What does a Barnett Liberal Government mean for us?

Now that the Liberals have won government in an accord with the Nationals, what can we expect?

Historically, the West Australian Liberal Party has been appalling on our issues. It strongly opposed equal ages of consent, anti-discrimination laws, lesbian parenting, adoption, Family Court access for same-sex couples and more. At its homophobic peaks in 1989, mid 90s and 2001, Liberals openly vilified gay and lesbian people. They spoke at anti-gay rallies, pandered to the fear mongering of the Religious Right and associated themselves with hate groups to denounce us.

Colin Barnett was not one of them. He does not represent the bad old days and has done more to try and understand our issues than any previous Liberal Leader. He has met with GALE, spoken to lesbian parents and visited the Freedom Centre.

At the 2004 election Barnett stumbled on GLBT issues when The West Australian exposed his party’s plans to roll-back the McGinty reforms of 2001, as indicated on a Liberal policy website. Sensing how much community attitudes had changed, then Nationals’ Leader Max Trenorden said his party would oppose any roll-back. Suddenly the issue was dead, Labor was re-elected and law reform was cemented.

At this recent election Nationals’ Leader Brendon Grylls and Liberal Leader Colin Barnett had clear policy positions to keep the laws in place; no roll-back. The Nationals even offered support for Civil Unions while incoming Attorney General, Christian Porter, has indicated he is open to discussion on this.

While all this might sound promising the danger is with the new Liberal backbench. Behind the scenes at this election the evangelical and fundamentalist churches were active, perhaps due to the influence of Pastor Margaret Court; wife of State Liberal President Barry Court. Mrs Court runs the Victory Life Pentecostal church and has been a strident campaigner against same-sex equality.

The Liberals won the seat of Southern River with candidate Peter Abetz, a Reverend from The Christian Reformed Church of Willetton and brother of Tasmanian anti-gay Senator Eric Abetz. In 1994 Peter Abetz spoke at an anti-gay rally on the steps of Parliament House to support Tasmania’s anti-homosexual laws and to oppose the Federal Keating Government overriding them. He has also been a representative of the anti-gay Festival of Light organisation.

The seat of Morley was won by Liberal candidate Ian Britza, also a pastor from a Pentecostal church and formally from ‘Ian Britza Ministries’ in NSW, while the seat of Ocean Reef was won by Liberal Albert Jacob, from an outer suburban ‘church group’. None of the Liberal campaign literature referred to candidate’s connections with Pentecostal churches. No mention was made of their Reverend or Pastor status. It was all hidden.

One of the challenges then for Barnett, is to keep the theocrats and homophobes on his backbench and in his party’s administration at heel to maintain his fragile hold on government. The challenge for our community is to ensure that progress on anti-homophobia training for schools, transgender law reform and Civil Unions is not halted. Under Barnett we won’t go backwards, but going forward will be harder.

Brian Greig is a former Democrats’ Senator and Spokesperson for GALE.

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