The Greens claim the federal government has lost its political will for human rights after Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus sent the consolidation bill of five anti-discrimination acts back to his department for more work.
Despite the move, Dreyfus today announced he’d introduce sexuality and gender diversity protections under the Sex Discrimination Act saying the it was “long overdue” and a “long standing Labor commitment“.
But Greens leader Senator Christine Milne said shelving the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 was nonsensical.
“The anti-discrimination reforms had every chance of succeeding in Parliament so why has Labor turned tail and given up on equality again?” Milne said.
“The timing issue is just an excuse from the Attorney-General.
“Labor has lost the political will to protect human rights.”
Greens’ LGBTI spokeswoman Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the Sex Discrimination Act amendments were welcomed by her party but added it was unacceptable that religious exemptions would remain in place.
“Gay and lesbian Australians deserve to be protected from discrimination across the board but today the Labor have shown they don’t have the conviction to deliver that,” Hanson-Young said.
“If an organisation is getting public money they shouldn’t be given exemptions to discriminate against someone just because they’re gay.”
Gay rights advocates have largely welcomed today’s announcement, and transgender and intersex advocates have also applauded the government’s decision to adopt the ‘Tasmanian model’ of definitions for gender and sex diverse Australians.
“We thank legislator’s for this significant move away from gender identity law when considering intersex rights,” OII Australia president Gina Wilson said.
Members of OII Australia hope the new laws also raise further awareness of intersex Australians and the discrimination they face.
“This is a welcome move that will, in part, resolve the patchwork of state discrimination protections that currently exist in Australia,” A Gender Agenda executive director Peter Hyndal said.
Both the NSW and Victorian gay and lesbian rights lobbies welcomed the proposed new laws.
NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor Justin Koonin said the reforms were long overdue and had been the subject of intense lobbying over many years.
Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor Anna Brown said a commissioner was needed to deal with LGBTI concerns just like other appointed commissioners for areas such as race and sex.
“While this is a significant advance for LGBTI people, we need to ensure that a Commissioner is given responsibility for dealing with our concerns and that broad exemptions for religious bodies do not undermine the effectiveness of these new legal protections, including the risk of watering down the rights of people in states where religious organisations are not permitted to discriminate to the same extent,” she said.
All of the advocates expressed concern over the religious exemptions which will not be attached to the new bill due to enter Parliament on Thursday.
Instead, it will remain a part of the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012, which has been given no official deadline.
The consolidation bill would have also recognised multiple protections against discrimination which advocates say would have strengthened current federal discrimination laws.
They urged the government to do all it could to introduce the legislation before the parliament rose for the September 14 election.