RFC Annual General Meeting 29 November 2008
Felicity Marlowe, Love Makes a Family Campaign Coordinator
Love Makes a Family is the advocacy campaign of the Rainbow Families Council. It was founded in 2004, to provide a community response to the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s initial consultation paper on Assisted Reproductive Technology and Adoption. It was originally coordinated through the Fertility Access Rights Lobby, at that time a working group of the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby. At the third Rainbow Families Conference in September 2006, the interim Rainbow Families Council was created to replace Fertility Access Rights Lobby, and Love Makes a Family became the campaign of the Rainbow Families Council.
Representation and organisational support
This year I have been a member of the Attorney-General’s LGBTI Advisory Committee in a non-representational role, but have essentially been representing the interests of rainbow families. Other committee members who have also worked to ensure the needs of rainbow families are addressed include Janet Jukes, Lyn Morgain, Jamie Gardiner, Amaryll Perez and Lisa Sarmas.
I’d like to particularly thank Cath Smith from VCOSS and Lyn Morgain from ALSO for their support, including practical help with mailouts and copying. Very handy for a campaign with no funding!
From Final Report to the final vote
- On 7 June 2007, the VLRC released its final report. Following this, in August 2007, we re-launched our Visit your MP community strategy, with a particular focus on people whose MPs were Ministers, and encouraging them to support the VLRC’s recommendations.
December 14 2007 was the release of the Victorian Government’s response to the VLRC final report. LMAF responded by doing media focusing on families and the rights of children.
- As part of the Midsumma festival in 2008, we held a small but very successful (in terms of recruitment of most excellent people to the campaign!) community forum.
In early 2008, LMAF created an advocacy team involving a range of members of our community and supporters, including Lyn Morgain from the ALSO Foundation, Jamie Gardiner (an elder stateman of LGBTI campaigning), and convenors from the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, plus a great group of experienced and/or interested community members. The purpose of the team was to divide up the work of campaigning for law reform in the leadup to the ART Bill, for example to empower people to act as representatives of the Rainbow Families Council with a range of organizations and MPs. We held three face-to-face meetings and sent a lot of emails!
- In May 2008 we developed a list of potential allies – community groups and organizations who might be willing to lobby in support of the issues, and sent letters requesting their support. A number of women’s health, children’s welfare and other organizations have written open letters to members of the Parliament urging them to support reform.
- In May 2008 we sent thank you letters to all 82 MPs who voted yes on the Relationships Register, and encouraged them to do the same on the upcoming Bill.
We identified the (42) key members of the upper and lower house to focus our lobbying efforts on, preceding the introduction of the Bill, which we knew was planned for mid to late 2008. In June/July we sought meetings with these members. Our LMAF information kit was updated and sent with an introductory letter about the Council to Cabinet members and the 42 identified MPs. We then sought meetings with all of these MPs in the leadup to the Bill’s introduction.
- On 23 July I had a baby! (our third) … Maude has been an integral part of the campaign and her chubby cheeks even got a mention in Hansard!
- On 1 August we launched a new phase of the community campaign: the Send Your Family Photo Campaign, aiming to create a personal connection between families and their local MPs, and a sense for MPs that the upcoming Bill was about real children and families. This got a lot of very positive feedback from MPs in their speeches.
The ART Bill was introduced to the lower house by the Attorney General in mid-September, during the abortion debate, and began debate on 7 October. Two days earlier, we spoke at a community forum organised by the Northcote branch of the ALP, alongside Maggie Kirkman. The day the ART debate began, we also spoke (with several community members) in a forum in Parliament for ALP members of the lower house.
- A number of parents, children and supporters attended various parts of the debate in the lower house. This was an opportunity to remind all MPs that the Bill is about real people, as well as to grab MPs in the corridors of Parliament for ongoing lobbying.
- During the debates in both houses and in between, we encouraged people to continue writing to MPs, particularly those who were seen as potential yes-voters or abstainers, talking about what the impact would be on their family if the Bill should fail.
- We produced a second separate information kit for upper house members, specifically focussing on impact of the current law, and what it would mean for children’s rights if the Bill should fail.
- The debate in the upper house began on 30 October – We organised the Prams and Grans gathering on the steps of Parliament for that day, with support from VCOSS and 12 other community organizations, and speakers including Alistair Nicholson, former Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, Alice Kirkman, Fiona Clarke (on surrogacy) and proud grandma Gillian Allen. Attended by 100+ grownups and their kids. It was a great morale-booster to see everyone come out, despite the rain! Around 40 grownups and their children then went into the Parliament to watch the upper house debate begin. We knew this was important, but it proved absolutely critical when we were welcomed by Robert Smith ALP President of the Legislative Council.
- On Thursday 30 October debate was adjourned to the next sitting. Seeing how tight the numbers would be, we held an emergency advocacy team meeting and narrowed our list of MPs to a top 12, and sought meetings with all of them.
- Debate resumed on 11 November and continued on and off till Thursday 13 November where In a (rare) speech Robert Smith ALP President of the Legislative Council. gave on the ART Bill, he said that meeting us and our children had changed his mind because he realised it was about real people. Yay!
- We had continued to follow the debate during this week often until late at night, with many parents and some babies sitting in the public galler. We have had very positive feedback on this from MPs, and it has been very useful for ongoing meetings with key supportive MPs and others.
- The numbers were extremely tight, and the Government sought additional time to seek support for the Bill by referring it to Legislation Committee, which sat twice before the final sitting of Parliament, from Tuesday 2 December. The Committee went through the Bill clause by clause, and MPs brought up questions and issues. We attended, as did the Australian Christian Lobby.
- The Legislation Committee will give its report on Tuesday 2 December, and debate will most likely recommence on the Bill on Thursday 4 December. We are encouraging people to keep the pressure on, and continue to send messages urging their MPs to vote yes, or at least to not vote no, throughout the week. We also encourage people to attend the debate if they can, and keep in touch via the rainbow families or Love Makes a Family email lists.
- We organised a pARTy for Sunday 14 December, 10am to 1pm at the Edinburgh Gardens. Whatever happens, we have a great campaign to celebrate and many people to thank. So please come along! Flyers are available with all the details.
- Special thanks to Mandy Mackenzie – our website updating whiz – who always popped up new information at a moments notice!