Philanthropy is the one major reform left.

October 11, 2017

Yes, I said it- marriage equality isn’t the major outstanding reform left for Australia, LGBTI philanthropy is. As we debate LGBTI reforms in Australia, with marriage equality remaining front of mind, it is important to note that Australia has actually had a long history of progressive regulatory and legislative reforms, the majority of which were bipartisan. While LGBTI couples and the media focus on marriage equality, Australia has a number of world leading LGBTI reforms already in place, both at a national and state level.  Some of these reforms were world firsts- including in aged care, mental health, education and protected attributes/nondiscrimination, and many of them were undertaken quietly and with little community backlash. Most were also bi-partisan, although necessitated under the Labor government of Julia Gillard. It is somewhat ironic that the single largest bundle of legislative and regulatory reforms of any social issue was implemented under a PM who, at the time, didn’t support Marriage equality.

As the National Co-Convenor of Australian Rainbow Labor from 2008-2013, I had the honour of working with the people who researched, wrote and drove the campaign for many of these reforms across Australia, and whose involvement continued throughout the reform implementation over the subsequent years of Julia Gillard’s government. Many of these reforms have been forgotten, and few are championed by mainstream press, however cumulatively these Federal level reforms demonstrate one of the largest coordinated LGBTI reform agendas in the world. They provide a Federal and State government roadmap for regulatory and legislative reform which, when adopted together, improves life outcomes, options and choices for the LGBTI community.

While 200 plus legislative and regulatory reforms were passed, some of the most important and broad reforms are listed below:

  • Pensions, superannuation and aged care reforms – providing equality of access, equality of taxation and government benefits
  • Government payments, Visas, taxation and benefits – extending benefits to same-sex couples who are de-facto (12 months living together)
  • Workplace protections, anti-discrimination protections, and trans and intersex status listed as protected attributes under the sex discrimination act
  • Wide ranging health, document, medical and access rules- including revision of passports for trans and intersex persons and investment in gender centres
  • Education reforms - including the ground breaking national safe schools program, as well as sexualand reproductive health and education reforms
  • Aged care reforms - with a focus on working with mature aged LGBTI communities, and provision of age and gender/sexuality appropriate settings
  • Mental health investments- health care worker training, and a focus on rural and regional LGBTI persons
  • A review of all government legislation and regulations, to ensure equality in law
  • Foreign affairs investments - including application of the Yogyakarta principles, and application of a gender and sexuality lens in the provision of government aid and development
  • A certificate of ‘no impediment of marriage’ to be issued to Australian same-sex couples, to enable them to be married overseas

At a State level, Victoria was able to lead the way, under the current Andrews’ Government. And as the 2014 Labor candidate for Prahran, this was something I was very tuned in to. I was fortunate enough to be involved in the driving of the State LGBTI agenda. Had I been elected, I would have been the first openly LGBTI member in the Victorian State Legislative Assembly. While I narrowly lost the election, Labor did win government, meaning many reforms have since been implemented. These include: 

  • LGBTI-specific government funding, and a focus on marginalised communities, young people, seniors and ‘harmony’ projects
  • The expungement of prior homosexual convictions, including a formal government apology
  • Removal of the ‘gay panic’ defence, outlawing conversion therapy on minors and the strengthening of hate crime offences towards the LGBTI community
  • Establishment and recognition - under a state based relationship recognition scheme
  • The establishment of a Gender and Sexuality commissioner, also a Government Minister for Equality (Equivalent to a Secretary for Equality) and an Under Secretary (Commissioner)
  • Adoption reforms -to enable same sex couples to adopt
  • Transgender and intersex birth certificate rectification

While there are still some key reforms needing to join this upwards trajectory, only one reform (the National Safe Schools Coalition) has since been unwound by the two-term Liberal/National government. The Australian reform agenda has now been shared globally, and has provided a key opportunity to engage with reform- providing wording, legislative frameworks and references as to the process and procedures, and also providing a road map for future reform agendas for LGBTI communities in numerous countries.

So while marriage equality, plebiscites and postal surveys drive a wedge through our community now, we are still fortunate to have a world leading LGBTI agenda.  However, the one reform we haven’t achieved in Australia is philanthropic reform, which is why The Channel is so critical.  We must be eternally vigilant and supportive, to ensure that we are able to continue in stepping forward for the benefit of the LGBTI community – including philanthropically.

About Neil Pharaoh,

Neil Pharaoh is one of the Founding Directors of The Channel, Australia first LGBTI giving circle. He was also the national co-chair of Rainbow Labor from 2008-2014, which was the body instrumental in over 200 LGBTI legislative and regulatory reforms within Australia.  Neil ran for State Parliament in Australia in 2014, and after a narrow election loss spent 2015 working in the US ,including on international LGBTI advocacy, campaigns and political activities. He tweets at @neilpharaoh ( ) and can be followed on Facebook ( and Instagram ( ).