Attorney-General George Brandis says he doesn’t think anti-discrimination laws should be suspended during the same-sex marriage plebiscite campaign. Photo: Andrew MearesAttorney-General George Brandis has ruled out suspending anti-discrimination laws during the same-sex marriage plebiscite campaign.
The Australian Christian Lobby – which has been among the most vocal opponents to same sex marriage – in February called for the federal government to “override” laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexuality during the campaign, which is expected to take place after the election. Its managing director Lyle Shelton has said this would ensure the “no” campaigners could speak freely without being threatened by legal action.
Greens senator Robert Simms referred to the proposal during Senate estimates on Thursday as designed to “facilitate a hate campaign”.
Senator Brandis rejected this, saying “that’s, I’m sure, not their purpose”, but said he did not think the laws should be suspended and later ruled out doing so.
“There are very obvious practical problems with that, among them…that most anti-discrimination laws in this country are laws of the states, not the Commonwealth.”
While the government was still deciding whether to give any public funding to the “yes” and “no” sides of the plebiscite campaign, Senator Brandis said he was concerned that it was a “fair and transparent plebiscite campaign in which, in the event there were to be public funding…both sides get an equal opportunity to put their case”.
Meanwhile, the hearing also revealed that the Human Rights Commission will lose staff as it gains three new commissioners.
Senator Brandis announced he had appointed a new Age Discrimination Commissioner, Disability Discrimination Commissioner and Human Rights Commissioner, and confirmed the commission would fund them within its current budget. They replace retiring commissioners Susan Ryan – who performed a dual age and disability discrimination role – and Tim Wilson, who resigned to run as the Liberal candidate for the Victorian seat of Goldstein.
Alastair McEwin, the former chief executive of People With Disability Australia and a former manager for the Australian Centre for Disability Law, was appointed Disability Discrimination Commissioner.
The Abbott government axed the stand-alone position in the 2014 budget, in a move heavily criticised by disability advocates.
Earlier, the Human Rights Commission’s president, Professor Gillian Triggs said that if the commission was not given more funding for the new commissioner and their support staff, it would cut its budget a further $700,000.
“It is certain that jobs will be lost if we do not get funding for a third commissioner position,” she said.
The Coalition’s introduction of an efficiency dividend last year meant the Commission faced a $5 million cut to its $15 million revenue over three years, making it difficult to resolve the increasing number of complaints its conciliation service received.
“I believe we do not have funding for us to properly meet our statutory obligations,” Professor Triggs said.
Dr Kay Patterson, a psychologist with expertise in the study of ageing was appointed Age Discrimination Commissioner. The former Victorian senator had previously served as a Health and Ageing minister.
And Edward Santow, currently the chief executive of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and director of the Australian Pro Bono Centre will replace Mr Wilson as Human Rights Commissioner.
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