A report card into Australian democracy’s protection of sexual minorities has given a failing grade to the Howard Government when it comes to the treatment of gay and lesbian people.
The report, released this week by an Australian National University thinktank and titled The Democratic Audit of Australia, found assumptions in federal Government policy were responsible for remaining discrimination.
The report co-author, Sarah Maddison, said gay and lesbian people and families were increasingly accepted in public life, and remaining inequities were an unnecessary blight on the country’s democratic credentials and human rights record.
What we have in Australia is a fairly straightforward democratic system that should be able to adequately protect all members of its community, but what we see is something quite different, Maddison said.
There is no reason Australia shouldn’t be the most progressive in terms of same-sex relationship recognition and parenting rights, but we will never be that country without political leadership.
Maddison compared protections for gay and lesbian citizens under state law to the steady progress in community attitudes. But federally, she saw a hostile and homophobic government not keeping up with prevailing acceptance of same-sex families.
Sexual minorities in Australia have made slow and steady progress over the last 30 years in most areas. What discrimination remains flows from fear and hostility within the federal Government, she said.
The Australian Labor Party recently confirmed to the Star it would remove all instances of same-sex discrimination from federal legislation in its first term should it be elected this year.
The Liberal Party is expected to consider same-sex equality issues, outlined in the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Same Sex: Same Entitlements report, behind closed doors prior to the yet-to-be-called election.
However, the ANU report found many Australians still consider homosexuality to be an issue of morality rather than citizenship or human rights.
But we should not be making public policy that allows certain sections of the community to feel comfortable while they discriminate against other sections of the community, Maddison said.
Legislation alone will never fully address discrimination, but it’s a key factor. When we see an interaction between values and attitudes and legislation, that is when the reality of discrimination will be done away with.