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Queensland dumps equality reform using same excuse as WA

National LGBTIQA+ rights group Just.Equal have highlighted that the Queensland government’s recent declaration that they would not proceed with bringing in state-based protections for students and teachers working at religious schools may be an indicator of what is likely to happen in Western Australia too.

Queensland’s Attorney General Yvette D’Ath.

Queensland’s Attorney General Yvette D’Ath has pulled many of the promised reforms from the state’s update of Equal Opportunity Laws. Now off-the-table are reforms that would have seen protections that allow faith-based schools to discriminate on the basis of sexuality, gender identity, pregnancy and relationship status.

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The state’s Human Rights Commisisoner Scott McDougall has said he’s “deeply disappointed” and “at a loss to understand why” the Labor government has abandoned its promise to bring in reforms, especially as a wide-ranging consultation has already been completed.

Brian Greig from Just.Equal says comments made by the Queensland Premier mimic those previously given by Western Australia’s Labor government and argues that it should be seen as a trend by Labor to pull back on much needed reform.

Queensland’s Premier Steven Miles has said “he’s waiting to see what happens federally first”, arguing that the state should not take action until the Albanese Government deals with the issue at a federal level.

WA Attorney General John Quigley

Brian Greig says this is the same excuse West Australian Attorney General, John Quigley, has used to stymie reform in this state, despite it being invalid.

As Just.Equal Australia has pointed out previously, the states and commonwealth have equal powers to legislate on anti-discrimination protections, which is why several already have equality laws in place and didn’t defer to Canberra when implementing them.  

Greig, says a clear trend is emerging across state Labor governments, which increasingly are using the federal government as a convenient but false flag to blame for their own inactions.

“There have also been suggestions that the Victorian Government won’t enact LGBTIQA+ vilification laws until proposals for federal laws are clarified.

“This is a worrying trend, because it suggests pressure from the Federal Labor Government is pushing Labor states to delay and water down proposed anti-discrimination laws under the euphemism of ‘national consistency.’

“This has always been code for the weakest, lowest common denominator form of legislation.” Greig said.  

Just Equal says WA campaign strategy now crystal clear 

Greig said the LGBTIQA+ law reform strategy for WA was now crystal clear, and largely required getting political parties and candidates to publicly sign a pledge on law reforms.

Just.Equal spokesperson Brian Greig

“Labor betrayed us this term and mustn’t be allowed to get away with it again. Every political leader must be asked to publicly sign a pledge that not only commits them to specific reforms, but which goes into a little detail so they can’t weasel out of it with loopholes.

“Every candidate must be asked to sign a pledge ending discrimination in faith schools, including at the points of recruitment and enrolment.

“Every candidate must be asked to sign a pledge banning conversion practices, but it must include religious settings with no exemptions for ‘religious belief, parental guidance, assistance, support and consent’.

“Every candidate must be asked to sign a pledge to outlaw vilification, not just incitement to hatred through a criminal process, but also tackling harmful speech though civil action. 

“These are the three most politically potent issues Labor keeps ducking. As a community we must raise them at every opportunity, forcing candidates to answer these questions and not hide behind waffle and double-speak,” Greig said. 

Last month Just.Equal wrote to the Leaders of each political party in WA, asking them to sign a pledge card it provided them, and which commits them to the law reforms mentioned above along with improvements to surrogacy law, a ban on intersex infant surgeries and better gender recognition laws.  

Law reform also appears to have stalled at a federal level

Earlier this year Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he would not take action on Religious Discrimination laws, and associated changes to the Sex Discrimination laws unless the coalition agreed to give bipartisan support.

The last news of this process was reports that Attorney General Mark Dreyfus and Shadow Attorney General Michaelia Cash were allegedly involved in a heated meeting which saw Cash storm out.

While there continues to be no progress on the issue between the major parties, the Greens and crossbench members have expressed frustration that the government is not willing to talk to them about a pathway for bringing about legislative change.

The long running saga over Australia’s lack of protections for religious beliefs, coupled with religious bodies having broad exemptions that allow them to discriminate against LGBTIQA+ people on the basis of religious beliefs has been a thorn in the side of successive Australian governments.

The issue was highlighted as needing to be addressed in the wake of the 2017 postal vote that showed Australians supported marriage equality. Then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull placated conservative voices by commissioning an inquiry led by former Attorney General Philip Ruddock.

The Ruddock Review suggested several ways that additional protections could be introduced, but also highlighted that LGBTIQA+ youth and teachers were exposed to discrimination in religious schools.

The Morrison Government had several stabs at creating legislation but attempts to introduce new laws saw a schism in the party which led to several members crossing the floor and voting against the government.

After an embarrassing falling out with moderate backbenchers in the Liberal Party, Morrison never returned to the issue. One prominent member of the party labelled the attempt to pass the the laws a “shemozzle“.

The government has shared draft legislation with religious groups, but no details have been made public so far.

Opposition spokesperson Michaelia Cash has spoken to the media, and said the government should be incorporating feedback from those groups.

“As I told Mr Dreyfus he needs to take on board the feedback he has received from faith communities and release his legislation publicly.” Senator Cash told Sky News last month.

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