Hansard Transcript (Legislative Council, 16 October 2013)
The Hon. PENNY SHARPE [10.25 p.m.]:
This time next week hundreds of people will gather in the New South Wales Parliament to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby. The NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby has a record of achievement that should be the envy of any community group that has sought to make change in New South Wales. Quite simply, the lobby has delivered for the community it has served.
Throughout the 1970s, Sydney's gay and lesbian groups were many and varied. Not surprisingly, they sometimes had a fractious relationship. The fight for decriminalisation of homosexuality in the early 1980s brought together many of the groups within Sydney's gay rights movement, such as the Gay Rights Lobby in late 1980. Members should remember that before 1984—six years after the first mardi gras civil rights march was held—homosexuality was still illegal in this State.
After decriminalisation, for much of the 1980s, HIV-AIDS dominated community activism. Too many people were dying and there was not a second to waste to try and stop the scourge of this hideous disease. The final catalyst for the establishment of the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby was in 1988 when the then incoming Coalition Government proposed gutting the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Board. A meeting at Heffron Hall, East Sydney, brought together a community to form the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby. The establishment of the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby marked a turning point in direct government activism by Sydney's gay and lesbian communities. Since its establishment the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby has led the fight for equality and social justice for lesbians, gay men and their families in New South Wales.
It is extraordinary to consider the achievements of the lobby over the past 25 years. By the early 1990s the lobby had argued for and won the introduction of gay and lesbian liaison officers [GLLOs] across New South Wales police stations and the establishment of the lesbian and gay anti-violence project. In 1993 homosexual anti-vilification legislation was passed. Cooperation with the Carr Labor Government in 1999 saw de facto relationship rights for same-sex couples passed in New South Wales.
These reforms were hugely significant for same-sex couples, not just here, but around the world. Alan Kirkland, co-convener of the lobby from 1998-2000 explained:
For people who don't know what this reform meant, it meant that for the first time, people in same sex relationships had the right to visit a partner in hospital and to be recognised as a benefactor if a partner died without a will. This was huge at the time—not just within Australia, but internationally
His fellow co-convener Kathy Sant continued:
It was a really different world then. Distressed people rang the Lobby all the time with stories of discrimination, even being denied the right to visit their partners in hospital or excluded from their funerals. Their relationships weren't recognised here or in most parts of the world.
In 2003 the lobby campaigned to equalise the age of consent and without the hard work of the lobby this Parliament would not have passed reforms in 2008 to recognise lesbian mums.
The lobby's policy and development coordinator Ghassan Kassisieh remembered:
… if a child's co-parents died they had no protection under inheritance laws. If the parent was sick, the child would not have any coverage under a lot of the victim's compensation and workplace compensation laws. I remember speaking to the Attorney-General about the very real numbers of children who lived in same-sex families. I remember not hearing anything for a few months after that meeting before the Government released its Miscellaneous Amendments Act.
In 2008, the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby also campaigned for the 58 Federal same-sex reforms that saw the Federal Labor Government introduce laws to give same-sex couples equality with opposite-sex de facto couples in Commonwealth laws including tax, super, immigration, social security, Medicare, aged care, veterans' and defence entitlements, family law and child support.
In 2010, the lobby fought for the removal of the last piece of legislation that discriminated against same-sex couples in New South Wales, same-sex adoption rights.
This record of success has not been an accident. The Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby has been successful because it put in thousands of hours of volunteer work, it has produced thorough and credible research and because its work is always grounded in consultation with the gay and lesbian community.
The lobby has also shown an amazing capacity to work cooperatively with members of Parliament. Although the lobby was established in response to concerns about an incoming Coalition Government, the lobby has always worked with any member of Parliament from any party who was willing to listen, be informed and then support the advancement of equality for gay men and lesbians in New South Wales. This hard work has been translated into effective campaigns that have removed discrimination against same-sex couples in all areas of the law in New South Wales.
Twenty-five years since its establishment, the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby continues to focus on campaigns that benefit gay men and lesbians in New South Wales including marriage equality, and support for young people in schools and the community. Tonight I congratulate the many thousands of volunteers who have given their time and expertise to the lobby over the years and acknowledge the tireless work of policy officers Ghassan Kassisieh, Senthoran Raj and Jed Horner, as well as all the co-convenors and committee members of the lobby over the years.
There are too many of you to name but it has been a privilege to work with so many of you. Congratulations to the lobby on this milestone.
I look forward to celebrating with you next week. I also look forward to working with you to finish the rest of the job to advance and defend the gains that have been made in the past 25 years.