Last week, the federal Coalition joint party room announced its intention to oppose the government’s Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 outright.
This is a worrying development for the many individuals and organisations seeking to ensure protection from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity for the first time at a federal level.
Much of the objection to the bill comes from groups concerned that it will undermine the right to free speech. In particular, an extension to the Racial Discrimination Act to cover conduct which “conduct that offends, insults or intimidates” drew considerable resistance.
Wisely, the government agreed to drop this clause. The GLRL applauded this move, as did other notable organisations including the Australian Human Rights Commission, as debate over this single phrase was distracting attention from the important reforms contained within the bill.
However this was not enough for the opposition, with opposition spokesman on legal affairs, George Brandis, citing concerns over issues surrounding burden of proof, and an expansion of the list of protected attributes to include political opinion and social origin.
It is important to realise that opposition to the bill is not necessarily opposition to protection for LGBTI people.
Indeed, in a recent op-ed in The Australian, Brandis cited a gay couple denied accommodation at a motel as an example of a situation where protection should exist.
Nevertheless, if the bill does not pass we will be caught in the mix.
So where does that leave us? Assuming the opposition does not change its mind, the bill can still pass the Lower House with the support of independents. We will be working very hard with these independents – and the major parties – to secure a practical solution to the impasse before the federal election in September.
A further complication is the resignation of former attorney general Nicola Roxon, who had carriage of the bill.
New Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus is certainly a supporter of LGBTI rights – he voted in support of marriage equality last September. However, the changeover may cause further delay in seeing the new bill passed.
What can you do? Keep talking to your local members of Parliament, whichever party they are from. Tell them how important it is that your rights are protected. Make it clear that this is not an issue which will go away.
Reform in this area of law is long overdue, and we will not back away until we are given the respect and protection we deserve.
Justin Koonin • NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby