24 hours and a crystal ball: LGBTQIA+ equality in our next parliament

OPINION: Brian Greig is a former WA senator and veteran LGBTIQ+ advocate

I write this article one day before the election just to make a couple of points and predictions. There is only 24 hours to go, but I don’t believe we will have a clear result on Saturday night. It will take a few nail-biting days of postal vote counting as marginal seats wobble between Labor, Liberal and Independent as we all hold our collective breath.

Then there is the senate (the media never discuss this, but I find it more fascinating than the lower house). And of course the make-up of the senate will determine what policies will and won’t succeed under whatever government. It is the most powerful senate system in the western world. It is also a circus in crazy town.

We know what the Coalition will do on LGBTIQ+ issues if re-elected. And yes, that is entirely possible. I know that overall polling shows Labor in front by a few points, but it will come down to individual seats. Anyone remember the federal election of 2019?

If the Coalition gets a chance to re-prosecute its arguments for a Religious Discrimination Bill, complete with all its nasties, it will claim a mandate. It will also encourage Senator Chandler’s Bill to ban trans women from sport. But whether it can get such policies past a (potential) cross-bench of Independents, and/or eclectic senate remains to be seen.

And how will Labor respond in this situation? Not well, I’d suggest. A demoralised ALP having been out of office for almost a decade will likely cave-in, because its key strategists (the ones who keep producing defeats), keep following a false narrative that “it must appeal to conservative religious voters”, without recognising that this is impossible. That is an insatiable constituency that won’t rest until all LGBTIQ+ people are all thrown under the bus and Australia is made a theocracy. They don’t vote Labor and never will.

But let’s look on a brighter side. What if Albanese wins?

Labor has promised religious conservatives that it will support a Religious Discrimination Bill. It has backed LGBTIQ+ students from discrimination at both enrolment and non-expulsion. But on teachers it is weak and contradictory.

Labor has said it will protect LGBTIQ+ teachers “at work” in faith schools. That means existing, employed teachers. It has been silent on whether or not faith schools could refuse to hire LGBTIQ+ teachers, even when asked.

Tanya Plibersek MHR (Opposition Education spokesperson), Senator Keneally (now contesting the lower house seat of Fowler), and Anthony Albanese have all said:

“Labor will allow religious schools to hire staff in accord with the faith values of the school.”

But that begs a key question: IF a religious school deems LGBTIQ+ people and same-sex relationships to be “against their faith values,” does that mean they can refuse to hire them?

Despite repeatedly being asked this question, Labor has refused to answer. Not even Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus would respond. This is deeply worrying.

If it is the case that an Albanese Government will allow faith schools to refuse LGBTIQ+ teachers at the point of recruitment, then Labor’s policy is effectively no different to the Coalition’s. The Libs will allow automatic sackings of LGBTIQ+ teachers, and Labor will allow their removal through natural attrition – not replacing them as they move on or retire. In both cases it’s exclusion.

If it is the case that this is Labor policy, then Labor will have to override existing state laws that protect LGBTIQ+ teachers from this discrimination – something it said it would never do. Yet, that is exactly how Labor voted in the (failed) Religious Discrimination Bill in February, breaking its promise.

Labor has also pledged a Religious Discrimination Commissioner be added to the Human Rights Commission. There is no commitment for an LGBTIQ+ Equality Commissioner.

Aside from the Greens, it has been the Teal Independents who have shown the strongest, clearest and most passionate support for our community. This offers a glimmer of hope, no matter which party wins office.

As a community, we still need to push Liberal and Labor to address LGBTIQ+ equality in a more serious and substantial way, but if either party needs to rely on a progressive cross-bench to govern, that will be good. It will prevent a re-elected Morrison Government from pursuing its culture war against queers, and it will help push an Albanese Government to do much better than it has in Opposition.

Over to you Antony Green…

Brian Greig

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