WE are halfway through the current term of the Victorian parliament and LGBTI Equality law reform has hit a roadblock.
A conservative grouping of the Liberal Party, Nationals and crossbenchers have joined together to block legislation for self-determined sex marker on birth certificates, changes to discriminatory exemptions within the equal opportunity act and to oppose safe schools.
This conservative grouping now threatens any further progress on LGBTI law reform, climate action and environment protection.
At the start of this parliament, with a change of government and a record number of Greens MP’s, I had held hope for even further equality reform than what the government was proposing.
However due the tight numbers in the Upper House, where 22 votes are needed to pass legislation, the prospect of any further reform is increasingly unlikely.
The debate on the Births Death and Marriages Bill that would have allowed transgender people to change the sex marker on their birth certificate without the need for surgery was particularly repugnant, degenerating into hate speech by Liberal MP’s and conservative crossbenchers.
The crossbenchers in the conservative block are made up of the Shooters & Fishers Party, Democratic Labor Party (DLP) and the little known independent from Western Victoria, James Purcell.
Purcell was elected with just 1.28% of the primary vote on a vague ‘vote 1 local jobs’ platform thanks to a very favourable preferences flow, including crucial preferences from the Sex Party who gave their preferences to Purcell over the Greens.
To everyone’s surprise Purcell has been one of the most socially conservative MP’s, voting against same-sex adoption and refusing to meet with LGBTI advocates, even those within his own region of Western Victoria.
If the Sex Party’s 10,934 votes had flowed to the Greens instead or Purcell, Greens candidate Lloyd Davies would have been elected. This would have provided enough votes in the Legislative Council to pass critical LGBTI legislation in this term, potentially changing the course of history for equality in this state.
Whilst it might be easy to put off any further attempts at reform for this term of parliament until after the next election, electoral volatility and group voting tickets means we simply can’t predict the makeup of the next Victorian Parliament. This could very well be the best chance we get at achieving reform for a long time.
A change in government to the Liberals would mean an end to the Safe Schools programs and potential rolling back of LGBTI, environmental and social reforms.
There is so much still to achieve including progressing marriage equality, strengthening protections in the Equal Opportunity Act, increasing rights and recognition for transgender & intersex communities, improving access to PrEP, protecting safe schools and increased funding for LGBTI community groups. We must continue the fight for equality despite the legislative road block in the Victorian Parliament.
To do this, firstly we must reach out to multicultural and faith communities to ensure their voices are heard in the equality debate. Too often we hear from rent-a-quote organisations such as the ACL opposing equality, when many faith based voices in support of equality are ignored. Multicultural and faith based voices are often portrayed as opposed to LGBTI law reform such as marriage equality when this simply isn’t the case.
Secondly, we must create a platform for cross party collaboration. The federal LGBTI friendship group has been an important forum for cross party coloration, education and coalition building for equality law reform at the national level. However, the Victorian group has been moribund for the past two years at a crucial time when a number of important reforms have been put before parliament. The Parliamentary Friendship Group for LGBTI Victorians needs to be re-invigorated with regular meetings and input from LGBTI advocates as well as all sides of politics.
Thirdly we mustn’t lose hope. While 2016 was a tough year on many fronts, we must also celebrate the wins we had as we look towards a fresh start to 2017. I’m particularly proud to have successfully amended the Relationship Act 2016 to allow for ceremonies to be conducted in conjunction with the registration of same-sex relationships in Victoria. This was a modest step in lieu of achieving marriage equality, but it was a step forward nevertheless.
It was also a tremendous relief to see such a strong community campaign stare down the plebiscite nationally, something that would have been not only unnecessary but also costly and damaging to the health and wellbeing of LGBTI people and their families.
With strong support in the Victorian community for further LGBTI law reform, now more than ever we must continue work together to overcome the legislative road block in Victoria’s parliament.
Sam Hibbins is the State Member for Prahran and the Victorian Greens LGBTI spokesperson.