Don’t Use Us To Prop Up PM

pic: Lock The Gate Alliance

AME/A4E believes a free vote on marriage equality is impossible and are planning accordingly.
It’s a plebiscite or nothing.
But are we just being used as pawns to shore up Turnbull’s hopeless Prime Ministership?

I have received a communication from Australians 4 Equality, or A4E for short.

When I first heard of this new organization, I was also told that A4E was set up specifically to manage the YES campaign, should we ever be forced down the dangerous and unnecessary path of a plebiscite on our rights to marriage. And this is true.

I was also under the impression that it was designed to claim the government funding that might be offered for the YES campaign. This is not true. I’ve since discovered they don’t want ANY government money, for either the YES or the NO campaign.

A4E is said to be the brainchild of Australian Marriage Equality’s wealthy corporate backer, Tom Snow, the gay son of Rich Lister Terry Snow. It is rumoured, but unconfirmed, that he was a guest at Malcolm Turnbull’s Point Piper mansion for the $10k a plate fundraising dinner just before the election.

[The Snow family are very supportive of their son, who is also said to be a ‘doting gay dad’ (since this piece was published, he and his partner have had a third child, also via surrogacy, so that must be true, too!). As he does not seem to be publicity-shy, the stirrer asked for an interview with Mr Snow, but at the time of writing has not received a response.]

The A4E email makes it clear that AME is now only offering token resistance to the plebiscite. Instead, A4E is already full steam ahead building a campaign to fight and win it.

“…We need to be a fully national campaign. By the end of July we will have coalition meetings set up in nearly every state and territory in Australia. Although the participants are by no means exhaustive, we are starting to get a great cross-section of the various sectors that must be involved in order for us to win this campaign. These range from the LGBTI community, corporate supporters, unions, civil society and human rights organisations, religious leaders, family groups, multicultural institutions, local government and political organisations.”

The author of the document, Dae Levine, is described on LinkedIn as

“Responsible for building the national coalition to win the campaign for same sex marriage in Australia. Working with stakeholder groups around the country and collaborating with key partners to develop the structure and grow the level of support for this issue in the lead up to the national vote.”

It’s pretty clear, therefore, that Australian Marriage Equality has already sold the pass: they’ll be working for the plebiscite, not against it. The A4E website confirms

“Australians for Equality is a coalition of marriage equality supporters and organisations who have come together to help achieve equality and fairness for all.

We are working in close collaboration with Australian Marriage Equality, as well as a range of other community groups and supporters from every walk of life across Australia.

Australians for Equality are working to deliver a positive, respectful, inclusive and winning yes campaign.”

Although the document comes from A4E and under their branding, it speaks of Australian Marriage Equality in the text, so it’s exact authority and provenance is muddied. The document is signed by Dae Levine, Stakeholder Director, Australians 4 Equality. Her CV, however, describes her as performing that role at Australian Marriage Equality.

A former adjunct professor of communications at Columbia University, she has impressive credentials as a fundraiser and campaigner, having worked for the New York AIDS Ride and Greenpeace, among others.

Clint McGilvray, to whom she directs any queries in her absence, is described as Communications Director at AME, not A4E. He has a quite different background, having worked for Department of Premier and Cabinet (NSW)NSW Liberal Party (Election Campaign), and the Australian Business Foundation, and is a connection of the new MP for Goldstein, Tim Wilson.

The reasoning behind AME’s acceptance of a plebiscite, is that Turnbull’s right wing will never under any circumstances allow a free vote in parliament without one. Therefore if we oppose a plebiscite, we are condemning ourselves to between 3 and 6 years of no progress towards equality. Therefore we have to risk the plebiscite and all the evils it will undoubtedly unleash. The prize, in their view, is worth the damage.

It’s an evil position to be placed in, caught between the implacable hatred of the Liberal National right wing, and the insuperable cowardice of the Prime Minister, in his unwillingness to face them down. I also believe it’s a false choice, but more on that later.

AME/A4E may actually believe a plebiscite is the best way forward. But others, within and without, have different ideas. They (and I, for the record, in case you hadn’t guessed) strongly oppose a public vote. Prominent among them are former AME Deputy National Convenor, Ivan Hinton-Teoh, PFLAG national director Shelley Argent, and AME director and founder, Rodney Croome. All have been speaking forcefully against the plebiscite.

Shelley Argent's Facebook post

Shelley Argent’s Facebook post

It’s no secret I’m no fan of a plebiscite either. Throwing vulnerable members of our community onto a bonfire of hatred and prejudice doesn’t strike me as a particularly moral thing to do. Malcolm Turnbull’s assertion that we can have a safe and respectful conversation is meaningless, and almost certainly wrong, if the last six months are anything to go by.

His assertion that marriage equality will just sail through parliament if the plebiscite says Yes is nothing but wishful thinking. The much-feared bullies of the right wing of the Liberal party won’t respect the outcome unless it’s NO, and Labor’s not bound to vote for it in any case.

The Coalition’s supporters in the press have been busily spinning and distorting the fact, so that many people believe that an “overwhelming majority” of the public want a plebiscite. This is a lie.

And finally, if in the last analysis we can’t prevent it, there are ways to delegitimise and derail any plebiscite, but it’s a very high risk strategy. Fellow opponents of a public vote are horrified I could even suggest it.

Back to what I said earlier. I think we are being given a false choice. We are being offered a choice between two equally unacceptable options: give up all hope of achieving justice and our rights for the life of this and possibly the next parliament, or take the risk of the conflagration a plebiscite will almost certainly ignite.

We are being herded into this impossible position by the very body that ought to be refusing to play this sick game – Australian Marriage Equality – in order to protect Malcolm Turnbull’s precarious position as Prime Minister. Because they fear any alternative would be worse. Because they cannot see the third way.

AME have in effect dragged us into an internal Liberal Party feud that has nothing to do with us. We should not be pushed into using our vulnerable community members as Turnbull’s cannon fodder.

Reject this false choice, this cynical realpolitik. I call on AME to reject both these options, instead pouring all our efforts at this critical time into ensuring that Labor and the cross-benchers deny support for Malcolm Turnbull unless he brings on a free vote immediately. And let the Prime Ministers fall where they may.

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)