Australian Human Rights Commission Legislation Amendment


Well, process—wow! What a great thing to see: people being appointed based on merit rather than ideology. This bill, as I understand it, would ensure that the Attorney-General must hold an open and accountable, advertised recruitment process to ensure that appointments are made on merit and not through party political largesse, and that’s a good thing.

I think the bill should be supported, but it also represents an opportunity to raise a key issue in relation to commissioners that we don’t have, and specifically a commissioner that I think is well overdue—that’s an LGBTQI+ human rights commissioner. Specifically, there are currently commissioners on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice issues, age discrimination, disability discrimination, children, race discrimination, sex discrimination and human rights. These are standalone commissioners with a statutory mandate and resources for their area of expertise and experience, but there is no commissioner for our LGBTQI+ community. I think the arrangements under the commission for that community are inadequate.

Traditionally the human rights of the LGBTQI+ community were part of the Human Rights Commissioner’s portfolio, but with that portfolio also holding religious freedom, in recent history I think there’s been a conflict between those two areas. We know that in the last parliament this led to a toxic debate that caused great distress to members of the LGBTQI+ community, particularly trans people, compounding mental health issues for children in this community particularly. For that reason, I think that direct representation is needed.

The absence of this specific commissioner diminishes the reality of the community I’m talking about and the discrimination these members of our community experience from day to day. Not having a specific commissioner presents this community as a low priority and overshadowed by other forms of discrimination, which do have a dedicated commissioner under this commission. The absence of a specific role means that no-one at the Human Rights Commission has the resources or the specific experience to advocate for and articulate the concerns of this community in terms of legislation, policy reform or public education. It also means that people who are members of our LGBTIQA+ community have no-one specific that they can go to if they experience discrimination or may be confused or deterred from lodging a complaint as they feel they are not specifically catered for.

We see evidence internationally that culture wars against the LGBTIQA+ community are getting worse, and in this country we’ve seen it too: debates in this place about transgender women in sport; debates in the public arena about Pride jumpers in the NRL, about books in schools and about sacking teachers in faith school environments; and recent events in the public arena—for example, in Victoria, where a plan for a rainbow light exhibition at the war memorial had to be cancelled because of threats against the staff.

All of these things lend weight to the cause for having a specific commissioner to cater for this community. I note a recent survey by Just Equal of 2,500 LGBTIQA+ people across Australia showed that 84 per cent supported a direct commissioner and that, of allies of the community, 81 per cent also supported a specific commissioner. This, I think, is an opportunity to achieve that through this legislation. With respect to members of the Goldstein community who have advocated for this, I stand here on your behalf today. I also would like to acknowledge, as a mark of respect, my colleague the member for Brisbane, who has also advocated on this and, I believe, will move a second reading amendment.


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