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How Not to Start an Election Year

It has not been a pleasant week for Katter’s Australian Party, losing two candidates because of hate-filled comments in both the traditional media and on social media website, Twitter. And it would not have been a particularly good week for the gay and lesbian community in Australia, the target of these unhinged outbursts vilifying gays and lesbians. Now the Katter party candidate for the Victorian electorate of Wannon, Tess Corbett and Queensland Senate nominee Bernard Gaynor, a former party national general secretary, will no longer be representing the party at the 2013 federal election.

The first unforgivable, hateful and just plain baseless barbs came from Tess Corbett. The lower house candidate made the headlines for comparing homosexuals to paedophiles and added that it would be a sad day if equal rights for gays and lesbians were granted.

There is absolutely no chance that if homosexuals were given the right to marry, that paedophiles would naturally be given the right to marry children. For anyone to actually suggest that just beggars belief. Where was Tess Corbett found? There is no politician in the history of this country that would have ever countenanced such a move, let alone a majority of parliamentarians in the present day, ready to legalise such a heinous criminal activity.

Tess Corbett, in making such a statement, is quite clearly comparing or at the very least implying, that being a homosexual or engaging in homosexual sex is akin to a criminal act. In case she has not yet noticed, the latter has been outlawed for a while, though granted, it took Tasmania a little while longer than the rest of the country to repeal laws relating homosexual sex. But still, that battle has long been lost.

And then, as if Tess Corbett’s comments were not hostile enough towards the GLBTI community, Queensland Senate hopeful Bernard Gaynor chimed in with some textual diarrhoea. After an earlier tweet backing Tess Corbett after her comments to the media, Mr Gaynor said:

“I wouldn’t let a gay person teach my children and I’m not afraid to say it.”

This tweet at first glance appears to be linked to the debate over whether religious organisations should be allowed to discriminate against the gay and lesbian community in terms of employment. But other tweets make it clear that Gaynor believes parents should have the right to choose whether or not their son or daughter is taught by a gay or lesbian.

Whether a teacher is gay or lesbian will not make a shred of difference to the way a child is taught at school. The curriculum is the curriculum whether the teacher in question is same-sex attracted or not.

And Bernard Gaynor seems concerned too, by implication, that if his son or daughter had a gay or lesbian teacher, they might somehow magically persuade them to be of the same sexual orientation. Well, to put it in the clearest possible terms, being gay is perfectly natural. No amount of lessons from a gay man or a lesbian will transform anyone’s son or daughter into someone attracted to people of the same gender.

Katter’s Australian Party has a history of taking an anti-gay rights stance. Before the Queensland election the party ran an ad campaign which railed against Campbell Newman due to his personal support for same-sex marriage.

To top it all off, the party’s namesake tonight made a ridiculous statement on The Project tonight. Bob Katter claimed he was unaware of any homosexual having committed suicide in north Queensland. He also claimed not to care about the issue. Of course, Bob Katter has a history of wedging his foot firmly in his mouth, so we really should not be surprised.

Without a shadow of a doubt, Katter’s Australian Party are the most socially conservative political party, even to the point of being regressive in their views on the matter.

The rights that the gay and lesbian community have won, particularly over the last 5 years should not be threatened by any political force. We should all be equal under the law.

Thankfully, the electoral prospects of Katter’s Australian Party were not particularly good in the first place. In Queensland, where they had expected to do well electorally they only managed to have two candidates elected to the state parliament.  Then one LNP MLA defected just recently, making the party a band of three in the 89 seat Queensland parliament.

That’s not to say that the party will not go without success at the election. It is certainly a strong possibility that the new party will taste victory in a Senate contest or two, perhaps more. There might be success for Katter’s party in the lower house too, other than Bob Katter winning in Kennedy. Support anything like the levels reached in Queensland is however, almost certainly an impossible prospect.

The election year drama, faux pas and discriminatory statements have already started. There is still at least six months of these unedifying events ahead.

It’s International Day of People with Disability

Today, December 3rd is International Day of People with Disability. This worldwide day has now been running for 20 years, beginning as an internationally recognised day sanctioned by the United Nations. It is a day when disability should be in the forefront of the mind’s of policy-makers around the world. It is a rare day indeed.

But this year there is cause for some hope. For once it is not a blind optimism, far from it. A fully-funded National Disability Insurance Scheme is getting closer and closer. Five launch sites have been agreed to and funded jointly by state participants and the federal government.

At the same time though, the NDIS is far from a fait accompli. People with a disability, their carers and broader families, as well as disability services organisations need to keep the pressure on during the remaining years of this decade. We must do in order to ensure that government works towards allocating what will be upwards of $15 billion dollars a year towards the most important disability reform in the history of our nation.

International Day of People with Disability, as far as Australian domestic politics is concerned, is about much more than just ensuring that we have a well-funded and well-coordinated system for disability support.

This international day, according to the website is also about forging, across the global community, a broader “understanding” and acceptance of people with a disability. It is about how the broader population recognise the challenges that people with a disability face in both the poorest of countries and the wealthiest.

The day is also about other simple measures of a humane society. The International Day of People with Disability is also about trying to secure some of the most basic human rights.

Today is about making sure that we give people with a disability a level of dignity. Just as importantly, it is about pursuing and cementing the rights of the disabled and doing what we can as a society to guarantee the basic well-being of some of the most vulnerable people in the country.

Finally, the day is about integrating people with a disability into society, rather than leaving them at the margins with little support or understanding.

Believe it or not, Australia as a developed nation actually has a long way to go in the way that people with a disability are treated. Among OECD nations, Australia is failing our disabled people.

A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers from late last year made for some truly sad reading.

In that report it was found that 45% of Australian’s with a disability were living on or near the poverty line. Far from on its own being a damning statistic, that number places Australia 27th out of 27 developed nations in terms of being at risk of, or in poverty.

It does not get much better in terms of employment prospects for people with a disability in Australia.

It was found that Australia is ranked 21st out of 27 nations in relation to employment. Only 31% of disabled Australians were found by that report to be in active employment.

With Australia faring so poorly in providing for its disabled community, then one can only imagine how those in the poorest of nations are coping and today is as much about their plight as it is about our disabled people.

Today is a day when all governments, including our own, must pledge to do better, much better in the area of policy development for people with a disability.

In terms of what Australia can do, well, there are two things which are particularly urgent.

The first is to do significantly more in terms of access provisions.

With or without a National Disability Insurance Scheme, access will still be a major issue for people with a disability. Better access provisions will mean more economic participation can be achieved, in conjunction with all that the NDIS will provide. Better access would also mean increased participation in a range of activities that most in society take for granted.

The second most significant thing that needs to occur is a better understanding and importantly, a deeper acceptance of disability. This is particularly the case for businesses, but also government and society in a wider sense.

This means highlighting abilities and not impairments. Too often, negative perceptions of disability cloud the judgement of otherwise bright people and this simply has to stop.

If we focus too much on the NDIS and what it will bring, then we will be neglecting our duty to remind policy-makers that there is much more to be done in the area of policy for the disabled.

We do however appear to be on a somewhat promising path.

Social Progress and the ‘Invisible Hand’: It’s Not All About the Economy Stupid

There seems to be a constant battle between those who think that all social progress comes from good economic management and those that think the government needs to be responsible for most if not all social progress. The truth is that the solution (and solution is probably the wrong word) lies somewhere in between a completely free market/economic response to social progress and a government response which can either be to get out of the way or to legislate for social improvements.

In all likelihood on the ‘free market/it’s all about the economy in social progress and government intervention is the best way to ensure social progress’ pendulum the best answer would likely be very close toward the ‘let the economy sort out social disadvantage’ end of the pendulum. Note that it’s only the best answer. Not one single political ideology offers a solution that will completely solve pretty much every single problem and that is both a political and electoral reality.

Now back to that pendulum. While it is self-evidently true that much social progress comes from a strong economy there is also a need for limited government intervention, be it legislating in an attempt to benefit society or stepping away from legislating in areas that might act to prevent the advancement of the people, most importantly the individual regardless of social group.

So what work does the economy do as regards social progress? Well, a strong economy provides many with the opportunity to be employed in a meaningful job. A strong economy means that more jobs are created and more people will have the opportunity to live at the very least a modest and comfortable lifestyle in what is becoming an increasingly expensive world.

More jobs too means more tax being collected by the government without having to raise taxes for any one group and that means for those who do happen to fall through the cracks, and there will always be people that do regardless of effort and exertion and economic circumstances in the nation and the world, it means that there will be assistance available for them for as long as they need it.

So having a job or a business and earning an income is certainly a big part of social progress but there are things which cannot be provided for by a strong economy or the free market.

A free market does not, will not and cannot stop forms of discrimination, particularly relating to participation in the economy, though in some small way the more people able to be given jobs then it flows that less discrimination may well exist because some ordinarily discriminated against may well be invited into employment opportunities.

Ordinarily though, discrimination will exist and will continue to exist and should at the very least be responded to by educating people about diversity and difference.

Anti-discrimination legislation is also a necessary evil though in many cases it is nigh on the impossible to determine when real discrimination, particularly in employment exists, even though the statistics on minorities show in a broad sense that it is clearly an issue. But again this kind of government intervention needs to be coupled with educating people of the capabilities that people from all works of life possess.

One thing that a free market can never bring, not at all, though I’m sure we’d like to see it happen is the very topical issue of marriage equality. Try as it may, the ‘invisible hand’ just cannot bring about people being able to take the tangible hand of their same-sex partner in marriage.

Same-sex marriage is one area in which the government can either intervene to legislate for marriage equality or completely bugger off from the whole process. Reality says that government, in an eventual move would vastly prefer to legislate for same-sex matrimony rather than to say “hey we really have no place here” and that is okay as long as it is inevitable and you’d have to say it is.

For the most part many of us would love for the government to stay out of our lives and the biggest forms of social progress can be provided for with little or no government intervention, but there will always be a place for government particularly when that means correcting ills that they have fostered or fomented, but that power cannot be unlimited.

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