Last edited: February 02, 2005

Western Australia Liberals Will Recriminalise Homosexuality

ON LINE opinion, February 2, 2005
Australia’s e-journal of social and political debate

By Brian Greig

In 1990, Ronald Reagan allowed the CIA to back the Contra Rebels in Nicaragua and overthrow the elected government of Daniel Ortega by military coup. The regime that followed recriminalised homosexuality.

No government around the world has since recriminalised homosexuality, but this may change on February 26, 2005 if the West Australian Liberals win the election.

State Opposition Leader Colin Barnett, is going to the polls with a policy to undo the gay and lesbian law reforms implemented in 2001, and which dragged WA from having some of the worst anti-homosexual laws in the world, to having some of the best.

The Liberal policy position “Families First” lays out a plan of human rights rollback never before seen in Australia. A Barnett Government would recriminalise male homosexuality, ban gay adoptions, deny lesbians access to IVF, and shut the door of the Family Court to separating same-sex couples.

The proposals, which Barnett claims, “are only position statements and not policies,” were written in 2001 after law reform was achieved. The webpage contains several factual errors and seems unduly harsh given recent polling that shows the electorate is supportive of the new laws.

If Barnett goes ahead with plans to push up the age of consent for gay males to 18 (16 for everybody else), WA will have the highest age of consent in Australia and become the only place in the country where different age of consent laws apply to heterosexual and homosexual people. Young gays and their partners will return to living under the shadow of criminal sanctions.

This proposal is opposed by the World Health Organisation, the Australian Medical Association and the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations on health grounds alone. Criminalisation hinders health education, drives behaviour underground and exacerbates HIV/AIDS.

Amnesty International opposes criminal sanctions, and any attempt to stigmatise young gays with punitive measures runs counter to both State and Federal youth suicide prevention programs.

Mr Barnett has stated his belief that, “gay and lesbian people are born that way,” and that his laws are simply aimed at protecting boys from abuse. This ignores the fact that girls are overwhelmingly the victims of child sexual abuse; that there is no correlation between sexual abuse and age of consent laws; and that pre-pubescent children are the targets of pedophiles, not teenagers. Barnett’s proposal serves only to reinforce the myth that homosexual men are inclined to molest boys, which in turn contributes to anti-gay prejudice and violence.

Contradicting his leader, State member for Kalgoorlie, Matt Birney, supports recriminalisation to 18, arguing that, “boys can be confused and need a couple more years to sort themselves out”. Birney has not explained how deeming young males to be criminals and threatening them with jail helps them to “sort things out”.

More alarmingly, as Opposition Police Spokesperson, Birney is ignoring the recommendations of the Wood Royal Commission into Police Corruption (NSW, 1997) which found that gay criminalisation was used as a blackmailer’s charter, and is at odds with State, Territory and Federal Police Commissioners and Attorneys’ General, all of whom endorse a national, uniform criminal code on this matter.

On the question of adoption, the Liberals have failed to grasp the difference between General Placement Adoption (GPA), and Known Child Adoption (KCA), and have called for the banning of both. GPA refers to placing an orphaned child from relinquishing parents, while KCA allows a lesbian or gay partner to “adopt” the existing children in a same-sex relationship to ensure legal protections for that child. Until recently, the non-biological parent in a same-sex relationship was regarded legally as a stranger in that family, and had no rights over the children in the event that his or her partner was killed or incapacitated.

As with adoption, the Liberals call to ban IVF is rooted in the notion that gays make bad parents, and overlooks the fact that most lesbians achieve pregnancy via sperm donation (artificial insemination), and not through IVF.

Curiously, there has never been a ban on homosexual people fostering children. The end result therefore, is that Barnett will allow gay and lesbian couples to provide a loving environment to traumatised children from broken homes on an ad hoc basis, but will deny them opportunities to have their own children or to adopt.

Shutting the door of the Family Court to same-sex couples is the cruellest of his proposals. If gays and lesbians cannot access this court for property settlement, then they will have to go to the Supreme Court. This is more cumbersome, more expensive and has no confidentially, unlike the Family Court.

In an effort to not look homophobic, Barnett has said that heterosexual de facto couples would also be forced out of the Family Court, but with the caveat that they will be able to use it if they have kids or have been together for five years.

This policy risks angering many straight couples, and will mean that children in separating same-sex families will be disadvantaged.

Mr Barnett has been at pains to point out that he is not homophobic, but his policies make this assertion hard to reconcile. In Opposition, Barnett allowed a conscience vote for his party on Labor’s law reform (some of which Liberal MP’s supported), but now that’s out the window and the policy will require a party vote. This means some Liberals will have to vote down measures in Government they previously supported in Opposition.

Whenever pressed on these issues, Barnett resorts to scare mongering about “gay marriage”. In fact, marriage is a Federal issue and has nothing to do with the State election. Barnett only deploys this red herring as a diversion from his own policies and to tap into the homophobia lingering from John Howard’s “gay marriage” ban in Canberra.

Fair minded Australians now anxiously await the outcome of WA’s State election to see whether Colin Barnett’s Liberals, if in government, will be joining the real world or joining the Contra Rebels.

  • Senator Brian Greig is the Australian Democrats Information Technology spokesperson and Senator for Western Australia.

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