Weekly General Rubbish Services Supported

Much has been published and said by councillors and some vocal supporters in recent weeks about the council’s decision to support weekly general rubbish collection. The councillors that put up the motion to rescind the council’s decision to restore weekly general rubbish collection included many unsupported and blatantly incorrect statements in their motion, so the remaining councillors put together the below document to correct the facts.

Please download the following document below, noting it was approved by Councillors Kellander, Tyler, Grima and me.

Here’s also some of what I had to say at tonight’s council meeting in support of the vote for weekly rubbish collections:

“We have been discussing this as a council – amongst ourselves as councillors, with the Council Administration, with the community and have heard thousands of residents from all sides of the debate. I will be voting against the rescission motion tonight and continue to support the resolution passed by the Council last Tuesday night.

I believe in a minimum basic service level for waste services and believe that includes having general waste collected by council every week. That’s not too much to expect.

This is not to say the council will not continue to raise awareness and support reducing waste and increasing recycling – amongst other environmental initiatives and education programs. We must care for the environment, but limiting a service so that it’s only accessible to families and residents that can afford to upsize their bin is not the answer.

Despite comments by some and the fake news mentioned previously:
• Reduction of landfull waste will continue;
• The four bin system will continue;
• The messaging and awareness raising of environmental issues and the need to reduce waste and increase recycling will continue;
• FOGO will continue;
• The purple bin for glass recycling will continue to be collected; and
• Importantly, the council will continue to seek continual improvement to gain environmental outcomes and improved service levels in relation to our waste services.

We can do all of those things while still collecting people’s rubbish weekly.”

Tony Briffa votes AGAINST further Rate Increases During Pandemic

During the Council Meeting held on 20 April 2021 I formally voted against the proposed increase to residential rates, which is consistent with my voting against the rate increase last year. Given the hardship many residents, businesses and community groups are experiencing during the pandemic, I cannot in good conscience support a rate hike. I am firmly of the view now is the time we should be supporting families and individuals, not increasing rates, fees and charges. I also acknowledge the struggles of local residents on fixed or reduced incomes and people who are underemployed and that other expenses such as gas, water, electricity insurance and food continue to rise.

It is important to note that residential rates in Hobsons Bay will effectively be increasing by an average of 3.5%, and for many other residents the increase will be more than this. This is because the council increased rates by 2% last year (which I also opposed) but provided ratepayers with a once-off rebate to offset the increase. As I predicted last year, this rate increase will now be applied in the 2021-22 budget along with an additional 1.5% as per the Victorian Government approved rate cap for 2021-22.

I support most of the Capital Works Program 2021-22, but cannot support the rate hike, particularly with council’s projected $27.38 million surplus for 2021-22. This is a summary direct from the published council budget:

The following graphics from the proposed council budget show the increases proposed to average rates when compared to last year. In addition to the increase in the residential rate, it’s important to also note the increase to the Waste Charges which are payable on top of the general rates.

It is a sad fact that council rates – essentially a property tax – is not applied consistently across Victoria or even Melbourne. A ratepayer would pay much less in rates for a property worth $1 million in Brighton compared with a $1 million property in Altona Meadows. How is this fair? Rates in Hobsons Bay are one of the highest in Victoria’s 79 councils, so not applying a rate increase in 2020-21 and 21-22 is more like a rate adjustment.

Some residents have concerns about how the council will pay for future capital works if the rates don’t increase. My view is that the council must live within its means, and that like many households and businesses we have to tighten our belts a little as a result of the pandemic. Not applying the 3.5% rate hike will not result in a disaster for our existing or future budget. It’s just a small adjustment. Council does not need to be greedy or treat residents as cash cows.

So what can residents do about this?

I urge every resident or business owner to visit the following page on the Council website to read the budget and make a submission to the council before Sunday 23 May 2021:


Submissions must be submitted in writing. They can be emailed to budgetsubmissions@hobsonsbay.vic.gov.au. Please send a copy of your submission to me at tbriffa@hobsonbay.vic.gov.au.

Phone: 1300 179 944
Email: budgetsubmissions@hobsonsbay.vic.gov.au

The Proposed Annual Budget 2021-22 and Rating Strategy are scheduled to be considered at the Council Meeting from 7pm on Tuesday 29 June 2021.

What if you are experiencing financial hardship?

If you are experiencing financial hardship and are struggling to pay your rates, pleas contact the council to access the Financial Hardship Policy.  It includes provisions for rate deferrals and waivers, and I hope it will be easy to access.  Please contact the council or me directly if you want more information about that.

I also respectfully acknowledge Crs Grima and Kellander who also voted against the rate rise.

Community Feedback Wanted – Council Waste Services

The Hobsons Bay City Council is undertaking a review into the current waste services system, so as a local Councillor I’m keen to hear from residents about your experiences and perspective.  I’ve therefore put together an online survey and encourage as many residents as possible to complete it.  The link for the survey is:


I would also appreciate if you can forward / share this link with other residents in Hobsons Bay and via social media or by printing this flyer and distributing it to your neighbourhood.  The more feedback I get the better equipped I will be to both understand the needs and concerns of residents and advocate for real change.

Many residents have raised concerns with me about the current system and I am committed to seeing improvements made as soon as possible. I believe the council must provide a suitable minimum waste collection service for residents while also promoting the reduction of waste and increasing the uptake of recycling.  I know there are people that are ok with a 120lt general waste bin being collected every fortnight, but I also know many families that are struggling and require a better system.

I look forward to your feedback!!

P.S.  For more information about council’s waste services, visit the council’s website here.

New Altona Pier Design Announced

Our Pier is a much-love community asset and is owned and managed by Parks Victoria.  As part of their renewal program for piers, the Altona Pier is going to be replaced in the coming years.  Following community consultation in 2020, Parks Victoria have announced the new pier will be made of concrete (not like the existing wooden pier) and will have an angled end.

The report from Parks Victoria describes the new Altona Pier as follows:

“A concrete pier with an angled pier head creating a visually unique pier that offers more space for recreational fishing, additional shade and improved seating options. This option is aligned with Pier Street, with the pier head angled towards the offshore artificial reef balls to maintain an achievable casting distance.

Facilities and features included:
• Angled end of pier with seating and shelter
• Widened concrete abutment to adjoining seawall
• Entrance and pier head public art/sculpture
• Respite seating along length of pier
• Motion sensor lighting at 30m spacing
• Gangway to 24m fixed low landing on western pier head
• Large format seating on eastern edge of pier head
• Ramp to lower platform on eastern pier head
• Emergency vehicle turning area at pier head”

For more information about the new Altona Pier, see:

(a) https://engage.vic.gov.au/altona-pier-design-options?fbclid=IwAR06Wbyj2T4j19N4_dNudW6Pj4ixMfri9pYYwglJ85NjKUbQBxwCxdshDZY

(b) Altona Pier Concept Option 3 (successful option) 

(c) Altona Pier Engagement Report


Screen Shot 2020-12-19 at 3.54.28 pm

Altona Pier_1

Thank you for your overwhelming vote!!

Thank you!!!

I am very honoured and grateful to have been elected to represent and serve my community on the Hobsons Bay City Council for a 4th term. Thank you to the local community and especially my fellow residents of Altona, Altona Meadows, Altona North, Brooklyn and Seaholme for your amazing support. I was honestly humbled by the huge result and promise I will not let you down. I love our community.

Thank you to the many people that helped my campaign in any way. From sharing or commenting on my posts on social media, distributing flyers, having a poster in front of your home, spreading a kind word to neighbours and friends, or to community groups encoring their members to support me. It’s been a very positive campaign and I’m so proud my team and I did not respond to the nasty attacks and misinformation on social media and continued to focus on what was most important – serving the community to make Hobsons Bay an even greater place to live, work, visit and enjoy.  I don’t want division and recognise that it wastes so much time and energy.  I want to work with everyone and if we disagree on something then we should talk about it and respectfully disagree.  We are all neighbours in Hobsons Bay.

I am already planning my work for the next term and am strongly focusing on our community’s recovery after the difficult challenges of this year – for our businesses, community groups, families, schools, elderly and disabled citizens, multicultural and faith communities, etc. We have so much to do to rebuild and support our community and I’m really keen to work with all my colleagues on the council to do that, and with the collaboration of our partners in the community. 

Please keep in touch!

Kindest regards,


P.S.  The election results can be found here and is posted below.

Cherry Lake Ward – Hobsons Bay City Council (Election 2020)Cherry Lake Ward Results 2020

Wetlands Ward – Hobsons Bay City Council (Election 2020)

Strand Ward – Hobsons Bay City Council (Election 2020)

Tony Briffa Votes Against Council Rate Increase

As an Independent Councillor focused on representing the community and supporting them during this very challenging pandemic, I am disappointed the 2020-21 council budget provides a rate increase that, while not applied immediately, will be applied at a later date.

I support the Capital Works Program 2020-21, but cannot support the rate rise.  I do not support an apparent “rate freeze” in 2020 only to potentially hit residents, community groups and businesses with a double rate increase in 2021.  At a time of a global pandemic and recession, of high unemployment and instability, of many businesses closing their doors and struggling to keep afloat, the council should be offering a genuine rate freeze – and perhaps a rate discount – in addition to other supports such as the Financial Hardship Policy.

The Hobsons Bay City Council is in a good financial position.  The proposed annual budget includes a surplus of $23.762 million for the year.  We can afford to provide a genuine rate freeze.

I also note that many of the fees and charges have also increased, and often by more than 2%.  For example, registration for a sterilised cat is going up by 4.76%, and registration for a sterilised dog is going up by 2.65%.  Many of the charges to local business for street furniture is going up by around 3%.  Parking ticket machines in the restaurant precinct in Williamstown are on hold for the rest of 2020, but they are going up by 5.41% when they are turned back on in 2021.

Here are some of the details extracted from the budget:


This means the actual rate increase (Capital Improved Value) for residential properties is actually increasing by 2.95% but not applied this year.  It can, however, be applied in 2021 meaning ratepayers can be subjected to a double rate increase in 2021.  In my opinion, a rate freeze means the Capital Improved Value should not be increased so it cannot be applied in future years.  The council should completely forego any rate increase for 2020-21.

Note that the follow table from the budget shows an actual rate increase in 2020-21 is $2,887,000 and the propose rebate will cost $2,226,000.  This means the council still gains $661,000 in addition to the increase in fees and charges.



The following table from the budget clearly shows the Council administration is planning a rate increase every year of 2%, and that the rebate being applied for 2020-21 is a one off, meaning that the 2% from 2020-21 will still count in future budgets.  The council budget for 2021-22 will therefore effectively have a double rate increase.


The following table from the budget shows the council is expecting significant surpluses over the next 4 years, largely from rates increasing from $112 million in 2020/21 to $124 million in 2023/24 (a 10.7% increase over 4 years!).


I urge every ratepayer (resident or business owner) experiencing financial hardship to access the new council Financial Hardship Policy.  It now includes provisions for rate deferrals and waivers, and I hope it will be easy to access.  Please contact the council or me directly if you want more information about that.

I also respectfully acknowledge Cr Michael Grech who also voted against the rate rise, and Cr Angela Altair who abstained from the vote.

Council Rate Hike on Local Businesses Despite Pandemic

Despite the financial difficulties many businesses are experiencing due to the pandemic, the Hobsons Bay City Council is determined to push ahead with its planned rate increase.  The proposed average rate increase across Hobsons Bay is 2%, but it is 3.89% for commercial properties (e.g. shops, cafes and other small businesses) and 8.78% for Industrial properties.  Rates for petrochemical properties is proposed to increase by 1.14%.

Local shops, cafes and other small businesses and local industry are really hurting, as are their staff.  Increasing rates to these local businesses at this time is irresponsible and not in the spirit of council supporting local business and jobs.  The pandemic has sent many to the wall, and those that survived the first lockdown and first three months until reopening are again affected by the second lockdown.  Many will be lucky to survive.

The disgraced former Minister for Local Government, Adem Somyurek announced the rate cap for Victorian councils in December 2019 – well before the pandemic.  Life and the Australian economic climate is very different now, and the country is in recession with negative growth.  Rates should not be increasing at this time.

The council budget provides an operational surplus of $25.3 million for the year for 2020-21.  This is a surplus increase of $1.107 million compared to 2019-20.

Whilst the average general rate increase is 2 per cent as mentioned above, total rate income is expected to increase by 2.69 per cent, due to waste service charges and supplementary growth, raising total rates and charges for 2020-21 to $114.452 million.

COVID-19 Community Support Package

The council administration will argue that the COVID-19 Community Support Package will ensure local businesses are supported during this time, and that 150% of the increase in rates will go back to the community.  Let’s have a look at what this package includes:

(a) program to support local connections ($100,000);
(b) incentives to use Council venues including the Williamstown Town Hall and Altona Theatre ($132,000);
(c) waiver of summer sports ground rentals ($72,000);
(d) strategic planning support for sports clubs to resume training and competition ($60,000);
(e) sports pavilion cleaning program ($20,000);
(f) ‘loan to own’ iPads program at the libraries ($60,000);
(g) an additional $500,000 to the existing Annual Community Grants Programs (Community groups, organisations and clubs, not businesses);
(h) rebates for the 2020-21 food registration ($595,000), public health fees ($63,000), and footpath trading permit fees ($150,000);
(i) extending the waiver of paid parking in Nelson Place until 31 December 2020 (customers of businesses located at Williamstown Beach will also be provided dedicated permits for free parking during this period) ($520,000);
(j) rent relief in Council owned property ($210,000);
(j) town planning rebates ($177,000); and
(k) rolling out a business precinct support campaign ($250,000).

These arguably provide little support to traders.  Waiver of paid parking fees in Williamstown, for example, reduces the income to council, but that was impacted by the pandemic anyway.  Further, none of that money is going to local businesses.  Commercial property owners are being required to reduct rent to tenants, so even that so called “rent relief” of $210,000 is not anything not being expected of other owners of commercial buildings and is only going to assist council’s tenants.  Doing things like not charging for footpath trading permit fees and public health fees is the least the council can do to support local business.

Out of the whole $3 million support package, only a small portion is actually going to support local businesses.

Hobsons Bay Financial Hardship Policy 2020.

The council is also rightly improving its Financial Hardship Policy to enable residential ratepayers, businesses, sporting clubs and community groups to get assistance from their rates, waste charges, fees, user charges and interest in the form of a deferral, discount, waiver or refund.  Only the council CEO can authorise a waiver or refund of money paid to/ or payable to Council including rates, interest, rent, fees and charges.  Waivers or refunds are limited to a cumulative total value of $10,000 or of 12 months rates value, whichever is the lesser amount, for each applicant, and no more than waiver or refund application can be approved for any individual, club, association or business.

The assessment process is supposed to be simple, but Council will necessarily consider all matters in its deliberations, and may seek applicable supporting information to be provided including: company records, bank statements, financial records or assessments, employment documentation, Centrelink and/or taxation information and a Financial Counselling report.

The policy states that consideration of a waiver can only occur if all financial information has been disclosed to Council with supporting documentation as requested. Council will also require the concurrence and validation of the circumstances by a qualified financial counsellor.

As you can see, this policy necessarily requires a significant degree of oversight by the council, and a commensurate degree of work for the applicant to complete the application, provide the necessary documentation and submit themselves to a financial counselling report.

It seems to me that more local businesses will be seeking deferrals, discounts, waivers or refunds if their rates are increased by 4% at this very difficult time.  In my view it would be preferable for the council NOT to increase rates and charges on local businesses, and to provide this support anyway.

As I wrote in April, if we’re all in this together, why is the council’s budget immune?  Why are they not willing to take some of the pain the community is feeling?  The council still expects a significant surplus despite the pandemic, and is forecasting annual growth.  This is from the council budget:

Screenshot 2020-07-09 16.33.54

Screenshot 2020-07-09 16.44.47

What Can You Do to Help?

It is important local businesses, their staff and people who support them lodge submissions to the council explaining the impact of the pandemic and the proposed increased in rates, and the little relief provided by the support package to businesses.  Mention the difficulty and challenges in applying for relief and how it’s appreciated but that as proud business owners you  want to avoid having to apply for rate deferrals, reductions, waivers or refunds from the council.  A rate discount – and definitely not increasing rates – is what you, your business and your staff need.

To lodge a submission:
(a) Visit https://participate.hobsonsbay.vic.gov.au/2020-21-budget.  All the budget documentation is provided on this page.
(b) Prepare your budget submission explaining your situation and the importance of the council not increasing rates to businesses.
(c) Lodge your submission by 5pm, Friday 24 July 2020.

Please consider speaking in support of your submission to the council.  If you are willing to do this – and I really encourage you to do this – then please mention it in your submission.

Submissions should be sent to:

Andrew McLeod
Director of Corporate Services
Hobsons Bay City Council
Email:  amcleod@hobsonsbay.vic.gov.au

You can also make your submission via the above page, and I also welcome you to send me a copy of your submission – tbriffa@hobsonsbay.vic.gov.au

Injustice against Caster Samenya

The decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport to discriminate against Caster Semenya by claiming it is necessary is extremely disappointing.  Caster Semenya is a strong, healthy, athletic, black woman.  She was born a girl, was raised a girl, is not taking any performance enhancements.  She is not a cheat.

Ms Semenya is being discriminated against because she has naturally high testosterone levels.  Forcing her to undergo medical intervention to allow her to compete is humiliating, unnecessary, unfair, and contrary to her human rights.

Other athletes have been born with natural biological variations that provide them with an advantage – such as Michael Phelps’ 203cm wingspan and Ian Thorpe’s size 16 feet – but they weren’t made to have alter their natural biological characteristics to reduce any advantage.  Ms Semenya should not be singled out.

This decision perpetuates the discrimination, forced medical intervention, stigma and injustice that many people born with variations of sex characteristics have been subjected to for decades.

I look forward to living in a world that understands, accepts and celebrates people born with all types of natural biological variations, rather than discriminating against them.


Tony Briffa
ILGA World Intersex Committee Chair
IHRA Co-Executive Director

International Women’s Day

Happy International Women’s Day to all women; women of colour, lesbian women, intersex women, bisexual women, straight women, trans women, mothers, women that couldn’t have children for whatever reason, disabled women, indigenous women, women of all ages, and any other women.

We have come a long way in recent years but there is so much yet to do. Today I think we should celebrate our accomplishments and diversity, while also reflecting on the huge work left to do around the world as well as within privileged countries like Australia. Education, access to healthcare and employment, protection from harm (especially abusive partners), security, recognition of rights as equals, rights to our own bodies and reproductive choices, being able to participate in sport and public life – these things are reasonable expectations for all women. 

Intersex women also have other special needs at times. It is too easy (and common) for intersex women to have their sex (and gender) challenged as soon as they disclose they have an intersex variation. It’s as if we are not real women and must therefore be male or something else. This thinking is wrong as adds to the shame and stigma many intersex women and girls experience. Many of us don’t disclose our intersex status because of this discrimination. I pay my respects to intersex women that have come out and work to raise awareness, and I support all intersex women.

Happy International Women’s Day!Intersex Strength


This article was first posted on Tony’s facebook account – https://www.facebook.com/tbriffa

Hobsons Bay in-home support services

At the Hobsons Bay City Council Meeting scheduled for 7pm, Tuesday 19 February 2019, the council will consider an item closed to the public in relation to Community Care services in Hobsons Bay, and in particular, in-home support services.  I have received many calls and emails about this in recent weeks, so in the interests of openness and transparency I thought I would write about this on my website to clarify my position.

The Local Government Act permits matters to be considered in confidence and without the public present if they meet certain criteria, and as this matter involves a tender, the council has grounds to consider this matter in camera.  I believe the decision regarding whether council outsources in-home care should be done in public.

Aged Care is at a cross-roads in Australia with many things happening that can change the landscape considerably in the sector over the next 12 -18 months.  There is a federal election in a few months, and the Royal Commission into Aged Care is currently underway and due to provide a report with extensive recommendations next year.  The Royal Commission’s terms of reference includes consideration about support needed to assist people to remain living at home as they age – which is directly relevant to the matter being considered by the council.

My position is that home care should remain a service provided directly by the council to the community, so I support the continuation of in-home support services to the 1,649 Hobsons Bay residents that receive the 70,000 hours of support services provided by the council each year.  It is one of the services our community values most, and ensures our most vulnerable residents receive quality services in their home and are afforded high levels of care, dignity and respect.  I’m proud of the services the council delivers to people needing assistance to remain in their homes, and want to see them continue in its current form.


Note:  As the matter on the agenda is deemed confidential, I will not disclose anything contained in the report or recommendation as required by the Local Government Act 1989 (Vic.).

Tony Briffa writes chapter in LGBTI book

Tony Briffa: “The Hippocratic Oath, Western Medicine, and the Children of Hermes and Aphrodite”

9781743055953Tony Briffa has written on being intersex and Maltese Australian in the book Living and Loving in Diversity: An anthology of Australian multicultural queer adventures (chief editor Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli, Wakefield Press). The book was launched at the 2018 Australian GLBTIQ Multicultural Council conference, “Living Loving Diversity”, and an edited extract has been published by Archer Magazine.

“I am proud of my Maltese heritage; I am also proud of my intersex heritage. As a heritage that has a very long history, I believe having an intersex variation is nothing to be ashamed of, despite the fact that some would have had my parents and I feel ashamed, as they still to this day try to convince others.

People with intersex variations have only relatively recently found their own voice. We work to ensure that the social and medical needs of those with intersex variations have a voice that is understood in its own right.

It is often the cultural examples of other societies rather than Western understanding of intersex variations that is key to achieving the best way to approach treatment and so it would have been in my case.”

More information

Briffa, Tony. 2018. ‘Intersex Variations: Western Medicine and the Hippocratic Oath’. Archer Magazine (blog). 28 September 2018. http://archermagazine.com.au/2018/09/intersex-variations-western-medicine-and-the-hippocratic-oath/.

Pallotta-Chiarolli, Maria (editor). 2018. Living and Loving in Diversity An Anthology of Australian Multicultural Queer Adventures. Adelaide, South Australia: Wakefield Press. https://www.wakefieldpress.com.au/product.php?productid=1473.

Acknowledgement to IHRA website where this article was originally published.

Tony Briffa: My experience as the world’s first openly intersex Mayor

My experience as the world’s first openly intersex Mayor

When I was 30, I appeared on a national TV program in Austalia, 60 Minutes, outing myself as an intersex person. I never imagined what the years ahead of me had in store. There was one thing that became obvious fairly quickly though; once “out” I would never be able to go back “in”. The world now knew I was intersex, and that was a label that was going to stick with me in all facets of my life. 

The most difficult thing was that although society – my work colleagues, family, friends, neighbours and even strangers – knew that I was intersex, they didn’t know what that meant. Many erroneously assumed being intersex is about gender and that I must be ether a transgender or transsexual. Some thought I was a hermaphrodite with complete sets of both female and male genitalia. Some thought I was just confused. The reality is that I was born with an intersex variation called “Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome” (AIS). This means that, despite having a typical male chromosomal pattern and being born with testes, my body is not able to respond to male hormones in the usual way. As a result, I was born with a mostly female body, and a clitoris that was larger than usual. I do not consider this an impediment in any way. In fact, the opposite is true!

The development of an activist

I was born and raised in a wonderful community; the suburb of Altona in Melbourne’s west. I went to the local Catholic Schools. I formed many friends at school but I knew I was different from other girls – I was medicalised because of my clitoris. I had repeated and frequent invasive medical tests and examinations, but was told not to tell anyone about why. It was all a dark, shameful secret, and it involved my genitals. I was made to feel like a freak and that is pretty much how I saw myself growing up. It was as if there were girls, boys, and me.

Doctors removed my testes without my consent and without the approval of a court when I was 7. I was told I was going to hospital to have some “tissues” removed. I thought they meant Kleenex and wondered how they got into my abdomen. I recall the night before surgery crying in my hospital bed and thinking that it was probably my last night alive. I thought of my parents and siblings and how much I would miss them. When I woke up from surgery I was numb. Later, when I needed to go to the bathroom I recall getting stuck in the hospital corridor on the way to the toilet, and calling out for nurses to help. They were horrified to see me out of bed and helped me back. They told me about the operation and that I had to stay in bed. It was painful and confusing. I admit, even writing about this reopens the deep wounds from my childhood. When I was 11, doctors started me on female hormones to replace the hormones I would have produced naturally if I wasn’t castrated.

Being raised Catholic was a challenge growing up, and remains a challenge. There are so many strict rules about expectations of girls, our role and function in society, and prohibitions on what we can do. As a child, my first challenge was being denied the opportunity to be an altar boy. I didn’t understand or accept that I couldn’t assist a priest in the celebration of Mass just because I was a girl. I felt discriminated against. Then there were rules against girls being attracted to other girls. Why are boys only allowed to be attracted to other girls? Does this mean I am a boy?

In my teenage years, I slowly learned more about my body. I learned about my chromosomes, about my body’s inability to respond to male hormones, and about my infertility. I learned I was castrated. I was confused and felt alone in the world. Had I not had my love of music I am not sure I would have survived. My doctor repeatedly tried to convince me that I was more female than other women because my body couldn’t respond to male hormones, but that didn’t feel right to me. How could I be more female when I couldn’t even have a child? I never even menstruated.

I went to my first AIS Support Group meeting when I was 18. It was arranged by the hospital and I was very pleased to meet other women and girls with AIS, but discussion was controlled by the doctors and it didn’t feel like we were given the opportunity to discuss anything real about living with AIS and the way we feel.

My life in my twenties were turbulent but I was again blessed with great friends and loves who cared for me, put up with me, and accepted me fully. I never hid the fact I was having relationships with women, while also having relationships with men. Either way, I felt very comfortable in the LGBT community, and I could openly discuss who I am and being intersex. It was a community where I could openly be me for a change. It was liberating.

A life changing event occurred when I was 27. I had a serious motor bike accident resulting in a broken femur and hand, and partially collapsed lungs. I was lucky that the doctors saved my life and my leg after months of being in hospital. I wasn’t able to walk unaided for two years, during which time I had come to the conclusion that life was too short not to be me. I wanted to make a change in the world. At that point, I was no longer going to hide the fact I was intersex. Nature made me this way and I have nothing to be ashamed of.

If anyone should be ashamed, it’s the doctors that abused and mistreated me and my parents.

Going public

Not long after being able to walk again I reconnected with the AIS Support Group. The internet made connecting with intersex groups and individuals easier. I met the President of the group in Australia and helped them shift from being a group controlled by doctors, to being an independent and legally registered organisation. I joined the committee and met lots of other intersex people – including people with AIS that were not women! I helped start online intersex groups and discovered the vibrant, rich tapestry of intersex people. Sadly, it was a tapestry woven with lots of shame, secrecy, misinformation, abuse, mistreatment, misunderstanding, solitude and darkness. We are still fighting these challenges almost 20 years later.

Following a program about David Reimer, a boy who was raised as a girl following a botched circumcision in Canada, the television station contacted me about going public on their program about the treatment of intersex children in Australia. I agreed. Life would never be the same again. From that point, no matter what I did, it was somehow connected to being intersex. It was as if my identity had changed overnight. No longer was I seen as a woman. I was seen as something else. Some saw me as a man because I had the typical male chromosome pattern and was born with testes, others saw me as a bit of both. Some saw me as a transgender person.

Frankly, I understand and respect their confusion. I too was confused. What am I? Who am I? I simply wanted to be me. I longed for a simple life but it didn’t seem like that was an option.

Most intersex people identify as the sex they were raised and do not look sexually ambiguous. I find that for me some people see me as female and others as male. I mostly like this because it reflects what nature made me and how I feel.

I worked for a time for the Department of Defence as an airworthiness auditor and instructor, where I was perceived as a man. I chose to change my name from Antoinette to Tony to make life easier for people I interacted with. I also made the drastic decision to have surgery to reduce the size of my breasts, in order to fit in professionally. My breasts were a constant issue and a source of confusion. I also know politically it made my life easier not to have such large breasts. This is a decision I don’t completely regret. I think the bigger regret was being in the situation where I had to make that decision in order to fit into society and for my financial independence.

I went on to become the President of the AIS Support Group Australia as well as work in other areas, supporting and advocating for people and families affected by genetic variations. I wrote many submissions to politicians, human rights organisations, law reform commissions, ethics bodies, hospitals and any other organisation or person I thought might be able to help address the human rights issues facing intersex people. I later joined OII Australia and am pleased to now be a Co-Executive Director of that organisation.

Being elected!


I became involved in local issues two years after the TV program, and a campaign to save a local park from being sold by the local council. I was in the council chamber when a councillor singled me out, mentioning my former name was Antoinette and that I was a woman. I was shocked that my intersex variation could become an issue in this way. The comments were reported in all three local papers and the response from the community was humbling. The overwhelming response was that the councillor should not have made those comments. I’m pleased to say I now consider that former councillor a friend and he genuinely regrets those comments.

This incident encouraged me stand as an independent candidate in the council elections in 2004. I didn’t win that time but I stood again in 2008 and won that election very comfortably. In 2009 and 2010 I was elected to the position of Deputy Mayor, and in 2011 I was elected Mayor. I am currently an elected Councillor.

This all means that I became the first publicly ‘out’ intersex person elected to office anywhere in the world, but it wasn’t until I was elected Mayor that the world noticed. Suddenly, within a week I had 250,000 independent visitors on my website. I couldn’t keep up with all the media requests and emails of congratulations.

Quite quickly it appeared that I wasn’t just “Mayor Tony Briffa”, but “Intersex Mayor Tony Briffa”. Some newspapers would refer to me as that even when my intersex variation had nothing to do with the story. Often, they would also mention that I was born intersex and am biologically both female and male. Despite focusing on the usual tasks of being a Mayor, being intersex had suddenly morphed to be part of my public identity.

For the most part, the local community was wonderful. They know me. I’ve always lived locally and had not hidden the fact I was born with an intersex variation, was raised as Antoinette, went to the local Catholic girl’s school, married a local guy, divorced, changed my name to Tony, etc. Most assume I am a man, and I accepted that even though that wasn’t the complete me.

The local Maltese community, of which I am a member, has been extremely supportive of me. I admit I used to feel a sense of embarrassment and uncertainty about how they will respond to me because Maltese is an extremely conservative and religious culture. Thankfully, being intersex, open about my past and open about my bodily diversity has been very much accepted by them. I am very proud of being Maltese.

Being referred to as “Mr Mayor” was not easy. Inside I cringed every time I heard it because I felt the “Mr” denied my full self. “Madam Mayor” similarly would have felt strange because that too denied part of me. It’s funny how words have these affects. For the most part I just went on with the job and ignored the male/female salutations, just as I tried to ignore being constantly labelled the world’s first intersex mayor.

There is understandably a push to increase female participation in public roles including as elected councillors and mayors, but I experienced the effects of this in a bizarre and public way when I was elected Deputy Mayor. The other candidate for the Deputy Mayor position was a woman, so when I was successful there was much fuss made from her political supporters, including a former leader of the State of Victoria. He publicly stated that I should not have been elected because the role should have been allocated to a woman. This was almost laughable if it wasn’t so offensive. I strongly believe in affirmative action, but to ignore the facts of my biology and history, how I was raised, who I am, how I identify and the disadvantage I had to endure like other women growing up and as a woman in an industry dominated by men, was incredible! Essentially, this former Premier not only publicly criticised my election, but also in effect publicly declared me to be a man with all the privileges and advantages that presumes.

As Mayor, I was invited to various functions to attend on behalf of the city. I recall being invited to a Masonic Lodge and deciding to attend to see what that was like. I recall siting there thinking how strange it was to be in a men’s only space. Fortunately, I am not just invited to men-only spaces, but women-only spaces too. The Arabic Women’s group, for example, are extremely kind and welcoming, and they occasionally invite me to attend women’s only functions too. Their kindness and acceptance means a lot to me and helps restore a balance in my life, just as lesbian spaces do.

During an election campaign, the way that people perceive me can be challenging. I recall one incident when visiting a Muslim business, and a man didn’t want to shake my hand because he assumed I was female, while a woman didn’t want to shake my hand because she assumed I was male. It was a little awkward but I respect their choice and the way they see me. My experiences working in aviation in countries like Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Myanmar, Indonesia and Malaysia were often more awkward, particularly due to additional security and safety issues.

It hasn’t always been positive. I have also been excluded from women-only events that other female councillors were invited to. I didn’t make a fuss or bring it to the attention of anyone at the time, but it was noted. One of the most distressing things I experienced as a mayor who is intersex was the stalking and harassment by a local resident who threatened harm me because, in his words, I was a “mutilated freak”, “homosexual”, “paedophile”, “transsexual” and worse. Stalking and harassment sadly resulted in a need for legal action.


Despite the negatives, my experiences as a publicly elected intersex person has been positive. My local community is obviously very accepting of my intersex status and personal history because I’ve been elected 3 times as an independent candidate – each time with the highest primary vote of all the candidates I was up against.

Earlier this year I was invited on a tour of a new, very impressive mosque in the city in which I am still a Councillor. I was apprehensive about attending due to the issue with the segregation of sexes, the requirements for women to cover their heads, and which rules would apply to me. I went nonetheless, determined that whatever I do I will respect their religion even if it meant wearing a head covering. At the beginning of the tour the Imam gave us an introduction to the mosque design and history, and then explained the requirements for women to wear a head covering. I raised my hand and explained that I was intersex and am therefore not exclusively female or male, and asked what he would like me to do in terms of whether I should wear the head covering or not. I explained I was happy to wear it if he wanted me to. The Imam spoke about intersex and acknowledged that he had already sought advice about my situation, and felt it was ok for me not to wear the head covering – maybe the suit I was wearing helped! Either way, I really didn’t mind covering my head. I had worn head coverings in mosques in Turkey as well as a kippah at Jewish funerals, so I am happy to respect the wishes of those whose special places I am welcomed in.

Being intersex and the experiences I had as a direct result, has also helped me understand a larger diversity of people and to have empathy for people who are different. It made me a strong advocate and helped hone the skills I’ve needed to represent and support our community.

I also like to think that perhaps my very public role as Mayor has helped raise awareness of intersex variations and people who have them. I know this is the biggest factor that will help reduce the shame and stigma still widely felt by intersex people today.


I understand and accept people are not aware of intersex variations and some people are confused about my sex and even about my gender at times. Ultimately however, they care more about what I do for them as their representative as a Councillor or previously as a Mayor and Deputy Mayor.

My hope is that my experience and successes demonstrates that despite our differences and the abuse and mistreatment many of us are subjected to, we can still aspire to achieve goals including public office – which is a pretty good indicator of public acceptance. There is hope. When I was a child I was concerned about my future – as were my parents – but I didn’t need to be. Intersex people can achieve goals and have successful lives.

In my experience people are very accepting and understanding, and appreciate openness. The fact I am open about my intersex variation and the past mistreatment, is often commented on by constituents as being a positive thing. A sense of humour and being honest about not having all the answers is also well received.

During a radio interview when I was Mayor I was asked whether I thought the public would find my sex confusing and whether it would be better for me to pick one sex and stick with it. I explained that I understood their confusion, and that they should try to see it from my perspective, because I’ve been confused about my sex my entire life. The reality for me is that, as a person with my particular intersex variation, I was born biologically partially female and partially male. That is my truth. In practical terms however, for my public life I still do whatever I can to make people comfortable with me. I accept whichever pronouns they use and do my best to serve them.

Thankfully I am able to be myself in my private life.

– Tony Briffa, September 2017.