We welcome Labor commitment to workplace protections

We warmly welcome the Commonwealth Labor government’s commitment to improving discrimination protection for people with intersex variations. This commitment addresses two demands in our call for action to the Commonwealth government.

On the floor of the House of Representatives, Tony Burke, the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, made a commitment on behalf of the government to update the Fair Work Act and other legislation including the Sex Discrimination Act to improve protections for people with intersex variations, and protect everyone with innate variations of sex characteristics.

The commitment will replace ‘intersex status’ in legislation with the attribute of ‘sex characteristics’. Protections on grounds of sex characteristics have been enacted in ACT, Victoria and Tasmania, with recommendations for the same protections made by law reform bodies in both Queensland and Western Australia. A government bill currently before the NT Parliament is intended to enact such protections in that jurisdiction.

This commitment was given in the context of debate on the Fair Work Act. Until now, protections for people with innate variations of sex characteristics (and protections on the ground of gender identity) have been omitted. With support from IHRA and other bodies including Just Equal Australia, the Greens and Independent, Andrew Wilkie, pushed for protections on grounds of sex characteristics. The government’s public commitment was made in response.

Intersex Human Rights Australia has campaigned for protections on grounds of sex characteristics since 2015, in discussions with the South Australian Law Reform Institute. This work was progressed through publication of the community consensus Darlington Statement in March 2017.

Executive director Morgan Carpenter said:

“Following the principles set out in the Darlington Statement, we have been supporting the introduction of these protections in jurisdictions across Australia.”

“Labor has longstanding commitments to action to protect the human rights of people with intersex variations, including protections from discrimination and harmful practices. Earlier this year we published a call for action to the federal government seeking best practice protections, along with commitments on a range of other legislative, regulatory and policy issues. ”

“This public commitment made by Tony Burke, along with proposals by the Greens and cross-bench, are profoundly welcome. We look forward to working on the enactment of these best practice protections.”

We’d like to thank Andrew Wilkie, Stephen Bates MP, Tony Burke MP, Mark Dreyfus MP, and their staff, and also thank Alastair Lawrie and Rodney Croome for their support on this issue.

Read the debate in Hansard.

Please note that the discussion suggests that the problem with the attribute of ‘intersex status’ is that the term intersex is an identity label. This is a misconception and the attribute of ‘intersex status’ actually refers to biological characteristics. However, such misconceptions are pervasive and adversely impact the utility of these protections, along with a definition based on deficits. In contrast, the proposed attribute of sex characteristics is accurate and clear, and less susceptible to such misconceptions.