Can the Libs shake off the conservative tag?

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Liberal leader Elizabeth Lee… “It is an appalling thing to do to any woman.”

Liberal leader Elizabeth Lee has taken action not only to protect people when they are at their most vulnerable, but to also let the community know that the Liberal Party is ready to move on true liberal issues,” writes MICHAEL MOORE.

THE poor showing of the Canberra Liberals six months ago in the ACT election is, at least in part, due to the very conservative image that was portrayed under former leader Alistair Coe. 

Michael Moore.

The Liberals are being watched closely to see if they can shake that image.

Liberal leader Elizabeth Lee has taken action not only to protect people when they are at their most vulnerable, but to also let the community know that the Liberal Party is ready to move on true liberal issues. 

Her “stealth” legislation deals with “non-consensual removal of a condom during sex”. She says her legislation “is about making our laws clearer, our community safer, and making our voice loud and clear that yes means yes and no means no”.

The law has been motivated by a case in NZ where a man was convicted of rape after “stealthing” a sex worker. In the ACT this issue has been specifically covered in the Sex Work Act since 1992. Section 27 makes it illegal to “receive commercial sexual services… unless a prophylactic is used”.

As the Liberals seek to present a less conservative image, Lee has now put her toe in the water with the support of her party room. She says: “This is an opportunity for the ACT to be at the forefront of these reforms and legislate proactively, instead of allowing more women and men to fall victim to such a heinous act”.

What a contrast to the noises echoed again and again from the Canberra Liberals who, since the first Assembly, regularly argued that the ACT should not be a “social laboratory”!

In political terms, a key element of this legislation is about respect. Over the last few months the issue of respect has plagued the federal parliament and has rubbed off on other jurisdictions. Ms Lee has astutely stepped into this area with a very specific piece of legislation.

However, the motivation for the legislation goes beyond politics. Ms Lee explained: “Stealthing risks both physical and psychological health, including the transmission of sexually transmitted infections and disease, unplanned pregnancies, depression, anxiety and in some cases post-traumatic stress disorder. 

“It is an appalling thing to do to any woman; any man; any person. Stealthing completely erodes the trust that a person can put in someone during the most vulnerable of moments. It is a violation of dignity and autonomy”.

The evidence Ms Lee cited was from a joint study by the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre and Monash University. This study “highlighted the prevalence of stealthing in our community. The report found that, of the thousands of respondents, a staggering one in three women and nearly one in five men, who have sex with other men, reported being victims of stealthing.

As with Section 27 of the Sex Work Act, gaining a conviction under this legislation may prove very difficult. As one wag once challenged “does it require a ‘condomstabulary’?” That original legislation, like the stealthing one introduced by Ms Lee, is not so much about conviction as about empowerment.

She explained in her introductory speech that the role of this legislation is “to empower all Canberrans to be able to come forward to police and to feel that they will be genuinely heard and to break down the fear and stigma of such violation and assure the community that the law is on their side”.

There is one case of stealthing remaining before the courts in Melbourne, according to Ms Lee, and apart from the case in NZ, there have been cases in places such as Canada, Switzerland and Germany. Although she acknowledges that the Bar Society believes the issue may be covered under current legislation, her amendments are about “transparency, clarity and certainty”.

With the issue of respect so clearly in the minds of thinking Australians, this Crimes (Stealthing) Amendment Bill 2021 is not only timely but also politically astute.

Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health. He has been a political columnist with “CityNews” since 2006. 

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Michael Moore
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government. He has been a political columnist with "CityNews" since 2006.

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