Immigration

'Discrimination didn't end with marriage equality': Election exposes LGBTQI+ divide

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A national LGBTQI+ advocacy group has surveyed political parties on their plans to address concerns challenging people in these communities.

While the Coalition continues to trumpet it success with marriage equality, all three major parties have committed to big spends for LGBTIQ+ matters, in an election that could see LGBTIQ+ issues come to the forefront.

National LGBTIQ+ advocacy group Equality Australia surveyed the Coalition, Labor and the Greens about their policies to address ongoing needs in these communities, to help voters make informed choices ahead of the 18 May election.

LGBTQI+ issues are expected to be a major part of the federal election.
LGBTQI+ issues are expected to be a major part of the federal election.
Getty Images

While that research found all three major parties were allocating funding and policies towards LGBTQI+ issues, there was still a divide on many matters.

“We know discrimination didn’t end with marriage equality and there is a long way to go,” Equality Australia CEO Anna Brown told SBS News.

The appointment of the first ever cabinet minister for LGBTQI+ communities, a banning of gay conversion therapy and big spends on health services are among policies at stake as voters go to the polls.

Ms Brown said positive proposals from all major parties were welcome - but there remained considerable political divides between them.

“There are some clear distinctions when it comes to key policy areas,” she said.

“What we have in Australia is a real imbalance and deficit when it comes to government policy on issues of concern to LGBTQI+ people,” she said.

Equality Australia CEO Anna Brown.
Equality Australia CEO Anna Brown.
AAP

As part of the Equality Australia survey, the three major parties were asked a series of questions relating to areas of concern identified by LGBTQI+ communities.

The first question asked of the parties was how each would provide a voice for LGBTQI+ people in government policy making.

If elected Labor has vowed to be the first major party to appoint a Minister for Equality – a position already within their shadow cabinet.

Along with the Greens, Labor has also promised to implement an LGBTQI+ Ministerial Advisory Council and LGBTQI+ Human Rights Commissioner.

Ms Brown said that recognition within government would help create better outcomes for LGBTIQ communities.

“As long as LGBTIQ people lack a dedicated voice and place at the table in government decision making our needs will be overlooked,” she said.

The Morrison government put forward the legalisation of same-sex marriage as an example of its work addressing concerns from the gay community.

“The Morrison government will continue to consult with LGBTIQ+ organisations across the broad range of policy issues affecting LGBTIQ+ Australians,” a statement from Liberal Party Federal Director Andrew Hirst said.

Scott MorrisonThe Morrison government has put forward the legalisation of same-sex marriage as an example of its work.
The Morrison government has put forward the legalisation of same-sex marriage as an example of its work.
AAP

“Issues facing the LGBTIQ+ community are handled across government according to Ministerial responsibilities.”

Mr Hirst said the Human Rights Commissioner would continue to seek “long-term solutions” for human rights issues facing LGBTIQ+ communities.

Protecting against discrimination

In April this year, the Coalition launched a 12-month inquiry by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) into religious exemptions in anti-discrimination legislation.

This came after findings from a review into religious freedoms revealed in October last year caused concern religious exemptions could see LGBTQI+ students and teachers discriminated against.

The Morrison government and Labor have both vowed to prevent discrimination against LGBTQI+ students.

“The ALRC inquiry is designed to ensure that legislative exemptions to discrimination based on a person’s identity are limited or removed,” a Coalition statement reads.

In response to survey questions, Labor said “there are still areas of the law that discriminate against LGBTIQ people".

“LGBTQI students and staff at religious schools risk being discriminated against, sacked or expelled,” Labor’s statement reads.

Labor has vowed to remove "all discriminatory measures" against LGBTIQ people from Commonwealth law.

“A Shorten Labor government will amend the Sex Discrimination act to remove the exemptions that permit religious schools to discriminate against students and staff.”

The Greens are in support of that move stating they would also remove these exemptions and those within the Fair Work Act.

Conversion Therapy

All three political parties said they opposed the use of conversion therapy; however, Labor has taken the step of promising to ban the practice.

Labor said there is no place for the practice when asked if their party would take leadership in tackling the “harm” it can cause.

Bill Shorten has come out firmly against conversion therapy.
Bill Shorten has come out firmly against conversion therapy.
AAP

"There is no place in modern Australia for this practice," shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said.

"Labor believes that no one should be subjected to painful, unnecessary and harmful pseudoscientific practices."

A statement from Labor states the party "knows LGBTIQ people are not broken and do not need fixing".

“It’s high time this practice was consigned to the dustbin of history.”

In October, a Human Rights Law Centre report found 10 per cent of LGBTIQ+ Australians are exposed to conversion therapy. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said the practice's regulation is up to state governments - but said he was against the controversial practice.

“I don’t support gay conversion therapy, don’t recommend it, never have but it’s ultimately a matter for the states” he said.

The Coalition’s response to survey questions built on this reproach.

“The Government will work with the states, which have a legal responsibility in this area, to ensure practices are not supported,” a Coalition statement reads.

Big spends on LGBTQI+ services

 The Coalition, Labor and the Greens all made spending commitments to improve health services for LGBTQI+ Australians in their response to survey questions.

“It was really pleasing to see all parties commit to tackling the disparities in health outcomes for LGBTIQ+ populations," Ms Brown said.

“The Morrison government announced significant funding commitments for LGBTIQ mental health services and programs.”

This is aimed at what the Coalition described as “unacceptably high rates of anxiety and depression” among LGBTIQ+ Australians.

Where do the major parties stand on LGBTQI+ issues?
Where do the major parties stand on LGBTQI+ issues?
AP

The Coalition health spends have included $4 million to improve awareness training among aged care workers and funding for services targeted at Indigenous Australians.

While, Ms Brown said Labor had committed to introducing a National LGBTIQ Health and Inclusion Strategy.

“That will deal comprehensively with issues from higher rates of smoking and cancer to alarming rates of depression and suicide,” Ms Brown said.

LGBTQI+ asylum seekers

There are around 900 people being held in offshore regional processing on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and Naru - an unknown number of them identify as LGBTQI+.

Ms Brown said the Greens stood out against the two major parties in relation to dealing with LGBTQI+ asylum seekers.

“We have gay and bisexual men being held in offshore detention in Papua New Guinea, a country where homosexual conduct is criminalized,” she said.

“The Greens have a very firm commitment to ending offshore detention altogether.”

The party is also calling for a reform of processes used to assess asylum claims.

 “There are many reports of applications for people seeking asylum based on LGBTIQ+ persecution being rejected because decision-makers don’t believe the applicant,” a Greens statement reads.

“There are cases of rejection on the grounds that applicants didn’t look or act in line with stereotypes associated with their sexuality.”

The Coalition said all processing officers are trained to properly assess asylum applications including those who identify as LGBTQI+.

It said regional processing is part of its border protection policy.

“There is currently no one held in detention,” a Coalition statement reads.

Labor said it would ensure asylum seekers who identify as LGBTQI+ are treated with “empathy”.

“The fact that the country the person is fleeing has criminal penalties… is sufficient to establish that fear of persecution is well-founded.”

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