State parliament will once more debate New South Wales’s age of consent laws, after Democrats MLC Arthur Chesterfield-Evans gave notice of a new private member’s bill on the subject on Tuesday.

The move came just after the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby released a report on the impact of the state’s discriminatory age of consent, which concluded that the current situation inhibits young gay men’s access to educational health and welfare services at a time when they need them most.

NSW Democrats sexuality spokesperson, Peter Furness, told Sydney Star Observer that the Chesterfield-Evans bill (modelled on the private member’s bill of Labor MLC Jan Burnswoods, which was defeated in the Legislative Council in 1999) would be debated later this year. The bill would make 16 the age of consent for male homosexual sex, the same as it currently is for lesbian and heterosexual sex.

All other Australian states and territories have grappled with the age of consent question, Furness said. NSW lags behind. I believe the state parliament, for this reason, will now find it possible to pass the Democrats’ Equal Age of Consent Bill.

However, Lobby co-convenor Anthony Schembri told the Star that only a government bill would deliver an equal age of consent.

It’s all well and good to have private member’s bills. It’s all well and good for someone in the ALP like Jan to champion the issue, but at the end of the day it needs parliamentary leadership that only the attorney-general and the premier can bring, Schembri said. The two Bobs, Debus and Carr, need to actually stand up and show some leadership and do the right thing for young gay men in NSW by equalising the age of consent. It’s as simple as that.

Furness said that he expected the National Party MPs would vote against the bill while the Liberal and Labor MPs would be allowed conscience votes by their parties. Independent MP Clover Moore has undertaken to introduce the bill in the Legislative Assembly if it passes the upper house.

The success of the bill requires a sufficient number of consciences within the Labor and Liberal parties, Furness said.

But Schembri argued that conscience votes were not good enough.

We’re talking about the health and welfare of young people. That shouldn’t be a conscience matter at all, he said.

The new report, The Age Of Consent And Gay Men In New South Wales, provides evidence to counter many of the assertions which were made about the age of consent during the 1999 parliamentary debates, Schembri said.

The last time age of consent was raised in the house and debated, a number of MLCs raised the child protection perspective and argued, without evidence, that an unequal age of consent actually protects young gay men and therefore was a good thing, Schembri said. There is no evidence to support a discriminatory age of consent on health grounds, on welfare grounds or from a psychological point of view.

There is no reason for a discriminatory age of consent in NSW. The only explanation for this continued discrimination is homophobia, heterosexism and poor government.

The report, produced by the School of Social Work at the University of New South Wales, would be delivered to all parliamentarians in New South Wales, Schembri added.

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