5 Years of Blogging: Highlights & Thanks

Next month (July 2017) will mark five years of writing this blog. In that time, I’ve published more than 200 articles, submissions and open letters, on a wide range of topics, from marriage equality to anti-discrimination laws and plenty in between.

 

For reasons I will explain at the end of this post, now is an appropriate time to take a quick look back on what have been some of the highlights of the past five years, as well as to express my gratitude to the support I have received during that time (and from one person in particular).

 

  1. #NoPlebiscite

 

One of the things I am proudest of was my contribution to the campaign to stop the unnecessary, wasteful & divisive plebiscite on marriage equality. While obviously the #NoPlebiscite campaign was a group effort, and I was only one of many people involved, I think I managed to play an important role – from refining the arguments against the plebiscite, to producing effective social media messaging/materials, and conducting one of the community surveys which established that the LGBTI community would rather take the risk that marriage equality might be delayed rather than accept the certainty of young and vulnerable LGBTI people being harmed.

 

For more of my thoughts on the campaign against the plebiscite, see Pride, Pressure & Perseverance.

 

  1. #ItsTimeToBind

 

Another campaign in which I played something of a leading role was the push for the Australian Labor Party to adopt a binding vote on marriage equality at its 2015 National Conference. Unlike the campaign against the plebiscite, #ItsTimeToBind was only partially successful: ALP MPs and Senators will only be bound to vote for marriage equality after the next federal election (to be held in late 2018 or early 2019).

 

Nevertheless, if there is a change of government (which seems more likely than not at this stage), this rule change means there will be no further delays on a reform that has been delayed for far too long already – a newly-elected Shorten Labor Government will be able to pass marriage equality in a matter of months.

 

For more on this campaign, see What ALP National Conference Delegates Should Hear About Marriage Equality.

 

  1. ALP National Conference 2015

 

One of the things I have tried to do with this blog – and sometimes I have done this more successfully than others – is to ensure that my LGBTI activism and advocacy is about more than just marriage equality. In the lead-up to that conference this meant pursuing a broad LGBTI agenda (see 15 LGBTI Priorities for ALP National Conference 2015), beyond simply achieving a binding vote.

 

As a result, I drafted at least 13 different amendments to the ALP Platform that were ultimately successful, helping to contribute to the most progressive major party manifesto on LGBTI issues in Australian history. This included policies on youth suicide, homelessness, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia in schools, rainbow families and inter-country adoption, consideration of an LGBTI Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission and the introduction of vilification protections, LGBTI inclusion in foreign aid, and three amendments on intersex issues (including an end to involuntary medical procedures).

 

Perhaps the two reforms I am most proud of were a commitment to remove out-of-pocket medical expenses for trans people, and a declaration that “Labor will not detain, process or resettle lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex refugees or asylum-seekers in countries which have criminal laws against any of communities as it makes these places unsafe environments for all of them.”

 

  1. Diversity of Issues

 

This approach – writing about a diversity of LGBTI issues – is something I have attempted to do beyond just the 2015 ALP National Conference. And, while it has been easy at different points to be distracted by the fight for marriage equality, I am happy I have managed to focus on a broad range of other topics.

 

This includes posts on everything from anti-vilification laws to the homosexual advance defence, the age of consent and expungement for historical homosexual offences, rainbow families (including adoption, assisted reproductive technology and inter-country adoption), relationship recognition, gender identity and access to legal documentation, intersex autonomy and involuntary medical procedures, and LGBTI refugees and people seeking asylum.

 

Perhaps the only high-profile issue over the past five years that I haven’t written about (both because it has been written about extensively elsewhere, and because I didn’t have much original to add) was Safe Schools. But, at the same time, I was one of only a few people to focus on the issue of LGBTI inclusion in the National (and later NSW) Health & Physical Education Curriculums.

 

  1. Focus on LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Law

 

Possibly the main issue I have written about over the past five years – and especially over the past 18 months – has been anti-discrimination law, and how well, or poorly, it protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians.

 

This includes a specific focus on how LGBTI anti-discrimination law interacts with, and is undermined by, special rights to discriminate given to religious organisations (aka ‘religious exceptions’). I have also written about the strengths and weaknesses of current LGBTI anti-discrimination laws at Commonwealth level, and in every state and territory, in a series called ‘What’s Wrong With…’

 

To see all of my posts on LGBTI anti-discrimination law, including the issue of religious exceptions and the ‘What’s Wrong With…’ series, see: LGBTI Anti-Discrimination / #NoHomophobiaNoExceptions.

 

  1. The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia Survey

 

One of the more recent highlights of this blog was The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia survey, which I conducted at the start of 2017, the results of which I have published in a series of six posts from March to June.

 

These articles explored the discrimination experienced by (far too many) LGBTIQ Australians in terms of verbal harassment and abuse, physical abuse or violence, where discriminatory comments occur and their impact, discrimination in education, discrimination in employment, and discrimination in health, community services or aged care.

 

I encourage you to read these posts in full, including the many heartbreaking personal stories of discrimination shared by survey respondents. You can find them all here: The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia.

 

  1. Personal Stories

 

Some of the posts that I have found the most difficult to write (particularly as someone who is generally an introvert) are the ones where the subject matter has been deeply personal. These include several articles that discuss the ongoing inability of my fiancé, Steven, and I to marry under Australian law. On the other hand, I think they are probably some of the most powerful posts I have written, because they are personal in nature. You can judge for yourself, here: Personal.

 

  1. Feedback Received

 

One of the best things about writing a blog – of putting your thoughts down in ‘black and white’, and sharing them with the world – is the feedback you receive in return. This includes the many, many comments received via social media on my posts, some of which apparently aroused strong views (both for and against), but with the vast majority generating thoughtful responses from other passionate members of the LGBTI community.

 

Having said that, two particular pieces of feedback received over the past five years stand out in my memory:

 

  • The great Martina Navratilova tweeting that my piece In search of the elusive gay or bisexual male tennis player was “very well put” (it also happens to be the most popular piece I’ve ever published, by far), and
  • A comment from inspiring ACT UP activist Peter Staley on my review of the Oscar-nominated documentary ‘How to Survive a Plague’ in which he features (the review itself was far from best thing I’ve written – but his engagement made it worthwhile).

 

Martina

 

  1. Audience Reach

 

Another satisfying part of ‘blogging’ is seeing what you’ve written reach its audience. Admittedly, writing a blog that primarily concerns itself with LGBTI law reform and policy, in Australia, is the definition of a ‘niche’ endeavour.

 

Nevertheless, over the past five years my blog has received almost 90,000 views, and (as of 11 June 2017) has been visited by people in 189 different geographic regions. In fact, there aren’t many countries where someone hasn’t clicked on something I’ve written (although I am still waiting for first-time readers from North Korea, Turkmenistan, Liechtenstein, Greenland, Cuba, French Guiana, Lesotho, the Democratic Republic of Congo and, in our own region, Samoa and the Solomon Islands).

 

Obviously, choosing to write about the things I do means it is never going to be ‘clickbait’ – but it is still pleasing to know some people have found what I’ve written to be informative, or enjoyable (or hopefully a combination of both).

 

  1. Thanks

 

Which brings me to the most important part of this post – and that is to say thanks. Thank you to you, the readers, who have clicked on, read, liked, commented on and shared the more than 200 articles, submissions and open letters I have published here.

 

I have genuinely appreciated your interest, your views (including where you thought I got something wrong) and your support. Writing this blog has been one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever done, and being read by people who are passionate about the same things I am has definitely made it worthwhile.

 

But of course there is one person who deserves the most thanks of all – and that is my partner of almost nine years, and fiancé of more than seven, Steven. His support, encouragement, patience and, above all, belief has allowed me to devote my time and energy to this blog, and to the campaigns I have run here – I literally could not have done any of this without him. Thank you my beautiful man.

 

And that brings me to the underlying reason for this post. After almost five years of writing this blog, it is time to take a step – maybe even two – back and to focus on other things. This reflects an understandable desire to spend more of my available time with my fiancé. It also coincides with changing jobs (my new role will consume much more of my focus, especially in the next year or two).

 

At this stage, I’m still not 100% sure whether I will stop blogging completely, or whether it will simply be far less frequent (every couple of months, rather than three or four posts per month) or perhaps even about other subjects. Whatever the future holds, I’d just like to say that I hope you’ve enjoyed what I’ve written so far, and that I hope it has made a difference in some way, shape or form. Thanks very much for reading.

Malcolm Turnbull – ‘Mean, tricky, out of touch and not listening’

When Malcolm Turnbull’s political career is finally over – and that could be sooner rather than later – it is likely that the ‘highlights’ package run by TV stations – which, based on his ‘achievements’ to date, will also be shorter rather than longer – will include at least a brief mention of his role as head of the unsuccessful ‘Yes’ campaign in the 1999 republic referendum.

 

The footage they will probably show will be his (in)famous description of John Howard as ‘the Prime Minister who broke this nation’s heart’.

 

Almost 18 years later, it is somewhat ironic that this description could just as easily be applied to Turnbull’s own stint as the country’s leader.

 

Despite coming to the top job with enormous public good will, amid widespread relief that Tony Abbott was no longer Prime Minister, just 18 months later he has seemingly squandered it all.

 

It is almost as if he consciously set about smashing the high hopes and expectations the public once held, as the modern, moderate Malcolm rapidly became traditional ‘Tory’ Turnbull.

 

We may not be ‘broken-hearted’ (that description always was a touch grandiose), but we have certainly been left disheartened, and deeply disillusioned, by a man who has sold out his principles across a wide range of issues – from climate change to marriage equality, and most things in between – merely to keep his place in The Lodge.

 

This past week it appears Malcolm’s stint as PM has officially reached its nadir. And this time it is a different quote about John Howard that springs to mind.

 

On both section 18C, and the postal plebiscite, the Turnbull Government has revealed itself to be ‘mean, tricky, out of touch and not listening’, which is how then Liberal Party President Shane Stone notoriously described the Howard Government in an internal memo in early 2001.

 

**********

 

The proposed reforms to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, which will make it easier to vilify people on the basis of their race (or, as Attorney-General Brandis once admitted, ensure people ‘have the right to be bigots’), are nakedly ‘mean-spirited’.

 

The Liberal-National Government is seeking to undermine anti-vilification laws that have protected Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and other Australians from ethnically diverse backgrounds, for more than two decades.

 

The entire justification for their unrelenting assault on section 18C is to simply repeat the word ‘freedom’ over and over again, and hope nobody notices that a largely homogeneous group of MPs and Senators, most of whom will never experience racism, are taking away protections from people who, depressingly, still need them.

 

The move to change the wording of section 18C, by replacing the words ‘offend, insult, humiliate’ with ‘harass’, is tricky, too.

 

Not just because the Prime Minister has tried, on multiple occasions, to describe this amendment as ‘strengthening’ anti-vilification laws (sorry, Prime Minister, we’re not that gullible).

 

But also because, on at least five separate occasions before the July 2016 federal election, Malcolm Turnbull said that his Government had no plans to change the Racial Discrimination Act.

 

Being confronted with this inconvenient history this week led Mr Turnbull to engage in this, frankly, extraordinary exchange:

 

“Journalist: But on backflips, you back flipped on 18C, you changed your mind on 18C. Don’t you agree this is what politicians do, they change their position?

 

Prime Minister: Again, I don’t accept that proposition at all.

 

Journalist: You said five times before the election that you wouldn’t change 18C and now you’re pushing through changes?

 

Prime Minister: What we said before the election was that we did not have any plans to change 18C and that was absolutely true. So again, as a guardian of the truth, you should be more careful with the language you attribute to me…”

 

‘Honest’ John Howard would be proud of that evasion. And it seems like the Australian electorate are the ones who need to be more careful, and not believe any future promises that Malcolm Turnbull might make.

 

Amending the wording of 18C is also the definition of a niche political issue, demonstrating that the Government is comprehensively out of touch with the concerns ordinary Australians.

 

It doesn’t take Einstein to realise most Australians are far more interested in health, education and employment – and increasingly, the cost of housing – than the supposed troubles of Andrew Bolt or (the late) Bill Leak.

 

Speaking of which, even Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce spoke against the proposals in the joint party room meeting on Tuesday (21 March), reportedly saying ‘the move to amend 18C is really dumb and it will lose the Coalition votes’.

 

Barnaby knows that this issue is not what John Howard called a ‘barbecue stopper’. For many people, if 18C came up at all it would most likely be in the context of wondering why the Turnbull Government is so obsessed by an issue that, as Treasurer Scott Morrison previously conceded, ‘doesn’t create one job, doesn’t open one business, doesn’t give anyone one extra hour’.

 

Of course, that is not to say nobody is focused on, or affected by, this issue. For a significant minority, and especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and Australians from ethnically diverse backgrounds, the changes to 18C are a threat to vital protections against the hate-speech that remains far-too-common.

 

And they have been making their voices heard, providing literally hundreds of submissions to the Parliamentary Joint Committee that considered this issue at the start of the year.

 

In the five days since these reforms were announced, there have also been joint statements against proposed changes to 18C by ‘[r]epresentatives from Greek, Armenian, Indigenous, Jewish, Indian, Arabic, Chinese, Vietnamese and Lebanese organisations.’

 

But the Turnbull Government is not listening to the millions of people who would be adversely affected by these new definitions.

 

Quite literally, in fact, as the Aboriginal Legal Service discovered when it attempted to provide evidence to the Senate Inquiry into the Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 on Friday, and Liberal and National Party Senators voted not to hear them.

 

Instead, the Turnbull Government is listening to the (maybe) tens of people – at the Institute of Public Affairs, and the Herald Sun and The Australian newspapers – who have been clamouring for these changes.

 

Or, as Barnaby Joyce acknowledged (and yes, I’m just as surprised as you are that I’m quoting him, approvingly, twice in the same article):

 

“This is an issue, it is an issue but I’ll be frank, it lives in the extremities of the bell curve. Where do you meet those people [who care about 18C]? At party meetings, they are absolutely blessed people and they are terribly politically involved and they have an intense interest in some of the minutiae of debate. They come into your office to rant and rave about it, all four of them.”

 

It is hard to summarise the proposed changes to 18C much better than that – the racial vilification laws that protect millions of Australians from hate-speech are being wound back because of the passionate and vocal interest of extremists inside the Liberal and National Parties who ultimately won’t be affected by it in the slightest.

 

**********

 

Not content with displaying its fundamental flaws in relation to 18C, the past week also saw the Turnbull Government debating another subject on which it is consistently ‘mean, tricky, out of touch and not listening’: marriage equality.

 

Specifically, the man most likely to replace Malcolm as Prime Minister, Peter Dutton (now that’s a phrase I’d hoped never to write), has been actively pushing a proposal to hold a ‘postal plebiscite’ on this issue.

 

To be fair to the incumbent, Turnbull has so far not expressed formal support for this idea. But then he hasn’t ruled it out either, and, given he maintains his predecessor, Tony Abbott’s, policy in favour of a ‘traditional’ plebiscite, there is a real risk the postal plebiscite will become Government policy.

 

This is, at its core, another mean-spirited proposal.

 

Imposing a plebiscite – traditional or postal – to determine whether lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians should enjoy equal rights under the law is a hurdle that no other social group has been forced to overcome.

 

The idea that we need to hold such a vote to determine whether couples like Steve and me can say ‘I do’ is so ridiculous that it should have been laughed off. But it isn’t just couples like Steve and me, who have only been together eight and a half years, affected by the ongoing ban on marriage equality.

 

It also denies the rights of couples like Peter de Waal and Peter Bonsall-Boone, who have been together for more than 50 years, and who simply want to be married under the law just like any other couple.

 

Holding a postal plebiscite will take several months, and a positive result would still need to be confirmed by legislation afterwards. This is time that some couples do not have:

 

“I doubt that I will live long enough to see same-sex marriage,” said Bonsall Boone, who is now battling cancer. 

 

Therefore, the idea that the Government could hold a postal plebiscite on marriage equality isn’t just unprecedented, or ridiculous, it is downright offensive, especially when the alternative is so obvious.

 

As De Waal says: “[t]he simplest, cheapest, quickest and fairest way to resolve this inequality is a free vote in federal parliament now!”

 

The postal plebiscite is also tricky in two key ways. First, the legislation to hold a traditional plebiscite on marriage equality was firmly rejected by the Senate in November last year.

 

Having failed in that attempt, for the Government to turn around and hold one anyway, this time via post and therefore not requiring parliamentary approval, is both sly and underhanded.

 

Or, as Liberal backbencher Trent Zimmerman acknowledged: “it [is] the wrong path because it would be seen as ‘tricky and sneaky’, it would be non-binding and its result could be disregarded” [emphasis added].

 

Second, the nature of a postal plebiscite would effectively stack the decks against marriage equality. The group most likely to engage via post – older Australians – are also the least likely to support marriage equality. The converse is also true – many younger people, who are overwhelmingly in favour of the equal rights of LGBTI people, would be less likely to vote this way.

 

A postal plebiscite would also inevitably be a contest between passionate advocates at either end of the debate, instead of the middle Australia who, as demonstrated by opinion poll after opinion poll, are, to use John Howard’s phrase, entirely ‘comfortable and relaxed’ about the idea of two men, or two women, marrying.

 

Finally, as Mr Zimmerman suggests, the lower turnout of a postal plebiscite would also reduce its legitimacy, making a public ‘yes’ vote easier for MPs to ignore (remembering that the same conservatives who now support a plebiscite questioned the validity of the Irish marriage equality referendum because ‘only’ 60% of people voted).

 

Just as with the changes to section 18C, the push for a postal plebiscite on marriage equality also reveals just how out of touch the current Liberal-National Government has become.

 

While the proposal to hold a traditional plebiscite was initially popular, that support dropped away dramatically through 2016 as people increasingly understood it would be unnecessary, wasteful and divisive.

 

A postal plebiscite is just as unnecessary, and would still be preceded by a bitter and hate-filled public debate. Perhaps the only ‘improvement’, if you could call it that, is that it would waste tens, rather than hundreds, of millions of dollars.

 

The idea itself seems to have appeared out of nowhere. I cannot recall any news story, or opinion piece, published prior to last week where anyone was calling for the plebiscite to be revived and for it to be conducted via post.

 

That simply confirms that this proposal is not about meeting any demonstrated need from the community – instead, it is being driven by the internal politics of a dysfunctional Government that steadfastly refuses to do the one thing that would actually end this issue once and for all: hold a free vote in parliament.

 

Finally, this is another instance of the Turnbull Government not listening to the people who are affected by this issue: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians.

 

As a community, we said a very firm ‘no’ to the idea of a traditional plebiscite in the second half of 2016, in large part because of the harm it would cause to young and vulnerable members of our community.

 

Based on everything that has been said since the absurd notion of a postal plebiscite was floated last week, we reject the idea of an optional opinion poll via return mail, too (perhaps even more strongly).

 

As Rodney Croome of just.equal notes: “[r]egardless of the model, a plebiscite does not mean more power to the people, but an abdication of responsibility by politicians. It is the coward’s way out.”

 

Or, in the words of Alex Greenwich from Australian Marriage Equality, it is a ‘desperate ploy’, and “[i]t would be seen as a pretty sneaky and underhanded way to do it, I mean, bypassing the parliament.”
All-in-all, this is an issue that only really affects LGBTI people, and our family members and friends. And we’ve already made our views on this topic very clear – we want marriage equality, we want it now, and we want it passed in the ordinary way: in parliament.

 

Almost 13 years after marriage equality was originally banned by John Howard’s Coalition Government in August 2004, it is time for Malcolm Turnbull’s Coalition Government to start listening to us and just get it done already. If they don’t, they might find themselves with a lot more free time come 2019.

 

**********

 

These two policies – the proposed reforms to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, and the possible postal plebiscite – don’t just reveal a Government that is ‘mean, tricky, out of touch and not listening’. They are also two of the worst, and most indefensible, policies of an era that is already renowned for poor governance.

 

This Government actually wants to make it easier to vilify people on the basis of their race. Voluntarily holding a national public vote on marriage equality will see people vilified on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status, too.

 

They also share another similarity – they are things not even John Howard did. He had almost twelve years as Prime Minister, including two and half with a Senate majority, in which to wind back our racial vilification laws, and chose not to do so.

 

And, even though he legislated the ‘wrong’ way, he also knew that the issue of marriage equality was one that could and should be settled by our 226 elected representatives, sitting in our nation’s parliament.

 

In this way, we can see that Malcolm Turnbull won’t just be remembered as one of our most disappointing, and disheartening, Prime Ministers, someone who has comprehensively failed to live up to such high expectations. He will also go down as one of the worst. Period.

 

Howard and Turnbull

One of these things is too much like the other.

Submission re Foreign Policy White Paper

Below is my personal submission regarding the development of the Australian Government’s Foreign Policy White Paper. Submissions close Tuesday 28 February 2017. For more details, please see the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade’s website.

**********

Foreign Policy White Paper Submission

c/- whitepaper@dfat.gov.au

 

To whom it may concern,

 

Submission re Foreign Policy White Paper

 

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission to inform the Australian Government’s development of its Foreign Policy White Paper.

 

This is a personal submission, prompted by the four-page Call for Submissions, published on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website.

 

In this submission, I will address four main issues that I believe must be addressed in any responsible Foreign Policy White Paper: climate change; refugees; foreign aid; and human rights.

 

Which is why it was so disappointing to note that three of these four issues were not mentioned, at all, in that four-page document.

 

There was not even a single mention of the threat posed by global warming, the humanitarian challenge of the growth in displaced persons and people seeking asylum, or the need to promote the human rights of all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, around the world.

 

Admittedly, there was at least one cursory reference to “our overseas development assistance program”, although, as we shall see below, even that was inadequate.

 

In any event, please see below my explanation of why each of these four policy areas must form a central part of the Foreign Policy White Paper that is expected to be released in late 2017.

 

  1. Climate Change & Global Warming

 

I find it extraordinary that the White Paper call for submissions completely failed to mention[i] what must be the most important challenge facing the world in the 21st century: climate change, and specifically accelerating global warming.

 

In 2017, there is no doubt that the actions of humans have contributed to a rapidly warming planet. Indeed, the Government’s own Bureau of Meteorology confirmed, in its most recent Annual Climate Statement[ii], that:

 

  • 2016 was Australia’s fourth warmest year on record, 0.87 degrees above the long-term average
  • It was also the warmest year on record for ocean temperatures in the Australian region, with an annual mean sea surface temperature 0.73 degrees above average, and
  • Our three most populous states, NSW, Victoria and Queensland, also had the highest average minimum temperatures on record during the past 12 months.

 

Globally, the news is even more confronting. The same report confirmed that:

 

  • 2016 was the warmest year on record around the world, 0.83 degrees above the long-term average
  • “This surpasses the previous record set in 2015, and is the third year running that the new record has been set” [emphasis added]
  • January, February, March, April, July, August and December 2016 were all the warmest respective months on record, and
  • “The global ocean surface temperature for the calendar year was also the warmest on record in 2016, surpassing the record set in 2015.”

 

This is nothing short of a climate emergency. And it is a situation that will directly affect Australia, and its people, just as it affects every other country and people in the world (after all, if the planet cooks, we will all cook with it).

 

The threat of climate change is an international problem – consequently, the response to it must be international in nature too. That includes a response from Australia, both through domestic policy (with the introduction of an effective price on carbon), but also in its foreign policy settings.

 

Climate change generally, and global warming specifically, may well be the most significant challenge we, as a species, have ever faced. I believe responding to this threat must be the number one priority of any new Foreign Policy White Paper that the Australian Government produces.

 

170227-climate-change-final

Climate change is real, and it cannot be ignored (source: Bureau of Meteorology).

 

  1. Refugees and People Seeking Asylum

 

A second issue that, almost as bizarrely, is not even mentioned in the Foreign Policy White Paper call for submissions is the growing number of displaced people around the world, including refugees and people seeking asylum.

 

This is despite the fact that the most recent Global Trends: Forced Displacement report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)[iii] noted that “[g]lobal forced displacement has increased in 2015, with record-high numbers.”

 

Indeed, that same report revealed there were:

 

  • 65.3 million forcibly displaced persons worldwide, including
    • 21.3 million refugees
    • 40.8 million internally displaced persons, and
    • 3.2 million asylum seekers
  • 12.4 million people newly displaced due to conflict or persecution in 2015 alone, and
  • 2.0 million asylum applications submitted (a new record-high) with 441,900 asylum claims just in Germany as a result of the war in Syria.

 

It should not have taken widely-shared, tragic photographs of Alan Kurdi in September 2015 to make us realise this is truly a global humanitarian crisis.

 

The numbers alone confirm that this is an international issue of the highest order, and addressing its causes, while responding to the consequences, must be a foreign policy priority for all countries, including Australia.

 

One of the many depressing statistics found in the UNHRC’s report confirms that it currently is not: “[d]uring 2015, the total number of refugees admitted for resettlement stood at 107,100”[iv]. That’s 107,100 out of a total of 21.3 million.

 

Of course, the Australian Government may claim that, given 9,400 of those refugees were resettled here (the third-highest of any country), we do not need to do more.

 

But that ignores the fact we benefit from our location, and isolation, and therefore do not have the same number of in-country applications for asylum as other places. And it also overlooks the wealth and privilege we currently enjoy.

 

As a country we can, and must, do more in response to the growing number of displaced persons around the world, and that should be reflected in our new Foreign Policy White Paper.

 

170227-unhcr-forced-displacement-2015-final

Source: UNHCR

 

  1. Foreign Aid

 

The one issue, out of the four priority areas highlighted above, that is at least touched on in the call for submissions is foreign aid. Topic 5: Australia confronts a range of strategic, security and transnational challenges on page 3 includes the following question:

 

“How can our foreign policy, including our overseas development assistance program, support a more prosperous, peaceful and stable region?”

 

However, while this question at least acknowledges the importance of foreign aid (or in this case ‘overseas development assistance’), it does so largely within the framework of Australia’s national interest, rather than in the context of our common humanity.

 

Irrespective of this broader ‘framing’, one of the main answers to this question is actually to increase our foreign aid spending.

 

Drastic budget cuts to Australia’s foreign aid budget in recent years – with $1 billion, or 20%, cut in 2015-16, and a further $224 million reduction in 2016-17 – have seen foreign aid as a share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fall to an estimated 0.23%[v].

 

Indeed, “[b]etween 2012 and 2016, Australia’s foreign aid as a share of national income has fallen steeply from 0.36% to 0.23%.”[vi]

 

This leaves our foreign aid allocation at less than half the previous bipartisan goal of reaching 0.5% of GDP by 2015.

 

And, significantly, it is less than one third of the United Nations target that countries provide at least 0.7% of their national income as foreign aid.

 

The cuts to foreign aid have the potential to cause real and lasting damage across our region, and around the world, to countries and people that can least afford it.

 

As a result, I believe that the Foreign Policy White Paper should feature both a recommitment to the United Nations target, as well as a de-coupling of our foreign aid budget from an almost-exclusive focus on Australia’s national interest.

 

If we fail to do either, then we are at grave risk of changing from the land of ‘the fair go’ to the country of ‘what’s in it for us?’

 

170227-foreign-aid-gdp

Foreign aid as a share of GDP is plummeting, according to the Government’s own figures (source: The Conversation).

 

  1. Human rights, including LGBTI rights

 

There is one final issue that is completely omitted from the four-page Call for Submissions regarding the Foreign Policy White Paper: international human rights.

 

As a long-term LGBTI advocate and activist, I would like to focus on one specific sub-set of international human rights – the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people around the world.

 

In June 2016, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) estimated that same-sex sexual acts were illegal in 72 states, or a full 37% of United Nations members[vii]. This includes 13 States (or part thereof) where same-sex sexual acts attract the death penalty.

 

The criminalisation of homosexuality is also a particular problem in our own region of Oceania, with prohibitions in our nearest neighbour Papua New Guinea, as well as Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu (plus Cook Islands who are associates to New Zealand).

 

There are an additional four countries in South-East Asia where same-sex acts remain illegal (Brunei Darussalam, parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore).

 

Long-standing LGBTI advocate Peter Tatchell last week actually stated that “[t]here remain 75 countries and dependent territories that still criminalise same-sex relations – with nearly half of these jurisdictions outlawing both male and female homosexuality”.[viii]

 

And, in a specific challenge to countries like the United Kingdom and Australia, he observed that “[h]omosexuality remains criminalised in 36 out of the 52 Commonwealth member states” where “[m]ost of these anti-gay laws were imposed by Britain during the colonial era.”[ix]

 

The ongoing criminalisation of people on the basis of their sexual orientation, as well as other anti-LGBTI human rights abuses such as the involuntary sterilisation of intersex infants and the failure to recognise and accept trans and gender diverse people, is a major problem in the early 21st century.

 

I believe Australia should adopt a pro-active role in supporting groups that are working to address these human rights violations, both in our region (where, as we have seen above, there is plenty of work still to do) and around the world.

 

We should also seek, wherever possible, to progress the positive recognition and acceptance of LGBTI human rights in international forums, including the United Nations as well as other groups such as the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

 

Finally, both of these activities – support for the work of LGBTI rights organisations in our region and globally, as well as the pursuit of LGBTI human rights internationally – should be reflected in the Foreign Policy White Paper.

 

170227-ilga-sexual-orientation-criminalisation-map

Same-sex sexual activity remains criminalised in far too many countries around the world (source: ILGA).

 

**********

 

Obviously, in each of the four issues outlined in this submission – climate change, refugees, foreign aid and LGBTI rights – the Australian Government can be legitimately criticised for not doing enough to achieve progress domestically.

 

We can and must do better in terms of reducing our own carbon emissions, of adopting a more humane approach to refugees and people seeking asylum, of increasing our foreign aid budget and of respecting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians.

 

But, at the same time as addressing these ourselves, I believe we can – and above all must – help to achieve progress on these issues globally, because the rise of global warming, the growth in the number of displace persons, the unmet need for foreign aid, and discrimination against LGBTI people, are problems that transcend state borders.

 

Which means the solutions cross state borders too – and that therefore Australia has a role to play in fixing them.

 

Thank you in advance for taking this submission into account as the Australian Government develops its Foreign Policy White Paper.

 

Please do not hesitate to contact me, at the details provided, should you require additional information.

 

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

 

Footnotes:

[i] Question 2, on page 3 of the call for submissions, refers to ‘environmental degradation’, a phrase that is so vague it can be interpreted in multiple ways, and does not begin to capture the urgency of the climate emergency we currently face.

[ii] Bureau of Meteorology Annual Climate Statement 2016.

[iii] UNHRC, Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2015.

[iv] Ibid, page 26.

[v] The Conversation, Savage budget cuts pull Australia down in foreign aid rankings, May 4, 2016.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] See ILGA, State-Sponsored Homophobia 2016 report here.

[viii] Guardian, There are reasons to be cheerful… LGBTI rights gains in unlikely countries, February 20, 2017.

[ix] Ibid.

Malcolm Turnbull’s Mid-Term Report Card

 

It is now one week since polls closed, and it is gradually becoming clear that at worst Malcolm Turnbull’s Coalition will form a minority Government, with the support of Bob Katter, but it is much more likely they will achieve the slimmest of parliamentary majorities.

 

However, what is even clearer is that Turnbull himself emerges from this election in a greatly weakened position, with rabid elements within the Liberal Party (hello Eric Abetz and Cory Bernardi) undermining his leadership and calling for the Coalition Government to move even further to the right (if that were possible).

 

In fact, members of the conservative commentariat have already called for his resignation (the most predictably unhinged, but nevertheless hilarious, of the lot being Andrew Bolt).

 

In the midst of this in-fighting and bitter internal recriminations, and without being able to point to a clear election victory in his defence, it is now highly unlikely Malcolm Turnbull will still be Prime Minister this time next year. Indeed, many people doubt he will survive until the end of 2016.

 

All of which means, given he only became leader ten months ago, we are now probably more than half-way through the ‘grand experiment’ that is Turnbull’s stint in the Lodge. What better time to ask what he has to show for it? And so, here is Malcolm Turnbull’s Mid-Term Report Card as Prime Minister of Australia.

 

First, let’s assess the positives – what have been Turnbull’s accomplishments?

 

Malcolm Turnbull's Successes as Prime Minister_

 

 

Nothing. Despite being Prime Minister since September 2015, there is literally nothing I can think of to list as a lasting achievement of his time so far in office.

 

Sure, he managed to become Prime Minister in the first place – which is a great personal accomplishment – but filling out his own CV doesn’t automatically help anyone whose surname isn’t Turnbull (or who lives outside Point Piper).

 

If you had asked people late last year they might have nominated ‘getting rid of Tony Abbott’ as an achievement – and at the time I probably would have agreed. But, given Turnbull has spent every day since meticulously transforming himself into Abbott 2.0, right down to the vacuous three-word slogans (‘Jobs & growth’), it is increasingly difficult to see any difference between them.

 

The shrinking band of Turnbull supporters within the Coalition might also highlight his ‘victory’ on July 2, however close, as an accomplishment. And granted, winning an election is hard, but it also matters what you are able to do with it.

 

Given his entire election platform seemed to consist of a 10-year, $50 billion corporate tax cut – that appears doomed in the new Senate, given the size of the ALP, Greens and Xenophon contingents, and the ‘messy’ state of the cross-bench – Malcolm doesn’t have a mandate to do anything much in the remaining weeks or, at best, months of his Prime Ministership.

 

Now, let’s turn to the negatives – what have been the failures of PM Turnbull?

 

Malcolm Turnbull's Failures as Prime Minister_

 

On this last point, marriage equality, the list of Malcolm Turnbull’s failures might yet grow longer. Because, in the dying days of his leadership, one of his final acts as PM might be to try to push through the enabling legislation to hold the unnecessary, wasteful and divisive plebiscite, first proposed by Tony Abbott but then adopted by Turnbull in his largely unsuccessful attempts to ingratiate himself with the ‘DelCons’.

 

Even if marriage equality is ultimately passed after a plebiscite, it still won’t be Turnbull’s achievement – because it will be the LGBTI community and our families, friends and allies who will need to put in the hard yards to ensure a ‘Yes’ vote wins (and, irrespective of victory or defeat, it will also be the LGBTI community that pays the price of the hatred and intolerance whipped up during the campaign that precedes it).

 

All in all, then, that’s no achievements (or ‘A’s) to list on Malcolm’s Mid-Term Report Card, and a helluva lot of failures (or ‘F’s).

 

For someone who is accustomed to succeeding at most things he turns his mind to (outside the failed 1999 ‘Republic’ campaign anyway), it must be particularly galling to be such a complete non-entity when finally given the nation’s top job. In the many years ahead after he leaves office Turnbull will have to reconcile himself with being remembered as the ‘Nothingman’ Prime Minister.

 

Of course, he was supposed to be better than this. The Liberal who believed in climate change – once famously saying “I will not lead a party that is not as committed to effective action on climate change as I am” – but who now presides over the farcical Direct Action policy.

 

The inner-city moderate, small ‘l’ liberal, who in March 2016 became the first sitting Primer Minister to attend the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras parade – but who refused to stand up to the bigots on his backbench and their nasty attacks on Safe Schools, and their ongoing attempts to delay and/or defeat equal relationship recognition.

 

Malcolm Turnbull once famously described John Howard as “the Prime Minister who broke this nation’s heart”. Well, given his own inconsistencies and hypocrisies, it could be argued that Turnbull himself is far worse. Because a heart can mend, whereas during his time as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has diminished our hopes – and that is something that is far harder to replenish.

 

Loaded Dog Piece on Should Smoking be Allowed at Outdoor Restaurants?

Smoking should be banned at outdoor restaurants. Not because it would limit the health damage an individual smoker does to themself – there are already numerous public health interventions designed to reduce the harm people are willing to visit upon themselves through smoking (tobacco excise, plain packaging, Quit campaigns).

Instead, the ban is necessary to protect the health of other restaurant patrons, who shouldn’t be forced to inhale second-hand smoke. The ban would also improve the amenity of their meals; by being able to taste their food, rather than nicotine, and not leaving the restaurant reeking of smoke.

But the most important reason to ban smoking in outdoor restaurants is to protect the health of the employees of these venues. They shouldn’t have to cough repeatedly during their work, they shouldn’t go home smelling of tobacco – above all, they shouldn’t be put at risk of cancer because of someone else’s actions.

Update 28 December 2012

So you may have noticed that this blog has been fairly quiet the past two months. There are a few reasons for that. The first is that I started a new job at the beginning of November. It is as a policy and media officer for a community sector organisation. I haven’t worked in that sector before, nor have I worked as directly with the media, so I thought it might be useful to concentrate on that job until I got a better handle on what is involved.

Second, I have been getting more involved in the NSW Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby (GLRL). In early December I was elected to the committee of management, and am now the chairperson of the Anti-Discrimination Working Group. This is obviously taking up some of my time, particularly in figuring out how things operate, but it also means that some of what I write is now on behalf of the Lobby, and not myself.

That includes a submission I drafted in late October to the consultation process on the National LGBTI Ageing and Aged Care Strategy (as an aside, the final strategy was released on 20 December – congratulations and thanks to Minister Mark Butler and all who have been involved in the many years of lobbying for this important document). The submission has not been published at this stage, and whether it is put on the web is a matter for the GLRL.

But, now that I am settled at work, and have some more time on my hands, I will resume writing more regularly – and hopefully publishing something every two or three weeks. Over the next month, I will also ‘clear the decks’ of some other things which I have written this year, including putting up my submission to the Senate Marriage Inquiry (which was not published by the Committee), my submission to the Senate Anti-Discrimination Inquiry (which will hopefully be published by the Committee as well) and following up my letter to Minister Chris Bowen on LGBTI asylum seekers – which sadly he has not yet responded to. I hope to write a bit more on issues of secularism and the separation of church and state in the new year as well.

Finally, I should reiterate that what I write here is purely personal in nature – I am not writing on behalf of my community sector organisation, nor is anything included here written on behalf of, or speaking for, the GLRL. These are my own thoughts, and this is my own voice.

Beginning

I have contemplated starting a blog for some time, but, for whatever reason, the timing has never been right. Well, right now there is no reason why I shouldn’t try to put down in words my thoughts on a wide range of topics which are important to me. As the title of the blog suggests, I am planning to cover a wide range of different issues, although I will be concentrating on those things which are closest to my heart – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex equality, and the separation of church and state (which are, in many ways, inextricably linked). The purpose isn’t necessarily in seeking to be widely read, but for those people who do happen to stumble across these reflections I hope they do make you think (or even start a conversation if you wish to comment). Anyway, who knows where it might eventually end up, but that’s my intention at the beginning.