7 things we need to do now

Commonwealth_ Sex Discrimination Act 1984-3

 

At the end of a long week – which felt more like a month, and frankly had a year’s worth of ups and (mostly) downs – it’s time to take stock, and work out what we do next.

 

Thankfully, there are now two challenges to the Government’s pseudo postal plebiscite (aka the Australian Bureau of Statistics ‘Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey’), which will be heard by the High Court on September 5 and 6.

 

However, while we might hope for the best – that the judiciary finds this extraordinary and unprecedented process to be an unconstitutional abuse of executive power – we must also prepare ourselves for the worst.

 

In that context, I offer the following seven suggestions of how we should respond to Malcolm Turnbull’s supposed statistical survey:

 

  1. Enrol

 

The Government has already announced that, in order to participate in the ‘plebiscite’, you must be on the electoral roll by 6pm on Thursday 24 August.

 

So, the most immediate thing you need to do is:

 

  • Check your enrolment here.

 

  • If you aren’t enrolled, enrol to vote here.

 

Even if you are currently intending to boycott the ‘Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey’, you might end up changing your mind in the coming weeks and months, so please update your enrolment now and leave your options open in September and October.

 

  1. Engage

 

This step is harder than the first, especially when emotions are understandably running high and we feel that the process that has been inflicted upon us is incredibly unfair (because it is). But that doesn’t mean the pseudo postal plebiscite is necessarily going away either.

 

Which means we need to engage, with our family members (including extended family), our friends, our colleagues, our peers, basically anyone and everyone we have connections with, to encourage them to support the fight for equality.

 

Of course, there are limits to this ask. Don’t engage with trolls, or with people who show they are unwilling to genuinely engage with you (neither group is worth your time). And don’t engage where you don’t feel comfortable, and above all, safe in doing so.

 

But, please have these conversations wherever and whenever you can, because that’s how we remind people who are already on our side what they need to do, and how we persuade the people who have yet to make up their minds.

 

  1. Educate

 

This step, which is related to number two, is much more difficult again. It is hard when the decision by the Turnbull Coalition Government to hold this pseudo postal plebiscite has already politicised every minute, every hour and every day of our lives – politicised our mere existence – until this farce is over.

 

And there’s no denying the perennial problem that in struggles for justice, the burden of educating the oppressors falls disproportionately on the oppressed (when people should instead bear responsibility for educating themselves).

 

Nevertheless, there will still be many opportunities in the months ahead for genuine education. To provide information to people who may not have thought about LGBTIQ issues before. To answer questions from those who don’t know a lot about us, or our relationships, but who show a sincere desire to learn.

 

Of course, for many in our community, for different reasons, this task is not something they are willing or able to do – and that’s totally okay. And for anyone who does decide to engage in these discussions, you should always remember that your personal information is yours, and you should only disclose as much as you feel comfortable. Nobody has a ‘right’ to know everything about you.

 

But for those of us who are in a position to have these conversations, we should. And if you need help getting started, Australian Marriage Equality/The Equality Campaign have produced a number of useful resources (including translations into Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Arabic, Hindi, Greek, Italian, and Spanish).

 

  1. Vote

 

We’ve reached the fourth step on my list, and the third most important: to vote (and obviously to vote yes).

 

Before I start, I’d like to say to anyone who is currently considering boycotting the pseudo postal plebiscite that I completely understand where you’re coming from. It is a bullshit process, imposed for bullshit reasons. It is inherently offensive to LGBTIQ people; it is insulting, and demeaning, to our relationships.

 

In fact, the decision by Liberal and National MPs and Senators to adopt a supposed statistical survey on marriage equality made me even more angry, and frustrated, about a subject that I thought had exhausted my reserves of both. Despite all this, I have decided that I will vote, and I urge you to do the same, for the following reasons:

 

a) Most LGBTIQ people think we should

 

Before the Government’s appalling actions this week, PFLAG and just.equal conducted a survey of 5,261 LGBTI Australians to ascertain their views about a possible postal vote, and how we should respond as a community.

 

Only 15.2% thought we should boycott such a vote, with more than half publicly opposed to a postal ballot but prepared to win it if it’s held. And, even though that survey was conducted based on a hypothetical, and the subsequent reality might have changed the depth of our feelings, I don’t think it has altered our thinking.

 

b) Most LGBTIQ community organisations think we should

 

For people who have been engaged in LGBTIQ advocacy for a while, it’s no secret we sometimes don’t play well together. Which makes it all the more extraordinary that nearly all major community organisations have come out in the past 24-48 hours to say that, while they oppose the pseudo postal plebiscite, they will fight to win it.

 

How ironic that Malcolm Turnbull’s divisive debate, that will cause such disharmony across Australian society, could end up being a powerful unifying moment within the LGBTIQ community itself.

 

c) Pragmatic politics

 

There are several political reasons why we should vote, including the obvious one: that a yes vote offers the best chance (albeit no guarantee) of marriage equality being passed this year. A significant yes majority will also diminish the influence of the groups that oppose LGBTIQ rights, like the Australian Christian Lobby, not just on this topic but across all issues.

 

But, even if we lose (which is a real possibility, given a voluntary postal opinion poll has significant flaws, and skews towards older, more conservative voters, effectively stacking the decks against us), the closer the loss the easier it will be for Labor and the Greens to introduce marriage equality in future.

 

d) Personal

 

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a strong personal motivation to campaign for equality: the desire to finally marry my fiancé of seven and a half years. However, as much as I love Steven – and trust me, it’s a lot – he’s not the reason I will be voting, and voting yes.

 

Teenage Alastair is. Who realised he was gay on his first day at a religious boarding school in Brisbane in 1991. Who took about a month to understand just how homophobic his surrounding environment was, and became depressed. Who, from the second term of year 8, until the final term of year 12, thought about ending his life every day, multiple times a day, because he feared he would never find acceptance for who he was.

 

Alastair aged 12 to 17 probably wouldn’t have understood the ethical reasons why some people in the LGBTIQ community might have wanted to boycott a supposed statistical survey. But he definitely would have understood the message of a large no victory: that his country was explicitly rejecting him, and anyone like him.

 

So, I’m voting for him.

 

Many of us have been that person. Most of us know someone who has been through something similar. All of us can empathise with what that fear, that isolation, that loneliness, feels like. So let’s stand up for all of them – including those who tragically didn’t make it – and vote yes.

 

  1. Take Care of Yourself

 

We already know that, if the pseudo postal plebiscite is not rejected by the High Court, the next four months are going to be awful. There will be misinformation, and outright lies, spread against us by those who wish to do us harm. Indeed, their hate-based campaign has already started – so much for the Prime Minister’s so-called #respectfuldebate.

 

We should not underestimate the impact that this battle will have on all of us, or the fact it will disproportionately affect the more vulnerable groups within the LGBTIQ community itself (including young people, trans and gender diverse people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people and rainbow families and their children).

 

Throughout this process, we must all take care of ourselves.

 

There are services in place that can help if you need it, including:

 

  • QLife, the national telephone and web counselling service for LGBTI people, families and friends. Call 1800 184 527, 3pm to midnight everyday.

 

 

For a longer list of the support services available to LGBTIQ+ community, see this article by SBS.

 

Beyond these formal services, however, there are plenty of other ways to practice self-care, and self-love, during this time. If you need to talk to someone, reach out to your friends and other people in your life. If you are finding yourself negatively affected by the public debate and/or social media, switch off. If you have to take a break from the campaign, do – drop out for as long as you need.

 

For other tips on what you can do to take care of yourself, see the helpful info-graphic produced by ACON at the end of this article. If you are a member of an LGBTIQ family, you can also check out this handy guide produced by Rainbow Families. And if you are aware of, or come across, other useful resources, please don’t hesitate to share them in the comments below.

 

  1. And Each Other

 

The other, equally important, part of this equation is to look out for, and take care of, each other.

 

It is difficult to imagine a process that causes more damage, or has the prospect for greater division, than the three-month long, voluntary, non-binding ‘Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey’ designed by the Turnbull Government.

 

Indeed, that may have been the intention of some of those who advocated this option. At best, Coalition MPs and Senators have shown that they are completely indifferent to the harm the pseudo postal plebiscite will cause the LGBTIQ community.

 

They don’t care about us. So we must care about each other.

 

Be pro-active. Check in with the people around you to see they are okay. If you notice someone struggling, ask how they’re going, give them a call, have a cup of tea, offer a helping hand – or a shoulder to cry on.

 

Over recent decades, the LGBTIQ community has had to endure many challenges, to show resilience in the face of adversity. We need to do so again now.

 

**********

 

These last two steps – Take Care of Yourself. And Each Other – aren’t just the catchphrase of a trashy 90s talk-show host. They are also the two most important things we need to do in the coming weeks and months. Because while winning this vote, and achieving marriage equality, might be important, we – the members of the LGBTIQ community – are more important.

 

Before I finish, however, there is one last point that I need to make:

 

  1. Allies – It’s time to step up

 

I still remember early last year (although it seems longer) standing in front of a room full of mostly-cisgender, heterosexual activists and asking them for their help to win ‘Plebiscite 1.0’ – because the LGBTIQ community could not possibly win it on our own.

 

Well, that plea is just as relevant, probably even more so, for ‘Plebiscite 2.0’, especially with the challenges of voluntary postal voting, and an overall process engineered to benefit the side of those opposed to marriage equality.

 

If you consider yourself an ally of the LGBTIQ community, it’s time to step up. If you are a family member, friend, colleague or peer of an LGBTIQ person, it’s time to get involved.

 

Enrol. Engage and Educate (and, if you need to, educate yourselves). Vote, and encourage others to vote, too. I also have no doubt it will be an awful experience for many of you to see the trauma inflicted on the LGBTIQ people close to you – so look after them, as well as yourselves.

 

Most importantly, stand with us, by our sides, in this battle. Sit with us, and listen to us, if we ask you to. And fight for us, because we need you to.

 

And, if you’re not convinced by me, listen to the excellent advice of the even more excellent GetUp marriage equality campaigner, Sally Rugg:

 

“If you have ever put a rainbow filter on your Facebook profile picture, return your ballot paper the day you receive it.

 

If you have a friend, a family member or a co-worker who is LGBTIQ+, return your ballot paper the day you receive it.

 

If you have ever cringed at the words “one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others” at a wedding, return your ballot paper the day you receive it…

 

The postal plebiscite will be won or lost on how allies of the LGBTIQ+ community step up over the next two months.”

 

Over to you.

 

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2,756 Days. Frustration and Love.

It’s five o’clock in the morning. I’m sitting on a bus leaving Sydney, and I finally have some time to process the extraordinary events of the past few days.

 

It really is hard to put into words just how devastating, heart-breaking and frankly appalling the actions of the Liberal Party room on Monday evening, and Turnbull Coalition Government yesterday, have been.

 

First, was the devastating decision not to adopt a conscience vote on marriage equality, but to instead push once more for a ‘traditional’ plebiscite.

 

That’s the same unnecessary and wasteful non-binding opinion poll that was rejected by the Senate in November 2016, at the request of LGBTI Australians, because of the harm it will inevitably cause young and vulnerable members of our community.

 

It is no exaggeration to say that lives could be lost as a direct result of the extreme, hateful, hurtful bigotry that would accompany any such vote.

 

Second, was the heart-breaking decision that, even if the Senate once again rejects the legislation for a ‘traditional’ plebiscite (as it appears highly likely to do), the Government will attempt to hold a ‘postal’ plebiscite on the issue.

 

A ‘postal’ plebiscite has all of the disadvantages of a ‘traditional’ plebiscite, plus a few more of its own, including that it will be voluntary rather than compulsory to participate, it will disenfranchise large sections of the community, including young Australians (as even Malcolm Turnbull conceded, about the last one held twenty years ago) and, without legislation to give it effect, is constitutionally doubtful.

 

Which brings me to the third, and perhaps worst, decision of all – that they now intend to hold it as a ‘statistical survey’ conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, rather than an actual vote overseen by the Australian Electoral Commission.

 

This ‘pseudo postal plebiscite’ is nothing more than a naked attempt to circumvent not just the will of the Parliament, but also the legitimate limitations of the Constitution.

 

Thankfully, multiple groups campaigning for marriage equality have already indicated they are seeking legal advice before potentially challenging this postal plebiscite-in-all-but-name in the High Court. Here’s hoping they are successful, and that this bad joke of a policy is stopped before it starts to wreak its damage.

 

These three decisions, taken together, reveal the absolute contempt that some members of the Liberal and National Parties have for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians.

 

No other group has ever been subjected to this kind of process merely for the chance of being treated equally under secular law. No other group has ever been expected to jump through these ridiculous hoops just to have their human rights recognised.

 

Of course, in a debate that is about symbolism as much as it is about substance, it isn’t just the process they have chosen to adopt that is offensive – it is the way in which they have carried on the debate, a depressing mixture of denial, inconvenience and frustration.

 

Denial that marriage equality is an issue that is important to everyday Australians (it is). Denial that LGBTI couples, our families and friends exist in every electorate across the country (we do).

 

And denial that access to marriage rites is a fundamental right (it is – and if it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be so many Coalition MPs and Senators who have chosen to exercise that rite, and right, themselves).

 

It seems like many in the Liberal and National Parties find the entire marriage equality debate, and the ongoing demands of LGBTI Australians for equality under the law, to be terribly inconvenient (I’m sure there are some who probably find the mere existence of LGBTI people to be inconvenient too, but that is a topic for another time).

 

It is as if they are somehow ‘hard done by’ just by being forced to consider this issue, and wish it would all go away (here’s a newsflash for those MPs and Senators who mustn’t have been paying attention until now – we will not go away until we are truly equal, and we will keep on making ourselves as ‘inconvenient’ as possible in the meantime).

 

Then there are those, like Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who have actually said, out loud, that they are ‘frustrated’ by this issue, and frustrated by the fact they cannot spend their time talking about ‘more important issues’.

 

Frustrated? Are you f#$%ing serious?

 

With all due respect, they have absolutely no idea what frustration about this subject feels like.

 

Frustration is being a member of the LGBTI community, and having your human rights, your dignity and your worth as a person publicly debated, year after year, with no apparent resolution in sight.

 

Frustration is being the family member or friend of LGBTI couples, wanting nothing more than to celebrate the wedding of your loved ones, but being denied that ability because of the ongoing, unjustifiable and inexcusable inaction of Commonwealth Parliamentarians.

 

Frustration is me typing this, on day two thousand, seven hundred and fifty-six of my engagement to my fiancé Steve, and still having no idea when we will finally be able to ‘tie the knot’.

 

We have been engaged now for more than seven and a half years (it bears repeating, for the benefit of those MPs and Senators who think that marriage equality is a hypothetical issue, one that doesn’t affect the lives of real people).

 

In that time, we have been involved in campaigns to change the ALP platform to support marriage equality (which was won almost six years ago), and to adopt a binding vote (partially won, coming into effect at the next federal election).

 

We spent the better part of twelve months fighting against ‘Plebiscite 1.0’, even though it could have meant us marrying sooner, because the recognition of our relationship as adults was not worth the harm it threatened to LGBTI young people, and the children of rainbow families.

 

We could not stomach the thought of saying ‘I do’, while knowing the pain that would have been inflicted on 15-year olds around the country, just like 15-year old Steve and Alastair had once been, in order to for us to walk down the aisle.

 

And, just when we thought the marriage equality debate in this country couldn’t go any lower, it reaches a new nadir, with ‘Plebiscite 2.0’ (or a postal plebiscite, or a ‘pseudo postal plebiscite’ dressed up as a supposed statistical survey).

 

Whatever it is called, we’ll fight it too – to stop it from happening, and if it does proceed, to win it. Because, no matter how tired we are, we must.

 

The worst part of all of this is that it is a completely unnecessary battle, imposed upon us by a Government that refuses to do its job – by voting on legislation, in Parliament – but instead shirks, and outsources, its basic responsibilities.

 

Indeed, today could have been the day that a Bill to introduce marriage equality, one that stood a decent chance of success, was finally introduced into the House of Representatives.

 

That would have been a lovely way for Steve and I to celebrate nine years of being together (did I forget to mention that we first met on this day way back in 2008?)

 

Instead, we’ll remember our anniversary as the day the Turnbull Government reintroduced the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill in the Senate, its latest attempt to delay, and if possible derail, the equal treatment of our love.

 

Of course, despite that personal indignity, there is another date, and another anniversary, this week that is far, far more depressing.

 

This coming Sunday it will be 13 years since the Senate approved the Howard Government’s original ban on marriage equality, on August 13 2004.

 

The passing of a law the sole aim of which was to treat LGBTI people and our relationships as lesser than other Australians was unconscionable.

 

The fact that, today, the Marriage Act 1961 continues to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics is unconscionable.

 

That MPs and Senators in successive Parliaments have failed to take action to remove this stain from our statute books, meaning that many, many couples have died while waiting for the ability to wed, is unconscionable – and unforgivable.

 

And the fact that, through its actions, the Turnbull Government apparently wants nothing more than to unnecessarily prolong the engagements of couples of Steve and me, and to ensure all LGBTI Australians endure as much vitriol as possible in the meantime, is completely unconscionable too.

 

**********

 

It is now almost 8am and the bus will soon be pulling into Canberra, where I will be spending the next three days at a conference just across the lake from our institutions of Government.

 

From a Parliament, and Senate, that I hope will reject the reintroduced legislation to hold a traditional plebiscite.

 

From an Executive that will respond by pushing ahead with a ‘pseudo postal plebiscite’, a mean and tricky proposal that will cause serious and sustained injury to young and vulnerable members of the LGBTI community, and waste $122 million in the process.

 

And from a Judiciary who I hope will find this entire farce to be unconstitutional.

 

Like many in the LGBTI community, I know I am going to find today to be incredibly challenging, just like yesterday was and the day before – and probably tomorrow, and the weeks and months ahead too.

 

But I am going to try my best to spend the rest of today thinking about Steve, and our relationship, and not the parliamentarians who wish to do us harm.

 

Because I love him with all my heart. Because the last nine years have undeniably been the best years of my life.

 

And because one day I will marry him. It won’t be on day 2,756 of our engagement. It probably won’t be on day 3,000 either. But it will happen, and there is nothing, and nobody, who I will let stand in our way.

 

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Steve & I at one of the many marriage equality rallies we’ve attended over the years. We’ll keep fighting until it’s won.

 

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.