LGBTIQ Rights - Matter of Public Importance Speech

Tuesday 11 September

I rise to speak on the MPI, because the Prime Minister has been in his job for barely more than a fortnight and yet he has already managed to demonstrate his lack of understanding and complete disregard for Australia's LGBTI community. As Senator Pratt rightly said, Prime Minister Morrison is certainly no friend of the LGBTI community, which means he is also not a friend of the value of equality. His claim on Twitter that Australian schools don't need gender whisperers may be the type of remark that Americans have come to expect from their leader, but Australians deserve better from their Prime Minister. Counsellor and gender expert Dr Elizabeth Riley points out that the Prime Minister's comments last week have completely missed the point. She says that letting kids be kids is exactly what they are doing. Ensuring that no Australian child faces exclusion or judgement for their identity is essentially to let children be themselves. Helping teachers to understand how to support students who are struggling with identity is part of this.

Sadly this attitude is hardly shocking coming from this particular Prime Minister, who, just two years ago, sought to claim that people with strong religious views are subject to the same degree of bigotry as members of the LGBTI community. Seriously! The Prime Minister's track record towards the LGBTI community speaks for itself. He has supported claims made by Israel Folau—that is, that God's plan for gay people is hell. He does not support the Safe Schools antibullying program. And when the plebiscite returned a resounding yes vote, his response was to try and turn this victory for the LGBTI community, and indeed the entire Australian community, into a starting point for legislation on religious freedom. These are not the actions of a friend to all Australians—nor for equality for all Australians. This shows we have a divisive Prime Minister, and he should know better.

At the same time as this Prime Minister attacks the Australian LGBTI community, a country not so far from us, within our region, has taken major steps towards embracing theirs. I want to share this for the Prime Minister so that he learns something about the changing nature of our region and how his comments matter. I want to take this opportunity to highlight the historic ruling by the Supreme Court of India. In a landmark ruling, Supreme Court of India has delivered a unanimous verdict that section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was unconstitutional. This 157-year-old archaic law, which criminalised consensual sexual acts between adults of the same sex, was ruled a violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian constitution. The announcement of the verdict drew a roar of cheers across India, a testament to the people's joy. Up to eight per cent of India's population, some 104 million people, is estimated to be part of the LGBTI community. Each of them has cause to celebrate the steps that this represents because it sends a message of hope, a message of hope that our Prime Minister needs to listen to. Before, this law enabled police to arrest people for the mere allegation of intending to engage in homosexual acts. Under section 377, hijra people—or transgender people—were persecuted and neglected, and outreach organisations seeking to help those suffering with HIV/AIDS were punished for abetting crimes. But because of last week's hard-fought verdict, the process of healing can begin. The road to this point has been so long and difficult. The 1990s saw rights groups begin their campaign to repeal section 377, and that went on from 2001 to 2009 and right up until today.

I want to share the quotes that were spoken in the written judgements to really set the occasion alight. To quote Lord Alfred Douglas:

… the Love that dare not speak its name.

Leonard Cohen:

From the ashes of the gay,

democracy is coming …

William Shakespeare:

What's in a name?

That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:

I am what I am, so take me as I am.

These were in the written judgements from the Indian Supreme Court, and Chief Justice Dipak Misra labelled the criminalisation of same-sex relations as 'irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary'. Justice Indu Malhotra said:

History owes an apology to the members of this community and their families … for the ignominy and ostracism that they have suffered through the centuries.

These were the words spoken when the five judges on the bench of India's Supreme Court upheld the right to equality, dignity and freedom of expression for all, irrespective of a person's sexual orientation. It was indeed a historic judgement and something that this parliament and our new Prime Minister need to recognise, because the struggle continued when this ruling was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013. Two years ago the Supreme Court decided to revisit that ruling, resulting in last week's historic ruling. The verdict has been hailed by many as a bright dawn for personal liberty. It begins a new era of equality for the millions of people who make up India's LGBTI community. Families, of course, can now breathe a sigh of relief that their loved ones no longer risk being branded as criminals for being who they are.

It is my hope that this extends to other parts of the Indo-Pacific region, where we will hopefully see other laws change. This is something in which Australia could partner. Australia could partner with India in supporting its efforts to ensure that the same human rights of equality and of freedom of expression are spread throughout the Indo-Pacific region. We know what happened only a week ago in one of the South-East Asian states when Malaysia publicly caned two women for being lesbians. Same-sex relations are now legal in only eight out of 18 of those states. None of them recognise same-sex unions.

As Chief Justice Misra said:

Social exclusion, identity seclusion and isolation from the social mainstream are still the stark realities faced by individuals today, and it is only when each and every individual is liberated from the shackles of such bondage … that we can call ourselves a truly free society.

I ask our Prime Minister to recognise the words of this Chief Justice and see how they fit with him and the comments that he has made in recent times in relation to our nation and the value of equality and the fair go that we rightly expect, respect and hope for all of our citizens. The only way we can achieve that for all of our citizens is if we don't accept the derogatory language that we have heard from our Prime Minister and if we act as a proper example to show that we stand for equality for all.