Labor No Longer Has A Spokesperson For Equality. Here’s Why.
The LGBTIQ-focused portfolio was quietly dropped when Albo became leader.
Earlier this week, Anthony Albanese announced Labor’s new shadow ministry. When the new positions were handed out, one was quietly left off the list: the position of Shadow Assistant Minister for Equality, aka LGBTIQ rights.
According to Anthony Albanese, that’s because his shadow ministry aims to shadow positions that exist in the Morrison government, which has no portfolio dedicated to LGBTIQ rights.
“Shadow ministers should reflect who they’re shadowing. That was our perspective,” Albanese told Junkee.
“For example, we have a Home Affairs shadow minister now — we didn’t have Home Affairs previously, but now there’s a minister,” he explained, referring to Kristina Keneally’s appointment as shadow minister for Home Affairs, the super portfolio that was created when Malcolm Turnbull combined the portfolios of immigration, border protection and domestic security agencies back in 2017.
Albanese said that the removal of the Shadow Assistant Minister for Equality position doesn’t mean Labor will be less focused on LGBTIQ rights going forward.
“The job of a shadow minister is to shadow an opponent, but regarding equality, that’s a core function of Labor,” he said. “Equality is part of everything we do.”
He defined this equality as “equality, not just on the basis of sexuality, but across the board. [LGBTIQ equality] is just one of the components, but certainly it’s not diminished. I see those issues as being enhanced”.
“I want a health minister who’s concerned about the rights of LGBTIQ people, about LGBTIQ people having equal rights in accessing health services. I want an education minister who’s focused on that. I want that across the board.”
LGBTIQ rights can, however, fall through the cracks between other portfolios. The position of Shadow Assistant Minister for Equality was first created in 2016, as part of a shadow ministry that then-leader Bill Shorten promised “won’t just be a strong opposition – we’ll be a positive, bold, alternative government”.
The position was first held by Terri Butler, and then by Louise Pratt, who used it to campaign for marriage equality, call for a ban on conversion therapy, and advocate for LGBTIQ rights. During the election campaign a few weeks ago, Pratt wrote on Facebook that “a Labor government won’t rest on its laurels and declare the job of LGBTIQ equality finished. There’s a long way to go before we’re done — but we’re not giving up”.
As of this week, Louise Pratt is no longer Shadow Assistant Minister for Equality (though her website still lists the portfolio, saying that “Louise is committed to ensuring that policy, programs and services are inclusive of LGBTI communities and is passionate about removing discrimination from Australian laws, services and society”). Pratt is now Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing, though Albo told us she “won’t lose any of her commitment to the issues she’s campaigned on for a long time”.
For many queer people, it’s important that LGBTIQ rights are prioritised as their own unique issue, and many saw Labor’s appointment of a shadow minister for equality as a step in the right direction. When we asked Albanese what he has to say to those who are disappointed by the removal of that dedicated position, he left his future options open.
“When we get in government, we can look at what portfolios people have. But we lost the election, we need to accept that, and part of the acceptance of that is having people in shadow ministries responding to the government in ways that reflect Labor values, and one of those Labor values is equality.”
Louise Pratt didn’t respond to a request for comment. We’ll update this story if she gets back to us.
Update 07/06/19: Pratt provided Junkee with the following statement. “Labor’s commitment to LGBTIQ Australians remains undiminished by the change in shadow portfolios. The truth is we have strong LGBTIQ representation within our party and within our parliamentary team. Anthony Albanese has made clear that he expects all of his shadow ministers to promote equality for all Australians, including LGBTIQ Australians”.
Feature image via Anthony Albanese.
Sam Langford is Junkee’s News & Politics reporter. Follow them on Twitter at @_slangers.