Thursday, October 04, 2007

Hard Labor

Went along to a forum at ACON last night put on by the good folk at the GLRL. 'Twas about all things ALP. And Tanya was there...And Anthony was there...And Joe was there...And George was there...And Penny was there...Yeah, you get the drift.

I actually didn't mean to go with an SX hat on - was more as a private citizen directly affected by what they were talking about - but the following article formulated anyway. Hopefully it will get into SX next week, if not here 'tis:

For the purposes of this article, let’s optimistically assume the following: Labor wins this year’s federal election; Labor and the Greens form a Senate majority; and Labor implements its promises within its first term of office.

It was with such assumptions in mind that Labor recently outlined its GLBTI policy to a small but passionate assortment of believers and cynics alike, organised by the GLRL and featuring Labor candidates for inner Sydney seats as well as the party’s would-be Attorney General, Senator Joe Ludwig.

As all speakers went to great lengths to make clear, Labor is the better option than the Howard government where ending legislative discrimination against same-sex couples is concerned. Labor is committed not only to amending the 58 laws identified in HREOC’s ‘Same Sex: Same Entitlements’ report, but also an even more comprehensive audit of additional laws and departmental policies. Sydney MP Tanya Plibersek and Wentworth candidate George Newhouse articulated a thorough understanding of other key issues concerning GLBTI folk, including domestic violence and the rise of assaults on Oxford Street, with corresponding action plans.

So far, so good. It’s at the next step – formal recognition of same-sex couples – that things get tricky. Labor’s 2007 National Platform and Constitution states:

‘Labor will take action to ensure the development of nationally consistent, state-based relationship recognition legislation that will include the opportunity for couples who have a mutual commitment to a shared life to have those relationships registered and certified. This legislation will: be based on the scheme that has existed in Tasmania since 2004 and that the Victorian government has announced its intention to introduce; (and) not create schemes that mimic marriage or undermine existing laws that define marriage as being between a man and a woman.’

Essentially, Labor is washing its hands of a federal civil union or partnership scheme. Spooked by the gay marriage boogyman, the party is instead offloading responsibility to the states to follow Tasmania’s and Victoria’s lead, establishing their own state-based registries in the hope that a uniform national law would be created through mirrored legislation in each state and territory. Senator Ludwig offered the example of uniform evidence laws, in which states have individually passed identical evidence acts to create a nationally consistent model. He argued that one advantage of this approach is bypassing the Commonwealth parliament, which could be convenient in the particularly horrific event that Family First wins the Senate balance of power.

However, Ludwig’s plan, though no doubt well-intentioned – and by all reports, he’ll be an approachable and informed federal Attorney General for our community to lobby and work with – also seems somewhat naïve. He spoke of a ‘journey’ in which all states can eventually be convinced of the value of registries and motivated to legislate accordingly. But with NSW’s Attorney General, John Hatzistergos, having already made unequivocally clear he does not support enacting Tasmania’s scheme here, it’s difficult to see what Ludwig will say or do to change his mind – or to see a clear timeframe in which this will occur. The bovver boys in NSW Labor Right comprise homophobes who would put John Howard’s Family Values warriors in the shade – and they never give up anything without a fight.

Is the solution, then, that all NSW same-sex couples wishing to be ‘registered’ move to Hobart or Melbourne? Waiting for state-based legislation creates a new layer of delay and potential resistance that could easily be avoided through a Commonwealth law. If NSW and other states – quite likely South Australia, for example – do not wish to enact registries, they have a reasonable defence of autonomy against any pressure exerted by their federal counterparts. To remain consistent, those of us appalled by the Howard government’s trampling of the ACT’s civil unions legislation could not reasonably expect a Rudd government to force intransigent state governments into action. Furthermore, there will eventually come a time where Labor does not have uniform state governments – and there’s little hope an O’Farrell Coalition government, for example, would be any less reluctant than the Iemma Labor government, particularly while ‘Godfather’ David Clarke is calling the shots.

The most frustrating aspect of Labor’s policy is the overriding sense of how it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck… If implemented effectively, federal Labor’s plan would provide same-sex couples with all the same entitlements, rights and responsibilities as heterosexual de facto couples. Ludwig made clear he would not prevent same-sex couples from holding ceremonies in which they made their commitment public. He also specified that same-sex families would not be treated any differently, and that unlike the Coalition’s (barely touched) approach of creating a category of ‘interdependent’ couples, same-sex couples would clearly be considered de facto – that is, the sexual component of our relationships would not be airbrushed out of the legislature.

So why is Labor avoiding a federal civil union scheme in principle, when in practice its alternative is an unnecessarily complicated means to essentially the same end? Is this part of Kevin Rudd’s utopian vision of uniform state and federal Labor governments working together harmoniously, ‘ending the blame game’? Or is this consistent with Rudd and Labor’s general approach to be a little bit different from John Howard and the Coalition, but not so different as to frighten the horses – swinging voters in marginal seats – or indeed Rudd’s own socially conservative beliefs?

Whatever the reason, after 11 years the GLBTI community desperately needs a federal government that will deign to recognise our needs and concerns, and act accordingly. And as seems to be the common theme in this election, though I’m both disappointed and concerned by Labor’s policy, I know it literally could not be any worse than the current alternative.

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At 5/10/07 3:07 pm, Blogger JahTeh said...

God, gay guys are so needy. This post didn't need a comment because it's so good and so true but now you have a comment.

At 5/10/07 7:16 pm, Blogger Bill said...

Thanks for this excellent analysis of the disappointing federal ALP policy.
I write as a recent migrant from South Australia to Tasmania. SA will never agree to a Tasmanian-style registry. SA has a Labor/National coalition, an ultra-conservative Attorney General, and a special arrangement with Family First that all legislation must be "family friendly". Rudd must surely be aware of all this, so he has effectively written off gay couples who have the misfortune to live in SA. From what you say, NSW is similar.

At 6/10/07 3:05 pm, Anonymous cgbm said...

I hearted this post as well, just to make you feel better.

At 12/10/07 4:18 pm, Anonymous Penny Sharpe said...

Hi Sam

Thanks for coming along to the forum. This years election provides a very clear choice for LGBT voters. You can support the only party that has the capacity to form government and is committed to removing discrimination in at least 58 pieces of legislation (with an additional promise to audit the other pieces of legislation)or you can support a party that has done nothing for the last 11 years except include same sex couples in terrorism legislation.

It is Labor governments at a state level that have implemented all the LGBT reform in the past 10 years (in NSW 40 acts have been changed, Tasmania has established a register and the ACT has tried to implement civil unions). Some have been slower than others and there is more work to do (eg parenting reform in NSW) but to suggest that Labor has nothing to offer the LGBT community is unfair. It also ignores the real politic of actually delivering law reform in parliaments that are inhabited by representatives from across the political spectrum.

A change of government federally is the best chance for reform we have seen for 11 years. We all need to seize the opportunity.


At 12/10/07 4:36 pm, Blogger Sam said...

Be fair Penny - I did not say 'Labor has nothing to offer the LGBT community' anywhere in this article. In fact, I pointed out how impressed I was with Plibersek's and Newhouse's plans for Oxford St, domestic violence etc and Ludwig's apparent eagerness to reform laws quickly and expediently.

Please don't credit me with statements I haven't said or agree with.


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