Back To The Roots

IMG_0443Everyone agrees Australian politics is screwed, and no-one knows that more right now than the #LBGTI community. Politics has failed, and continues to fail us. It’s time we took a long hard look at the quality and direction of the campaign for equality, and changed our approach.

Firstly, the effort to be nice to Mr Abbott and his Liberals, jumping through all the hoops that were set up: waiting for the party room meeting; promising to shut up till after the election if a conscience vote failed; crafting a cross-party bill of the whole parliament; the whole nine yards can now be acknowledged as a colossal mistake.

by IIamalexander

Some minds are too closed to ever be changed, and such minds rule the Liberal party. As I have been warning for some time now, Abbott and his right-wing backers don’t have and never did have the slightest attention of doing anything that might lead to marriage equality. Abbott has privately (and it has now been widely reported publicly) said that he will use whatever tricks he can to stop it happening. And he has.

Campaigners failed to recognise the depth of hatred and opposition from the PM and his cohort of the religious. They have said privately they do not care if this issue loses them the next election. They have said they would rather lose power than see marriage equality legalised. But recognising its inevitability, they are determined it should be on Labor’s watch. They plan to go to the election after next campaigning for its repeal.

This is where all the rhetoric about the issue being divisive comes from, as they set up the basis for their long term campaign against us. .They will argue – indeed, they are already arguing – that the issue is so bitterly divisive, the only way to ‘heal’ society is to let all Australians vote on the issue. They will still run that line even after parliament passes a marriage equality bill.

The LNP will support ‘traditional’ marriage at the next election, while Labor will try to legalise same-sex marriage within 100 days. There’s your plebiscite, right there. Equality = Labor (& Green). Discrimination = Coalition.

No need to spend upwards of $100m on a plebiscite, but if they really think it’s necessary, they could run it plebiscite alongside the election. Simple. But of course, they don’t want to do that. They don’t want to fight the election on same sex marriage. Because they would lose.

They think this plebiscite notion gets it off the election agenda. And why do they want it off the agenda? Ignore the spin about giving the Australian people their say. Look at this (admittedly unscientific) poll in the Fairfax papers today.


Their own polling shows them the same thing (just as their own internal polling showed them that if marriage equality went to parliament on a free vote now, it would pass). The issue is starting to move swinging voters away from the Coalition.  Abbott has propelled it from  “Yeah, its OK I suppose, but there are more important things to worry about” to “Why the f–k is the mad bastard not just getting it done and over with?” He is steadily turning it into a vote changer.

So now is not the time to help them kick the can down the road, by cosying up to Julie Bishop’s plebiscite idea, as AME are trying to do. Now is the time for AME to break off relations with the Coalition, because the Coalition have been negotiating in bad faith.

(I cannot decide whether Warren Entsch was a willing participant in this, or just a naive dupe, and I hate to think either of him. But he was led up the garden path by John Howard the last time he tried to help us, so sadly I’m forced to conclude it’s the latter.)

Come the next election, AME must campaign against every single LNP member who voted against us in the party room, or, should it come to it on Monday, fails to cross the floor to support us. No excuses, no exceptions. The time for playing nice is over.


Tim-WilsonThe other arm of the “Be Nice to Tony” movement, aka our Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson, is left looking ever more impotent and irrelevant. All his desperate attempts at appeasement of the religious right in those convoluted pieces in The Oz have gone for nothing. They aren’t interested. They tolerate him, in a somewhat amused fashion, but have paid his arguments not the slightest mind.

The poor man must be feeling dreadfully betrayed and abandoned right now: hated by most of the gay community, for whom he has achieved precisely nothing, and hung out to dry by his generous Liberal paymasters.


Turning to Labor, what of their magical “100 Days” promise? Is it worth anything? And if so, how much? Not a lot.

Shorten’s pledge is to bring in a bill to legalise equal marriage within 100 days of the formation of a Shorten government, should such a thing ever happen. But there is no guarantee the bill would pass, because Labor will still have a conscience vote.

Passing the bill would require winning a substantial Labor majority in both houses of parliament. Substantial enough to overcome any defections by the religious right of the party. Substantial enough to pass without Greens support, which is also not guaranteed: Labor may load down the bill with unacceptable ‘religious exemptions’ in an attempt to limit defections, and thereby drive Greens and independents away.

In my view, Abbotts exposure as a tricky liar on this issue and his adoption of the plebiscite policy, should cause Shorten and Labor to think again, perhaps holding a special emergency one day congress to switch to a binding vote. Rainbow Labor is trying a different spin.

According to Jamie Gardiner, a respected advocate for our community for many many years, Labor’s policy is terrific. On Facebook he spins the failure to make equal marriage binding party policy thus:

After much discussion the cross-factional Rainbow Labor Caucus agreed: we would move to retain the non-binding vote for the current parliament, and to revoke it with effect from the calling of the election…….. Rainbow Labor delegates and others canvassed delegates from all factions, unions and states. By Sunday morning we believed our compromise position probably had the numbers. The same conclusion seems to have been reached in the leadership group. The leader had also, however, to have very difficult conversations with the most vehement opponents of reform. By early afternoon a new compromise was hammered out. It took Rainbow Labor by surprise. Initially shocked, on reflection we realised it was a win. A big win.

Why should the new compromise take them by surprise? Because despite being the LGBTI representatives in the party, then were excluded from the negotiating of it. So much for their influence in the party. And then, despite getting shafted, they decided they loved this dogs breakfast of a compromise anyway.

Forgive me, but this all sounds like the excuses a woman makes for the behaviour of an abusive partner: “Oh no, he never asks me where I’d like to go on holiday, he just books something.”  “Well, I never wanted to have sex with him”, shortly followed by “but actually I quite like him to be masterful, really.” Jamie’s loyalty does him credit, but he’s wrong. It’s not a big win, as I have written elsewhere.


Fairground Hyde Park / Sara Tz

So now that formal politics teeters on the brink of more delay and even failure, and may even as we speak be toppling over it, what do we do?

The formal political process alone is no longer enough. We need to build friendship and support outside politics, so that when the next march for equality is called, it gets 60,000 marchers, not a mere 6,000. But lets get away from dour and dogged marches, the screaming and shrieking and flagwaving and extreme left wing recruitment drives.

It would be great if AME would get their heads out of Canberra, and Equal Love / CAAH stopped dreaming of revolution, and organised lots of ordinary everyday little things to build support and goodwill in every town and suburb in Australia.

Or you could just do something yourself. Some suggestions:

  • If you work in a cafe, give everyone a free rainbow muffin or cookie with their coffee one day a week
  • Lawyers, businessmen hold rainbow cocktail parties in your boardrooms each week
  • Doctors, clinics, hospitals, put the AME pro-marriage commercials on your waiting room TV.
  • Dry cleaners, clean every third garment brought in a customer who’ll sign up up to support the campaign.
  • If a garden centre, offer your customers a free rainbow plant to supporters
  • Include a prayer for equal marriage at every service at your church
  • Put posters in your shop windows and by the roadside.
  • Organise low-key weekly marriage equality events like teas at your mother and baby group, Mothers Union, church, kindergarten, schools
  • Put on marriage equality races, matches tournaments once a month at the gym, bowls club, swim club, surf club, footy, cricket or netball club.
  • Even your mother flying a rainbow flag on her house in the burbs would help

Let me know when you decide what to do, and when and where, and I’ll help you publicise it. It was this kind of local, friendly, low key grass roots engagement that got the Irish referendum passed. Study what they did, adapt and copy.

People have gotten so conditioned to think that the only options are people lobbying in Canberra or screeching on the street. These have their place, the the homely, cosy, personal approach beats them hands down. You or me writing one letter to a pollie, well, i expect they just see my name and bin it by now. But all your friends and neighbours and customers doing it too. . . . . . .

I’d like to see that.

Castro Street San Francisco 1991- David Prasad

Good humoured and fun civil disobedience also has its place. Already momentum is building for a #LGBTISTRIKE day, when everyone in our community goes on strike for the day on September 30, but if you can’t, or daren’t, or don’t want to strike, think of other ways you can support the effort, not just on the day, but right up until the election.

Oh, and there is one more thing you can do. Even if marriage equality is becoming a vote changer, there are more powerful levers. Like the damage they’re doing to Medicare and the ABC. Like their utter financial incompetence, increasing our debt by $2m a week since the day they were elected. Like the cruelty of offshore detention and pushing refugees on water away to drown in someone else’s water. Like making education unaffordable. Keep hammering these issues too. We don’t just live in a wee gay bubble, you know!

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)