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Labor party members call for action on Equal Opportunity Law reform

Labor party members have called on the State Government to honour its commitment to Equal Opportunity law reform ahead of the next state election.

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At the party’s State Conference held today members voted in favour of a motion calling for action. The motion was moved by Avery Wright, President of Rainbow Labor WA, and was passed without objection.

The reform of the state’s Equal Opportunity laws has been a drawn-out process and is linked to the removal of the related Gender Reassignment Board. Labor has been promising to take action on many issues relating to the laws for many years, but there has been little progress.

The call for action from within the party follows on from reports that the Cook government is planning to push back action on the law reform until after the 2025 state election. Multiple sources have told media outlets that the government is wary of taking action fearing a battle with faith leaders.

The West Australian reported that Wright said the queer community had been waiting for law reform for an incredibly long time.

“I cannot overstate just how much this legislation is going to change the lives of those young people who deserve to be able to live their dreams and work the career of their choosing.” Wright said.

One of the areas the current law affects is students and teachers working in faith-based schools.

Examples of discrimination include a seven-year-old girl being rejected from Mandurah Christian College in 2015 when the principal discovered she was being raised by two dads.

In 2017, History and English teacher, Craig Campbell, was dumped from South Coast Baptist College (where he had been a student), when his sexuality became known during the postal vote on same-sex marriage. At the time then Premier Mark McGowan vowed to change the laws, but six years later the legislation is still being developed.

According to The West Australian, Avery Wright said they had discovered that some university courses were teaching students that staying in the closet was their “best career move”.

“That was a difficult conversation. The lecture itself went case by case through teachers who have had their careers ended over being queer or living with their partner whilst being unmarried or for being suspected of having an abortion,” Wright said.

Also linked to the updating of the Equal Opportunity Laws is the operation of the Gender Reassignment Board. The Labor party conference in 2017 passed a motion to remove the board.

Last month OUTinPerth revealed the board had paused operations because its chair had resigned.

It’s not the first time the outdated body has become non-functional. In 2022 the board ceased operating for a period of time after it’s former chair resigned. The government subsequently appointed Grantham Kitto to head the body.

After less than 12 months in the role Kitto has also quit the role, putting the board’s work on hiatus once again.

In his annual reports to the government the former President of the Board regularly highlighted that the former Liberal government had also introduced legislation to abolish the board in 2015. The High Court ruled in 2011 that the board could not insist that people had surgery in order for them to be able to change their gender identification.

Over the years the Attorney General John Quigley has given a variety of reasons why a timeline on reform in this area could not be provided including the cabinet deliberations, the Morrison federal government’s proposed religious discrimination laws, and more recently the outcomes of the parliamentary inquiry into the Esther Foundation.

When Greens MLC Brad Pettit recently asked for an update on the work parliament heard there was no timeline for delivery of the new legislation.

Responding on behalf of the Attorney General John Quigley (pictured) Mathew Swinbourn, the parliamentary secretary to the Attorney General said the planned reform of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 and the Gender Reassignment Act 2000 was “complex”.

“The Cook government remains committed to reform of the Equal Opportunity Act and the Gender Reassignment Act and implementing the recommendations of the inquiry into the Esther Foundation, which included banning conversion practices and establishing a civil response scheme with supports for survivors. These complex reforms are under development.” Swinbourn said.

A government spokesperson later told OUTinPerth that the review of the legislation was “complex”, while also adding a new reason for the continued delays – they are now waiting on the release of a review of federal anti-discrimination laws.

“The State Government is 100 per cent committed to new Equal Opportunity legislation, but it also needed to take into account a review of federal anti-discrimination laws that was now in progress.

“We are continuing to engage with stakeholders in relation to this important reform, as legislation is drafted.

“This is complex reform which is in line with the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia’s recommendations.

“The Australian Law Reform Commission is also due to report in December in relation to federal anti-discrimination laws. The State Government will consider the report and the Federal Government’s response as drafting continues.” the spokesperson said.

The government said the legislation would be introduced into parliament “as soon as it is ready”.

“The Cook Government will introduce the equal opportunity legislation to Parliament as soon as it is ready.

“These social reforms will go a long way to promoting equality in Western Australia.” the spokesperson said.

Speaking at an event in Perth last weekend former WA senator Brian Greig said there was no reason the state government could not progress their reforms.

“Labor has been promising wholesale reform in principle for 20 years, and in practice for the last six most especially discrimination in faith schools, conversion practices, abolishing the gender reassignment board, and allowing sound self-identification for trans and gender diverse people. They have delivered on none.

Brian Greig said it was alarming that the state government had trotted out a long list of excuses on why it had not been able to take any action over many years, describing none of the reasons being provided as valid.

Graeme Watson 

Update: 6-11-2023 1:51 An earlier version of this article suggested that Avery Wright had spoken directly to The West Australian newspaper. This was incorrect the comments were made to party members at the conference. OUTinPerth apologises for the error and any distress the mistake has caused.


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