LEAP Parliamentary Plenary

(11.30am 29 February 2012, Parliament House Theatrette)

I would like firstly to acknowledge the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the traditional custodians of our land, and to pay my respects to their Elders. I also acknowledge the people of the 200 nationalities who live in our City.

I also acknowledge Cate Faehrmann, MLC; Trevor Khan, MLC; Bruce Notley-Smith and Penny Sharpe, MLC.

And I would like to offer a warm welcome to this Parliament, and to the City of Sydney, to our interstate and overseas guests.

Sydney is one of the world's most diverse and accepting cities. That acceptance, diversity and tolerance are attributes that we safeguard, and they are the source of much of this city's energy and creativity.

It is a fitting place to host a conference which is concerned with issues of human rights, interfaith harmony, cultural pluralism and advocacy in particular for GLBTIQ issues in our region.

It is thanks to generations of activists - many involved in the sort of organisations represented by the ILGA - who have spoken out, lobbied, marched and acted to break down barriers, to have the dignity and human rights of all people in our society fully recognised.

I fully support that cause, and though it may sometimes seem that some battles have to be fought again and again, it is only by looking back that we can see how far we have come.

In the time I have been active in politics - first as a City Councillor in the 1980s, more recently as Lord Mayor and also throughout my time as a Member of Parliament - I have witnessed tremendous changes.

Changes that have come about by combining action in the community with action in Parliament. I'm proud that my work in Parliament has complemented the action of your community to bring some of these changes about. You have asked participants in this session to talk about their party's relation to GLBTI issues.

In 1982, I became the first elected representative to address the Sydney Gay Business Association (now the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Business Association). The following year, I supported a grant application from the Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service for funding to buy a photocopier. The Labor members of Council - most of them old fashioned right wingers - were solidly opposed to this!

In my time as Lord Mayor, however, we have seen a welcome unanimity on many issues.

These include:

  • endorsement of the campaign to amend Commonwealth and State laws
    discriminating against same sex couples and their children
  • adoption of a Lord Mayoral Minute to launch the City of Sydney Relationships Declaration Program - now a model adopted by Melbourne and other councils, and which was a forerunner to the NSW government's relationships register
  • appointing a gay and lesbian project coordinator to work within Council on ensuring we respond to the needs of our GLBT community, and
  • recognition of Mardi Gras as a major festival in which the City takes an active part (including raising the Rainbow Flag on Town Hall) and hosting the 2011 Mardi Gras workshop in a council building in Redfern.

The City of Sydney is committed to policies that support of GLBTIQ communities and I have been committed to building relationships that will foster awareness and respect.

We developed our Oxford Street Safety Strategy with the active involvement of key organisations and once again, it was unanimously adopted by Council in June 2007.

That strategy is implemented in conjunction with the community, the police and other government agencies.

In my first speech as a new Member of Parliament, I raised community concerns about increasing police powers through a new Summary Offences Act and I have made it my business to be proactive in lobbying police ministers and senior police to be aware of anti-gay violence.

I've have consistently advocated for a strategic response to homophobic violence and for the appointment of state-wide and inner-city GLBTIQ liaison officers.

Young people are particularly vulnerable, and I've sought in Parliament the introduction of state-wide education in schools to increase tolerance and understanding towards homosexual students.

Since my election to Parliament in 1988, I have been involved with issues around HIV-AIDS especially as my electorate was virtually the epicentre of the epidemic in Australia.

I became a member of the Parliamentary HIV/AIDS group and took part in the Third National AIDS Conference in 1988.

I made submissions to the Green Paper which led to the first National HIV/AIDS Strategy and have continued supported the community and organisations such as St Vincent's Hospital and the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation, among others.

In 1993, I successfully introduced the homosexual anti-vilification bill which subsequently became law and the following year I introduced the first Bill to amend the Anti-Discrimination Act to outlaw discrimination against transgender people.

In 1997, I introduced the first bill to recognise same-sex relationships which provided the basis for legislation in Tasmania and I have consistently advocated - inside and outside Parliament - for full recognition of same sex relationships to protect the rights of same-sex couples and their families.

I have seen significant changes come about since 1988. What once seemed hopeless causes are now accepted by mainstream society. In 2000, when I first tried to introduce adoption rights for same-sex couples, no-one was willing to support it.

By 2010, my bill was supported by the majority of Members in both houses of Parliament.

What I have learned over the past 20 years is that achieving legislative change requires two things. The first is a strong campaign by the GLBT community which demonstrates the need for change and builds public support for change. The second is gaining the support of MPs of goodwill from all sides of politics. Almost every single GLBT reform in NSW has only occurred when MPs from all the major political parties have voted for it.

Marriage equality will be achieved in the same way. The recent decision to refer the various Marriage equality bills to a Senate committee provides an opportunity to present MPs with evidence and strong arguments for change and to gain their support.

We have come a long way together over the past few decades, and I believe that we will, in our lifetimes, achieve full equality and justice for all.