EXPECTATIONS are high for Queensland’s recently sworn-in Palaszczuk-Labor Government to follow through with several LGBTI commitments made to the community during the election campaign in the areas of law, health and education.
The final confirmation of the January 31 election came at the end of a 13-day marathon of vote counting that saw the Labor party returned to power in a hung parliament with the support of Nicklin independent MP Peter Wellington.
New Health Minister Cameron Dick will now take on decisions about the future direction of the Queensland HIV sector. Based on his experience with Labor, QuAC executive director Michael Scott hoped for a collaborative approach.
“Based on the relationship we have with the Labor Party in opposition, we feel confident that the new government will be more collaborative with respect to its HIV response,” Scott told the Star Observer.
Scott also hoped for an emphasis on working with key-affected communities and other best-practise approaches to tackling HIV.
“I would like to see urgently the development of a state-wide sexual health strategy for Queensland,” Scott said.
“New notifications did increase each year for the past three years, with the most alarming increase last year. Last year we saw an increase in notifications by more than 25 per cent.
“I would like to see the return to the partnership approach to HIV – which has worked well in Australia for the past 30 years, and includes partnership between affected communities, government at all levels, researchers and community based organisations such as QuAC.
“Without this partnership approach the response is not targeted and becomes more about self promotion, and less about health promotion.”
LGBTI-specific law reform was another area canvassed by Labor in the election, with new Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath expected to deliver on several major reforms.
A return of civil unions, expungement of historical gay sex convictions, age of consent equalisation, surrogacy and adoption rights, and removing the “gay panic” defence were areas highlighted during the election campaign.
Brisbane Pride President and Queensland University of Technology law professor Peter Black hoped the new government would honour its commitments and work to implement the reforms in a timely manner.
Black worked with former Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie on the issue of gay sex conviction expungement and is currently drafting a discussion paper.
“The LGTBI Legal Service is currently finalising an issues paper on the expungement of historic gay sex convictions,” Black told the Star Observer.
“While in Government, the LNP had indicated that they would use this paper as the basis for law reform in this area.
“I would hope that the new Attorney-General and the ALP would similarly be able to advance this issue without referring it to the Law Reform Commission. This should be a non-controversial, bipartisan reform that can be done this year.”
Black also believes that on the issues of age of consent equalisation and repeal of the “gay panic” defence, Labor should avoid any unnecessary delay.
“Equalising the age of consent is another reform that should be able to be done without the need for it to be referred to committees and the like,” he said.
“Queensland is the only state in Australia that does not have an equal age of consent and I would hope that the new ALP Government would fix this inequality.
“[‘Gay panic’ repeal] was considered by the Bligh-Labor Government and the then-Attorney-General Paul Lucas, who referred it to an expert panel. Those recommendations could easily be adopted by the new government without the time and expense of yet another committee or panel considering the issue.”
However, Black acknowledged that some leeway should be given to the new government due to the make-up of the new parliament.
“Given that it is a minority government, it may well be that they will need to adopt such a process to give them the political cover necessary to implement some of these reforms,” he said.
Same-sex adoption and surrogacy also came up for attention during the campaign, with Labor promising to not amend the laws that allow LGBTI altruistic surrogacy.
Surrogacy expert at Harrington Family Lawyers, Stephen Page, hoped the new government would move on extending adoption rights to same-sex couples.
“I would hope that Labor would seek that the Adoption Act is amended to remove… discrimination,” Page told the Star Observer.
“I would have thought that the real test for children is not so much the gender and sexuality of the proposed intended adoptive parents, or even if they are single or a couple, but the paramount test: what is in the best interests of the child concerned.
“I am confident that Labor will not introduce legislation to discriminate against same-sex couples and singles in surrogacy.”
The roll-out of the Safe Schools Coalition across Queensland has been a passion project for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) national spokesperson Shelley Argent, who had high hopes for new Education Minister Kate Jones.
“Kate is extremely supportive of LGBT rights and I truly believe she will do her utmost best to bring positive changes where she can in Queensland,” Shelley told the Star Observer.
“I feel with Kate being the Education Minister she will be interested and actively listening to the Safe School Committee in Queensland. The last government, I believe did as little as possible to bring positive change but Kate will do what she can.”
Argent expressed disappointment at what she saw to be prejudice towards the LGBTI community from the former LNP government.
“The LNP had no success because they were too right wing religiously and many brought their personal beliefs and values into parliament, which is wrong. They need to govern for everyone, not the chosen,” Shelley said.
“The (former) Education Minister John Paul Langbroek had no concept of the pain he was causing or prolonging and I wonder if he would have truly cared anyway.”
Shelley added that over the past three years under LNP leadership, the LGBTI community suffered.
“I think also when you have MPs like Fiona Simpson who believe you can pray the gay away, you immediately know you are in for a battle with the government generally,” she said.
“Generally, the LNP government did nothing positive for the LGBT community in Queensland. Personally, I feel that half of the battle is now won.
“The second half is to ensure Labor keep their promises. My plan is to be fair and give them time to settle in… But within a few weeks I will begin my calling and writing campaigns to ensure change does come to Queensland the LGBTI people of this state.”