ATTORNEY-General George Brandis has labelled those who abuse young LGBTI people as “wicked” and said that urgent action needs to be taken to stamp out legally-permitted discrimination.
Speaking yesterday at the launch of a state of the nation report into the lives of LGBTI Australians, Brandis noted the current debate on marriage equality – leading some to speculate he may yet come out in favour of a conscience vote on the issue.
The report’s recommendations include harmonising state and territory anti-discrimination laws and abolishing the requirement for married couples to divorce when one partner transitions gender.
“The report reminds us how wicked it is to taunt, to embarrass, to abuse, to humiliate young people because of their sexuality and that is one of many of the areas which still need to be urgently addressed by our governments at the state and federal level,” Brandis said.
Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson said one of the most common findings was that gay people wanted to feel safe enough to be able to hold hands in public.
“That says a lot about people wanting to be visibly proud of who they are and just get on with their lives and build stable and enduring relationships,” he said.
Despite being personally in favour of marriage equality, and the alteration of the Marriage Act being a primary call of the report, Wilson said it too often dominated the conversation.
“Marriage suffocates many other issues that affect LGBTI people and the point of this consultation is to give air and oxygen to these other issues… that can have just as much of an impact on people’s day to day lives,” he said.
Brandis also acknowledged the report’s conclusion on marriage.
“Recommendation one is in relation the definition of marriage which as you know is not the policy of the government,” he said.
“The recommendations of the report also remind us that although there has been much discussion about the definition of marriage the question of discrimination is much wider than that.”
Despite Brandis playing a key role in striking down the ACT’s same-sex marriage laws in 2013, Victorian Greens Senator Janet Rice said the fact he did not discount the issue in his comments suggested some possible movement.
“Maybe it’s a sign that there is some shifting in the Liberal camp from people like George Brandis — we can only hope,” she said.
Rice said she was “really pleased” the report “framed marriage equality as a human rights issue” and having a Human Rights Commissioner say it was significant.
“Institutional based discrimination gives licence to all other discrimination, that’s why it’s so important to get rid of it,” she said.
Sydney state independent MP and former Australian Marriage Equality national convenor Alex Greenwich said the Liberal party continued to struggle internally with same-sex marriage.
“It would be great to see the Attorney-General come out in support of marriage equality but hopefully that time will come,” he said.
Queensland Labor Senator Claire Moore said the report was a “good start” and put “governments on notice that people are talking about these things and they want change”.
Queensland was highlighted as the most laggard state in terms of LGBTI law reform.
It is the only state to have an unequal age of consent which, the reportsnoted, could lead young gay men to avoid sexual health services in fear they might be accused of breaking the law.
Moore said she would be writing to her state’s Attorney-General about the report.
“We’ve got the proof now that people in Queensland are talking openly about these issues and want change,” she said.
Coogee state Liberal MP Bruce Notley-Smith said parliamentarians in other states shouldn’t delay in bringing in legislation.
“You’re not going to scare the horses by addressing these issues and they can play a part in making the lives of many of their fellow Australians a whole lot easier,” he said.
Brandis was effusive with praise for Wilson, who he appointed, saying the report “demonstrated how good a choice he was” for commissioner.
However, he failed to specifically acknowledge the commission’s President Gillian Triggs despite her attending the launch.
Today, Brandis told the ABC he had “lost confidence” in Triggs due to her comments on government policy.