ALL four candidates for the state electorate of Brisbane Central faced-off in a wide-ranging — and at times robust — state election forum last night focused on issues affecting the LGBTI community.
The Sportsmans Hotel was filled to capacity as incumbent Liberal National Party (LNP) MP Robert Cavallucci, Labor’s Grace Grace, Kirsten Lovejoy from the Greens and independent Kai Jones made their pitch to win LGBTI votes as Queensland prepares to head to the polls on January 31.
The almost three-year term of the Newman LNP Government has been controversial for many, and passions ran high from all sides of the political spectrum as the candidates addressed community concerns.
Topics ranged from equalising of the age of consent, repealing of civil unions and support for marriage equality, Labor’s proposed plans for a 1am lockout, the defunding of Queensland AIDS Council (QuAC), and more.
Candidates were initially quizzed on how they had shown support for the LGBTI community either in or out of office by the forum’s emcee, Brisbane Pride Festival president Peter Black.
“On TV, I declared my unequivocal support for marriage equality, and every day since, through every avenue possible I have spoken up, I have declared my absolute support for this community,” Cavallucci told the crowd.
Listing organisations and figures within the community that he had worked with, Cavallucci said that he was not afraid to stand up against those in his party that disagreed with him.
“I’ve demonstrated that I’m willing to stand beside you and fight the fight for equality. And I’m prepared to stand up as I always have to other members of my own party who don’t share those views,” he said.
Previously holding the seat from 2007 to 2012, Grace told the audience that she had been fighting for equality since joining the union movement in the 1980s.
“I’ve got a very proud record… I have never walked away from supporting this community and I never will,” she said.
“I have fought discrimination in the workplace, I have fought it in the community, I have walked with you, I have debated with you… and I will continue to do so.
“For me, these are fundamental human rights, these are fundamental values that I hold.”
Lovejoy told the forum that the Greens had been the only party to wholly and consistently support equal rights for the LGBTI community, and reiterated the importance of candidates and their parties in keeping their promises.
“For any promises made during an election campaign by a person… if they’re part of a party, they are beholden to that. If their party policies don’t agree with their own convictions then they will not see things through unless they can convince their party to adopt their policy.”
Meanwhile, Jones said that equality was a value he held dear and that he had friends in the LGBTI community that he encouraged to continue fighting for equality.
On the issue of the unequal age of consent for “sodomy” in Queensland – an issue both sides of government have previously failed to address – Jones, Lovejoy and Grace supported lowering the age from 18 to 16 in line with other states, with Grace promising Labor would set up an expert committee to look into the issue.
Cavallucci said that while he supported equalising the age, the issue was not on the LNP’s agenda for the immediate future.
All four candidates echoed support for the expungement of historical gay sex convictions prior to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1990.
Since its defunding shortly after the 2012 LNP election victory, the future of QuAC has been an on-going issue for many within the community, although the HIV Foundation Queensland (HIVFQ) was since established in 2013 and Queensland Positive People continues to receive state government funding.
Similarly, the majority closure of the Brisbane Sexual Health Clinic, Biala, evoked community concern and passions flared as audience members quizzed the candidates on the issue.
Cavallucci told the crowd that HIVFQ was responsible for how $25 million of state funds allocated to the HIV and AIDS sector was spent, and that if restoring Biala to its original capacity would help the issue, the foundation and Metro North Hospital Board would do so.
“You can’t shift responsibility of government in this area to deliver services. It was a very sad day when they closed Biala,” Grace said.
“It is a disgrace that those services were removed from the community… In my view it was one of the most backward steps for our community.
Both Lovejoy and Jones echoed their support for reinstating services to Biala and restoring funding to community services such as QuAC.
An issue that has emerged since QuAC’s defunding has been that it was as peer-based organisation, and that key-effected community organisations were seen as an ideal model for tackling HIV.
Cavallucci argued that a different model could be just as viable and effective.
“One can argue, what exactly is a peer delivery? Is it an organisation that has half a dozen workers who are gay? 80 per cent? 100 per cent?” he said.
“At which point in time is an organisation peer based or not? Does that automatically diminish the ability for other organisations to deliver services across Queensland?”
Audience members also raised issues around third gender recognition on government documents and addressing the provisions for religious discrimination against LGBTI people within workplaces and same-sex adoption rights.
The four candidates acknowledged that more work needed to be done to ensure no one experienced discrimination based on their sexuality.
The topic of 1am lockouts that have formed part of Labor’s election commitments – based on similar action taken by the NSW Coalition government a year ago – proved to be a hotly-contested issue for some.
Some audience members argued that a lockout would cost many LGBTI people jobs in hospitality, while others said it wasn’t an LGBTI issue.
While Grace supported the idea of a lockout, she said that more needed to be done in researching the effects and analysing the results of what has happened in NSW.
Cavallucci said that the NSW conservative government was “wrong” on the issue of lockouts, and that his government’s Safe Night Out Strategy – an initiative he played a key role in – was a preferable and viable option.
“What’s happened in NSW hasn’t worked, which is why last week they announced a review after only one year. Because of a policy failure,” Cavallucci said.
The candidates’ closing remarks consisted of pleads for voters to look to their party’s records on the LGBTI community, as well as issues that effect the state as a whole.
“The Greens are 100 per cent behind these issues, 100 per cent not just me, the whole party and we are progressive, we want these changes,” Lovejoy said.
Grace spoke of Labor’s history of delivering for the LGBTI community.
“I don’t think I can remember one advancement for this community that hasn’t been delivered by the Labor Party,” she said.
“When we decriminalised homosexuality, when we brought in the surrogacy laws, when we brought in the civil unions and all the other changes we’ve made to industrial legislation, the federal laws – they have all come in under Labor.
Cavallucci asked that LGBTI voters also consider broader issues when selecting who is best suited to representing them.
“Ultimately your representative here in for Brisbane Central is always going to be part of a wider government that is part of the state of Queensland,” he said.
“You have to decide which government is best placed to provide the best education system, best health system, the best opportunity for young people to get into jobs – because ultimately all of those issues effect your community, whether you like to focus on them or not.”
Queensland goes to the poll on January 31. The seat of Brisbane Central is currently held by the LNP with a margin of 4.9 per cent.
Labor unveiled several election commitments for the LGBTI community yesterday. The Star Observer is waiting on responses from the LNP, Greens, Katters Australian and Palmer United Parties.