MARTIN Foley, the Albert Park state Labor MP here in Victoria, has decided to use the LGBTI community to score cheap political shots that do not help the cause that many are fighting across for – equality in every way for the community. In suggesting in this newspaper that the Liberal Party is not supportive of the LGBTI community, he peddles a myth that is not borne out by the facts – both historical and present day.
He conveniently ignores the fact that it was a Liberal Government in Victoria that decriminalised gay sex in 1980. Liberal Governments in almost every other state then followed suit.
He conveniently ignores the fact that the Victorian Liberal Party continues to pioneer change in relation to LGBTI issues.
In 2012 we began working on reform to expunge the criminal records of men convicted of homosexual sex when it was illegal. These convictions still have emotional and real-life consequences for these men. At Midsumma this year, Liberal Premier Denis Napthine announced that Victoria would become the first Australian state to develop legislation to expunge these criminal convictions.
It is also worth noting that Napthine was the first Premier to ever attend Midsumma. To his credit, the Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews is supportive of this idea but throughout the previous 11 years in government, Labor failed to initiate such work.
At Midsumma 2013, Health Minister David Davis announced that trials for community-based HIV rapid testing would begin in Victoria. Since then, the first community centre for HIV rapid testing, Pronto, has opened in Fitzroy. With test results delivered within 20 minutes, it encourages more people to test more frequently. This will have significant benefits for public health. Again, this was an issue considered too politically sensitive for the previous government to touch.
Similarly, it was only when the Liberals came into government that condoms were made available in prisons. How many lives have been ruined by lack of action in this area for so long? Public health issues should take precedence over political expediency.
A health and wellbeing advisory committee that provides advice to several ministerial portfolios, including health and ageing, mental health and drug services, was also established last year. Research indicates that LGBTI community members experience greater ill-health burdens compared to the general population. The Victorian Coalition Government is committed to tackling these issues as well as employing initiatives and projects that address the underlying stigma, discrimination and homophobia citizens may experience.
Since the introduction of Healthy, Equal, Youth grants, 15 organisations have shared $380,000 to deliver new approaches to support the mental health of LGBTI youth. Up to $200,000 in research grants have also been applied to studies on premature ageing for people with HIV and AIDS.
The No To Homophobia campaign, the first of its kind to be broadcast on mainstream television, was also launched through funding from this current government.
Finally, I have been proud to represent the Victorian Government at many LGBTI community events over the years, including Midsumma, Pride March and Minus 18 events. Other Coalition ministers and backbenchers have also joined me over the years to support the community.
Marriage equality has become an increasingly topical issue in the public and political sphere. I personally support same-sex marriage and used my maiden speech to encourage federal parliament to consider changes to the Marriage Act. In my view, the resolution of this issue must be in the federal sphere. I would like to see my federal colleagues being able to exercise a conscience vote. The Liberal Party is founded on ideals of freedom of choice and respect for the individual. I believe many Liberals will support a conscience vote; even those who do not necessarily support marriage equality.
The Coalition Government is committed to governing for all Victorians and stands firm in delivering outcomes that progress our state in a way that all can be proud, regardless of their sexual identity.
I call on Mr Foley and the Victorian Labor Party to work with the government to support LGBTI initiatives in a positive manner, rather than peddling misinformation that does nothing for this community.
Clem Newton-Brown is the Prahran state Liberal MP in Victorian Parliament. He tweets under @clemnewtonbrown
To read his maiden speech supporting marriage equality click here: http://www.clemnewtonbrown.com/inaugural-speech.html
To view his picture on the Australian Marriage Equality website follow the link: http://www.australianmarriageequality.com/wp/