Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Bill 2013.

I am very pleased to give my support to the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Bill 2013. This bill is the latest in a very long list of reforms delivered by this federal Labor government to support the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians. These reforms have included recognition of same-sex couples and parents; improving the processes by which transgender and intersex Australians have their identity recognised on Commonwealth documentation; providing Australians who want to get married overseas with access to certificates of no impediment; and introducing specific health and aged-care strategies for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians.

I am very proud to be part of a party and a government that has delivered these and so many more reforms, and that we have now introduced this bill. I would really like to commend the GLBTI community for their advocacy and assistance to government in bringing these many reforms to the table. It is only through the community sharing their experiences and bringing them to the fore that we, governments and parliaments, can understand and adjust the way we govern ourselves in the interests of all Australians.

To me it is almost unbelievable that, in 2013, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians can still be legally discriminated against under Commonwealth law, even though they are widely accepted. Most Australians know gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. We understand that sexuality is neither a choice nor a reason for people to be subjected to discrimination or harassment. Fewer Australians, however, have a good understanding of the issues relating to gender identity and intersex status. A person's 'gender identity' refers to their inherent sense of themselves as being male or female, or perhaps even a combination of the two, and this may not always align with the sex they were assigned at birth. 'Intersex status' is quite a different thing. It refers to someone whose biological make-up—the way they were biologically identified at birth—is not wholly male nor wholly female and, in fact, may be a combination of both or may be lacking some of the attributes. So there are a range of quite specific and diverse genetic and biological conditions that mean that a significant number of people have a biological intersex status.

Like sexual orientation, neither gender identity nor intersex status are a choice and neither are a reason for a person to suffer discrimination or harassment. However, sadly, like GLBTI Australians, gender identity and intersex status can and often are reasons for people to suffer discrimination. As I participated in the inquiries into this legislation, conducted by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, I and other senators heard many significant stories about the kind of discrimination and harassment suffered by GLBTI Australians—the most appalling examples of discrimination.

I know of people with spotless professional histories who have been sacked from their employment with no recourse on the discovery or disclosure of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status and, importantly, of young people who are so bullied and harassed so badly within educational settings due to their sexual orientation or gender presentation that they become depressed and suicidal in the face of institutional inaction, a failure of these organisations to act to protect the young people in their care. It is really important that this legislation creates that onus of protection on Australia's educational institutions.

There is also evidence of older GLBTI Australians being, if you like, forced back into the closet, to hide or lie about their identity and life, in order to be assured of receiving respectful care in their older and most vulnerable years in aged-care settings. It is all very well for Senator Brandis this evening to complain about the amendments that the government is putting forward, and I am proud that we are putting forward, but we put them forward not out of an act of political divisiveness—far from it. We put them forward because the lesbian and gay community have worked very hard with the aged-care sector to put protocols in place to say, 'This is how things should be done.' They have worked hard with the aged-care sector and with GLBTI Australians to identify the kind of discrimination that older GLBTI Australians face.

Discrimination in aged care is well documented. Aged care is a service that is subsidised by the Commonwealth so that all Australians, if they need care and support, can access an aged-care service. Not all Australians have a choice about the kind of aged-care institution that they would like to access. In many communities there is only the local service. So I put on a much higher order the right of GLBTI Australians who need care and protection in an aged-care service to have their personal liberties and rights respected. Those services are subsidised by the Commonwealth, and it is vital that the Commonwealth should mandate that GLBTI Australians have the same access to those services as all other Australians.

In the self-proclaimed, egalitarian Australia—one that prides itself on a fair go for all—discrimination where people are denied health care, social assistance and even denied banking services on the basis of their gender identity, their sexual orientation or gender presentation, is plainly unacceptable. So I am very pleased that, with the passing of this bill into law, we will help and provide redress for Australians where this discrimination exists.

There is, however, more work to be done. We need to look seriously at including a range of other attributes within our discrimination protection law as part of a consolidated federal antidiscrimination law but also within the Sex Discrimination Act. For example, being a victim of domestic violence is an attribute that can cause people to be significantly discriminated against. It can cause people to lose their housing and it can cause people to lose their employment at a time when they are already incredibly vulnerable. There is a significant need for us to continue to look at all those kinds of gender related aspects of discrimination.

I also think that we need to engage with the philosophical and legal framework behind the way we integrate existing acts together. I hope that the consolidation is something that will happen in the future, and I am assured that it is something that the government remains committed to. As part of this, I do believe we should be considering whether people who hold religious beliefs also need protection from discrimination. I also believe we need to tighten up on religious exemptions.

Aged care is but one example of organisations receiving funding from the Commonwealth to deliver services to the community—services that we expect community members to be able to access—and, personally, this is something that I put a great deal of priority on. People do not have a choice about which service they are referred to. So, if you are a transgender Australian, for example, and you are referred by Centrelink to visit your local Employment Plus service, that is the service through which you are required to access your services. There is absolutely no transparency within government as to which services retain the right to discriminate or not. As a consumer, as someone who wants to access services, there is no transparency around which organisations in our nation retain the right to discriminate. Most often, Catholic institutions are listed as charities. They are not listed, for example, as religious institutions when you look at the government bureaucracy and paper work. So there is absolutely no transparency or capacity for Australians to be reassured that, when they access a service, there is a possibility of them suffering discrimination at the hands of that service. These are the kinds of things that we must address in future, and I lay that proposition on the table.

Legislation is only one tool that we have for fighting discrimination and intolerance in Australian society. I am proud of how far we have come as a nation and I appreciate the enormous difference that that makes to the lived experience of GLBTI Australians. However, there are still far too many people who suffer extreme discrimination and extreme mental health impacts from that discrimination. So, of greater importance is the change that needs to continue to take place in our hearts and minds—in the hearts and minds of the community and of individual people—so that we treat each other with compassion and respect in day-to-day life. I am very pleased to say, though, that legislation like the legislation before us can open very real avenues for redress. When discrimination arises, legislation like this can help point the way for society to go. I commend the bill to the Senate.

Hansard Transcript