For LGBTQ+ New Zealanders thinking of hoping the pond, Craig Young offers a backgrounder on the history and culture of our nearest neighbour and its differences from us.

Firstly the chief difference between AUS and NZ is that Australia is a federal state, consisting of six states and two territories, while New Zealand is a unitary one. We have one national parliament and no large territorial divisions with their own authority, except (at times like the pandemic) Auckland City. This makes lawmaking more complicated than it is here, particularly when it comes to LGBTQI+ rights.
When it came to decriminalising homosexuality, for example, it took thirty years for the entirety of Australia to do so, from South Australia (1967) to Tasmania (1997). Much the same happened with the gay male age of consent and the passage of anti-discrimination laws.
Under the backward right-wing Howard federal government of the nineties and noughties, marriage equality was pre-emptively banned at the federal level. That took 20 years to remedy before a national referendum under the Turnbull administration finally fixed it. The Australian Labor Party (ALP) federal governments of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard were a serious disappointment from that perspective, given the strength of conservative Catholics within that party.

However, the extremism of successive conservative Liberal-National Coalition federal governments, as well as factionalism and internal instability led to the demise of the Morrison government in a landslide election defeat. Unfortunately, he left some problems for ALP Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

One of them was an ill-fated Religious Discrimination Bill. On its own, this shouldn’t be a problem. However, much as we may dislike the views of conservative Christians, we wouldn’t want them subjected to employment, accommodation, service provider discrimination, or unreasonable restrictions on religious speech, worship, or assembly. In Aotearoa/New Zealand, this is the case. Not so in Australia, given its disparate state and federal jurisdictions.

Today, in New South Wales, Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia, teachers in religious private schools can still lose their jobs if they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or queer, or if they are transgender or gender diverse. In New South Wales, nonreligious private schools also have the right to discriminate.

Predictably, the crux of this matter is that they don’t see why ‘religious’ schools can’t discriminate against LGBTQ+ staff and students, sacking or expelling them at will. Since 1993, they haven’t been able to do that here in NZ, but in Australia, things are at an impasse in the Federal Parliament. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese could make the necessary amendments to safeguard LGBTQ+ staff and students from vindictive ‘religious’ employers, but wants the Coalition to make it bipartisan, which the right-wing Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, a Queensland social conservative, refuses to do. Albanese could strike a deal with the Australian Greens and Teal Independents to bypass the Coalition, but right now, is not choosing that path.

Meanwhile, other headaches have emerged in Tasmania and New South Wales.

In West Sydney’s Cumberland City Council, a rogue right-wing suburban council tried to censor LGBTQ+ books from local libraries. After pressure from federal and state politicians and protests, the Council reversed its decision. Although we know it best for the annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, Sydney has some deeply socially conservative pockets, as highlighted by the election of fundamentalist minister Fred Nile to the state parliament for nearly forty years.

As for Tasmania, it is encumbered with the only surviving Liberal-National Coalition state or territory government anywhere in Australia, and as a consequence, it has prevaricated over the passage of anti-LGBTQ+ conversion therapy bans.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t look as if it will be remedied at any time soon. This is odd, given Tasmania’s otherwise progressive profile when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights otherwise.

It would be a mistake to see Australia as wholly backward for LGBTQ+ rights. When it comes to concrete antidiscrimination inclusion for trans and intersex people, it is certainly ahead of Aotearoa, which only has a Crown Law Office opinion to shield trans people in place.

All this is important to consider (particularly for teachers) before you decide if their grass is really greener.