Responding to Bill Shorten’s Arguments Against a Binding Vote on Marriage Equality

Last night, just 36 hours from the start of ALP National Conference, the Sydney Morning Herald published an opinion piece by Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten explaining why he supports a conscience vote on marriage equality[i].

The article itself is short and, based on any objective reading, the arguments he makes for a conscience vote (or rather, against a binding vote), are weak.

So weak, in fact, that it is tempting to assume Mr Shorten is aware there remains a strong chance that National Conference will decide on Sunday afternoon that the ALP should nevertheless bind (whether immediately, or taking effect from the start of the next federal election campaign), and he does not want to appear to be too out of step with the membership on this issue.

Whatever the motivation, in this post I will respond to the three main arguments against a binding vote put forward by Mr Shorten.

1. A binding vote would be difficult for ALP MPs and Senators who oppose marriage equality

Bill says: “I support marriage equality… But I understand that not every Labor MP or party member feels the same way. Some, particularly people of faith, take a different view. I respect this. It’s why I support a free vote on marriage equality.

Solidarity still has a powerful meaning in our party and a binding vote would put a handful of Labor MPs in a very difficult position. Either they vote against their conscience, or they vote against the party they’ve dedicated their working life to serving.”

Response: This may well be true – for a handful of ALP parliamentarians in both chambers the prospect of being compelled to vote for the full equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians, including in the Marriage Act, does raise personal ethical issues for them.

But the problem is, and the key fact that Mr Shorten ignores, is that this dilemma – being compelled to vote for a position with which you do not agree – is not unique to the issue of marriage equality.

Indeed, to paraphrase a slogan from another political party, this is the exact same question faced by every ALP MP, on every single issue, and every single vote, whenever they disagree with the Party’s position – as a member of a political party based on collective action, and bound by the principle of solidarity, does my personal opposition outweigh my overall loyalty to the party?

It is the same question that is asked by ALP members from across the factional divide who find our current policies on refugees (which involve the offshore detention, processing and resettlement of refugees, including LGBTI refugees in countries that criminalise them) to be abhorrent.

It is the same question that was asked by ALP members who earlier this year personally opposed the Abbott Government’s metadata legislation – but which was supported by the Federal Opposition. Or who did not support the cuts to single parent payments made by the Labor Government in 2012, or who wanted to shut down the live animal export trade permanently in 2011[ii].

Each of these policy questions raises significant ethical issues for the MPs and Senators who have a different personal view to the overall position of the Party. But, in respect of no other policy was the response of the Party, and Party Leader, to say that this disagreement therefore meant that normal processes, which require parliamentarians to be bound, should not apply.

And Mr Shorten does not make any substantive argument for why the issue of marriage equality should be treated differently to any other issue.

He does make an indirect reference to ‘people of faith’ but, as has been explained previously[iii], that would only be relevant if ALP parliamentarians were being required to vote to change the definition of marriage within their religion – and no marriage equality Bill proposed to date would do any such thing.

Under every proposal, all ministers of religion would be free to continue to reject – or support (remembering that some religious organisations want to be able to marry LGBTI couples) – marriage equality.

All that Labor MPs and Senators are being asked to do is to vote for the equality of all Australians under secular law, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status – and their personal faith is not a compelling argument to reject that vote being made binding as is standard operating procedure.

And it is even less compelling when we remember that a binding vote on marriage equality was adopted by the ALP from August 2004 to December 2011 – and that, during this time, all Labor parliamentarians who supported LGBTI equality, including those like Senators Penny Wong and Louise Pratt who were from the LGBTI community themselves, were required to vote against it.

Overall, then, Mr Shorten’s first argument does highlight the fact that supporting marriage equality might be difficult for some individual MPs and Senators – but that is not the same thing as saying that the normal rules of the Australian Labor Party, which ordinarily require binding, should not apply.

2. Labor should not adopt a binding vote because of what Tony Abbott might, or might not, do

Bill says: “I believe the best way to ensure our Parliament passes a definition of marriage which includes, values and respects every Australian relationship is for all representatives, from all parties, to have a free vote… I’m hopeful Tony Abbott will allow his MPs a free vote when Parliament returns, to achieve this outcome.

If Labor gets hung up on procedural argy-bargy, we jeopardise this possibility. Not only is it far more difficult for us to call on Tony Abbott to give his party room a free vote if we bind ourselves, there is also the risk that the Coalition re-commits to binding against marriage equality.”

Response: Mr Shorten is right to highlight the very real risk that Tony Abbott, and Warren Truss, and the political parties that they lead, could continue to bind their parliamentarians to vote against marriage equality. But what he omits to mention is that this risk exists irrespective of whatever delegates to this weekend’s ALP National Conference decide to do.

Even if the Labor Party chooses to retain a conscience vote on marriage equality, in the hope that it will somehow entice the Liberals and Nationals to do the same, there is no guarantee this move will have any influence over them whatsoever.

After all, if the ALP’s position was so influential, then it is reasonable to ask why the Coalition hasn’t adopted a conscience vote during the three and a half years in which Labor has already had one[iv].

Mr Shorten’s argument also seems to suggest that a conscience vote on both sides is numerically the most likely to succeed, when in fact the best chance for passage would be for the Labor Party to adopt a binding vote, and for the Liberal and National Parties to adopt a conscience vote.

As Australian Marriage Equality has repeatedly made clear, even with a conscience vote on both sides, if and when a cross-party marriage equality Bill is considered later this term, it could still fall short.

And that phrase, ‘this term’, is actually the key here. Because the decision whether to adopt a binding vote, or retain a conscience vote, is about far more than the remaining 13 months of this parliamentary cycle.

This debate is also about what policies the Australian Labor Party takes to the next Federal Election, and whether it is able to implement them.

If Mr Shorten wants to be able to stand before the Australian people, with hand on heart, and declare that, if elected, a Labor Government he leads would introduce marriage equality, then the only way in which he would be able to ensure it could be delivered is by adopting a binding vote, right here at this Conference.

The decision for National Conference delegates now is about whether the Australian Labor Party fully supports marriage equality, and ensures that all of its MPs and Senators vote accordingly when it next comes before Parliament.

The decision is also about whether, if that vote fails and we are elected to Government next year, a new Labor Government is able to finally deliver marriage equality to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians who have already waited for far too long.

And it is a decision which is far too important to ‘outsource’ to Tony Abbott, and Warren Truss, and the Liberal and National Party rooms, based on hypotheticals about what they may or may not do.

3. A conscience vote is an inherently better way to achieve reform than a binding vote

Bill says: “Frequently now people speak of marriage equality as an “inevitable” social change. In my experience, there is no such thing as inevitable progress, and worthwhile change is always hard-won. The best way to deliver reform is to bring people together. To build support by finding common ground; through consensus not coercion – not through the force of procedure but through the power of an idea whose time has come.”

Response: To many, the sentiments in this paragraph might seem noble. To me – and, I suspect, to most ordinary members of the Australian Labor Party – this paragraph seems almost bizarre.

After all, Mr Shorten is a former trade union official who became state, and later national, secretary of the Australian Workers Union. And he has been a Labor Party MP for almost eight years, including serving as a Cabinet Minister and now, for almost two years, as Party Leader during Opposition.

In all of those positions and roles he has been part of organisations and bodies that are based on solidarity, whether that involves taking collective action in industrial disputes, or voting collectively to change the nation’s laws.

For him to turn around now and say that the best way to deliver major reform is “through consensus not coercion – not through the force of procedure but through the power of an idea whose time has come” is, in effect, arguing that the entire way in which both the union movement and Australian Labor Party operate is inherently wrong.

Is Mr Shorten genuinely saying that all the legacy reforms passed by Labor Governments, from the introduction of Medicare to the expansion of higher education, from the passage of the Racial Discrimination Act and Sex Discrimination Act to the legislative recognition of native title, and more recently from the repeal of WorkChoices to the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, should have been achieved through conscience votes? Because that is the clear implication of his argument.

To fully realise just how strange, nonsensical even, Mr Shorten’s argument here is, we should consider the major policy which he announced just yesterday morning – a commitment for a 50% renewable energy target by 2030[v].

That would be a major reform – and it is definitely “an idea whose time has come”. By the same logic which he has used to argue against a binding vote on marriage equality, the best way to achieve a 50% RET must be through “consensus not coercion”, meaning Labor parliamentarians should be free to vote against it.

Mr Shorten would probably recoil in horror at that prospect. Well, the rest of us recoil at the double-standard which suggests that the Labor Party can and should bind in order to achieve political, economic, environmental and social change – but that it cannot bind to help achieve change for LGBTI Australians.

So, unless he is going to propose an amendment at this weekend’s Conference to make all policies optional for all Labor Party MPs, he should stop arguing to make just the issue of marriage equality non-binding.

********************

From this discussion, it is clear that none of the three main arguments put forward by Mr Shorten withstand close scrutiny.

After reading, and re-reading, his opinion piece, it is also clear that he fails to grapple with the core of the issue, which is this:

  • Should Labor Party MPs and Senators be free to vote for continued discrimination against LGBTI Australians under secular law?
  • Should our parliamentarians have the so-called ‘right’ to deny human rights to one group in society solely on the basis of who they are?
  • Should ALP caucus members have the option to reject the fundamental equality of their fellow citizens simply because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status?

The answer to these questions should be, indeed must be, no. And I sincerely hope that the majority of National Conference delegates agree come Sunday afternoon.

Of course, it is incredibly disappointing that the Leader of my political party, Bill Shorten, does not. But he should remember that at the last National Conference the delegates rejected the view of the then Leader, Prime Minister Julia Gillard, that the Party should not change the platform to support marriage equality.

We can, and must, reject his view this time around, and make that platform position binding on ALP MPs and Senators. It’s time to support LGBTI equality 100%. It’s time to bind.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten's arguments against a binding vote on marriage equality do not withstand close scrutiny.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s arguments against a binding vote on marriage equality do not withstand close scrutiny.

[i] “Bill Shorten: Why I Support a Free Vote on Gay Marriage”, Sydney Morning Herald, 22 July 2015: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/bill-shorten-why-i-support-a-free-vote-on-gay-marriage-20150722-gii96f.html

[ii] For more on this issue, see “One of these things is not (treated) like the others” : https://alastairlawrie.net/2015/04/22/one-of-these-things-is-not-treated-like-the-others/

[iii] See “Why the Australian Labor Party should still adopt a binding vote on marriage equality”: https://alastairlawrie.net/2015/07/14/why-the-australian-labor-party-should-still-adopt-a-binding-vote-on-marriage-equality/

[iv] For more on this issue, see “Why the Australian Labor Party should still adopt a binding vote on marriage equality”: https://alastairlawrie.net/2015/07/14/why-the-australian-labor-party-should-still-adopt-a-binding-vote-on-marriage-equality/

[v] “Bill Shorten to unveil 50% renewable energy target at Labor conference”, Sydney Morning Herald, 22 July 2015: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/bill-shorten-to-unveil-50-renewable-energy-target-at-labor-conference-20150721-gih4bp.html

Bill Shorten’s Marriage Equality Bill Second Reading Speech – The Annotated Version

When the Opposition Leader, the Hon Bill Shorten MP, gave the second reading speech on his marriage equality legislation on Monday 1 June, 2015, he omitted to mention a few key points, especially in relation to his ongoing opposition to a binding vote within the Australian Labor Party. Here is my annotated version of his speech, with some suggested additions:

“I move that the bill be read a second time.

The laws of our nation should give us hope. Our laws should tell our children what we believe. Our laws should tell strangers who Australians are. [And the issue of marriage equality tells strangers that the Australian Labor Party is, currently, unwilling to fully support the equal rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians.]

Our laws should be a mirror…reflecting our great and generous country and our free, inclusive society. [But please don’t hold that mirror up to the pockets of the Party I lead that are not ‘great and generous’, but are instead mean-spirited and support the exclusion of people from an institution of love on the basis of who they are.]

And our Parliament should be a place where we make things happen rather than sit back and let them happen. On marriage equality, for too long we in this Parliament have been following, not leading. It is within our power to change this. [Despite my speech today, I have no intention of using my influence, and the power of my office as Party Leader, to pursue a binding vote in favour of marriage equality at the upcoming ALP National Conference, because that would be dangerously close to leading, not following.]

This Parliament can change a law that no longer describes modern Australia… and pass a law of which we can all be proud. [Well, most of us anyway – without a binding vote, there will be members of my Party who vote against this issue of fundamental equality, and who, by implication, should be ashamed of their actions.]

Let us delay no more. Let us embrace a definition of marriage that respects, values and includes every Australian. Let us declare, in the house of the Australian people – it is time. The right time to make marriage equality, a reality.

This is a moment bigger than politics. This moment does not distract the nation – it complements our hopes for the future. [And I will not be distracted by frankly ridiculous notions that the Australian Labor Party, should, in the future, treat this issue like nearly every other matter of public policy by having a binding position on it.]

I know all members of Parliament will engage in a respectful and considered debate, and I hope will be able to exercise a free vote. [I sincerely hope that the MPs and Senators within my own Party who oppose the human rights of their fellow citizens simply on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status will be able to continue to do so.]

I pay tribute to the Member for Sydney, for offering her place on this bill to a member of the Government. Tanya, thank you. [Although my thanks do not extend to you for standing up for the principle of LGBTI equality, and for explaining, persuasively and with conviction, why it demands a binding vote, because it has shown up my own lack of leadership on the subject.]

Your actions, the advocacy of Senator Penny Wong and the goodwill of many across the Parliament, prove that bipartisanship is not the problem here. What matters is the outcome, not who owns it. [I will ensure Labor cannot ‘own it’ because its parliamentarians will remain free to vote against it.]

Madam Speaker, for decades, the march to equality has been led by remarkable Australians from every part of our country and all walks of life.

Governments from both sides of politics have delivered real progress too. The Fraser Government passed Whitlam law, decriminalising homosexuality in Commonwealth territories, following Don Dunstan’s lead in South Australia.

Paul Keating lifted the ban on Australians who identified as gay serving in our military. The Rudd and Gillard governments removed discrimination against same-sex couples from more than 80 laws.

In Victoria, the Napthine Government expunged the records of people who were charged under long-repealed homosexuality offences. Changing the Marriage Act is the next, overdue step in the path to true equality. [You didn’t really expect me to mention in this speech the ALP’s role in voting for the Howard Government’s homophobic ban on marriage equality in 2004, or the fact that its MPs and Senators were collectively bound to oppose it for the following seven and a half years,  did you?]

Madam Speaker, I’m a twin – it’s a special thing, growing up, an inseparable bond. But for other twins where one twin is gay and the other is not, the Marriage Act is the only Australian law that separates siblings.

It’s a double standard which divides families, and our country. It’s not fair and it’s not who we are. And it should change. [Although what I don’t propose to change are the rules of my Party which allow Senator J Collins to vote against it, while MP J Collins votes in favour, which mean Senator S Conroy can vote in the opposite direction to MP P Conroy, which result in Senator D O’Neill rejecting LGBTI equality even while MP C O’Neill advocates for it, and which allow Senators K Gallagher and A Gallacher’s votes to cancel each other out. That double standard will remain long after July’s ALP National Conference if I have my way.]

Currently, marriage is defined as: ‘the union of a man and a woman.” Those eight words maintain a fiction that any other relationship is somehow inferior. [A fiction which some Labor parliamentarians will be free to continue, not just to believe, but to actively try to impose on their fellow citizens.]

Our legislation proposes a new definition: ‘the union of two people.’ And it allows celebrants the choice of referring to ‘partners’, as well as husband and wife.

To some, this may seem a small gesture. In truth, this means so much, to so many. To all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians, we offer change that says: your relationship is equal under the law. [Please note, however, that conditions DO apply: you can only redeem this offer in the electorate offices of about four fifths of ALP MPs and Senators around the country.]

To the parents, children, friends and families of same-sex partners, just as the people you love are equal and valuable in your eyes, their relationship should be equal and valuable in the eyes of our law. To same-sex couples, we offer the right to celebrate your love with the public measure of devotion: marriage.

When someone has found not just another person they can live with, but a person they can’t live without, then they should have the same right to the true qualities of a bond that runs deeper than any law. [Unlike the bonds of a political party, with a long history of solidarity and collective action, which I am prepared to ignore in order to allow some parliamentarians to cast their votes against your right to marriage.]

The same joy and sacrifice. The same care and compassion. The same rights and responsibilities. And we say to all young gay people. We are proud of you, for who you are. You belong. [Although some of us are less proud of you than others, and some of us don’t think you belong in a wedding ceremony at all.]

We say to you, you have a right to the same hopes, dreams and opportunities as every other Australian including the right to marry the person you love. [But individual ALP parliamentarians also have the right to crush those hopes and dreams, and limit those opportunities, solely because of who you are.]

In removing discrimination from our country’s laws, we strive to eliminate prejudice from our people’s lives. [Just not entirely eliminating it from our caucus room.]

Let’s be honest. Casual, unthinking discrimination and deliberate, malicious homophobia alike, are still far too common in our conversations. In our schoolyards, our workplaces and our sporting clubs…and even, occasionally, our Parliament too.

This affects community, neighbourliness, harmony and mental health in our cities and especially our regions and the bush where physical remoteness can aggravate a sense of isolation.

We know two out of five young Australians who are gay have thought about self-harm or suicide. Two out of every five. [We also know that about one out of every five ALP parliamentarians will likely be voting against the equal rights of LGBTI people, and sending the message that who you are is less than, worse than, cisgender heterosexual people.]

We know a young Australian who identifies as gay is six times more likely to consider taking their own life, compared to their sibling, classmate, colleague or teammate. Six times.

When I was finishing school in the 1980s, youth suicide was still a taboo topic. I can remember hearing of the passing of young men, and no-one spoke of how they died. I can close my eyes and see their faces, forever young.

And I wonder now, if for some, the stigma and the struggle of imagining a future, lonely, isolated, treated differently was too much to bear. Marriage equality says to young people who identify as gay, you are never alone. You belong. [I am sincere in this belief, and about the need to address youth LGBTI-related mental health issues, and the tragedy of suicide. I just can’t sincerely say I am doing everything in my power to support marriage equality.]

This is an act of fairness for all ages. On the weekend, I spoke with Sandra Yates, from Devonport in Tassie. Like hundreds of other Australian couples, she and her partner Lee Bransden have been forced to travel to New Zealand to marry.

Sandra and Lee had hoped to marry at home surrounded by friends and family but Lee is terminally ill, and has been told she only has weeks to live. Their community raised money to fund their trip and fulfill their dream.

They are thrilled to be married…and sad it couldn’t happen here, in the country they love. [And I am genuinely sad about this situation, too – just not enough to try to override the right of Chris (Hayes) & Joe (Bullock) to vote against Sandra & Lee.]

Lee’s voice should be heard in this place: “Please, help switch on the light for same-sex couples and take us out of the darkness.” [But don’t make the light too bright, lest it expose the darkness in the hearts and minds of some of our MPs and Senators.]

Lee, Sandra, you, your friends and families should not have to wait one day longer for recognition. And this legislation will ensure that same-sex marriages, recognised in another country, are recognised here.

A law that forces our citizens to travel overseas, or to the grounds of another nation’s embassy, to have their relationships recognised is a law not worth keeping. [Unless enough individual parliamentarians think it is worth keeping, in which case, well, I guess that’s fine by me.]

I have not made a habit of speaking publicly about my faith, and I do not seek to preach to others today. I do believe in God and I do believe in marriage equality. For me, there is nothing contradictory about extending love, compassion, charity and respect beyond heterosexual Australia.

I understand, that for many people of different faiths, this is a complex question, I respect this. It is why I support a free vote. [Let’s be honest again, while exactly zero of the many Bills proposing marriage equality to date impose any obligation on religions, or religious organisations, to recognise marriage equality, I am willing to allow individual MPs and Senators within the Labor Party to attempt to impose their own religious definition of marriage onto 23 million other Australians. Their personal opinions are clearly more important than the freedom of religion, and from religion, of everyone else.]

And why this legislation makes it clear that no minister of religion can be compelled, or is obliged, to conduct a particular marriage…including one where two people are of the same sex. All ask in return that this respect be mutual.

Just as churches, mosques, temples and synagogues of all faiths and traditions will be free to choose if they consecrate same sex marriages. Let the same respect allow Australians to freely choose who they marry, without vilification or judgment. [Unfortunately, I know that this respect will not be mutual within my own Party. There will be some ALP parliamentarians who will continue to judge, and in some cases vilify, LGBTI-relationships as second class – and, no, I am not prepared to directly challenge them, and their outdated beliefs, by seeking to bind them to vote in favour.]

So often in our history, Australia has led the world in social and economic progress. The right to vote, pensions, the eight-hour day. Our healthcare and superannuation systems are among the best in the world. But on marriage equality, we have fallen behind. [And my own Party has played its part in this state of affairs, both in the good, and also in the bad.]

Like so many Australians, two Sunday mornings ago, when I first heard the result of the Irish referendum I thought: if the Irish can do it, why can’t we? How can Ireland, New Zealand, 37 US States, England, Scotland, South Africa and Canada and Brazil, Iceland and Uruguay be ahead of us? [Of course this is a rhetorical question only – please don’t point out that, if the ALP had adopted a binding vote in 2011, marriage equality would have passed three years ago, and this entire debate now would, thankfully, seem faintly ridiculous.]

Twenty countries have already recognised the merit of marriage equality. I am confident Australia will. [But without a binding vote, I cannot confidently say that a newly-elected Labor Government under me would definitely be able to pass it.]

I don’t want us to wait, any longer. We cannot assume this change is inevitable. We cannot imagine it will just happen. We, the 44th Parliament, we have to step up, to rise to the moment. [Unless that involves stepping up by voting for equality, 100%, in which case I say, ‘yeah, nah’.]

Today, is neither the beginning, nor the end, of the journey to marriage equality. [The next logical step on my side of the political aisle would be the adoption of a binding vote at the ALP National Conference in July, although I have already made it clear I do not want that to happen.]

But I hope…with goodwill on all sides, with co-operation, with respect for one another this can be a historic step forward. Given a free vote, I believe this Parliament is ready for a definition of marriage which reflects the modern, inclusive and egalitarian Australia we love. [It would of course be even more ‘ready’ with an extra half-dozen or more votes in favour of change in both chambers – and, if it falls short by that margin or less later in the year, then I will have to accept at least some of the responsibility for that.]

We are ready to be as generous and kind-hearted as the Australians who trust us. Millions of Australians have waited long enough for this act of justice and inclusion. [And I am proud to say a large majority of the Party I lead will vote to deliver it – expect of course for those who don’t. They’ll be free to continue to support injustice and exclusion, on the basis of their personal opinion.]

The opportunity of a generation is before us now. The moment is here. Let this law reflect the nation we want to see in the mirror: generous, smart, modern, diverse, honest and, above all, equal. Let’s switch on the light. [The light has a dimmer switch installed, however, and its brightness is reduced by the proportion of ALP MPs and Senators who vote no. Until we have a binding vote on LGBTI human rights, our Party’s famous ‘light on the hill’ will shine less brightly for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians.]

Let’s make 2015, the year when Australia embraces marriage equality. Let’s make it happen, together. It’s time. [Please, Tony, please, help pass marriage equality this year, because if it doesn’t succeed then people might question why I didn’t do everything I could to support it. If I did I would be writing a very different kind of speech, to deliver at the ALP National Conference in 6 weeks’ time, one that ended with a much stronger invocation of Gough’s message of hope: It’s Time. It’s Time to Bind.]

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who personally supports marriage equality, but opposes making that position binding on his Labor Party colleagues.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who personally supports marriage equality, but opposes making that position binding on his Labor Party colleagues, unlike nearly every other public policy issue on which the ALP does adopt a binding vote.

#ItsTimeToBind – The Quick Guide

During the course of April, I have written a series of articles, and letters, on the subject of a binding vote for marriage equality within the Australian Labor Party, in the lead-up to the expected debate on this topic at ALP National Conference in July.

These posts were accompanied by some (very) simple social media graphics which outline the main points of this campaign, including why the arguments against a binding vote (which we are already hearing, from both inside and outside the Labor Party), are wrong.

In this post I have brought together these graphics, and included the links to the original articles, as a ‘quick guide’ to the #ItsTimeToBind campaign. As always, if you support this campaign, then please feel free to share it far and wide (and if you do, please include the hashtag). Thanks, Alastair

Hey Australian Labor

The original post “Hey Australian Labor, It’s time to bind on marriage equality” from July 2014: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/07/13/hey-australian-labor-its-time-to-bind-on-marriage-equality/

Bill Shorten, Will you lead on marriage

My letter to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, from January 2015: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2015/01/24/bill-shorten-will-you-lead-on-marriage-equality/

Disappointingly, while he hasn’t replied to my correspondence, as at Thursday 30 April, it appears Mr Shorten has decided not to support a binding vote: <http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/tanya-plibersek-push-on-samesex-marriage-faces-defeat-amid-labor-leadership-split-20150430-1mww0s.html

Although it should be remembered, of course, that National Conference in 2011 decided to change the platform despite the opposition of its then Leader (former Prime Minister Julia Gillard) so there is no reason why National Conference can’t decide to change the Party’s rules, by supporting a binding vote, this year.

150403 50 percent versus 100 percentA letter to all ALP MPs and Senators (well, all except five) calling on them to support a binding vote in favour of marriage equality: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2015/04/03/letter-to-alp-mps-and-senators-calling-for-a-binding-vote-on-marriage-equality/

Thank you Tanya Plibersek for supportingA thank you to the Deputy Opposition Leader, the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator the Hon Penny Wong, for supporting a binding vote: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2015/04/05/thank-you-tanya-plibersek-and-penny-wong-for-supporting-a-binding-vote-on-marriage-equality/

And also a response to a later Sydney Morning Herald editorial that attacked Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek for standing up for the principle of a binding vote: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2015/04/29/tanya-pliberseks-principled-stand-threatens-to-achieve-progress-on-marriage-equality/

%22Senator Wong's longstanding position is

If the woman on the left could be bound

Letters to the two Labor parliamentarians (Chris Hayes and Senator Joe Bullock) who have publicly threatened to cross the floor rather than vote for marriage equality: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2015/04/07/the-mp-and-the-senator-threatening-to-cross-the-floor-rather-than-vote-for-marriage-equality/

The question Chris Hayes should be asked

Myth_ The ALP always binds on 'gay

A post discussing four of the main arguments used against a binding vote on marriage equality within the ALP, and explaining why they’re wrong: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2015/04/09/4-arguments-against-an-alp-binding-vote-on-marriage-equality-and-why-theyre-wrong/

Myth 2_ The ALP never binds its MPs and-2

Myth 3_ Marriage equality is too-3

Myth 4_ ALP MPs and Senators should have-4

Myth 5_ The only way to achieve marriage

Another post examining four additional arguments against an ALP binding vote in favour of marriage equality, and why they’re wrong too: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2015/04/16/4-more-arguments-against-an-alp-binding-vote-on-marriage-equality-and-why-theyre-wrong-too/

Myth 6_ If Tony Abbott gives Liberal-2

Myth 7_ If marriage equality is passed-2

Myth 8_ A binding vote for marriage-5

Myth 9_ The ALP should not 'waste time'-2

And an additional post looking at two more arguments against a binding vote and, you guessed it, explaining why they’re wrong as well: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2015/05/02/2-additional-arguments-against-an-alp-binding-vote-on-marriage-equality-and-why-theyre-wrong-as-well/

Myth 10_ The ALP should introduce

A binding vote should mean exactly that-2

A look at the suggestion by some that a binding vote should include an ‘explicit right to abstain’ for socially conservative MPs and Senators. Umm, I don’t think ‘binding’ means what you think it means… <https://alastairlawrie.net/2015/04/13/an-alp-binding-vote-for-marriage-equality-should-not-include-a-right-to-abstain/

People 'conscientiously object' to-3

NSW ALP Leader Luke Foley, Will you lead-2

Letters to all State and Territory Labor Leaders, calling for them to support a binding vote on marriage equality in the lead-up to National Conference: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2015/04/20/letter-to-state-and-territory-labor-leaders-calling-for-them-to-support-a-binding-vote-for-marriage-equality/

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, Will-2

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszcuk,-4

WA Opposition Leader Mark McGowan, Will-2

SA Premier Jay Weatherill, Will you be a-2

Tasmanian Opposition Leader Bryan Green,-2

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, as the-2

* And I am happy to confirm that Mr Barr was very quick to tweet his response: “Yes”.

New NT Labor Leader Michael Gunner, Will-3

If the ALP can bind its MPs and Senators-2

A comparison between marriage equality and other morally and ethically contentious issues, like refugees and metadata, that the ALP nevertheless adopts a binding vote on: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2015/04/22/one-of-these-things-is-not-treated-like-the-others/

If the ALP can bind its MPs and Senators-3

If the ALP can bind its MPs and Senators-4

If the ALP can bind its MPs and Senators-5

#ItsTimeToBind-2

Letters to unions affiliated to the NSW Labor Party calling on them to support a binding vote, because LGBTI members of the ALP, and of the union movement more generally, deserve solidarity too: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2015/04/26/letter-to-unions-affiliated-to-nsw-alp-calling-on-them-to-support-a-binding-vote-for-marriage-equality/ )

150501 IT2B solidarity

& soon-3A look at how far we’ve fallen behind other countries on marriage equality, posted on the day of the US Supreme Court hearings and in the lead-up to the Irish referendum: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2015/04/28/its-time-to-bind-to-stop-us-falling-further-further-behind/

In Australia, we don't need the highest-6

And finally, if you are anything like me, the most important reason why now is the right time to push for a binding vote in the ALP:

#ItsTimeToBind Because we've waited long

Letter to ALP MPs and Senators Calling for a Binding Vote on Marriage Equality

With less than four months left until ALP National Conference decides whether the party’s platform position, which supports marriage equality, should be made binding on all ALP MPs, over the next week I will be sending the below letter to all members of the Federal Parliamentary Caucus.

Well, all except five. I have previously written to the Opposition Leader, the Hon Bill Shorten MP, on this topic, although I am yet to receive a response (https://alastairlawrie.net/2015/01/24/bill-shorten-will-you-lead-on-marriage-equality/).

I will also send a different letter to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator the Hon Penny Wong, thanking them for publicly supporting the push for a binding vote, in this article published in The Saturday Paper on 28 March 2015: http://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/politics/2015/03/28/pressure-builds-same-sex-marriage-libs-and-alp/14274612001683#.VR234boxGX0

Next week I will also send an alternative letter to Mr Chris Hayes MP, and Senator Joe Bullock, who, as far as I can tell, remain the only caucus members to have publicly declared they would cross the floor – and presumably be expelled from the Labor Party – rather than vote for LGBTI equality.

If you support a binding vote inside the Parliamentary Labor Party, and like the letter below, I encourage you to send similar letters to the ALP MPs and Senators in your state or territory (you can find their contact details on the Parliament House website: http://www.aph.gov.au/Senators_and_Members/Guidelines_for_Contacting_Senators_and_Members ).

Because, if you want #ItsTimeToBind to be successful, then it’s time to get writing.

Dear MP/Senator

Please Support a Binding Vote in Favour of Marriage Equality

I am writing to you about an issue that is important to me, and thousands of other lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians: marriage equality.

Specifically, I am writing to call on you to support a binding vote in favour of marriage equality for all Labor Party MPs and Senators, with a motion expected on this topic at this year’s ALP National Conference in Melbourne on July 24-26.

The previous ALP National Conference, in Sydney in December 2011, took the important first step, of amending the platform to officially support marriage equality, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

However, the 2011 conference resolution that “any decision reached is not binding on any member of the Party” effectively guaranteed that marriage equality would not pass during the last term of parliament, and continues to make passage almost impossible today.

This resolution was wrong in principle. It took a matter of human rights – of the equality of LGBTI people – and treated it as something that was ‘optional’, rather than fundamental. There is absolutely no reason why the question of whether to recognise LGBTI relationships under secular marriage law should be left up to the personal opinions of individual ALP MPs and Senators.

The 2011 conference resolution also ignores the traditions of the Australian Labor Party as a collectivist organisation. Solidarity should mean exactly that, and explicitly include solidarity to help achieve the full and equal rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.

In short, there is nothing so special or extraordinary about the issue of marriage equality that means the ALP’s ‘standard operating procedure’ – of binding its MPs and Senators to support the official party platform – should be ignored.

For all of these reasons, I urge you to support a binding vote at this year’s ALP National Conference. If you do, and if a new resolution is successful, then not only will it help to hasten the passage of marriage equality, but it would also be a powerful symbol of the growing acceptance of LGBTI people.

Imagine all of the MPs and Senators of Australia’s oldest and proudest political party standing as one, voting as one, to say that they will no longer tolerate the second-class treatment of LGBTI people or their relationships. That would be an incredible moment in the history of our country, and of our party.

I write ‘our party’ because I have been a member of the Australian Labor Party for 13 years. For over seven years, or more than half the time I have been a member, the ALP did have a binding vote on marriage equality; MPs and Senators were bound to vote against.

Now that the majority of the Australian community, a majority of Labor Party members, and a majority of its MPs and Senators, are in favour of marriage equality, there is no legitimate reason why there should not be another binding vote, only this time in support of equality rather than discrimination.

In 2015, rather than simply having a history of binding against marriage equality, the Australian Labor Party should make history by binding for it.

Finally, on a personal note, I want you to know that my fiancé Steve and I have been together for seven years, and have been engaged for more than five.

Just like thousands of other LGBTI-inclusive couples around the country, the length of our engagement has been, and continues to be, determined by decisions made in the House of Representatives, and Senate, and, just as relevantly, at ALP National Conferences.

And, just like thousands of other LGBTI people across Australia, we have grown tired of waiting for rights that are denied to us simply because of who we love.

The 2011 conference resolution, described above, guaranteed that marriage equality would not be passed during the past three and a half years, with the consequence that we would have to wait three and a half more years (at least) to enjoy those rights.

I implore you to do everything in your power to ensure that the 2015 National Conference does not make the same mistake, and instead supports a binding vote in favour of marriage equality so that it can be passed by the parliament as quickly as possible.

Because we deserve the right to set our own wedding dates, not the Parliament. And because we – Steve and I, and thousands of other couples just like us – have waited long enough already.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

150403 50 percent versus 100 percent

Letter to ALP Caucus re Senator Leyonhjelm’s Freedom to Marry Bill 2014

The Hon Bill Shorten MP

Leader of the Opposition

c/- PO Box 6022

House of Representatives

Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600

Monday 23 March 2015

Dear Mr Shorten

Please Amend Senator Leyonhjelm’s Freedom to Marry Bill 2014

I am writing to you regarding Senator Leyonhjelm’s Freedom to Marry Bill 2014, about which debate is scheduled to begin on Thursday 26 March 2015.

Specifically, I call on you, and all federal parliamentary members of the Australian Labor Party, to seek to amend this legislation during debate to remove provisions that would allow civil celebrants to refuse to provide services to LGBTI-inclusive couples, based on nothing more than the celebrant’s personal prejudice.

These provisions are wrong in principle, undermining legislation that is purported to promote the equal right to marriage by also expressly providing a ‘right’ to discriminate on the basis of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia.

There is no justification to allow people providing secular services in a secular area of public life (ie non-religious wedding ceremonies) to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

If passed, these provisions would also set a worrying precedent for other legislation. It is no coincidence that this legislation is being moved by an extremist who does not believe in the right not to be discriminated against in public life – indeed, Senator Leyonhjelm has previously stated that “[i]ndividuals should be able to discriminate but governments should not.”

In this way, the civil celebrant provisions of the Freedom to Marry Bill 2014 should be seen for what they are – the first steps in a campaign, supported by religious and libertarian extremists alike, to undermine Australia’s framework of anti-discrimination protections.

It took 38 years, from the passage of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, for Australia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community to finally achieve protection against discrimination under Commonwealth law – the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013 was an important achievement of, and is an essential legacy of, the previous Labor Government.

It would be devastating if the very next piece of LGBTI-related legislation to be considered by the Commonwealth Parliament were to directly undermine the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status, by instead granting civil celebrants the ‘right to be bigots’.

I sincerely hope that, given the Australian Labor Party has spent the past 12 months campaigning against Senator Brandis’ proposal that Australians should have the right to be bigots vis-à-vis racism, that you will also seek to amend these provisions that would enable bigotry of a different kind.

I also sincerely hope that enough of your parliamentary colleagues, including from the Greens and from the cross-bench, agree and that therefore these provisions are removed, meaning the Parliament can consider a Freedom to Marry Bill that is not also a ‘freedom to discriminate’ bill.

However, the question remains what the position of the Australian Labor Party should be if these amendments are unsuccessful, or if the House of Representatives insists on the Freedom to Marry Bill 2014 including the freedom to discriminate.

I acknowledge that this is an incredibly difficult decision to make – to reject the ability of LGBTI-inclusive couples to be married or to promote intolerance against those same people – indeed I have written previously of this exact dilemma: https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/12/21/senator-leyonhjelms-marriage-equality-bill-undermines-the-principle-of-lgbti-anti-discrimination-should-we-still-support-it/.

In the absence of LGBTI community consensus on this issue – and there can be no consensus because, as far as I can tell, there has been no genuine community debate or consultation – I am forced to fall back on my basic principles. And they are as follows:

I want marriage. I want the right to be married to my partner of almost seven years, my fiancé of more than five, in exactly the same way that my sister and my brother have been able to marry their respective spouses. There is absolutely no reason why I should have lesser rights than them simply because of who I love.

But, I want equality more. The principle of LGBTI equality is fundamental to any just society, and militates against the creation of ‘special rights’ or ‘special privileges’ to treat us as lesser citizens in any way.

To me, the struggle for LGBTI equality is broader than simply the battle for marriage: it includes improving the protections offered by anti-discrimination legislation (both state and federal), among many other things. This overall struggle is more important than any one Bill, and should not be undermined by the passage of flawed legislation such as this.

I will concede that there are those who wish to pursue the Freedom to Marry Bill 2014 in its current state, ‘warts and all’, as an incremental reform – a stepping stone – and to seek the removal of the civil celebrants provisions at a later date.

Not only do I believe that this could be labelled disingenuous – especially if concerns about these provisions are not placed on the public record ahead of the upcoming parliamentary debate – but it also under-estimates the difficulty of removing such legislative ‘blemishes’ after the central reform has passed.

For example, 33 years after the introduction of ‘homosexual’ anti-discrimination protections in NSW, the worst excesses of that particular compromise (such as the right of private schools to expel gay and lesbian students) remain seemingly intractable. It also took almost two decades to equalise the age of consent in NSW post-decriminalisation – and in Queensland their unequal age of consent is now 25 years old and counting.

Which means that it is no exaggeration to suggest that, if the Freedom to Marry Bill 2014 is passed in its present form, the so-called ‘right’ of civil celebrants to reject LGBTI-inclusive couples will likely still be around in 2025, 2030 or even beyond. And that is an unacceptable situation.

So, with a heavy heart, I urge you, and all federal parliamentary members of the Australian Labor Party to reject the Freedom to Marry Bill 2014 if you are unable to remove provisions which allow civil celebrants to discriminate on the basis of their personal prejudice.

Instead, I urge you to concentrate on passing other legislation, including the Marriage Equality Bill developed by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, that does not promote homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia.

Marriage equality will be won, must be won, and it must be won soon. But it must also include both parts – marriage and equality. Senator Leyonhjelm’s Freedom to Marry Bill 2014 only offers the first half of that equation.

Please amend his flawed Bill and, if you are unsuccessful in doing so, please vote against it and instead support genuine marriage equality legislation in the (hopefully) not-too-distant future.

Thank you for taking this correspondence into consideration.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

Cc The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP

Deputy Leader of the Opposition

PO Box 6022

House of Representatives

Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600

Senator the Hon Penny Wong

Leader of the Opposition in the Senate

PO Box 6100

Senate

Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600

The Hon Mark Dreyfus QC MP

Shadow Attorney-General

PO Box 6022

House of Representatives

Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600

Bill Shorten, Will You Lead on Marriage Equality?

The Hon Bill Shorten MP

Leader of the Opposition

PO Box 6022

House of Representatives

Parliament House

CANBERRA ACT 2600

Saturday 24 January 2015

Dear Mr Shorten

PLEASE SUPPORT A BINDING VOTE IN FAVOUR OF MARRIAGE EQUALITY AT THE 2015 ALP NATIONAL CONFERENCE

Today marks six months until the Australian Labor Party is scheduled to hold its next National Conference. This Conference will determine the party’s formal position on a large number of important issues ahead of next year’s election.

One of these issues is actually unfinished business from the previous National Conference, held in December 2011, and that is the position that the ALP adopts on marriage equality.

While that gathering took the welcome step of making support for marriage equality an official part of the platform, it also immediately undermined that policy stance by ensuring all MPs were to be given a conscience vote when it came before Parliament.

That decision – to ‘support’ marriage equality, but then make that support unenforceable – guaranteed that any Bill would fail in the last Commonwealth Parliament, and continues to make passage in the current Parliament extremely difficult (even with a potential, albeit increasingly unlikely, Liberal Party conscience vote).

However, you, and the delegates to this year’s National Conference, have the opportunity to right that wrong. And make no mistake, the conscience vote is inherently wrong, not just because of its practical impact in making legislative change unobtainable, but also because it is unprincipled, and un-Labor.

Having a conscience vote on something like marriage equality, which is a matter of fundamental importance for many members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, says that our human rights are optional, our equality is optional.

A conscience vote makes it clear that homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia are acceptable, that the second-class treatment of our relationships is officially condoned, that Labor Party MPs are free to treat LGBTI Australians as ‘lesser’ simply because of who we are. In essence, a conscience vote on marriage equality is unconscionable.

A non-binding vote on marriage equality is also ‘un-Labor’ because it is contrary to the principles of collective organising upon which the party is founded. Ideas of solidarity and being ‘stronger together’ are supposed to reflect core philosophy, not simply act as slogans, and definitely not something that is abandoned simply because some caucus members are so homophobic they cannot abide the thought that LGBTI people might be their equal.

A conscience vote on this issue, from a party that adopts binding votes on nearly everything else (from refugee policy to climate change and almost all things in between), also makes it difficult for the Australian community, and the LGBTI community in particular, to take the platform position in favour of marriage equality seriously.

This is something that can, and must, be changed at this year’s National Conference, given only it has the power to introduce a binding vote in favour of marriage equality for all ALP MPs.

Acknowledging that there will be groups both inside and outside the ALP who will strongly oppose any moves to support full LGBTI equality, achieving a binding vote on marriage equality will be difficult, and therefore requires the support of a party leader who is willing to do just that, to ‘lead’.

Which makes the question at the heart of this letter: Bill Shorten, will you lead on marriage equality?

There is cause for optimism in that you are already part-way there. Unlike your equivalent at the 2011 Conference, Julia Gillard, who adopted the worst possible position in opposing both marriage equality and a binding vote, you were one of the first ministers to express personal support for the right of all people to marry, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

It’s time for you to take the vital next step, to back up this personal commitment with meaningful action, to use the influence of your position as the Parliamentary Leader of the Australian Labor Party to support a binding vote in favour of marriage equality, thereby declaring once and for all that LGBTI human rights are not optional, that LGBTI equality is absolutely not optional.

Doing so could only enhance your credibility as a leader, because it would show you were unafraid to take on people like Chris Hayes and Joe Bullock, who attempt to blackmail the party by saying they would rather cross the floor than vote for equality, and that you were willing to stand up to the SDA, a union that should spend more time looking after the interests of its members, and less resources and energy on opposing the right of LGBTI-inclusive couples to wed.

It would also show the public that when you make public commitments, when you support a position on an important policy issue like marriage equality, you are ready to take action and do what is required to make sure it happens.

Finally, if you were to support a binding vote on marriage equality it would only heighten the contrast between yourself and Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a ‘yesterday’s man’ who is so homophobic he remains personally committed to denying the right of his own sister to get married. Such a contrast would surely help you at the ballot box in 2016.

In short, the option to support a binding vote on marriage equality is full of opportunity, with many possible benefits and few, if any, adverse consequences. I sincerely hope it is an opportunity you are willing to grasp, and grasp firmly.

I started this letter by noting one anniversary – that there are now exactly six months left until the 2015 ALP National Conference. I want to conclude by telling you about another, one that probably doesn’t mean much to you, but means everything to me.

Yesterday marked the fifth anniversary of my engagement to my fiancé Steve. On 23 January 2010, he made me an incredibly happy man by saying “Of course I will” to my proposal. But, here we are five years later, and we still have no idea how many more years we will be left waiting before we can both say “I do”.

To put that in perspective, you married Chloe Bryce in November 2009, roughly two months before my engagement to Steve. Which means that, for almost the entire time you have been married, we have not been – for the simple reason that you love a woman, and I love a man.

But there is another important difference. While I have absolutely no control over whether you have the right to marry, or when you might be permitted to do so, you exert a significant amount of influence over the existence, and timing, of Steve and my wedding.

As Labor Party Leader, in this a National Conference year, you have the ability to help steer the party towards a binding vote, thus correcting the gross error of the 2011 Conference decision to support a conscience vote. You can make marriage equality a genuine possibility in 2016 or early 2017, rather than something which will continue to be delayed until 2018, 2019 or even into the 2020s.

For the benefit of Steve and myself, and thousands of other LGBTI-inclusive couples who are still waiting for the same right to marry which you and other couples can take for granted, please support a binding vote in favour of marriage equality at the 2015 National Conference, and help make our long-overdue weddings a reality.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

Will Bill Shorten lead on marriage equality, or will he let this opportunity slip through his grasp?

Will Bill Shorten lead on marriage equality, or will he let this opportunity slip through his grasp?

NB If you would like to read further about why I believe a binding vote is essential to achieve marriage equality, please read “Hey Australian Labor, It’s Time to Bind on Marriage Equality”: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/07/13/hey-australian-labor-its-time-to-bind-on-marriage-equality/

And to see a more comprehensive LGBTI agenda for the 2015 ALP National Conference, you can go to “15 LGBTI Priorities for ALP National Conference 2015”: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/09/12/15-lgbti-priorities-for-alp-national-conference-2015/

Letter to Bill Shorten re LGBTI Under-Representation in Parliament

The Hon Bill Shorten MP

Leader of the Opposition

PO Box 6022

House of Representatives

Parliament House

CANBERRA ACT 2600

Monday 13 October 2014

Dear Mr Shorten

LGBTI UNDER-REPRESENTATION IN PARLIAMENT

On this day exactly one year ago, you were elected Leader of the Australian Labor Party, after the historic first ballot in which ordinary party members were allowed to cast a vote.

During the public campaign which preceded this ballot, one of the issues which you raised was the lack of representation of some groups within society inside the ALP caucus, and the Commonwealth Parliament more broadly.

Specifically, during your campaign you announced: “[w]e should consider quotas for sections of our community that are under-represented in our parliaments, including Indigenous Australians and the LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) community.”

It is encouraging that a then candidate, and now leader, of a major Australian political party so openly acknowledges the failure of our nation’s Parliament to even come close to approximating the demography of its population.

It is shameful there have only ever been four recognised Indigenous members of the Commonwealth Parliament – and that the first Indigenous ALP MP, and first-ever female Indigenous MP, Senator Nova Peris, entered Parliament only last year, after more than 112 years of ALP caucuses.

It is almost as shameful that there have only ever been six openly identified members of the LGBTI community elected to Commonwealth Parliament, and none in the House of Representatives[1]. Of those six, only two have been from the Australian Labor Party – Senator the Hon Penny Wong and Senator Louise Pratt – and the latter was essentially ‘replaced’ in Parliament earlier this year, at the WA half-Senate election, by Senator Joe Bullock, a person who strongly opposes LGBTI equality.

It is clear from this historic under-representation that there have been countless talented and capable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, and LGBTI, individuals who have not had the opportunity to serve in the nation’s Parliament – and that our Parliament has unarguably been poorer for their absence. It is also clear that this under-representation continues today.

One of the options for resolving this ongoing under-representation is, as you identified last year, the introduction of ‘quotas’ for Indigenous and LGBTI candidates (by which I assume you mean the implementation of new rules within the ALP setting minimum targets for Indigenous and LGBTI candidates in ‘winnable seats’).

The benefit of such an approach has been amply demonstrated by the success of targets for female candidates within the ALP over the past 20 years. When the 35% target (now 40%) was first adopted in 1994, the proportion of female MPs within the major parties was roughly the same: 14.5% within the ALP, 13.9% within the Liberal Party.

Two decades later, and the difference between the two major parties is stark: 42.4% of current ALP Commonwealth MPs are women, while only 21.6% of Liberal MPs are women (and, of course, there is only one woman inside the Abbott Liberal-National Cabinet, significantly lower than during the previous two terms of Labor Government).

While there have been other contributing factors, including the work of EMILY’s List, it is undeniable that the affirmative action rules first adopted in 1994 have played a major part in helping to ensure the ALP caucus is now more representative of the Australian population, and that talented and capable female candidates have a fairer chance at being elected to the nation’s parliament.

It is also no coincidence that, of the three ‘social groups’ mentioned in this letter – women, Indigenous people and LGBTI people – the only one where the ALP has adopted minimum targets is also the only one where the ALP has a significantly better track record than the Liberal Party.

All of which suggests that, despite some of the criticism which your original proposal received, ‘quotas’ – or some form of affirmative action rules – are at least worthy of further consideration as one possible policy tool to overcome Indigenous and LGBTI under-representation.

Other approaches to improve LGBTI representation specifically, include actively stamping out any institutionalised homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia that may exist within the Australian Labor Party, including in affiliated organisations that participate in and strongly influence the direction of the Party.

And, if you are serious, and indeed if the ALP is serious, about ensuring that the issue of ongoing LGBTI under-representation in Commonwealth Parliament is finally addressed, then I believe the ALP should also ‘reach out’ to the LGBTI community by ensuring that LGBTI equality is a core, and non-negotiable, plank in the national ALP policy platform.

That means recognising that LGBTI Australians are full and equal citizens in every single way, including in the recognition of our relationships, and not allowing ‘conscience votes’ where individual MPs are allowed to vote against this equality simply on the basis of personal prejudice(s).

Each of these three approaches – affirmative action rules, stamping out any internal homophobia, and adopting a platform supporting full equality, with no exceptions – would increase the engagement and involvement of LGBTI people inside the ALP and ultimately ensure more LGBTI members of parliament. Ideally, from my perspective, all three would be adopted.

My questions to you, Mr Shorten, are these:

12 months since you were elected Leader of the Australian Labor Party, and more than a year since you identified the under-representation of LGBTI people in parliament as an issue to be addressed, what approach(es) do you support?

With the pre-selection of some ALP candidates for the 2016 federal election already underway, what steps have you taken to ensure that these processes encourage more LGBTI people to nominate as potential candidates?

And, finally, what (if any) possible rules changes are you developing with respect to this issue, to be put forward for consideration at the next ALP National Conference in Melbourne in July 2015?

I look forward to receiving your answers to these questions, and your response to this important issue more broadly, in the near future.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

[1] For more on this, see https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/11/16/lgbti-voices-absent-from-the-chamber/

12 months after being elected, what is Bill Shorten doing on LGBTI under-representation in Parliament?

12 months after being elected, what is Bill Shorten doing on LGBTI under-representation in Parliament?