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the minister had made that particular part of the statement about Alan Joyce, he would have been accused of using the outdated and wrong assumption that gay men are somehow feminine in nature – which they are not.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

Obama’s ‘Shopping List’

US President Barack Obama has delivered his fifth State of the Union address on Capitol Hill. As is custom, nay, the whole point of the speech – the President talked of the current state of affairs in the United States of America, focusing mainly on the economic position of the nation. There was a brief glance at America’s role in foreign affairs and diplomacy, in terms of Afghanistan, North Korea and Iran. And then Mr Obama laid out the plans and aspirations he has for his second and final term as President of the United States. The hour-long speech was replete with promises, some within reach and many others not even close to attainable.

The speech was much along the lines of that which he delivered in his second innauguration address on the hill. Again his words were based on hope and optimism, but the themes was far less muted than they were a little over four years ago before he became President. Aside from some specifics on the economy, gun control and climate change were key issues which Obama focused on. Again same-sex marriage rated a mention, albeit a not overly explicit one.

On the ABC24’s flagship current affairs program, The Drum there was a discussion and dissection of the speech, what it meant, what was in it and what parts of its’ contents will prove achievable for a President with nothing to lose. Most of that discussion had the realities of the situation in mind. It was abundantly clear to all panellists how difficult it would be for Obama to achieve much of the agenda set out today.

Jonathan Green, one of the guests on the show, described Obama’s list of policy goals as a “shopping list”. This is both an ill-fitting metaphor and an apt one for the policy agenda outlined by President Obama in the State of the Union address.

A shopping list is usually a list of things that you will buy and that are readily available on any given day. You go to the shops and they are there and you can usually afford them. They are within reach of everyone. Most of the items on Obama’s shopping list will simply prove to be well and truly out of reach.

There has been some reform on gun control in the form of executive orders, but more significant reform which requires legislative approval will likely prove impossible. Meaningful action on climate change and same-sex marriage will likely suffer the same fate. It is however a positive step that the conversation on both issues has recommenced after being neglected during the election campaign of 2012.

In a sense, the issues outlined by Barack Obama do constitute a metaphorical shopping list. Some of the prescriptions raised by Obama are entirely necessary, like staples on a shopping list. There needs to be action on climate change and gun control and immigration law changes to name but a few topics raised.

Many of the items on Obama’s shopping list were what you would term ‘luxury items’. This is true in a metaphorical sense anyway. They are such because they will prove unobtainable. These are items that are of course desirable – ones which you really want, but which are, for some reason, almost unobtainable.

How many items can President Obama tick off the list? In reality he faces a tough battle with Republicans on the hill in just about every major policy area.

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.

Equal Marriage Voted Down, Looks Like You Can’t Have National Civil Unions Either

The vote on the private members bill from MP for Throsby Stephen Jones on gay marriage has now been seen through both houses of parliament and of course the result was never in doubt. With the ALP allowing a free vote and the Coalition voting ‘no’ there was never any prospect of the bill having success. Yesterday the same-sex marriage bill was easily voted down in the House of Representatives, with just 42 parliamentarians voting in favour of the bill and 98 against. Today, the Senate also emphatically rejected the proposition of marriage equality, 41 votes to 26.

First, had the Coalition been afforded the opportunity for a conscience vote on the matter, it would have been hard, even impossible to foresee a different outcome to the one arrived at both yesterday and today. There would have been just as many, if not more on the Coalition side voting against the bill as there was on the Labor benches of parliament.

Particularly in the last few weeks there have been talks of pursuing the path of civil unions, clearly because the result finalised today was foreseen and an appetite to “do something” exists in the minds of some within the parliament. This barrow has been pushed publicly by MP’s, most notably Chief Opposition Whip, Warren Entsch and Malcolm Turnbull. Curiously, both of these MP’s are from the Liberal Party and have been the most vocal supporters of pursuing civil unions as a step toward equal marriage rights.

There has been and will of course continue to be a number of those in favour of marriage equality who view an interim step toward the inevitable as a ‘cop out’, but it’s not as the Greens are calling it a step backwards, it’s plainly not. It is however, not equality and would entrench “two tiers of love” as Adam Bandt today said. Overall however, it is closer to equal rights in marriage than the status quo.

Of course, the prospects of that step look doomed before the bill, according to Mr Entsch ready to go, sees the light of day. Tony Abbott today said “we really should let the dust settle on these parliamentary votes before we rush off and do something else.”

Mr Abbott further said that the concept of civil unions was the domain of the states and that is traditionally the case. But all we need do is look at the history of civil unions, particularly of late in Queensland and realise that the states too find positive change a challenge.

So why not push for the national recognition of civil unions? Surely achieving that end, though seemingly impossible at the present time, effectively dragging all states into line on a rights issue, would be a good thing? Clearly there are some deeper divisions within politics, but not the wider community,  stopping even such a small change toward what many in political circles view as the inevitable, same-sex marriage.

So, we’re at a stage where equal marriage has just been rejected. Even the prospect of civil unions at a national level seems equally despised and not wanted by just about all political parties in Canberra. The positive ideas of a few, whilst not great leaps forward, but still positive steps, albeit tiny ones, appear likely to stay just that, ideas.

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.

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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