The federal government is being urged to establish a dedicated LGBTQI commissioner as part of Australia’s independent human rights institution.

Changes to the appointment process for the Australian Human Rights Commission, to establish a merit-based selection approach, were steered through parliament’s lower house on Tuesday by Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus. 

The independent agency – tasked with protecting and promoting human rights in Australia and internationally – lost its ‘A’-status accreditation in March due to questionable processes to appoint commissioners. 

Under the government’s amendments, the minister in charge must be satisfied the selection of the appointee resulted from a merit‑based selection process that was publicly advertised.

The Greens supported the proposal for transparency, with MP Stephen Bates also calling on the government to establish an LGBTQI commissioner, saying the lack of such a post was an oversight.

“This would send a strong and clear message to the LGBTQIA+ community that the era of homophobia and transphobia from the previous government has come to an end,” he told parliament.

“(It would) signal a new approach in engaging with and protecting communities that have suffered systemic oppression for centuries.” 

Independent MP Zali Steggall supported Mr Bates’ proposal, reflecting on the debate about transgender women in sport, started by her Liberal election challenger Katherine Deves.

“There was a huge amount of misinformation when it came to participation in sport of transgender women and … there was a lack of leadership coming from the Human Rights Commission to establish clearly the true facts and where the law actually sits,” she said.

“I do believe for many groups in our society it’s important that there is a human rights commissioner taking care of their specific issues.” 

Mr Dreyfus said the government’s proposal was focused only on the selection and appointment process, not the roles of the commissioners themselves. 

“The government recognises that it’s important to consider how best the commission can operate to promote and protect the human rights of all members of the Australian community, including the LGBTQIA+ people,” he said.

“This bill is not the vehicle to create such a position … (it) solely concerns the process for the selection and appointment of existing statutory members of the commission.”

The opposition supported the bill which moves to the Senate for consideration.