Young Labor has stepped up the campaign for an equal age of consent in New South Wales, passing resolutions in support of the reform at last weekend’s state conference.
The age of consent resolutions were passed with a 90 percent majority by conference delegates and attracted cross-factional support. Delegates from the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees trade union voted against the resolution, while delegates from Country Labor voted for it. The support of Country Labor delegates was seen as significant because the parliamentary convenor of the group, Tony Kelly, released a press statement last month which said support for an equal age of consent was radical.
Newly-elected vice-president of NSW Young Labor Ryan Heath told Sydney Star Observer that the support of Country Labor delegates for the resolutions would send a clear message to Kelly.
People have privately supported these issues in the past, and now as a result of some of the things they have seen with Tony Kelly and so on, people have actually felt the need to stand up and say this is actually not a radical policy, it’s simply a policy that affirms some very basic rights for young gay men, Heath said. It sends a positive signal to the queer community that Young Labor and many people in the Labor Party are actually progressive and are actually out there fighting for their rights.
Heath said the successful passage of the resolution would place immediate pressure on Premier Bob Carr and Attorney-General Bob Debus to move on age of consent.
Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor Anthony Schembri concurred.
The two Bobs are continuing to drift along and that continues to be not good enough, he told the Star. We now have support [for an equal age of consent] from across the health and welfare sector -¦ and from different aspects of the political spectrum. At some point in time Carr and Debus need to start listening to all these voices. Every day that NSW continues to be the last state on these issues -¦ is another day that harms young gay men. It’s now up to the parliamentary party to show some action and leadership on this.
Schembri also said it was significant that the Young Labor resolution explicitly called for the age of consent to be set at 16, as some politicians had shown signs they would be more comfortable with an equal age of consent set at 17.
However NSW Democrats MLC Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans questioned the state government’s willingness to act on age of consent. Letting Labor backbencher Jan Burnswoods take the running on such an important issue was indicative of lukewarm interest on the part of the government, he argued.
Mr Carr needs to be reminded that this was an election promise and the troops need to be told where they should stand. If he does not, then his commitment to the issue must be seriously doubted. The Democrats -¦ have been totally committed to this issue from the beginning and are still pursuing it, Chesterfield-Evans said.