Thursday, September 7, 2017

Today by Sean Kelly

A telling moment
What followed the High Court’s plebiscite decision was instructive


The High Court today dismissed the challenges to the government’s decision to hold a postal vote on the issue of same-sex marriage.

I hate that the postal plebiscite is going ahead, but I am optimistic about the result.

I am sad partly because I think it is wrong in principle. Most of us do not need to submit our lives to the judgement of our fellow citizens in order to claim basic rights. It is a direct attack on equality to force LGBTQ people to do so.

As former High Court justice Michael Kirby said in August last year, “We didn’t do this for the Aboriginal people when we moved to give equality in law to them, we didn’t do it when we dismantled the White Australia policy … we didn’t do it in advances on women’s equality, we didn’t do it most recently on disability equality. Why are we now picking out the LGBT, the gay community?”

It’s possible to argue that a parliamentary vote, too, would be flawed: that the actual problem is that an entire community do not have rights, and that some vote, of some kind, was always going to have to be held in order to address that. This is true. And certainly there would have been objectionable arguments made in the course of a parliamentary vote.

But you know what? This plebiscite doesn’t remove the need for a parliamentary vote. If the postal survey delivers a Yes verdict, there will be a parliamentary vote anyway. What we are talking about here is the addition of an entire extra process, months long, with television ads, and person-to-person canvassing across the country.

For many people, that will be a mildly annoying distraction. For LGBTQ people, and their families, every bit of it will be deeply personal. And we don’t need to guess what that campaign will look like. We’ve seen campaign materials, and TV ads have been broadcast in the past. Some dog whistle to entrenched homophobia. Some are more overt, clearly preaching hatred. 

You may disagree with all this, and believe that a national vote is a good thing. You should be aware, nonetheless, that for many LGBTQ people, today’s High Court decision was a very sad moment.

Reactions, immediately afterwards, were instructive.

Those campaigning for same-sex marriage took a clear and unified approach. The tone was relentlessly upbeat. Tiernan Brady, director of Australians for Equality, tweeted, “It is what it is and next door to the court they’re already out canvassing! Let’s win this for everyone.” Tom Clarke, director of campaigns at the Human Rights Law Centre, wrote, “So it’s full steam ahead on the #YES campaign after HighCourt gives Gov’s divisive postal survey the green light.”

That’s not accidental, of course. That tone will drive much of the Yes campaign. Brady, who worked on the Irish Yes campaign, wrote in an opinion piece this morning about the Irish campaign, “Marriage equality had to be a unifying moment of celebration for our country if it was to bring about real change to the daily lives of lesbian and gay people.” Elsewhere in the piece Brady writes, “The not-so-secret weapon of the Irish campaign was the people who told their stories.”

On the other side, Lyle Shelton, at the Australian Christian Lobby, was more matter-of-fact: “It’s still on. A referendum on freedoms & radical LGBTIQ sex education in schools.” In other words, a vote that is about everything but marriage. I’m not verballing Shelton here – he has said this himself, explicitly.

Those reactions, in miniature, are the campaign. On one side, people’s stories, with an upbeat tone. On the other side, attempts to sow doubts in people’s minds about matters unrelated to marriage, with a healthy sprinkling of homophobic disgust.

The other reaction that must be noted is the prime minister’s.

The news of the High Court decision came around 15 minutes into Question Time. Bill Shorten asked Malcolm Turnbull a question on the issue. The PM got to his feet.

What followed was one of the most confident Turnbull spiels I have seen in the parliament. He castigated Shorten for changing his mind on a plebiscite. He was supremely snide in rubbishing his opponent: “Much to his disappointment, every Australian will have their say.”

At any other time, on any other issue, this would have been a great takedown.

But today it felt weird. Turnbull would be very well aware that for many people today’s decision was a sad event. He could have acknowledged that not everybody wanted the plebiscite, while defending it on principle. He could have struck an appropriately solemn note, before going on to declaim the virtues of democracy.

Instead, he turned it into a sarcastic political attack.

In other news

• Read of the day, because facts matter: Peter Lewis explains why the cashless welfare card is not the success it might seem.

• Opinions and analyses: Great piece from Judith Ireland – one rule for the politicians, another for everyone else. Bernard Keane on the inconsistency around AGL [$]. Tiernan Brady compares the Irish and Australian marriage campaign experiences

• Media: Reporting giant Peter Luck has died. The battle over Channel Ten.

• A shake-up of public service heads.

• Tony Abbott says a burqa ban should be considered in places “dedicated to Australian values”


Title fight

The people of the Pilbara take on Australia’s great philanthropist

Paul Cleary

“While multinational companies operating in the Pilbara have paid the 0.5% royalty and helped set up trust funds to manage the money, the Yindjibarndi are up against Australia’s Fortescue Metals Group, founded by Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest, which dismisses these payments as sit-down money or ‘mining welfare’.” READ ON


Trump and Russia: a guide for the bewildered

A fuller story of relations between the Russian government and the Trump campaign is only now coming to light

Robert Manne

“By the time Donald Trump had been elected president of the United States, two studies – one conducted by US intelligence agencies, one conducted by a private firm – had arrived at an identical conclusion: a complex Russian intelligence operation under the direction of President Vladimir Putin had worked for the defeat of Hillary Clinton and the election of Trump.”  READ ON  

Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly is a columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and was an adviser to Labor prime ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.



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