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Jay denies rift after colleagues help kill "culture war" gender bill

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Premier Jay Weatherill says the defeat of transgender equity legislation that he had personally championed does not represent a blow to his authority, because it was lost on a conscience vote of parliament.

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But he made clear that he was less than impressed the vote was called on when he was still jetting back from his tour of nuclear facilities in Finland, and other MPs who would have voted in support were absent from the chamber.

The House of Assembly last night voted down a bill that would have removed the requirement for a person to have gender reassignment surgery before changing their gender on their birth certificate. Instead, a person would need to consult a medical professional for a psychological assessment.

Advocates of the bill argue South Australia is the only Australian jurisdiction where surgery is required before a birth certificate can be changed.

Weatherill told reporters today matters of how people lived their lives were “not matters I think the SA parliament should intrude upon”.

“It’s not a matter of being undermined… this is a matter of individual conscience,” he said.

He was speaking before the official launch of television personality Andrew Denton’s push to legalise voluntary euthanasia, with a bill to be debated in parliament next month garnering the support of both Weatherill and Opposition Leader Steven Marshall.

But there was little cross-party affection today, with Weatherill telling media: “I would have preferred to be here for [yesterday’s] vote, but was unable to be here because of arrangements I made with Mr Marshall [about the timing of the Finland trip, which Marshall subsequently pulled out of].”

The bill was first introduced by Weatherill himself, but was brought to a vote by Labor MP Katrine Hildyard, despite the absence of Weatherill and Liberal backer David Pisoni – who had been ousted from the chamber during Question Time by Speaker Michael Atkinson, who voted against the legislation.

“I commenced this agenda, and I understand that there is a majority of support for this in the SA parliament [but] it didn’t work out that way,” Weatherill said.

However, he fired a shot at the timing of the vote, saying: “I wasn’t aware of the legislative package and when it was going to be presented… so it was a surprise to me to see it presented at a time when there wasn’t support for the legislation in the parliament.”

A senior Left source told InDaily the faction was furious that the bill had been voted down, against the Premier’s wishes.

The source, who did not want to be named, said that while Weatherill had agreed to a conscience vote on the bill, he did so on the understanding that it would pass.

Introducing the bill when Weatherill was away was “political naivety”, however, the Left believed the hard Right of the party had orchestrated its failure.

“He (Weatherill) or his office didn’t stop the vote going ahead because they were given the strong indication that it would get up,” the source said.

“This was an organised push by the hard Right.”

But Atkinson, a senior Right-faction figure, said those pushing that line “should have a good look at themselves”.

He argued that some members of the Labor Unity (right) faction had voted for the measure, including Annabel Digance, Chris Picton and Lee Odenwalder.

Atkinson said he would have voted for a measure to make gender reassignment easier, arguing when he was Attorney-General “I worked on the files of these cases [and pondered] why do they have to go to court?”

“I think making a change easier is desirable; I would have voted for that,” he said.

“But I wasn’t given the option of voting for that, because the bill was introduced in a ‘cultural warrior’ form… I think transgendered people have been done a disservice by being bound up in a war about whether the birth certificate should be changed.

“If someone’s an adult and they decide they want to change their sex or gender, let’s make that easier… but let’s not then go back and alter their birth certificate to say they were born as something else.”

Atkinson said “those in charge of the bill, particularly the staff, ought to go back and say ‘rather than have it as a cultural warriors’ manoeuvre, let’s just remedy the wrong to transgendered people”.

Liberal MP Stephan Knoll told parliament while he supported removing the requirement for people to undergo surgery before legally changing their gender, he feared the bill in its present form could enable same-sex couples to “manipulate” their birth certificate in order to marry.

Atkinson rejected this, but said Knoll’s broader contribution “spoke for all of us” who opposed the bill while supporting transgender rights.*

Weatherill insisted he had not been wounded by the defeat because it “was never a Government bill”.

“It’s a bill that I’ve promoted because I believe in it, and I’ve invited every MP to examine their conscience… if those MPs chose to vote against it, it’s a matter for them,” he said.

He said the legislation would be reintroduced this year or next.

The euthanasia bill next month will also fall to a conscience vote, with proponents unsure as to how the numbers fall.

At today’s launch, Denton told those gathered that the issue was a matter affecting “all people in all walks of life”.

“Death comes to us all, and no-one wants to die in untreatable pain,” he said.

 

*This paragraph has been amended to clarify Michael Atkinson’s position.

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