AT the time of writing, it is six days since Victoria went to the polls and voted in a new Labor Government. In the high-profile LGBTI-centric seat of Prahran, there is a knife-edge count and recount in a three-way-race between Greens, Labor and Liberal candidates — anyone could win. [Editor’s note: the Greens’ Sam Hibbins was just announced as the new Prahran MP] In the upper house the cross bench won’t be finalised for another fortnight but looks like it will be a gladbag of both LGBTI-supportive and non-supportive parties.
Yet, among all this uncertainty, the LGBTI community is loudly cheering the election of the Andrews Government and its comprehensive LGBTI-election package of reforms.
There are too many LGBTI commitments by the ALP for me to analyse in this short column (but you can read them all at vglrl.org.au/election2014), so let me focus on just a few.
Labor proudly stood tall as its leader publicly committed, unequivocally, to remove the discrimination faced by same-sex couples in adoption reforms. Labor’s first step is to commission a review to provide government with advice on how to achieve their range of adoption-related commitments. The Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights (VGLRL) Lobby and Rainbow Families felt this was an unnecessary step but appreciate there are a range of non-LGBTI issues that the government will want advice on from the review. The VGLRL will be strongly advocating that this review get under way as soon as possible as same-sex headed families have been waiting long enough.
The upper house will be critical in securing adoption reform. Importantly, the new opposition Liberal leader of the upper house, Mary Woolridge, declared her personal support for adoption reforms during the election campaign. New deputy government leader Jaala Pulford is also a staunch supporter. It is my tip these two parliamentarians will play a critical role in achieving both an Opposition conscience vote and the necessary numbers among Opposition and cross bench support for these simple changes to protect diverse Victorian families.
Labor will reintroduce the 2010 changes to the anti-discrimination laws made by the former Labor Government strengthening anti-discrimination in employment matters. These changes may also include updated definitions of gender identity and intersex status. However, sadly it appears the new government has not yet considered the proposal to require all organisations relying on the religious exemptions to publish a notice of intention in position descriptions, their website and promotional materials.
Many businesses are owned by a faith-based legal entity yet have no outward appearance of being a religious organisation. Publishing an “intention to discriminate” is the only way LGBTI consumers and potential employees will know they may be legally discriminated against by these companies. A clear, prominent, message like “we do not serve or employ gay or lesbian people on the basis of our religious doctrine, beliefs and principles, in compliance with s81-84 of the Equal Opportunity Act 2001” would be enough to protect our community while embracing the call to protect religious freedoms.
Labor will, in the new year, appoint an independent commissioner to tackle LGBTI issues, along with a whole-of-government ministerial advisory committee to support the recently-inducted Minister for Equality Martin Foley. The possibilities of how this comprehensive engagement model will advance a number of issues is immeasurable. LGBTI as a diverse population group is now (finally) treated equal to multicultural, seniors or even women.
While marriage and Senator David Leyonhjelm’s Freedom to Marry bill will continue to take up many newspaper inches and lots of our community’s attention in 2015, it will be in a whole range of less-profiled areas that Victoria will make sustainable, collaborative, meaningful change.
Starting in 2015, the next four years represent a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to progress a range of agendas which our community must embrace and become active participants on the journey to achieve equality.
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**This article was first published in the January edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a hard copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.