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There Goes The Civility Again

A matter of days after the Coopers controversy that was not much of a controversy died down, today there was a reminder of how the debate around marriage equality can often be toxic and potentially dangerous. The ever-reliable Peter Dutton provided that jolt to the memory.

The Immigration Minister was speaking in response to a letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, which was co-signed by a number of business leaders, including the Managing Director of Wesfarmers, the Chief Executive of ANZ, and the Qantas boss, Alan Joyce.

All the champions of free enterprise bore some of the unwarranted criticism from the combative Immigration Minister. However, it was to be Alan Joyce, the openly gay CEO of Qantas, who was the singled out for further unnecessary criticism, above and beyond all the other signatories.

In his rage against the business community, Mr Dutton said that the company bosses should “stick to their knitting”, and that the government he is a part of “would not be bullied” by the business sector.

Furthermore, the minister went on to say that “it is unacceptable that people have used companies, and shareholders money, to try to throw their weight around in these debates”.

Then came the ministers precision-guided barb aimed at Mr Joyce. He said that “Alan Joyce, the individual, is perfectly entitled to campaign for and spend his hard earned money on any issue he sees fit, but don’t do it in the official capacity and with shareholders money”.

First of all, the Minister of Immigration is more than a little bit lucky that his knitting jibe was directed at the group, rather than the Qantas CEO. Had Mr Dutton aimed this remark at Joyce, it would have been rightly seen as playing to the negative stereotypes of LGBTIQ community.

If the minister had made that particular part of the statement about Alan Joyce, he would have been accused of using the outdated and wrong assumption that gay men are somehow feminine in nature – which they are not.

Minister Dutton’s riposte to the letter, that business must stay out of the affairs of government and society, needs to be examined.

Companies in any given nation, where they are free to do so, like in our liberal democracy here – need to respect and appeal to diversity. This is not an unnecessary evil, but a responsibility in a free and open society. Individual businesses and business leaders can choose whether this amounts to simply serving a diverse community, or using more broader mechanisms of inclusion, like what happened in this particular instance.

In the absence of laws providing for inclusion and non-discrimination, it is a basic concept of business, that organisations within society need and should want to appeal to as big a market as possible – and also to serve an existing market. Otherwise, how would they maintain and then grow their respective markets?

That is precisely what these champions of industry have done in these circumstances. They have engaged with their responsibility to be inclusive of the whole of Australian society, while using broader mechanisms of inclusion.

When you live in a liberal democracy, you are entitled to freedom of expression. This goes for both business, and the Immigration Minister. And, as is frequently said when instances like this arise, they can be called out if and when those people make what any reasonable person would call, at the very least, stupid and ill-informed comments.

It just so happens that the Immigration Minister has a history of being called out for saying the wrong thing.

Just the person you want as a leader to unite the nation together.

Britain’s Moving on Marriage, Why Can’t We?

A draft bill which aims to establish marriage equality in England and Wales  has passed through the House of Commons – their equivalent of our House of Representatives. The vote was won by a handsome margin – 400 votes to 175 in the lower house in Britain. The Conservative Party, governing in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, allowed a conscience vote on the same-sex marriage bill put before the House. And a majority of Labor MP’s and Liberal Democrats voted in favour of the bill.

Unsurprisingly, given the recent history of the marriage debate in Australia, after the proposition was voted down by a wide margin in the Australian parliament and how strong support for gay marriage still is in Australia – the discussion of the successful vote in the United Kingdom quickly led to a discussion of the consequences of the move for the Australian cause.

As it has been from the start, the big issue was the comparison between the stance of the Conservative Party in the UK and that of the Liberal Party in Australia. The former, David Cameron’s Conservative Party, gave their MP’s a conscience vote in the parliament. Tony Abbott’s Liberal Party, with a history of granting conscience votes, opted not to go down the route of a conscience vote, using the excuse of going to the 2010 promising to keep the marriage act unamended.

Many will say that it is the Coalition held back the cause of equal marriage with their decision not to hold a conscience vote. The Liberal Party should certainly have allowed a conscience vote, hoping to at least appear more liberal than they have been. It is however far from certain, even with a conscience vote, that the bill would have passed the Lower House. At the very least it would have been a close-run thing.

It has also been said that today’s win in the UK will put pressure on the Liberal Party when it comes to marriage equality. Will it? Not necessarily. In fact, probably not. The Liberal Party will likely decide, at least for the foreseeable future – not to take their cues from outside and foreign influences. The move toward marriage equality in the UK should, even though it will not – prove that legislating for same-sex marriage is not a scary thing and not a step too far for conservatives.

Perhaps the best thing for the cause of gay marriage, as far as the Liberal Party is concerned, would be for the remaining liberal forces in the party, though they are rapidly dwindling, to continue to try to muster the political strength to call on the party to adopt a conscience vote. This in itself will not be an easy task. But there have been branch wins reported and if these continued, then the pressure will continue to mount on the parliamentary Liberal Party to change their stance.

Where the argument will not be won is through trying to claim that the issue would be a vote-winner for the Liberal Party. There is no doubt that marriage equality is at its most popular as a concept and a future reality in Australia. Polls continuously show that a majority of respondents favour amending the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to marry. And that cuts across all political parties, even the Liberal Party.

But that does not translate into votes. On the face of it, it may seem like overwhelming support for an issue would equal votes if that policy direction was pursued. But contrary to what some appear to believe, most people do not vote on one single issue or even two or three. They might vote on the economy as a single issue, but very few would vote for marriage equality as a single issue. People voting for marriage equality are likely overwhelmingly vote for a political entity hoping to pursue a whole suite of progressive measures.

Really, what needs to be continually pointed out is that the demise of the sanctity of marriage will not come from gay marriage, but outside forces, more related to the way in which we live our lives.

The UK example should serve as a reminder to the Liberal Party that gay marriage is not an evil concept which conservatives must avoid at all costs. But minds will not be dramatically shifted because of what has happened in Britain.

The Liberal Party will however have to realise that a change to the Marriage Act is inevitable, even if they do not wish to go along with it.

Could Senator Bernardi Have Been Sacked for Something Sooner?

So, South Australian Senator Cory Bernardi overnight said something incredibly dumb and offensive, the second time in just a couple of days in fact. He’s been hauled into the office of the Leader of the Opposition and offered, or was perhaps in reality nudged, to offer his resignation as Parliamentary Secretary to the Opposition Leader himself and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Families. That would be a huge relief to a great majority of the party who might share some of the same general beliefs on the matter of marriage equality, being against it, but not for the frankly both hilariously stupid, but at the same time downright offensive reasons offered up in the Senate last night.

Senator Bernardi in speaking on marriage equality, which has just been through the lower house where it was soundly defeated, last night said that allowing marriage equality would lead to polyamory and bestiality. This echoes some of the more insane and hurtful thought-bubbles that people from the Australian Christian Lobby and the like offer up as pseudo reasons for masking, though not successfully, their downright bigotry and hatred of same-sex couples.

If Senator Bernardi had not been sacked for this latest indiscretion, the outcry would have been massive. These were not only highly discriminatory comments, but as many have pointed out before and indeed after this entry into the debate by Senator Bernardi, they were also based on fairy tale assertions, they are urban myths. No government is going to ever, no matter how progressive, legalise bestiality and even the lesser of the two evils, polyamory. Those changes to marriage simply will not be tolerated by anyone in the Australian community, let alone those that represent or will ever represent us in the parliament.

But this whole matter raises another interesting question, a question that could have been answered with the sacking of Bernardi prior to these remarks, though he certainly would have made them as a lowly backbench MP too. The question that is raised is of vocally condemning what is largely bipartisan policy, though the extent of the agreement from time-to-time faces small tests and the policy does face questions, however brief.

Multiculturalism, since its official adoption as government policy in the 1970s has been largely bipartisan policy though the strength and depth of that commitment has come into question briefly, particularly in response to violent events like the Cronulla riots and the scenes in Sydney at the weekend as well as in the ongoing asylum seeker debate. But largely and broadly, that commitment to continuing a policy of a multiculturalism in a broad sense has never really disintegrated.

Early in the week, along came Cory Bernardi with ill-thought out comments, lacking any critical thought as he often does, about multiculturalism. He used the events in Sydney at the weekend, the truly horrific and disturbing actions as proof that there is a problem with the official government policy. This is plainly not the case and as has been pointed out by a number of commentators, it is a problem with society and human nature. His was, as argued yesterday, a crass generalisation, painting a violent few as representative of the whole of Islam and the Muslim community in Australia.

So could Senator Bernardi have been sacked over his insensitive comments in relation to government policy, a policy that mostly enjoys some level of support from the Coalition? The answer is yes. Generally, you could sack someone that didn’t agree with party policy, even if commitment to that policy within the party is a little iffy. It is especially the case that he could have been sacked or forced to resign on this matter alone for making those views known publicly in parliamentary proceedings, official government business. This is especially the case as Senator Bernardi  was effectively a junior minister in a shadow portfolio.

Certainly, as Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Families and responsible therefore for sensible commentary in the area of familial relationships, his decision to stand aside was the right one. This is true whether he was quietly pushed to save what little face he had left or made the decision for himself.

Again in politics, the question is asked- ‘did it really need to come to this first?’. The answer is at worst, not really and at best, definitely not. But then parliamentary processes and traditions are well and truly blurred now.

So the Previous Stupidity from the Australian Christian Lobby Wasn’t Enough?

There’s a big debate going on in Australia about marriage equality. The issue has been elevated in the public consciousness very successfully over the last 5 years. Same-sex marriage has now become so popular as an ideal that it now continuously receives poll support of more than 50%. The recent ALP National Conference voted in favour of allowing a conscience vote in the federal parliament on allowing people in single gender relationships to wed. This was received with congratulations, even though a motion to change the party platform so that the Labor Party could pursue the issue as a party bloc failed. There is still much pressure on the Liberal Party to allow their MP’s the same courtesy when the legislation comes to a vote in Canberra.

In light of these developments it was odd that Julia Gillard, one was asked to speak at the Australian Christian Lobby, given that her party would be able to use their consciences in a vote on the legislation and two, that she accepted the invitation from the controversial and homophobic lobby group. The Prime Minister is, after all, not even a Christian. For some reason though, and one that’s  proved hard to explain, the Prime Minister is personally against a change to allow for same-sex couples to join in marriage.

But today, Prime Minister Gillard has announced that she will no longer speak at the ACL conference when it takes place. This comes after horrific comments yesterday from ACL head, Jim Wallace which have sparked outrage from supporters of equal marriage.

The PM, in pulling out of her speaking duties at the conference said that Mr Wallace’s comments in a debate last night over the issue were “heartless and wrong”. That’s bang on the truth.

The controversial ACL chief last night said “I think we’re going to owe smokers a big apology when the homosexual community’s own statistics for its health – which it presents when it wants more money for health – are that it has higher rates of drug-taking, of suicide, it has the life of a male reduced by up to 20 years”.

Mr Wallace went on to say “The life of smokers is reduced by something like seven to 10 years and yet we tell all our kids at school they shouldn’t smoke.”

So there it is, the head of the ACL compared the health of people in single-sex relationships to that of smokers, a strange journey into the absurd that we’re no stranger to from the likes of the Australian Christian Lobby.

For his part, today Mr Wallace denied that he was comparing the health effects of smoking and same-sex partnerships, but from the comments it doesn’t take a master of the English language to work out that that’s the exact comparison that he was making.

But this isn’t the first case of verbal or textual diarrhoea and homophobic comments from Jim Wallace. Every so often the Managing Director of the ACL lets his fingers or his mouth spew forth ridiculous statements including the incredibly hilarious argument that allowing gay marriage would mean that bestiality and other unacceptable practices.

The fact that this isn’t the first stupid foray into the same-sex marriage debate from Mr Wallace calls into question why Julia Gillard agreed in the first place to speak at the Australian Christian Lobby national conference.

Polls show that even a significant number of Christians support allowing same-sex couples to marry and those attending church on a regular basis are in the minority, so why give so much attention to such a group? Perhaps the Prime Minister thinks that it’s one group of voters that she can manage to hold onto as the Labor Party head towards a likely election defeat in 2013.

It must be said though, that Julia Gillard isn’t the first Prime Minister or Australian political leader to court the attentive ears of the Australian Christian Lobby, leaders previous have done so. So perhaps the organisation does curry more favour than surface examinations show.

But that’s beside the point. The point is that there have been a number of stupid assertions from Jim Wallace and the ACL and the Prime Minister, desperate for attention should not have even considered speaking at the conference unless it was to correct some of the offensive rubbish that has been released.

Bob Katter and His Band of Merry Men and Women Should Be Thanked

Overnight many Queenslanders, less than two weeks out from polling day in the state election were introduced to the first major foray of Katter’s Australian Party into election advertising. This ad was not about the market monopoly of Coles and Woolworths, not about the struggles of farmers  trying to live off the land or mining interests trumping those of the agriculture sector. No, it was a heinous anti-gay marriage advertisement which particularly targetted the Leader of the LNP, Campbell Newman and Australian Greens leader Bob Brown, whilst at the same time treating the gay and lesbian community of Queensland with absolute disdain.

The majority of Australian’s should be thanking Bob Katter and his party for this advertisement released overnight. We should be thanking Katter’s Australian Party not because it is a sensationally good advertising campaign against gay marriage, it is not, but because it has probably done more for the cause of marriage equality in its divisive content.

Now, it is of equal disgust to the advertisement itself that some of the response to the campaign has been to resort to low acts like death threats and insults against members of the party. Such behaviour is not on and deserves the same level of condemnation, if not more than the bigoted ad in question.

For some time now, polls on the issue of marriage equality have shown  that the majority of the population think, to steal a phrase from the political lexicon, that “it’s time” for a change. Politicians have generally lagged behind on the issue of marriage equality, even the so-called “small-c conservatives” on the progressive side of politics. There are elements of all parties these days, except it seems, from Katter’s Australian Party who think, not just that marriage equality is inevitable, but that it should happen. It is inevitable too that a majority of politicians will eventually vote in favour of same-sex marriage.

So why does the commercial broadcast for the first time yesterday mean that people in favour of marriage equality owe a debt of gratitude to Katter’s Australian Party? Okay, pick your jaws up off the floor. Those who support gay marriage should be thankful to Bob Katter and his colleagues because the response has highlighted just how much support exists in the community on the topic, again, not excusing the equally shameful response from some in the community.

Aside from helping the cause of marriage equality in its own unique way, the intensely conservative political ad also proves just how little of a contribution that Katter’s Australian Party think they can make, particularly in the “big smoke”. Over all other issues facing the people of Queensland it was decided, in what certainly cannot be classified as “infinite wisdom”, that above cost of living and other economic and social pressures, a small minority of people expressing a want to be married to someone they love is simply the greatest of threats facing Queenslanders in this election.

So a big thank you to you Mr Katter and your 76 candidates across Queensland for raising the prominence of the marriage equality campaign again, which is continuing to gain momentum, without your party’s helpful entry into the debate. Your party must also be thanked for highlighting exactly how few reasons there are to vote for your mob on March 24.

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