A cloud remains over equality reforms in the first term of the Rudd Labor Government, despite the party’s emphatic victory, because it will face a hung or possibly hostile Senate.
A Labor-Greens Senate majority has failed to materialise on provisional results, needing both Family First and new South Australian independent Nick Xenophon to pass gay law reforms without Coalition support.
Xenophon had previously supported de facto reforms in South Australia. But Family First Senator Steve Fielding has joined with the Coalition to block every equality or gay-supportive motion introduced since he entered Parliament in 2004.
Greens’ GLBT spokeswoman Kerry Nettle wasn’t conceding her own Senate seat or the balance of power, saying it would take weeks before the final result would be known.
It’s really tight. Replacing a Green with a Liberal has obvious implications in terms of conservatives in the Senate, Nettle said.
If we can get Greens elected in a range of states then we can still work with Labor to have a majority in the Senate.
An additional Greens win over the Liberals in Victoria or the ACT is possible, but remote.
With a hung Senate blocked by Family First, the gay and lesbian community’s only hope for progress would be a policy turnaround or a conscience vote by the Liberals.
Malcolm Turnbull has nominated to take the party reins, as have Tony Abbott and Brendan Nelson.
Both Turnbull and Nelson were supporters of former Attorney-General Philip Ruddock’s proposed response to the HREOC recommendations for same-sex de facto equality. Abbott was not.
Although details were not made public, it is assumed the proposals went further than the superannuation interdependency reforms announced by Turnbull before the election.
During the campaign for the seat of Wentworth, Turnbull pledged to continue the fight for equality, but did not publicly contradict former leader John Howard’s comments against the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s recommendations.
Labor’s proposed state-based relationship registries would not require Senate approval, but would not be recognised federally unless the equality reforms were also passed.
Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor Emily Gray said the Lobby would be working with key Coalition Senators to help the equality reforms pass as soon as possible.
Depending on how the Liberal leadership contest pans out, a conscience vote may not be necessary, Gray said.
Labor’s election pledge also included an audit to remove all other areas of discrimination against gay and lesbian people. These could include parenting laws too contentious for any Liberal leader to support through the current or incoming Senate.
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