Collins was a surprise big winner in the comeback of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd last week, after the Labor caucus voted the undistinguished Victorian Senator as Deputy Leader of Government Business in the Senate to replace Penny Wong.
Prior to entering politics, Collins was a senior figure in the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA), a trade union noted for its leaders’ staunchly conservative opposition to various gay rights issues. The SDA has wielded significant influence in the past to try and prevent support for same-sex marriage within the parliamentary Labor party. Collins has also served as the head of the Caroline Chisholm Society, a pro-life pregnancy support service that counsels women against having abortions.
In 2010 Collins said the same-sex marriage debate was run by “elites” and that Labor should not pander to “university-educated inner-city professionals”.
“Labor cannot always satisfy both groups and sometimes we must make a choice,” she said. “This is one of those times. More traditional Labor voters believe that being raised by a mother and father is what is best for our kids.”
However, Collins has attempted to play down concerns, saying that she is “committed to continuing” the reforms of her predecessor.
“From my early career as a social worker and welfare officer, I have been a passionate advocate for Australians in need of care and support, and will continue that work in my new portfolios of mental health and ageing. These are sensitive areas which affect the quality of life of millions of Australians and I am honoured to be the minister,” Collins said in a statement.
NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby Co-convenor Justin Koonin said they would be “watching closely” to see if Collins lived up to her promise.
“Given the clear link between discrimination and adverse mental health outcomes, it is imperative that the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing act in a manner which promotes acceptance for all Australians, including those in the LGBTI community,” Koonin said.
Collins takes over from Mark Butler, a noted campaigner for marriage equality who funded the recently founded National LGBTI Health Alliance in his time as Mental Health Minister.