Australia under Scott Morrison didn’t feel like a very safe place for LGBTIQ+ people.
So will this change under the new Albanese government? The answer appears to be a resounding “yes”.
Let’s examine Labor’s election promises on policies affecting the LGBTIQ+ community.
A steady stream of attacks
Under the Morrison government, LGBTIQ+ people were subjected to a steady stream of attacks, including:
Peter Dutton banning the defence department and serving military personnel from holding morning teas where staff wore rainbow clothing to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), on the basis that this constituted a “woke agenda”
Morrison refusing to ban the expulsion of school students from religious schools on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity
A refusal to protect teachers at religious schools from being fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity
Three separate attempts to pass the Religious Discrimination Bills, widely considered a sword with which to attack LGBTIQ+ people rather than a shield to protect people of faith from discrimination
Morrison supporting Katherine Deves, the Liberal candidate for Warringah, despite her repeated, spiteful attacks on trans people
Morrison endorsing Tasmanian Senator Claire Chandler’s Save Women’s Sports Bill that sought to exclude trans women from single-sex sports.
These assaults had the cumulative effect of making sexual and gender minorities feel like outsiders at best, and unwelcome intruders in the Coalition government’s heteronormative, cisgender vision of Australia at worst.
This, coupled with the prejudice and persecution trans people are already subjected to, has contributed to serious harm to the mental health of LGBTIQ+ people.
What has Labor promised?
One easy and long overdue reform Labor has committed to is counting LGBTIQ+ people in the next census (in 2026). Although the 2021 census asked all sorts of personal questions about income and health conditions, there was no opportunity for LGBTIQ+ people to record their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics had drafted and tested such questions but left them out of the census following then Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar expressing “a preference” that such questions not be included.
Collecting data about diversity in sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status provides LGBTIQ+ people with a sense they’re seen and included. It’s also vital to the development of appropriate evidenced-based policies and reforms.
Another commitment by Labor ahead of the election was to amend anti-discrimination laws so that all students are protected from discrimination on any grounds, and all teachers are protected from discrimination at work (while maintaining the right of religious schools to preference people of faith in the selection of staff).
Labor has also made commitments to greater consultation and funding for LGBTIQ+ health services, and to address the unique health issues and barriers accessing health services LGBTIQ+ Australians face.
It’s easy to compare Labor’s policies relating to LGBTIQ+ people to those of the previous government, and be delighted with the positive changes. However, using the Morrison government as the benchmark is setting the bar way too low. A more appropriate yardstick is that developed by Equality Australia, who used a traffic light system to evaluate the parties’ policies. It found while Labor’s policies are much better than the Coalition’s, there’s still room for improvement.
Can the Greens influence policy?
The Greens have committed to significantly more protections for the LGBTIQ+ community than Labor.
Although Labor has secured a majority in the lower house, it doesn’t control the Senate. The Greens look set to have 12 senators in the upper house, which places them in a strong negotiating position to secure the implementation of their LGBTIQ+ policies.
While some of the Greens’ policies relate to matters that fall within the jurisdiction of the states rather than the federal government (for example, banning conversion practices), they also have policies the Albanese government would do well to adopt.
The Greens also advocate for the appointment of a LGBTIQ+ Human Rights Commissioner within the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), joining other specialist commissioners such as the Race Discrimination Commissioner.
This would be a valuable addition to the AHRC, strengthening its capacity to proactively respond to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.
This is particularly important at this time. We are seeing an increase in violent attacks on LGBTIQ+ people in the US following a sharp rise in anti-LGBTIQ+ laws being debated in nearly 40 of the 50 states.
These developments are a wake-up call for what could happen in Australia if we become complacent.
A tipping point?
Albanese’s victory speech gives us a sense that the treatment of LGBTIQ+ people is about to change dramatically.
The new prime minister said he wants Australia to be a country where “no matter where you live, who you worship, who you love or what your last name is, that places no restrictions on your journey in life”. Now we need to pay close attention to see whether the new government not only delivers on its election promises, but also works with the Greens to see some of their policies implemented.
June is Pride Month – an opportunity to honour the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in New York. The Stonewall riots were a tipping point for the gay liberation movement in the United States. This Pride Month may be a tipping point for the Australian LGBTIQ+ community; a new government that values equality, diversity and respect for all people, is certainly a cause for celebration.