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Thursday, 21 March 2013
Page: 2893

Mr DREYFUS (IsaacsAttorney-General and Minister for Emergency Management) (09:15): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill establishes sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status as protected grounds of discrimination under the Sex Discrimination Act.

For the past 40 years, federal Labor governments have actively promoted principles of fairness and equality by enacting the sex, disability and racial discrimination acts, and establishing the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (now called the Australian Human Rights Commission).

This government has added a new chapter by acting to remove discrimination against same-sex couples and sex and gender diverse people across Commonwealth laws and policies. In 2009, the government amended 85 Commonwealth laws to remove discrimination against same-sex couples and their children in areas ranging from taxation to immigration and family law to superannuation. These amendments ensured that same-sex relationships are treated in the same way as different sex de facto relationships for the purposes of Commonwealth entitlements and programs.

And again, in 2011, the government introduced new guidelines to make it easier for sex and gender diverse people to get a passport in their preferred gender. Under the guidelines, sex reassignment surgery is no longer a prerequisite to issue a passport in a person's preferred gender.

In 2012, the government announced that for the first time Australians seeking to enter into a same-sex marriage overseas will be able to apply for a Certificate of No Impediment to marriage. This important change allows same-sex couples to take part in overseas marriage ceremonies, and to be considered married according to the laws of that country.

Labor is rightly proud of its record to advance the rights of all Australians—but more needs to be done. Members of Australia's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities continue to experience high levels of discrimination. However, there is currently little protection in federal law from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

That is why this government committed to introduce sexual orientation and gender identity as protected grounds of discrimination at the federal level. This bill honours that long-standing Labor commitment.

These proposed new protections were included in the exposure draft of the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill, which was released in November 2012. That draft bill aimed to make the unnecessarily complex system of federal anti-discrimination laws clearer, simpler and more effective.

The government always understood that this would be a long, considered process. It has been careful to consult through each stage of legislative development, from a discussion paper process, through the drafting and release of the draft bill, and referral to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee for inquiry and report.

The committee inquiry was highly successful in fostering public debate and discussion about the benefits of anti-discrimination laws and the most effective ways to protect Australians against discrimination—as reflected by the 595 individual submissions from organisations and individuals around the country.

While some aspects of the public debate veered towards scaremongering, the inquiry served its purpose in drawing out community concerns and identifying aspects of the bill that warranted amendment.

I reiterate my thanks to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee for actively seeking the public's views, considering the evidence put before it, and recommending ways to amend the bill to achieve the government's objectives and strengthen Australia's anti-discrimination framework.

This is a worthy but complex project, and it is important that we get it right. That means taking the time to carefully consider the many recommendations put forward by the committee and submitters to the inquiry, developing a comprehensive government response, drafting a final bill and fully debating it in this place.

It was reassuring that the committee's report demonstrated that all parties agree on one issue—the pressing need for protection from discrimination for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community at the federal level. To that end I acknowledge the coalition senators' support for a key Labor commitment.

This reform is too important to suffer any further delay through its connection to the wider consolidation project.

It is in this context that I am very pleased to introduce the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Bill 2013.

The bill amends the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 to introduce new protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. These reforms are an important first stage to have in place while the government considers in detail the content and form of a second stage of the consolidation of the Commonwealth anti-discrimination acts. The government considers that the Sex Discrimination Act is the most appropriate vehicle within the existing acts to contain these new protections.

A separate ground of intersex status is also introduced as a result of the consultations on the draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill and the recommendations of the Senate committee. People who are intersex can face many of the same issues that are sought to be addressed through the introduction of the ground of gender identity.

However, including the separate ground of intersex status recognises that whether a person is intersex is a biological characteristic and not an identity. The definitions in the bill acknowledge this reality but do not create a third sex in any sense.

The bill also amends the existing ground of 'marital status' to 'marital or relationship status' to provide protection from discrimination for same-sex de facto couples, who are currently excluded from the definition of 'marital status'.

The amendments made by this bill will insert definitions for 'sexual orientation', 'gender identity' and 'intersex status'. The government has accepted the feedback from key groups and the wider community during the consultation on the draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill to ensure the definitions are meaningful and provide the necessary protection. In particular, the government has adopted the definitions of 'gender identity' and 'intersex status' as recommended by the Senate committee.

The amendments will provide that discrimination on these new grounds is unlawful in the same areas of life as for other grounds already covered by the Sex Discrimination Act. These include: areas of work, education, goods, services and facilities, accommodation, land, clubs, and administration of Commonwealth laws and programs.

The introduction of the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status into the Sex Discrimination Act, in conjunction with the existing complaints provisions of the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986, will provide a complaints mechanism for people who consider they have been discriminated against on these bases. The Australian Human Rights Commission will be able to investigate and attempt to conciliate such complaints.

The bill also amends existing exemptions as appropriate to reflect the new grounds. This includes exemptions for religious bodies in relation to employment and the provision of education that have been in place for many years. These exemptions will continue under this bill and encompass the new grounds.

The bill also includes necessary consequential amendments to confirm conduct is not unlawful when:

Done in compliance with the Commonwealth Marriage Act, to ensure this legislation does not affect current law on same-sex marriage

Done in compliance with prescribed Commonwealth, state or territory laws, and

It constitutes a request for information and keeping of records in relation to sex and/or gender, to minimise the regulatory impact of the amendments.

Finally, the bill will ensure that the Australian Human Rights Commission's powers to produce reports, guidelines, and intervene in proceedings appropriately extend to the new grounds of discrimination.

I welcome the support of all parties to these amendments and urge all members to pass the bill during this parliamentary term so as to implement this very necessary reform. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.