has done it and the world hasn’t collapsed does, I think, embolden conservatives, he said.

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