Government blocks age of consent reform

Issue 

By Marina Cameron

In early July, the federal government announced that it will not support moves to equalise age of consent laws for heterosexual and homosexual young people.

Laws differ widely across the states at present. The age of consent for heterosexuals in NSW is 16, and 18 for homosexuals. In WA, the age of consent for homosexuals is 21.

According to the newspaper Capital Q Weekly, the Model Criminal Code Officers Committee — made up of senior government advisers — sought public submissions from all states and territories before releasing a discussion paper in November that recommended that the age of consent be reduced to 16 across the country. Federal cabinet then decided not to support any lowering of the age of consent and to instruct its representative on the committee to make this position very clear.

Gay and lesbian rights groups have pointed out that the age of consent for heterosexuals in most states is already 16, and that the government's position is blatantly discriminatory.

The federal attorney-general, Daryl Williams, said that "the government doesn't see the matter as necessarily one of public interest" and that the "government will not support proposals for law reform that do not reflect the values of the broader Australian community".

Resistance member Jen Crothers told Green Left Weekly, "Violence and harassment of gay men and lesbians, and the high rate of suicide amongst gay and lesbian youth, should be of great 'public interest'.

"If the government continues to refuse to see homosexuality as a valid sexual choice, this will directly contribute to continuing discrimination. The only values the Liberals are reflecting are their own conservative, homophobic views. There is a strong case for equal laws and most people in society would accept that", Crothers said.

According to the Sydney Star Observer, the British government announced on July 14 that it would not contest a case brought against it in the European Court of Human Rights in 1996 by 17 year-old Euan Sutherland, who claimed that unequal age of consent laws violated his right to privacy and were discriminatory.

After being advised that it would not win the case, the Blair Labour government has said that it will not introduce a bill to change the laws, but will not block a bill put up by someone else.