Tuesday, 11 September 2018
Matters of Public Importance
Gender and Sexual Orientation
I inform the Senate that at 8.30 am today four proposals were received in accordance with standing order 75. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result, I inform the Senate that a letter has been received from Senator Siewert:
Pursuant to standing order 75, I give notice that today I propose to move that in the opinion of the Senate the following is a matter of public importance:
The attacks against young LGBTIQ Australians supported by Prime Minister Morrison.
Is the proposal supported?
More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
It's taken only a few weeks for the new Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, to show not once, not twice, but repeatedly that he doesn't care about the wellbeing or welfare of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex Australians. Since becoming Prime Minister, Scott Morrison has stated that he wants to govern for all Australians. He's told us that he's on our side. But, sadly, that doesn't seem to include LGBTIQ Australians. There have been several opportunities for the Prime Minister to stand in solidarity with LGBTIQ people, but instead he has supported the attacks on our communities and on LGBTIQ people, particularly young people.
Let's start with his reaction to an article that was in The Daily Telegraph. It was a fearmongering article about a program that exists to support young trans and gender-diverse kids. But, typically of the Tele, it ignored the facts in favour of click bait. It was, frankly, a load of hogwash. The article quoted an unqualified so-called 'gender expert' with links to the Australian Christian Lobby who had been an office-bearer of Fred Nile's Christian Democratic Party. This so-called expert was happy enough to label support for trans kids as 'dangerous' but failed to mention the existing guidelines that outline appropriate care for trans kids. These guidelines are extensive and they outline that all treatment provided has to be in the best interests—and is in the best interests—of the child. It's proportional. It's administered with consent and ongoing support. This treatment is given to a tiny proportion of children, all of whom are trans and gender diverse, and this support for trans kids often saves lives.
This unqualified 'expert' who was quoted in The Daily Telegraph insinuated that providing support to transgender kids is harmful and dangerous. But the reality is that not providing support is very harmful and very dangerous. This article was widely condemned, as it should have been, yet our newly appointed Prime Minister decided to share the article on Facebook with the words:
We do not need 'gender whisperers' in our schools. Let kids be kids.
Firstly, memo to the Prime Minister: some kids are trans, some kids are gay, lesbian and bisexual and some kids are questioning their gender identity or their sexuality, and these kids need to be allowed to be the kids they are and they need to be supported by their families, communities, schools and representatives in parliament. Secondly, does anyone really believe that kids can be 'whispered' into changing their gender? I've met lots of trans kids and lots of trans adults who were once trans kids and, indeed, we had a delegation of trans kids and their families in the parliament two years ago, hosted by the Parliamentary Friendship Group for LGBTIQ Australians, and every parliamentarian who met them was incredibly impressed by them. Being trans is not something that a child takes on lightly. It's not a choice. It's who they are. Unlike most people who are born cisgender, where their gender identity matches their biology, that's not the case for trans kids. Most of them struggle with this because our society struggles with it. They need love and acceptance. They need support to help them to be proud of who they are, to help them love themselves for who they are.
In contrast, imagine being a young trans kid or gender-diverse kid and seeing your Prime Minister talk about you in that way? LGBTIQ young people experience worse mental health outcomes than heterosexual and cisgender young people and it's because of behaviour like this from our so-called leaders. I wonder if the Prime Minister knows some of the statistics about LGBTIQ people—that 16 per cent of LGBTIQ young people aged 16 to 27 have attempted suicide in the last 12 months or that almost one in two trans young people have attempted suicide in their lifetime. Compare that to the 2.4 per cent of young people in the general population who have. I'd like the Prime Minister to think about that—that young trans kids are 20 times more likely to attempt suicide. The Prime Minister's language and attacks on LGBTIQ people are totally unacceptable and harmful. A Prime Minister should serve for all of us, not just those of us who are cisgender or heterosexual.
This is just one of the examples of the attacks against LGBTIQ Australians that are being supported by the Prime Minister. Scott Morrison has barely settled into the job, yet he's made every effort to demonise LGBTIQ people. He has done so much damage in such a short time. Last week, he refused to condemn dangerous LGBTIQ conversion attempts and the ideology that drives them, saying it wasn't an issue for him. I'm so pleased that this Senate has just passed a motion condemning those attempts and calling upon this government to work with the states and territories to ban sexual orientation and gender identity conversion efforts. He said this wasn't an issue for him after survivors of conversion attempts and sexual orientation change efforts sent an open letter to the Prime Minister and the opposition leader, Bill Shorten, calling for a multipartisan crackdown on these dangerous, harmful practices.
It's important to note that attempts to change gender identity and sexual orientation are widely condemned. In 2015, there was a report from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights which included so-called conversion therapy in its list of practices categorised as torture and ill-treatment—yet the Prime Minister says it's not a matter for him.
The UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Amnesty International and a number of religious and community leaders have called for the criminalisation of these practices, so for the Prime Minister to dismiss this as an issue that's not for him is an absolute disregard of duty. The survivors' statement that was presented to the Prime Minister draws attention to the fact that these practices are still occurring here today in Australia. It points out that the conversion movement extends further than formalised so-called therapeutic practices, with gender and sexual orientation change efforts pervading an unknown proportion of religious organisations, faith based organisations, schools and the counselling industry. This statement calls for Australian elected reps to work actively towards curtailing the movement by pursuing strategies that seek to identify and counteract its influence through a combination of legislation, regulation, investment and community education. That's what our Prime Minister needs to embrace if he is going to support LGBTIQ young people and people in general, rather than decrying them.
The statement that was presented to him outlined the awful impacts that these practices have on survivors, and I quote where it says that survivors of the ex-gay, ex-trans conversion therapy movement and sexual orientation change efforts:
… have endured and survived a system which dehumanised and shamed them, despite their sense of deep devotion and connection to their faith community
I've had the privilege of meeting some of these survivors. Their stories are harrowing, but it's important that they're heard.
All LGBTIQ people should be able to practice faith without pressure to change or to suppress their gender identity or their sexual orientation. There's so much that can be done—that should be done—to ensure that LGBTIQ people are all equal, safe, supported and thriving, and if the PM needs some ideas about where to start, he can just give me a call. All Australians need to feel that the Prime Minister of this country has their back.
I too rise to speak to this motion brought forward by Senator Siewert on behalf of the Greens.
Senator Siewert, I'd have to say, is somebody that I have worked with collaboratively in the past. One of the positive things about this place is work on issues of common interest. The Community Affairs Committee did an inquiry into rural health, and there was actually very constructive work done. Often, this is something that the public, who only see question time, don't see. But most of the work in this place can be constructive.
The comment in this motion, though, I take largely as a political comment, because it talks about attacks. And we've just had Senator Rice saying 'demonise'. I have to say that I don't see Prime Minister Morrison demonising or attacking anyone. The thing that I see being attacked here is the very nature of Australia's democracy. For a democracy to work, you have to accept that there will be a plurality of views—that people can have different views. Those views should be respected and people should be able to speak to those views without being hounded or labelled by other people.
This issue is very near and dear to Senator Rice; I accept that, and I respect her right to state her position. But what I don't accept is the increasing tendency of people, when they hear a view that they don't agree with, to shout down that view or seek to silence or shame somebody for sharing it.
I know that we can have respectful debates. A year or so ago I was asked to chair a Senate select committee looking at the issue of religious freedoms, should the nation legislate for same-sex marriage. I'm pleased to report that we had a wide range of stakeholders who came to give evidence to that committee. The tone that we set, as a committee, meant that people were able to put their views succinctly and respectfully, and argue their case without being labelled and without being put down by anybody else in the debate.
So it is possible. But what we see, increasingly, is that when somebody who speaks against a view that is popular or a view that is current—particularly, I'd have to say, on the progressive or left side of our community—those who disagree with that seek to silence them, either by labelling them as 'haters', or, in this case, as somebody who has demonised or attacked. Sometimes, literally, it's a case of shouting down the pure volume we see on university campuses sometimes, where speakers are literally shouted down, through to physical obstruction—in some cases violence—or even attempting to use the institutions of state to silence the dissent of somebody who has a different view. We've seen in the recent past people like Archbishop Porteous, who in a very respectful manner put forward the Catholic Church's position on the definition of marriage and yet was hauled before a tribunal.
We see, even this last week, reports about a faith based organisation where the CEO, during the debate around same-sex marriage, wrote to employees saying what the position of the organisation was and encouraging people to support the traditional definition of marriage. They made it very clear that every individual should be supported, respected and valued for who they are, and yet that organisation has been taken before a tribunal in Queensland. Thankfully, the charge of discrimination has been dropped, but there is still a matter outlying in terms of general discrimination that they are facing. Yet executives of large corporations who supported the approach to say their employees should support a redefinition of marriage to the extent of wearing particular jewellery or other items weren't held to account in any way for disrespecting the rights of those employees who have a different view. There is a real double standard at work here. It's a problem. It's a problem for our democracy. The more people say, 'You don't have a right to express your view,' the more they are shouted down and the more they are labelled, particularly in an era of social media where people can go online—whichever particular platform they choose to use—and it reinforces their views.
We have seen many studies looking at what they call the 'echo chamber effect' where people's biases, prejudices or points of view are reinforced to the extent that they almost find it hard to conceive that anybody of goodwill, intellect or moral character could hold a position which is contrary to theirs. That is a bad outcome for our democracy, because our democracy requires that people who have a dissenting view are allowed to put forward that view, and particularly that the power of the state is not used or co-opted to suppress that dissenting view. To take it to its logical extension, you see totalitarian states where the government suppresses dissenting views. You've only got to look back to last century—Stalin who murdered some 30 million of his own people, Mao some 45 million and Pol Pot—to see the authoritarian approaches used to suppress dissent amongst tens of millions of people by those who felt that they could override the rights of those people who had a differing view. It is really important for Australia to say: 'What kind of nation do we want to be?' If we don't want to even get on the path to being like one of those autocracies where there is no allowance for dissent, every individual citizen and every organ of the government needs to allow for people to express different views, without shouting them down or labelling them.
In the case of the Prime Minister, we have a very clear indication of what he believes, because he articulated this just recently in his speech at Albury. He reinforced the fact that he believes in the value of individuals, of all individuals. He reinforced his belief in the value of family and the love and the support that they can provide as a framework, and the importance of supporting that wherever possible; the value of community; the value of housing and health care being affordable and accessible to all. He emphasised his belief in the importance of a stable job and good pay, and that explains why this government has put so much priority on the creation of new jobs, because it is the best possible form of welfare that lifts people out of poverty and gives them a hope for the future. That's why, since 2013, over a million jobs have been created, the majority of which are full time. But, for people who distrust employment figures, the other way to look at it is that we have now reached the lowest level of working-age people on welfare in 25 years. It demonstrates that, no matter which way you move the figures, people are moving off welfare and into work, and that includes, just last year alone, 95,500 young people, the majority of whom have moved into full-time work, and that is the largest amount in 30 years.
Mr Morrison also highlighted his belief in freedoms—the freedom of faith, the freedom of speech, the freedom of association—which are fundamental to the working of a plural democracy such as Australia. He talked about his belief in the fair go; equal opportunity, not just mandating equal outcomes; lower taxes; the fact that we got rid of the carbon tax; lowering personal income tax; reducing tax for small businesses so that they have the opportunity to employ more people, which is what has been happening and which is why we've seen that increase of over a million new jobs. He has talked about his belief in the security of Australia, which is why we have committed to increasing it to two per cent of GDP and why we have committed to a paradigm shift where we are seeing defence industry as a fundamental input to our capability. We are creating thousands of new jobs through the investment we are making in new defence capability. We are creating opportunities—in fact, just last week in South Australia, in partnership with the Marshall government, we launched a $203 million program to create 20,000 new traineeships and apprenticeships.
The Prime Minister has highlighted his belief in health and education and the fact that we are making record payments, despite the rhetoric of those opposite, who reference against the benchmark of a promise that was made by Prime Minister Rudd, just before he was defeated, to an unfunded, unrealistic amount. They keep referencing that. The reality is this government has made payments every year that have increased the amount that is being paid to record amounts in both health and education. Finally, the Prime Minister said it was important to love not only our immediate family but all Australians.
I'm delighted to support this MPI this afternoon, because our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, is no friend of Australia's LGBTI community. They've reached out to me to tell me about their concerns about Scott Morrison's appointment as Prime Minister, and I share their concerns. I will give you some of the reasons why the community is so appalled by his appointment. He defended and praised Israel Folau when he said that gay people were going to hell. Our Prime Minister said that he had shown a lot of strength of character. Our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, was a vocal opponent of marriage equality. He was one of the drivers of the divisive postal survey, and he did this as a way to try to obstruct this nation's path to marriage equality. He campaigned actively for the no case and voted no during the postal survey. To add insult to injury, he supported amendments to the bill to allow for discrimination against LGBTI people within the Marriage Act. Our Prime Minister then went on to abstain from the vote, ignoring the will of the Australian people and, indeed, the will of the people within his own electorate. He was one of a handful of people to abstain from this vote, and he was joined by a handful of other MPs, including Andrew Hastie, Tony Abbott and Kevin Andrews. It is of no surprise to me that it is this same group of conservative MPs who were part of the push to replace Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister.
Let's be clear: this homophobic, anti-gay agenda is core to a key grouping within the coalition and motivated them to roll Malcolm Turnbull. So we are legitimate in the concerns that we have regarding the influence of these hard-right Liberal and National MPs inside the Morrison government. But we in Labor and the LGBTI community will not be complacent. We know we've achieved marriage equality, but we know that the growing conservative control in the Liberal Party means we could see the reversal of rights that we have fought so long and hard for.
It is of no surprise to me that, to continue this agenda, Prime Minister Morrison has voiced his concern about 'gender whispering' in our schools. I saw Mr Morrison trying to defend these statements, but I would like to tell it as Evie said it. Evie said:
I'm Evie, I’m 13, and I'm a transgender kid, and this is what I want to say to the Prime Minister … There are thousands of kids in Australia that are gender diverse. We don't deserve to be disrespected like that through tweets from our Prime Minister.
We know that Prime Minister Morrison has said Australian schools don't need gender whisperers. Australian schools don't have gender whisperers. What we have are school communities and teachers that need to reach out to students of all backgrounds to support them in their needs, be they having a disability, be they having a learning issue, be they gender diverse or be they lesbian or gay. It's simply not good enough to fail to support inclusive environments for our nation's children, and that is the signal that Scott Morrison is sending. Frankly, it's akin to when Senator Hanson tried to argue that autistic children should not be in the same classrooms as other children. It is simply divisive and is marginalising young people and students in our schools. Evie went on to explain that she:
… I went to a Christian school where I had to pretend to be a boy and spend weeks in conversion therapy.
We get one childhood and mine was stolen from me by attitudes like this.
It's all very well for Prime Minister Morrison to talk about his love for all Australians whatever background they come from, but that's code for saying, 'Love the sinner but not the sin.' We know that that is what Scott Morrison means when he says these things. He does not support LGBTI Australians in having self-determination and inclusion in our community. Young LGBTI Australians face disadvantage that is greater than what their adult counterparts face, because of the addition of their youth. They have a lack of their own economic autonomy, they can't vote and they are not represented in policymaking in this nation. Research has shown that they endure discrimination, social exclusion and socioeconomic and cultural disadvantages. They're overrepresented in our homelessness population. They're more likely to experience homelessness due to poor mental health; poor physical health; substance abuse; physical, sexual and emotional abuse; being placed in state care or family violence.
I tell you that the reason these things happen to young LGBTI people is not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex; the reason these conditions are prevalent among young LGBTI people is the exclusion that they experience from the likes of our Prime Minister and other discrimination from people in the community. It is why the step that we took forward in relation to marriage equality in this nation was so important. But it shows that it is not enough, because this government has within it those that are determined to continue to propagate discrimination and exclusion of the LGBTI community. We know that their lack of visibility furthers their vulnerability. We know that 61 per cent of LGBTIQ youth have stated that they experience abuse because of their sexuality or gender, that 18 per cent have reported physical abuse and that they're more than five times as likely to commit suicide.
The Prime Minister's statements such as 'gender whisperer' reinforce transphobic rhetoric. Transgender people in our nation are more than 11 times as likely to commit suicide. This is a classic populist and divisive move by our Prime Minister when this government's numbers are down in the polls. He is seeking to ignite hate-fuelled anger and bigotry, which he helped incite during the marriage equality plebiscite. It is a despicable move by this Prime Minister, who has frequently victimised LGBTIQ children in this country, using them as a political football to rouse the conservative base, all because his rabble of a government is on the nose in this nation.
Labor has not forgotten the children who were harassed on their way to school by anti-Safe-Schools protesters—LGBTI children harassed at the school gates and shamed simply for being who they are. We have not forgotten gay mums and dads who endured campaigns that attempted to discredit the value of our families during the postal survey. And we have not forgotten the harm inflicted on the LGBTI community of this country by this divisive Prime Minister and this divisive government. The Prime Minister might want to wash his hands of issues like gay conversion therapy and anti-LGBTI schooling in schools, and he should be ashamed of himself.
The Greens have brought this motion on the attacks against young LGBTIQ Australians supported by Prime Minister Scott Morrison as a matter of public importance because it is a matter of public importance. We have long known Mr Scott Morrison's views on LGBTIQ rights. His record on voting against marriage equality and campaigning against the Safe Schools antibullying program is well known. What concerns me even more deeply, though, is that now Prime Minister Scott Morrison holds the highest political office in this country and has since worked to legitimise a narrative of hate and fresh attacks on some of the most vulnerable people in our community. This is not okay. This is not about silencing or stopping dissenting views at all. This is about stopping discrimination, stopping hate and stopping harm.
I must say, I am amazed at the gall of Senator Fawcett, who claims freedom of speech as an excuse for attacking and harming young LGBTIQ people in Australia. Within a week of taking office we were reminded that the man who is now Australia's Prime Minister will not denounce the dangerous, discredited and very, very harmful practice of so-called gay conversion therapy—a practice that the United Nations has officially described as a torture and has recognised as an international human rights issue. This practice, of course, can take many forms, including forced counselling, prayers and even exorcisms. Imagine that you are a young person already trapped in an unsupportive environment and then you are forced into this so-called therapy, which essentially says to young people: 'You are broken. You need some fixing up. There's something fundamentally wrong about you that must be cured.' This is so dangerous, it is so despicable and it should be rejected in every way, shape and form.
A Fairfax Media investigation earlier this year revealed that about 10 religious ministries that are dedicated to changing people's sexual orientation and gender identity still operate in Australia and are part of an informal network of churches and counsellors here and overseas. These groups may have changed their names and their profiles, but their harmful practices still remain exactly the same. It sickens me to the core that we have a Prime Minister who not only has refused to denounce this practice but has, instead, chosen to say that this isn't an issue for him. Well, Prime Minister, this is an issue for a vast majority of Australians. This is an issue for young Australians who live in this country, and it should be an issue for you.
What the Prime Minister actually needs to do is legislate a ban on these extremely harmful practices, but we all know that he won't do this. On top of that, the comments from the Prime Minister will only serve to embolden people who promote this heinous practice. Let this sink in: we also now have a Prime Minister who tweets bizarre phrases like 'gender whisperers' when referring to counsellors who advise schools on how to work with children who may need support, such as trans children, and how to make sure that they are treated like any other child in that school. One has to step back and think: what century are we living in? The human toll of these words must be considered. These are real people being harmed by the perpetuation of this BS language like 'gender whisperer' that the Prime Minister is using.
The sole aim of articles like the one in The Daily Telegraph which was promoted by Mr Morrison is to target young LGBTIQ Australians. The aim is to directly challenge these young people, to challenge their sense of identity, to go after them while knowing full well that many of them are some of the most vulnerable in our society. They are already targeted, already bullied and already isolated, so much so that young LGBTIQ Australians are at least three times more likely to have attempted suicide as their heterosexual peers. It was only last year the Trans Pathways survey found a staggering 48 per cent of young trans people had attempted suicide, compared with 2.4 per cent of young people in the general population, and that 80 per cent had actually self-harmed.
Let's also not forget that the plebiscite on marriage equality—or, as it has been more accurately described, the 'plebi-shite'—opened the door to hateful, divisive and ultimately very harmful campaigns against LGBTIQ people in our community. As the postal survey was conducted, I remember reading with dismay of the alarm raised by mental health organisations as they struggled to cope with the dramatic spike in clients accessing support services. This is Australia in the 21st century. When the private matter of one's sex, sexuality, gender or gender identity becomes public debate, distress is natural. LGBTIQ people are already at a far greater risk of a range of mental health problems and a high risk of self-harm due to the daily discrimination, stigma and prejudice that they face.
We know the agenda of people like Prime Minister Scott Morrison is to make some Australians feel less worthy, less significant and less important and to pick and choose which Australians get which human rights. That's not on. That's not okay. We will not stand for this. The Greens and I will always stand up for LGBTIQ Australians and their right to be who they are and to live a life free from discrimination.
I am a man of mixed emotions this afternoon because I think we can do better. There is no doubt that, as the weeks and the months proceed to Christmas and the first half of next year when we will be confronted with a general election, all of the optimism and all that was great in the Australian Senate and, indeed, the House of Representatives that we all witnessed and some of us participated in, Senator Rice, at the end of last year could be lost.
I've only been in the Australian Senate for six years. Others have been here for a much longer period of time, and others in our parliament for shorter periods of time. But I think that the universal view, even for those who disagreed with marriage equality and the success of the private senator's bill that we shaped, was that it was a moment where our parliamentary democracy worked well. Indeed, it's probably one of the very few moments when our parliamentary democracy received so much attention.
We witnessed a Senate committee process that worked well. Senator Fawcett chaired that, and he has reflected on that. We saw a parliamentary debate that was robust and, at times, a bit unpleasant for someone like myself. We saw an unamended bill leave this place and go to the House of Representatives, and we saw many, many members of the House of Representatives do a number of things. Some of them reflected the views of their electorates—many of them reflected the views of their electorates and the outcome of the postal survey, and they voted yes. Some of them—men, as they were—also demonstrated great courage and said, 'On this issue, my conscience says I cannot support it, and I'm going to vote against it.' And then some people abstained. Whether or not people should or shouldn't have abstained after having supported a postal survey is still a very open question, and one that I am not completely reconciled to.
Senator Polley interjecting—
Indeed, Senator Polley, some people in this Senate chamber exercised their conscience on various amendments. But we saw a triumph of parliament over politics and we saw a triumph of community over cynicism, and I think it was a moment that we could all be very proud of.
By coincidence, today, 11 September, marks the day that the postal survey form itself—the ballot—was first revealed.
An honourable senator interjecting—
Thank you, Senator Hume, for being in the chamber, and Senator Reynolds. For those of us who genuinely care about LGBTIQ Australians, who care about our brothers and sisters and who care about the confusion that our parents and grandparents must endure, I think their ask of us would be to avoid the politics on this—to avoid the politics! I don't doubt for one moment everyone's right to bring motions to this Senate, but let me be very clear—
Senator Rice interjecting—
Senator Rice, let me be very clear: the government's position was enunciated by Senator Fifield a few moments ago in the Senate chamber. You heard it as well as I did.
You heard it as well as I did. I argue that the best way to protect the growing pains, the challenges, of LGBTIQ Australians—and I was one of them; I was a young person and am now a middle-aged LGBTIQ Australian—is to deal responsibly with these sorts of issues and to avoid the temptation to play politics. This is because there is a consensus on the issue of conversion therapy in our country. Greg Hunt has made his position very clear as the Commonwealth Minister for Health. And the alternative minister for health, Catherine King, has made her position clear.
Let's be very clear about this. Let's be very clear about what the Prime Minister has and has not said, because it's not right to argue or even to present the idea that because people are people of faith—and even of strong faith—it automatically means that they are against LGBTIQ Australians. It's just not true.
We know that, Senator Rice, because the yes people—the yes campaign, the marriage equality people—talked about, identified and highlighted the fact that Christian Australians, and I count myself as a Christian Australian, can be very sympathetic and do have a willingness and an interest in making sure that the personal journey of young LGBTIQ people in our country is as painless as it can possibly be. It will never be painless: we know that.
Surely, what we should be doing as parliamentarians is talking about and concentrating on those things that unite us and that give us a common sense of purpose so that Senator Rice, Senator Pratt, Senator Smith and Senator Wong can walk out of this place as a united voice for the concerns of LGBTIQ Australians. I want our national leaders to be the best that they can be in understanding the importance of these issues. I absolutely do. As a modest coalition backbench senator, I will continue to be a strong, sensible voice for these issues when they are raised in the government. Our country has come a long way and if we are to learn anything from the events of last year surely it is that we can rise above the temptation.
Opposition senators interjecting—
Well, the conduct of my party is probably my responsibility, first and foremost. I like to think that I, with Senator Hume and others, have made my party the best it can possibly be. That doesn't mean it doesn't disappoint me and other Liberals in the community, but many of us are doing the best we can possibly do, sometimes in very challenging circumstances.
I think it's worth sharing with the Senate what it was that Mr Morrison, the Prime Minister now, the Treasurer then, said in the House of Representatives when the House was debating the marriage bill. I think this is very instructive. I'll let Mr Morrison's words speak for themselves, and people are free to find this quote for themselves. On Monday, 4 December of last year, Mr Morrison made his contribution to the Marriage Amendment Definition of Religious Freedoms Bill of 2017:
As Christians we do not lay claim to perfection or moral precedence; in fact it is the opposite: conscious of our own frailties and vanities, of our human condition, Christians should be more conscious of the same in those around us. That is why faith encourages social responsibility, the bedrock of faith in action.
What was important about the marriage debate last year was that we were part of a very significant and important social reform. I have argued privately in the last few days that if the postal survey were to be held again perhaps we should have two. We should have a postal survey 12 months after the passage of the bill and ask people who voted no if they have changed their minds. I think we know the answer to that. We got a very good outcome in the postal survey. If the postal survey were to be conducted again, we would get a better outcome. I'm opposed to the postal survey as a matter of principle—everyone knows that—but you know what I'm trying to say.
What's important here is that we have to accept the fact that even in our own parties—even in our own parties, Senator Dodson—there would be people with different points of view. I would rather someone be honest about their hesitation, honest about their concerns, if they have them, than hide them or pretend to be the person they're not. And we lost the Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, because, to my mind, he pretended to be the person he was not.
These are important issues and the record is very clear. We have just seen in this Senate chamber a very clear enunciation of what the government's position is. It's worth reading it into the Senate Hansard. Senator Fifield made this contribution only a few moments ago:
The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 provides protection from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status in areas of public life. Conversion therapies aim to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity, and there is no scientific or medical evidence to support their use.
That is the government's position. Senator Fifield continued:
This issue is one for states and territories—
That is a constitutional reality—
to monitor and take appropriate action.
And I am someone who agrees they should take appropriate action. He continues:
For example, the Victorian Health Complaints Commissioner can investigate unregistered doctors and health service providers making unethical representations—including conversion therapists. Queensland and Western Australia are also considering whether law reform is needed to outlaw this therapy.
I argue that very few people in this country believe that conversion therapy is right, good or necessary.
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.
From the ashes of the gay,
democracy is coming …
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.
We heard what our Prime Minister thinks about conversion therapy when he abjectly failed to utterly condemn conversion therapy, as he should have. We know that he believes there are what he calls 'gender whisperers' in our schools. Other senators have spoken about those things. I only have a couple of minutes this afternoon, so I want to tell the Senate about my stepson and very good friend, Jasper Lees—a man that I love very much. Jasper is a transman. He was born as a man but in a woman's body. I want to say to our Prime Minister: please, can you just think about that for a minute. Think about how that would feel.
Jasper had two choices. One choice was to reject who he really was, to live a lie for the rest of his life; the other choice was to embrace who he truly is and to live as the man that he actually is. I'm so proud of him that that was the choice he made. I can say to our Prime Minister that when he made that decision—a decision that made me so proud of him and was the embodiment of courage, bravery and self-awareness—a transformation came over Jasper. And he is, as I speak today, someone whom I admire very much.
I want to place on the record, though, that in most states in our country transgender people cannot change their gender on their birth certificate unless they have surgery to remove their reproductive organs. And when the letters arrive for Jasper, who still lives with his mum and me today, with his old name, Mara, on them, I see his face—when he gets these letters from government departments and government agencies—because they're not actually addressed to him; they're addressed to somebody else. But he can't change his gender on his birth certificate unless he has surgery to rip out the female reproductive organs that remain in his body.
Now, it's to the Tasmanian government's credit that they've indicated that they want to change the law in Tasmania, something for which the Greens have been campaigning for a very long time. But the reason I shared the story about Jasper with the Senate today is to remind us all, and hopefully remind the Prime Minister, that trans people are human beings. They have all the same frailties and strengths as all the rest of us and they should be treated equally to the rest of the population.