Senate debates

Monday, 18 October 2021



7:20 pm

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

For the last two years, I have been campaigning for the protection of women's single-sex sport. With the support of female athletes—from Olympic medallists through to women playing local sport, academics, parents, volunteers and many others—I have been making the simple and obvious point that women's sport was created specifically to cater for the differences in physical capabilities between males and females and that it's unfair and often unsafe to have biological males competing in women's sport, because males have a whole host of advantages in strength, stamina and physique.

The vast majority of Australians know these things to be true, yet for some reason Australia's peak sporting body in 2019 began claiming the opposite—that sport should be based on self-affirmed gender identity rather than sex. Over the last two years, Sport Australia has ignored a spate of expert findings demonstrating the importance of single-sex sport for women. When World Rugby found that females were at hugely increased risk of serious head injuries when playing against transwomen, Sport Australia dismissed it. When peer reviewed research was released demonstrating the advantages males have over females, even after testosterone suppression, Sport Australia ignored it. When the IOC allowed a young female athlete to miss out on the Olympics so a 42-year-old biological male could compete in the women's category based on guidelines the IOC has since admitted are not fit for purpose, Sport Australia refused to comment.

Thankfully for female athletes around the world, not all sporting bodies have turned a blind eye to the evidence. Earlier this month, counterparts in the UK released new guidance for transgender inclusion in sport after an extensive project consulting with athletes and looking at the scientific evidence, something that Sport Australia has since admitted it didn't do. The UK sports council has made findings which mirror exactly the points I and many other advocates have been making for years. They found:

Categorisation within the sex binary is and remains the most useful and functional division relative to sporting performance.

…   …   …

Competitive fairness cannot be reconciled with self-identification into the female category …

Based upon current evidence, testosterone suppression is unlikely to guarantee fairness between transgender women and natal females …

These findings are in direct contradiction to Sport Australia's submission that women's sport should be based on gender identity rather than sex. What did Sport Australia have to say about the UK findings when they were asked by the media for comment? Absolutely nothing. There was no acknowledgement of the work the UK sports council had done, no reflection on the council's findings and no commitment to take a look at the evidence that had been found. An anonymous spokesman said, 'The guidelines would only require updating if the federal Sex Discrimination Act was changed.' This is an extraordinary statement for an agency to make when presented with clear evidence about unfairness to women. It amounts to: 'Bad luck. No amount of evidence and no number of concerns from women can make us listen.' It is also a strangely strident commitment to a position that they didn't know they had until 2019, six years after the most recent change to the section of the Sex Discrimination Act, when they suddenly decided they needed clarity.

Many Australians scratch their heads and wonder how we found ourselves in the position that our taxpayer funded peak sporting body isn't prepared to acknowledge that single-sex sport for women and girls is vital and necessary to give female athletes a fair go. 'Why didn't female athletes speak up and say something?' they ask. Once again the UK sports council's report is revealing. The same report said:

… current female athletes suggested that although all or most athletes considered transgender athletes have an advantage if they compete in women's sport, almost no-one would be brave enough to discuss this in public. One athlete said that the potential for a social media "pile on" would be too great, so it is easier to keep quiet and acquiesce. … Other athletes said that they had been warned not to discuss this topic by their NGB and had been threatened with sanctions such as non-selection if they disobeyed.

This is an extraordinary indictment of the attitude of sports administrators towards women. 'We'll decide how to be inclusive even if it's directly against your interests, and you'll shut up and take it or you'll be punished for it.' As someone who has spoken to many female Australian athletes, both at the professional and at the community level, and to volunteers and administrators about this issue, I'm afraid to say I wasn't shocked at all to read that. It's consistent with what I've heard from many about the situation in Australia.

To anyone who cares enough to pay attention, it's no secret that activists use social media, traditional media, the bureaucracy and the legal system to create an intensely intimidating environment for women to speak up in defence of single-sex sports and other sex based rights. The UK might be fortunate to have a sports council prepared to acknowledge reality, but look at how women are being treated elsewhere simply for acknowledging biological reality and for standing up for their own rights. Hopefully senators are aware of the disgraceful attacks on philosophy professor Kathleen Stock, who has been targeted by anonymous activists to the extent that police have told her not to attend her place of work. UK Labour MP Rosie Duffield didn't feel safe to attend the Labour Party conference because of the abuse she's received from Labour members for saying that only women have a cervix. Instead of defending Rosie, her leader and numerous colleagues threw her under a bus. Here in Australia I myself was summonsed to a compulsory conciliation hearing 12 months ago by an antidiscrimination bureaucrat because I wrote that women's sports and facilities were designed for females and should remain that way.

Because I've campaigned for the protection of women in single-sex sport and for sex based rights, making the exact same points that sensible national sporting organisations are making internationally, I've received all sorts of abuse from anonymous keyboard warriors. Earlier this year, I posted a collection of examples from a single four-day period of emails and messages I received, calling me all sort of expletives and derogatory terms: the C-word—and they weren't talking about conservative—F-ing idiot, TERF, bitch, and a pathetic excuse for a human being. There were messages telling me to die and to shut the F up. One email concluded 'I'm surprised you're out of the kitchen'. Bear in mind that the people sending me these deranged messaged are doing so in the name of inclusion. The most infuriating thing about receiving these messages is that I know that the people calling me these things are getting exactly what they want from our institutions.

All of this is sadly consistent with the language that is being used publicly on social media to denigrate and threaten women all over the world who speak up for women's rights. In any other context, this abuse of women would cause a media storm. But, when I posted those messages on Facebook as an example of what women have to put up with for speaking in defence of single-sex sport and sex based rights, an Australian journalist mockingly tweeted them to his followers with the caption 'TERFs posting their Ls.'

This is why we are where we are. If a woman dares to express an opinion which is off the progressive script, there is a horde of Twitter warriors, journalists, media outlets and Labor and Green politicians out there to make it as intimidating as possible for you. It doesn't matter if you're a Left-leaning feminist. It doesn't matter if you're a lifelong Labor or Green voter. You'll be labelled a TERF, the universal social media language that says it's okay to send abuse to this woman, it's okay to lie about what she said, it's okay to try to end her career because she's not one of us.

The beneficiaries of this culture are the lobby groups who are pushing for women's single-sex sports and services to be replaced by women's services that males can identify into, and the bureaucracies who are doing their bidding and don't want their actions to be scrutinised. The people who suffer the consequences are women. All it takes to stop this madness is for people who know that single-sex sport and services for women are sensible and necessary to speak up and say so, and all it takes for it to get worse is for people to stay silent and keep letting bureaucrats give away women's rights, because it's easier to stay out of it.