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Legislative Assembly

15 August 2019
Second reading
Bridget Vallence  (LIB)


Ms VALLENCE (Evelyn) (11:59:11): I rise to speak in opposition to the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2019. This bill raises serious questions of public importance and solicits very serious questions about who we are and what we want to be, not just individually but as a society. I accept that questions regarding a person’s gender and sexuality are deeply personal and should not be subject to unnecessary interference by the state. We must recognise that we live in a society of great diversity, which is to be embraced, encouraged and promoted, and that people approach their sexuality and gender in different ways. I acknowledge there are many differences of opinion on these issues, and I, like we all should, respect those differences of opinion. I believe that when bills such as the one we are currently debating come before this Parliament, we must ensure we have consulted broadly with our constituents, with our communities and with stakeholders to hear the views of all concerned and consider our position carefully. Moreover, we must ensure that adequate protections for everyone in the community will exist as a consequence of making such significant change. Regrettably, this bill does not contain sufficient safeguards or protections from it being abused, misused and potentially subjecting others in our community to great detriment. Whilst I acknowledge this bill is attempting to embrace transgender and gender-diverse members of our community who have felt excluded, I do not believe this bill gets the balance right in terms of the serious consequences it may impose on many others in our community. I will now consider the main provisions of the bill and detail the reasons for concern. Clause 1 of the bill outlines the main purposes of the bill and provides for allowing people to alter their recorded sex to a 'sex descriptor’, removes the requirement for a person to have undergone sex affirmation surgery before they can alter the record of their sex and provides for alteration of a child’s sex in their birth registration. I wish to make it plain: I do not oppose the intent these measures seek to achieve. However, it is the process by which this bill seeks to make these changes and the inadequate protections and safeguards that I object to. Returning to the bill, clause 8 provides a new process for a person to alter the record of their sex, allowing them to nominate a sex descriptor of their choice, without the person needing to have undergone sex affirmation surgery. A person need only make a statutory declaration, with the application including a statement from another adult who has known the person for a mere 12 months. Clause 8 also seeks to allow a child’s record of sex to be altered in their birth registration. As with adults, children are not required to undergo treatment, and the sex descriptor of their choice must be nominated in the application. For our society, and for me personally as a parent, serious questions remain unaddressed. Noting that the bill’s provisions do not actually require any evidence directly from children in the applications, because the consent is expressed through parents and guardians, we cannot have complete confidence our young children will be adequately protected. On adequate protections and safeguards, we must also consider consequences for positive sex segregation. Having read these provisions, I was interested to find how the government intended to reconcile these changes with the various exemptions that currently apply under our laws that allow certain service providers and institutions to lawfully discriminate on the basis of sex and how it would guard against our equal opportunity laws being misused. To my great surprise, I could find nothing in the bill that sought to protect these exemptions and the integrity of our equal opportunity laws. I then read the Attorney-General’s second-reading speech to see if I could locate anything—I did not. But I did find the following statements by the Attorney-General: Misguided concerns were raised that the proposed reforms put women’s safety at risk, for example in domestic violence shelters, change rooms and toilets … In reality, trans and gender diverse people are at higher risk of facing harassment or violence in receiving services or using facilities if they are forced to use those that are not appropriate to their affirmed gender. With respect to the Attorney-General, I think she has missed the point and was clearly insensitive to describe these concerns as 'misguided’. As we all know, there are single-sex schools, female-only gyms, sporting clubs with dedicated female teams and female-only change rooms and female-only service providers, such as in health or domestic violence refuges. There are no provisions in this bill that seek to deal with and resolve how these institutions are to respond to invariable issues that will arise as a consequence of this bill becoming law. By way of a very simplistic example, if a man decides to change his sex and identify as female and has not undergone any sex affirmation surgery, can a female-only gym disallow that person from using its facilities? If this person was denied entry, would they have a cause of action against the gym for being discriminated against on the basis of their sex? A more complex example may be if this person sought to access a domestic violence refuge for women or a women’s prison. Could this be denied? There is no provision in this bill to address these critical matters, particularly when a person may have changed their gender record for nefarious purposes. I think these are reasonable and indeed fundamental questions to ask and even more reasonable and fundamental for the government to answer. There is no doubt these issues will arise in schools, sporting clubs and competitions, service providers and women’s refuges. It is remarkable the Labor government is proposing to do nothing on this issue and why the opposition is opposed to this bill. Unless these issues are addressed, these changes could drastically limit the protections afforded to women and girls under our sex discrimination laws—laws, it must be remembered, that were introduced to remove and make illegal the gender imbalance many women were made to feel in our community. Furthermore, the provision of a 12-month rule must be held to scrutiny. Again concerning is the lack of adequate protections and safeguards in this bill to ensure these provisions are not abused by those in our community who may seek to take advantage of these provisions, make numerous applications to change their sex and indeed potentially apply to change their sex every 13 months. We must consider the unintended consequences this may give rise to for those who are vulnerable in society and seriously question what the rationale for the 12-month rule is. There is nothing in either the second-reading speech or the explanatory memorandum to explain why this is so. These provisions seem to undermine the seriousness in which these issues must be taken and create an unwelcome potential for these provisions to be abused and mocked, potentially causing unnecessary hurt to those in our community who we want to protect from any further vilification. Finally, of significant importance is contemplating the proposed changes of this bill in relation to sex offenders and prisoners. Part 3 of this bill deals with consequential amendments to other pieces of legislation, including the Corrections Act 1986, the Serious Offenders Act 2018 and the Sex Offenders Registration Act 2004, and how to deal with these applications by persons who are regulated by these acts. There are no sufficient checks and safeguards in relation to this provision, and this again creates an unwelcome potential for these provisions to be abused. A prisoner, parolee or registered sex offender can obtain permission of either the secretary or the Adult Parole Board of Victoria in order to make an application to change their sex, which the Attorney-General conceded is a process that is no different to such a person seeking to change their name. How can this be appropriate, especially in regard to a registered sex offender? This does not go nearly far enough and would enable prisoners, parolees and registered sex offenders to be as free as anyone else to apply to change their sex. I urge the government to consider an amendment that would put in place far more strident and robust measures in relation to applications made by such persons. In conclusion, I am sure I am not alone when I say this: I have had close friends who have had to grapple with the issues of gender identification. They are not easy, they are very challenging and indeed can be challenging especially for their families and friends, but they deserve nothing but our love, care and support as they make their way through life. Whilst I support the Parliament working to ensure transgender and gender-diverse people are appropriately recognised in our society and treated fairly and equally, I do not think this bill provides sufficient safeguards and protections to ensure such recognition is not abused by those who would seek to undermine its intent. The opposition will therefore be voting against this bill.