Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Malta Today: Civil partnership bill expected after summer

LGBT issues, consumer rights dominate consultation meeting with Minister Helena Dalli.
Wednesday 5 June 2013 - 21:08 by Raphael Vassallo

Social dialogue minister Helena Dalli

LGBT issues and consmer rights dominated tonight’s consultation meeting with Helena Dalli, minister for social dialogue, consumer rights and civil liberties: the third in a series of public dialogue sessions with the cabinet of ministers, held at the Auberge de Castille.

In reply to a question from the floor, Minister Helena Dalli confirmed that consultation is under way for a bill on civil partnerships for gay couples, in keeping with an electoral promise in the Labour Party manifesto.

A bill to this effect is expected to be presented in Parliament after the summer recess in September, Dalli revealed.

However, the minister explained that the government’s mandate does not extend to full marriage equality of the kind recently achieved in Uruguay, Brazil, New Zealand and elsewhere. Asked if government would reconsider this position if public opinion was found to be favourable towards such a law, Dalli appeared to hint at the possibility of a referendum: pointing out how ‘public opinion’ has to be gauged scientifically, and that a referendum was the method chosen in the case of assessing public opinion on divorce.

However, in subsequent comments to MaltaToday the minister clarified that it was not the government’s intention to put the issue of full marriage equality for same-sex couples to a popular vote.

Still on the subjetc of LGBT issues, Helena Dalli acknowledged that the education sector was encountering problems in the form of outdated school material that presented pupils with ‘ideal’family scenarios: examples included pictures in which he father was often portrayed as the main family breadwinner,while the mother was expected to stay at home and tend to the children.

The existence of single-parent families, same sex couples and gay or transgender family members was overlooked in educational material currently in use in Maltese schools. As this is not an issue that be can be overcome in the short-term, the minister encouraged educators to make use of this material to challenge exusting perceptions and traditional stereotypes.

She also aired her personal opinion that ideally, more inclusive material should be used in future: especially in primary schools, where such perceptions tend to be formed at an early, impressionable age.

“My generation had to unlearn much of what we were taught at school when we realised it no longer corresponded to the reality of the society in which we lived. I hope that future generations will not have to go through the same process.”

Dalli stressed the improtance of addressing these shortcomins within the educational sector: pointing towards statistics which suggest that 25% of transgender pergsons commit suicide at a young age, in part because of bullying at school, home or the workplace. The same survey also painted a bleak picture of violent hate crimes targeting this category.

Dalli also fielded a number of concerns pertaining to consumer rights: including the controversy surrounding different public transport fares for tourists. Dalli expressed her personal disagreement with the fare structure in its present form, but added that other ministries were involved in the sector andtherefore no decision could be taken before the views of all parties concerned were taken on board.

Representatives of NGOs who work with persons with disabilities also featured prominently at question time. Issues raised include the lack of a functional legal framework to guarantee full equality in schools and at the workplace, in spite of limited progress achieved in this regard under the previous administration.

Specific questions were also raised about the level of funding currently channelled towards NGOs active in this sector: in particular, the possibility of exploitation of vulnerable persons by NGOs which do not always supply the families concerned with information about the full spectrum of available services.

Some NGOs, it was claimed, even place undue pressure on parents who are often forced by sheer necessity to take a hurried decision. The minister was asked whether government would be willing to consider revising existing schemes to allow for the possibility of direct funding to the parents of persons with special needs.

Dalli acknowledged the validity of such a scheme, but questioned whether this would open new channels of abuse.

Elsewhere, the minister acknowledged that the situation regarding after-sales service provided by Malta’s retail sector left much to be desired, and that the consumer affairs authority may not be functioning as it should. Consumer protection levels remain low when compared to other EU member states; but the minister stopped short of committing herself to any legislation in this regard, and instead urged consumers to make choices based on the quality of the service provided.

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