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Tuesday, 26 June 2012
Page: 4567


Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (21:51): Tonight I rise to speak with both a sense of hope and a great deal of disappointment. I speak with hope because, as we heard last night in the debate on the report of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, we have taken a step in this parliament towards delivering marriage equality. I have to say, though, that that feeling is greatly dampened by my disappointment with the cruel attacks that the Queensland state government is waging against Queenslanders, attacks particularly targeting those from sexually diverse communities. We have been lectured in this place by the opposition about keeping promises. I hope they will join me in making sure that there are standards set by the Queensland Liberal-National Party on this question. I was very proud and pleased when in November last year the Bligh Queensland government supported same-sex couples by legislating for civil unions in that state. It was a proud moment for lesbian, gay and transgender Queenslanders and one that I know was celebrated by a great many people, regardless of their sexuality. But, most importantly, it appeared that civil unions would become settled reform in Queensland, because Campbell Newman stated in December 2011 that abolishing civil unions after couples had already entered into them would be an unacceptable intolerance.

We have learnt in recent days that Mr Newman's word was not worth all that much. The Queensland LNP has moved new laws that have serious implications for Queensland civil unions. Under those laws, same-sex couples cannot participate in state-sanctioned ceremonies. Also, in the event that their relationship ends, they simply deregister it, like deregistering a dog, rather than having to go through a proper relationship separation process. In essence, the LNP has ripped the guts out of civil unions in Queensland. They have removed their cultural significance and devalued their legal status. My question to the Queensland LNP is: what exactly makes their actions to date on civil unions either acceptable or tolerable? I know that many Queenslanders would like to know the answer to that important question.

Mr Newman can stand behind his words and tell the world that he has not completely abolished civil unions, but I think we can all see what his agenda is for sexually diverse communities, particularly when it comes to other attacks in the legislative agenda. He has done everything to undermine civil unions, apart from actually abolishing them. It underscores to me why only substantive marriage equality carried through the national parliament can properly address the discrimination faced by people in same-sex relationships and other LGBTI people in this country. Campbell Newman's attack on the status of civil unions in Queensland has been felt deeply by many same-sex couples, including those who have civil unions. It is indeed a direct attack on them and their relationships.

The issue of civil unions leads me inevitably to another broken promise from the Queensland LNP, and that is the issue of surrogacy. On the eve of the March election Campbell Newman was asked what his government's approach would be to surrogacy laws. In response he stated:

We will not be making any changes to the laws on those matters.

Rather than hold true to his word he has attacked the rights not only of same-sex couples but also of unmarried heterosexual couples and single men and women. Again, because of his blind discrimination Campbell Newman simply refuses to think about the reality of life for people in Queensland. Imagine being a married couple where one partner dies part way through IVF treatment—say it was a car accident—and the surviving partner is unable to access surrogacy. It stinks of discrimination not only against same-sex couples but also against single people.

The final attack I will refer to is the move by the Queensland government to defund the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities, commonly known as QAHC. QAHC is the only HIV prevention service for gay men in Queensland and also the only LGBT health service in Queensland. It has a long history of successful HIV prevention amongst gay men in Queensland, having been the first organisation to respond to HIV in Queensland, some 28 years ago.

On 20 May the Queensland government announced its decision to cut all its funding to QAHC. This decision shows a complete ignorance of the epidemiology of HIV. In order to address HIV you need to follow and resource affected communities to prevent transmission. QAHC has been doing this very well and it needs to keep its resources in order to keep doing what is a very important job. It appears to me that the rise in HIV infection rates in Queensland—and indeed there has been a rise in Queensland—has been coming in the main from people travelling overseas and to other communities. In other words, QAHC has been doing its job very well.

In a media release issued on the 23 May 2012 QAHC explained that they wanted to take a proactive stance in partnership with the new LNP government to address the increased HIV rates in Queensland. They said:

We had already written to Health Minister Lawrence Springborg making 29 recommendations on how to improve the HIV response in Queensland and pledged our support to work with the government to implement these. The response was to defund us.

What a farcical approach to public policy. Rather than engaging in a constructive dialogue on the real issues with such an important body the Queensland government chose to shut them down.

QAHC is an organisation with exceptional experience and knowledge in HIV prevention. Their knowledge is arguably unrivalled in Queensland. Of course, there are other groups in Queensland that deal with HIV prevention, and it is telling to note that none of these organisations have had their funding withdrawn. Instead, the Queensland government has chosen to defund the only organisation that deals specifically with gay men in Queensland. I think people will forgive me, and others, for thinking that the Queensland government's actions are simply homophobia unconvincingly dressed in the clothes of good public policy and fiscal prudence. They are simply not. Of course, as I started in my speech, there has been good news for same-sex attracted Australians this week and that good news has come from the work of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee in this place. It was a great honour to speak yesterday in support of the tabling of this committee's report following its inquiry into the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010.

As I said yesterday, it has long been my view that allowing all couples to marry will only serve to strengthen the importance of marriage. Despite the negative note on which I started tonight, I refuse to conclude that way. Indeed, tonight I hope to send a message to the sexually diverse people of Queensland and of Australia more generally. That message is simple: it will get better. In fact, it is getting better in this country. It is getting better because people are listening; your representatives in this place are listening. I hear every day of people changing their minds on marriage equality. They base that on opening their hearts and minds to the experiences of lesbian, gay, transgender and intersex Australians. Yesterday's report was an historic moment for this fight. It is the first report produced by a committee of the Australian parliament endorsing marriage equality. It is confirmation of what we all know: that ultimately prejudice cannot withstand personal experience. I can only say to all of you: keep chipping away, keep loving one another and keep up the good fight. We will get there.