Australia: Ninety-two Days of Hate

Dr Stuart Edser: Psychologist. Author - Being Gay Being Christian. Pianist. Amateur philosopher. LGBTI issues. Aus politics. Theology. Sci Fi. Classical music.

Homophobia in Australia is on the rise. This is not an accident. It is the outcome of Malcolm Turnbull’s survey in the long-running fight for marriage equality. As a result of this political mechanism, Australia is now worse off in terms of social cohesion than it was before. A new-found confidence in bigotry has arisen and alliances have been formed by disparate homophobic groups. They are more organised than ever they were before, and more abusive. Regardless of the outcome, it is an important time to identify who is responsible and who benefits from this rise. The effects on LGBTI Australians have been devastating, not least because the survey was so pointless, so expensive and so avoidable.

Origins of the Survey

We now know how this thing started. Tony Abbott, the implacable enemy of LGBTI rights in this country, did everything he could as Prime Minister to stop marriage equality from occurring in Australia. He was John Howard’s disciple and a Minister in the former Prime Minister’s Government when in 2004, Howard changed the Marriage Act. Howard announced the changes publicly, rushed into the Parliament and in under an hour, the legislation was passed, without a referendum, without a plebiscite, without a survey, without so much as a by your leave. Done and dusted in five minutes, got through the Parliament by Liberal National Party superior numbers. Where there was no gender or sexuality specified before this o’er hasty change in the law, there was now a stipulation in the Act that had to be read at all marriage ceremonies.

Marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.

Abbott, being the conservative Catholic and former seminarian he is, was completely on board with this change, which is consistent with his admission on 60 Minutes when asked about homosexuality that he would “probably feel a bit threatened … as most people do” and “There is no doubt that it challenges, if you like, orthodox notions of the right order of things”. When he took the leadership, Abbott did political cartwheels to prevent marriage equality, with the view to putting as much impediment as possible in its way to slow its progress, until it could be stopped forever.

Thus it was we understand that recently retired WA Catholic conservative Senator Chris Back came up with the idea of a plebiscite as a way to impede progress and try to have the change voted down by populist vote spruiked with a powerful fear campaign. This would avoid a quick decision in the Parliament. Abbott, who had called his marathon five hour Coalition meeting, jumped at the strategy, took ownership of it and understood that with a plebiscite, he had had a win over the LGBTI community when the party room endorsed it. Malcolm Turnbull, forever the hollow man, argued against it but did not carry the day.

A plebiscite would be held after the following election. Yet more waiting. Lyle Shelton, the head of the Australian Christian Lobby, wrote gleefully after the Coalition Party room vote on the conservative American blogsite Heritage Foundation that the decision had the effect of “kicking the issue into the long grass” and “blunting” the momentum of the marriage equality lobby.

We know the history. Not once, but twice, the Senate voted down the enabling legislation that would allow the plebiscite mechanism to be set up. The plebiscite, the opponents of marriage equality’s best play, was dead and buried and marriage equality in Australia was stalled. Again.

Intention of the Survey

The intention of the Survey was to derail marriage equality. Enter Peter Dutton, the new leader of the conservative side of Liberal politics once Abbott had been replaced by Turnbull, and the self-appointed heir-apparent to the leadership after Turnbull is gone. Dutton, an arch conservative and viewed as a virtual sociopath by the Left over his callous treatment of refugees on Pacific Islands, is, no surprise, publicly and vehemently opposed to marriage equality. No doubt with the intention of shoring up his own support among the conservative ranks of his party, he resurrected Abbott’s plebiscite in part and suggested instead, a survey. It would get around the Parliament, which in itself is a highly dubious strategy. It would be run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and not the Australian Electoral Commission, which exempted it from various electoral laws. It would be non-compulsory, because they couldn’t make it compulsory by law, and thus making it non-representative. It would be non-binding, because it would only be a glorified voluntary opinion poll, and could therefore be ignored, which a number of conservatives were quick out of the gates to say that they would do just that if it returned a Yes vote. Eric Abetz was one of them.

From a political point of view, this survey was always a way for Malcolm Turnbull to placate his right flank. He has been a weak and enfeebled leader since the the very day he took the job from Tony Abbott, having bound himself to many of Abbott’s policies as a means to obtain the Prime Ministership and incentivise the conservatives to desert Abbott in a leadership spill after Abbott’s polls descended through the floor over a period of thirty consecutive fortnightly Newspolls. Turnbull got the numbers, but it was a Pyrrhic victory in that he lost his soul in the conquest and has never once stood up to either Abbott or the hard Right of his party.

Thus Turnbull, in whom both the Left and the Right pinned much hope, has been the do-nothing Prime Minister, unable to act, unable to stand up for the things he believes in, locked in between silent moderates and a noisy strident conservative backbench.  Read more via Medium