The 24th of November 2007 was a watershed moment in Australian politics. It saw a Conservative Government, which presides over a strong economy and record low unemployment, swept aside in a tide of change that cost the Prime Minister his seat.

It also saw Labor pick up 20 seats in the House of Representatives; the Greens record their greatest result and attain parliamentary party status; and the disappearance of the Democrats from Parliament.

In the aftermath of all this, many gay and lesbian individuals and same-sex couples might be wondering what they can expect from a Rudd Labor Government and Greener Senate?

On the face of it, a Labor Government and Green Upper House is the most ideal outcome for the delivery of sexuality law reform. Certainly, that dynamic has worked well in WA and Tasmania, producing the best suite of law reforms in Australia at state level.

However, this won’t necessarily translate to federal dynamics because federal Labor is more conservative than its state counterparts. Labor could also bypass the Greens in the Senate if it needs to by working with Opposition and Independent senators.

Nonetheless, Rudd Labor went to the polls with a clear policy to implement the 58 Commonwealth reforms identified in the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s report into same-sex entitlements. Labor is also committed to national anti-discrimination law, but while they have said the HREOC reforms will be enacted in Labor’s first term, they have postponed general anti-discrimination laws until the next election.

Rudd Labor is also committed to recognising same-sex relationships under federal law, but has put the onus for this back on the states. Once the states have introduced Civil Unions or Partnership Registries, the commonwealth will then recognise such couples as de facto, ensuring they will have the same rights and responsibilities as married couples under federal law.

Tasmania already has a Registry in place and the ACT is moving quickly with a Civil Union scheme.

While the Liberals still draw a line at gay marriage, lesbian IVF and same-sex adoption, new Leader Brendon Nelson has indicated a stunning policy shift on gay rights. Just four days into his leadership, Nelson signalled clear support for gay equality in ‘social and economic areas.’ This is much stronger than the timid Coalition position before the election, limited to adopting just one of the 58 HREOC reforms: CommSuper.

Nelson’s shift is aimed at bringing the Coalition back to the centre of Australian social attitudes after years of Howard’s hardline conservatism.

This is great news for our community as it places more pressure on Rudd Labor to do better and sooner.

Also notable in the election wash up is Rudd’s appointment of Senator Penny Wong to Cabinet.

Finally, Senator-elect Louise Pratt becomes WA’s second openly homosexual Senator (after yours truly) to emerge from the group Gay and Lesbian Equality (GALE), and is the state’s first out lesbian in federal Parliament. As a passionate reformer she will undoubtedly help educate colleagues and press for change within Government.

Brian Greig was a Senator for the Democrats 1999-2005.

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