They may disagree on a thousand issues of policy, but Young Labor, Young Australian Democrats and the Young Liberal Movement all concur: discriminatory age of consent laws in New South Wales must be changed.
This week, representatives from the executive groups of all three organisations told Sydney Star Observer about the role they intend playing in the push for an equal age of consent. All three organisations support an equal age of consent as a matter of policy, but the Young Liberal Movement last week took an extra step by publicly calling on Liberal MPs to vote in favour of equalising legislation when it comes up in parliament (expected to be sometime in August).
Age of consent is a very natural thing for the youth wings (of political parties) to be shouting out about, said NSW Young Liberal Movement vice-president Simon Moore. It may not happen before the election, but I think there’s a fairly good chance of it happening in the following parliament, regardless of who’s in charge.
Matthew Bogunovich, recently elected as national president of Young Australian Democrats, said that the successful passage of gay law reform in Western Australia in March had forced all political parties to take the issue on.
When things happen in WA, we have to reflect on our own yard. The fact is that New South Wales, internationally now, is in very ignominious company in terms of its laws, Bogunovich said.
NSW Young Labor vice-president Ryan Heath said part of the value in Young Labor adopting a vocal position on age of consent was that it created roadblocks for more conservative party members.
I wouldn’t necessarily say that Young Labor coming out in support of age of consent will make it happen before the next state election, but what it will mean is that it will stop people from making any homophobic comments, and it stops the party from pushing further to the right, Heath said.
While in agreement on the fundamental need for age of consent reform, the youth wings of the parties appear split on whether the parliamentary representatives of their parties should be offered conscience votes on the issue. Bogunovich and Heath said no; Moore said yes.
(John) Brogden’s position is that there will be a conscience vote. I don’t have a problem with that, Moore said. I’d like to think that everybody agrees with us, but let’s be realistic, not everybody does. We can’t blinker ourselves. I think there should be more conscience votes, on lots of things, not just things that are considered moral issues.
Heath said conscience votes within the ALP were frequently used as an instrument to undermine socially progressive action.
The point of belonging to a political party is that you use your collective force to achieve collective good wherever possible, he said.
While Heath, Moore and Bogunovich all identify as gay, they stressed that it was not just the gay and lesbian members of their respective organisations who were championing the age of consent issue.
The fact that I’m gay and I’m the vice-president of Young Labor doesn’t mean the only thing I’ve got to talk about is gay issues, Heath said.
Moore agreed with Heath but stressed the need for gay members to be vocal within their parties. As a senior gay person in the Young Liberals, if I don’t speak out, then what message does that send to gay people further down the line? he said. In some respects, it’s my responsibility to speak out on gay issues.