SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG

LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE

SHADOW MINISTER FOR TRADE AND INVESTMENT

SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

SPEECH

21 May 2016

RAINBOW LABOR NATIONAL DAY OF ACTION AND CAMPAIGN LAUNCH

MELBOURNE

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[Acknowledgements omitted]

It’s great to be here in Melbourne for the Rainbow Labor National Day of Action and Campaign Launch.

It’s great to be among fellow activists, campaigners and supporters of the LGBTI community, and the Labor Party.

We are here because we know that our Party, the Labor Party, is the party of progress.

We are here because we believe the quality of a relationship is not defined by gender or sexual orientation, but by markers such as love, respect and commitment.

Because we believe love is love.

We are here because we are a part of the movement towards equality.

This unstoppable movement towards equality, towards acceptance and towards understanding.

We are here because we reject hatred, we reject bigotry and we reject discrimination.

But most of all we are here because we believe in a principle – the principle of equality.

In less than a generation the Australian community has come a long way.

In less than a generation our Parliaments have reformed many of our laws.

It was just over 40 years ago that homosexuality was still illegal in all Australian states.

In 1975, the South Australian Labor Government, led by pioneering Premier Don Dunstan, decriminalized male homosexuality.

In many ways this was the beginning of a national journey of acceptance and tolerance.

And throughout the journey Labor has been there fighting alongside LGBTI Australians for progressive change.

Eleven years after Don’s victory in South Australia, Federal Labor declared anti-gay discrimination to be a breach of human rights.

In 1992, Labor ended anti-gay discrimination in the Australian Defence Force.

In 1994, under a Labor Government, Australia became the first country in the world to pass sexual privacy laws.

And, after coming to Government in 2007, Labor again took up the fight for the LGBTI community.

In 2008, Labor removed discrimination in 85 pieces of federal legislation.

Amendments, which came into force in 2009, gave same-sex couples access to the Family Court.

They provided same-sex couples and their children recognition for Centrelink benefits, family payments and child support.

They recognized same-sex couples and their children as a ‘family unit’ for accessing the Medicare and PBS safety nets

They ensured that same-sex couples were able to access the same tax concessions available to opposite sex couples

And they enabled the same-sex partners of impaired or deceased Defence Force members or veterans to access pensions and other entitlements

In 2012, Labor amended policy, giving certificates of no-impediment to same-sex couples wanting to marry overseas.

That same year Mark Butler announced the development of the first National LGBTI Ageing and Aged Care Strategy.

In 2013, we extended our paid parental leave scheme to same-sex couples.

In the same year Labor legislated protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.

And we funded the Safe Schools Coalition.

We funded Safe Schools not to make a political statement, but to keep our kids safe.

We needn’t look further than Victoria’s own Labor Government to see the transformational impact a Labor Government can have.

In just over 12 months Premier Andrews and his team have made an indelible mark on the lives of all LGBTI Victorians.

Premier Andrews has spoken out strongly against hatred and bigotry.

But the work of this Government is in not only their words, but importantly, their actions.

The Government has invested to ensure LGBTI Victorians have equal access to education and health services, exemplified by their investment of $15 million in Australia’s first pride centre.

Thank you Dan. You provide us all an example of what it is that Labor stands for and what we seek to do in government.

Our community has come a long way in less than a generation.

I see it in the change in attitudes since I was first elected to our Federal Parliament.

In the easy going acceptance of the families and staff at our childcare centre.

In the generosity of the men and women who stop me in the street, or at the airport, from all walks of life, who tell me to press on.

In the kind emails and cards, and gifts received when our daughters were born, not only from friends, but from strangers.

And I see it in the many who have joined the campaign for equality.

Activists, business leaders, unionists, sporting heroes, the parents of gay and lesbian children, and so many more, have voiced their support for equality.

But we here today all know that change doesn’t come easily.

Change is never inevitable.

Change always has to be fought for and campaigned for.

I honour those, some of whom are here today, who have gone before, who have done so much to address inequality in our society, to stand up for the rights of LGBTI Australians.

The truth is that without activists like those within this room, and like those who have come before us, we wouldn’t be talking about marriage equality.

In 2011 the Labor Party embraced support for marriage equality in our platform.

We won that debate because people in this room, and those who came before us, Rainbow Labor members and activists from across the party, unions from across the party, stood with us and said we stand for equality.

For that I thank you.

But there is more to do. There is always more to do.

The simple truth is that we are not equal before the law.

Great progress has been made in the fight for a fairer Australia for LGBTI Australians.

But that fight is far from over.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and intersex Australians continue to face discrimination in many areas of their life.

The La Trobe University’s research indicates a significant number of LGBTI Australians ‘occasionally’ or ‘usually’ hide their sexuality or gender identity.

The impact of this discrimination is real and can be deadly.

In its Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Rights report last year, the Australian Human Rights Commission noted research which suggested the rate of suicide for LGBT people is 3.5 to 14 times higher than the general population.

It found that LGBTI people are at a higher risk for a range of mental diagnoses.

And it reported that LGBTI people are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with depression or anxiety.

To cope with this discrimination some in our community are left no choice but to hide.

And they do so in a range of situations for fear of violence or discrimination.

This impacts on the ability of LGBTI Australians to access health and education services, as well as public participation in sport.

This discrimination isn’t just cultural; it also includes state-sanctioned, structural discrimination.

That is why we need a Government with the courage to stand up for our community.

There are those within the Liberal Party who say that they believe in equality.

They say that they support marriage equality and that they want to see discrimination in our Marriage Act removed.

But we have also seen that these same Liberals don’t deliver.

They didn’t deliver when, after a marathon debate within their party room, former Prime Minister Abbott declared a popular vote would be held to decide on the issue of equality.

They didn’t deliver when Bernardi and Christensen attacked the Safe Schools Coalition.

And they can’t deliver because they have consistently surrendered to those who refuse to countenance equality.

And despite having declared himself as a supporter of marriage equality, Malcolm Turnbull is no different to Tony Abbott when it comes to delivering for LGBTI Australians.

Malcolm Turnbull has committed himself to Tony Abbott’s harmful, hurtful and divisive plebiscite.

And he has never articulated a principled position for why it is necessary instead of being decided on by Parliament.

We know the Federal Parliament is empowered to legislate for equality.

And State and Federal Parliaments have legislated on sensitive social and moral questions like abortion, voluntary euthanasia and stem cell research without holding plebiscites.

These are regarded as questions for Parliament, because in a representative democracy, parliamentarians are elected by the people to make our laws.

Let’s remember – the only reason a plebiscite came about is because Abbott and the likes of Bernardi and Christensen in the joint party room, refused to allow a conscience vote by Coalition MPs.

It was because, in a moment of desperation, those members of the Liberal and National parties realised that a plebiscite is the best opportunity to block progress.

It was the Australian Christian Lobby which first proposed in May 2015 taking same-sex marriage to a plebiscite.

And we all know that when the Australian Christian Lobby and Senator Bernardi are backing a plebiscite, it isn’t because they want to achieve marriage equality.

We all know there is also a grave risk that the plebiscite will operate as a license for hate speech.

Opponents of marriage equality already use words which hurt and words that convey bigotry and prejudice.

We don’t want our families, our children, our community, to be exposed to prejudice, bigotry and hate – all in the guise of a “debate” over marriage equality.

Labor is committed to eliminating discrimination against LGBTI Australians in all its forms.

We know our marriage laws do not reflect the values of contemporary Australia.

We know they do not reflect the principle of equality.

And we know these laws send a message to LGBTI Australians that our relationships aren’t equal.

That isn’t right and it isn’t fair.

That’s why a Shorten Labor Government will introduce legislation for marriage equality within the first 100 days of the next Parliament.

But together we must work to stamp out all remaining cultural and structural discrimination against LGBTI Australians.

As a part of this effort, I announce today that a Shorten Labor Government will appoint a full-time, dedicated, LGBTI Discrimination Commissioner to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Labor’s LGBTI Discrimination Commissioner will be a new champion for the rights of LGBTI Australians and help build a more inclusive Australia.

An LGBTI Discrimination Commissioner will ensure lesbian, gay, transgender and intersex Australians can feel safer, more secure and more included in Australian society.

The Commissioner will address structural discrimination, work towards ensuring our schools, workplaces, and communities are free from discrimination.

It continues Labor’s tradition of removing discrimination and creating a fairer, more equal Australia.

And it will build on Labor’s past action, providing a dedicated Commissioner to uphold the protections that Labor delivered in 2013.

Only Labor will stand up for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians and only Labor fights for a fairer and more inclusive Australia.

Now LGBTI Australians will get a new voice to defend their rights, and help promote a more inclusive society.

Labor delivers for the LGBTI community.

Through our history we have fought for a fairer, more equal society.

We have stood with the LGBTI community – to reform our laws and to change attitudes.

We have fought those who oppose change, who oppose progress, and who oppose equality.

And we have won.

This is election is one we need to win.

I know that in this room today, and in our community, we have the capacity, the drive and the strength to fight – and to win.

Take the skills you learn here, the relationships you form, and the passion you foster – and we will have a Shorten Labor Government.