I’m attending the Mardi Gras parade tonight for the first time in a few years. I’ve been plenty of times in the past, and I’ve always found it a very up beat, positive occasion. There has been a lot of progress towards equality and acceptance over the decades since the Mardi Gras started. It is now very clear the majority of the Australian community supports non-discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, and there has been significant law reform to remove discrimination in all the state and territory jurisdictions – although the job is not complete there yet.
However, the big failure has been at federal level, where there remains a plethora of discriminatory provisions in a wide range of laws. This piece from Online Opinion by the federal Human Rights Commissioner gives some insight into it.
A private Senators Bill to remove all these discriminatory laws was first introduced in 1995. It led to a major Senate Inquiry – the recommendations of which were ignored by the government – and the legislation has been reintroduced after every election since then. The Bill was in my name for a number of years, and currently stands in the name of former WA Democrat Senator, Brian Greig.
Despite some small advances in a few areas, like migration and superannuation law – some of which I was involved in achieving – the vast majority of discriminatory provisions from last century still remain.
The federal government has made reassuring noises a number of times about removing all of this discrimination from the law (apart from matters to do with marriage and adoption). I remember writing about it on this blog over a year ago, when the Prime Minister made some very clear statements about his view that reform should occur:
“I am strongly in favour … of removing any property and other discrimination that exists against people who have same-sex relationships.”
It was a very positive statement, but he’s obviously not strongly enough in favour of this principle to actually do anything about it. I wrote a letter to him at the time offering to assist. If you’ve had the experience of not receiving an answer to a letter you’ve written to a politician, I can reassure you it happens to Senators too. I never received an acknowledgement to that letter, let alone a genuine reply.
Some publicity has appeared this week once again suggesting government reform in this area is imminent. I hope that is true, but I’ll believe it when I see it. This is the government that was prepared to have major reform to superannuation – the ‘superannuation choice’ changes – held up for three years for no other reason than their refusal to remove discrimination against same sex couples. They finally partly gave in, allowing same sex partners to be considered under the label of ‘interdependent relationships’ – a step forward but still short of genuine equality.
Just last week, the government rejected amendments I moved to the new Citizenship Act, which would have ensured the definition of spouse in the Citizenship Act included same sex couples alongside de facto opposite sex partners. It makes it hard to believe any commitment to reform is genuine when they’re still opposing straight forward improvements like this.
POSTSCRIPT: This post on Personal Political gives a good first hand description of what it is like to participate in the Mardi Gras parade, and what it is like to watch it.