Assuming the Opposition agrees, there will be a plebiscite on the proposition to allow same sex marriage in Australia in February 2017. The independents in the parliament have (mostly) stated their positions on the matter and the Greens are against the plebiscite but in favour of same sex marriage.
The history here is that the Marriage Act was legislated in the 1961 saying (basically) marriage is a union of two people and that union is recognised across Australia. It also recognised marriages legally made under the laws of another country. As Rodney Croome wrote in the ‘Winter 2011’ issue of Overland magazine, the reason the law was made was to eliminate blatant discrimination in Australia whereby Aboriginal people were not allowed to marry who they wanted to in some states and Territories. Until 2004, there was nothing in the legislation to suggest that marriage had to be between a man and a woman, leading some same sex couples to have their marriage legally recognised in jurisdictions such as Ontario, Canada which, they claimed, automatically made their marriage ‘legal’ in Australia. The Howard Government didn’t agree and stripped the marital rights of same sex couples as soon as they landed back in Australia.
According to Croome, in early 2004:
… two such couples sought a ruling from the Federal Court on whether Australia’s relatively liberal laws on foreign marriages extended to the recognition of their Canadian unions.
The court was never allowed to decide. Liberal senator Guy Barnett petitioned the prime minister to ‘protect marriage’ from being ‘demeaned and degraded’. The petition was successful, not least because 2004 was an election year in both Australia and the United States, and the politicisation of ‘gay marriage’ welded wealthy and highly disciplined evangelical churches in marginal electorates to the conservative cause.
In August 2004, the Senate passed the ‘man and woman’ amendment to the Australian Marriage Act. Again Croome suggests:
The government’s marriage amendment — declaring matrimony to be exclusively hetero-sexual, and limiting the powers of the courts to recognise overseas same-sex unions — was raced through parliament, prioritised over government anti-terror legislation. For good measure, the prime minister addressed a rowdy meeting in the Great Hall of Parliament House in defence of ‘traditional marriage’, during which homosexuals were condemned as ‘moral terrorists’.
Not that the ALP was any better:
In her address to that anti-gay audience, shadow attorney-general Nicola Roxon declared Labor’s support for entrenching discrimination against gay relationships. She was given a standing ovation.
So why waste somewhere between $160 and $200 million on a plebiscite to change the legislation back to the way it was in the 45 or so years until 2004? Clearly, the reason is not due to some specific wording in the legislation, as Howard had no problem in changing the law in the first place.
In 2015, Time Magazine listed 21 Countries (apart from the USA) where same sex marriage is legal. The USA legalised same sex marriage in June 2015, New Zealand did in 2013. It is plainly obvious that life as we know it has not ended in either the USA or ‘over the ditch’ in New Zealand.
We’ve done the history — now for the politics. Turnbull, like most prime ministers before him, claim that they govern for the benefit of all Australians, regardless of whether or not you voted for him. While it is true that the ALP governments between 2007 and 2013 could have legalised same sex marriage, to be fair around half of the countries on the Time magazine list have only acted since 2013. It makes sense that while the issue had been building for a while, it was the Abbott Coalition government that felt the effects of the debate from 2013. Abbott ‘bought some time’ by promising a plebiscite in the next term of government (he also didn’t know that he wouldn’t be the prime minister at the 2016 election — and that story has been done to death so let’s move on).
Details of the Coalition Agreement between the Liberal and National Parties are re-negotiated every time the leader changes and subsequent to each election, so when Abbott was ousted in favour of Turnbull in 2015 there was a re-negotiation. Both parties confirmed there was an agreement for a plebiscite on same sex marriage in the next term of parliament (the parliament subsequent to the one elected in 2013). Subsequent to the 2016 election there was another renegotiation, as is customary. The 2016 agreement is secret but believed to include an understanding that a plebiscite on same sex marriage is required before the legislation is considered. (A small but worthwhile digression is to ponder why a secret agreement governing an arrangement between two political parties is perfectly acceptable in the case of the Liberals and Nationals, but any co-operative arrangement between the ALP and the Greens is frowned upon by both the ALP and the Liberals.)
Turnbull, rightly or wrongly, has continued to support a number of Abbott government measures, including a plebiscite on same sex marriage, claiming it should be non-binding but compulsory. The logic here is interesting as Howard rammed through changes to the Marriage Act in double quick time (with ALP support) in 2004 to insert the ‘man and woman’ concept into the Act. So according to Turnbull it is completely logical to change legislation to address the concerns of conservative members of his political party in 2004, but we have to waste $200 million in a vote to change it back to the way it was. To ensure tracing the logic is the equal to the triple pike with twist, the plebiscite is non-binding, so if your conservative member of parliament doesn’t want to change the legislation, they can still vote no in parliament — in spite of the results of the plebiscite (however the individual politicians choose to ‘spin’ the response and their eventual vote).
To make it even worse, the federal government has decided in its wisdom to fund both sides of the argument to the tune of $7.5 million each. Turnbull claims this will allow for a respectable debate which will allow the public to make an informed decision. Before the funding was even allocated, the ‘no’ case was linking the same sex marriage discussion to educational matters as well as using (apparently without permission) the image and words of Nelson Mandela.
Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby, Lyle Shelton, claims that:
“The baby who is taken from the breast of her mother doesn’t have a voice in this debate, the child who doesn’t get to know their father doesn’t have a voice,”
“Research clearly shows the quickest pathway to poverty for a child is for their biological mum and dad to break up, that’s just a fact.”
While Shelton didn’t offer any evidence to support his claim, he is claiming that those who are brought up in a family that doesn’t replicate his idealistic view of the world are somehow fatally flawed, something that both Shorten and Turnbull (who were both raised by single parents) should demonstrably be arguing against. Instead Turnbull proposes to give the ‘no’ case $7.5 million to further denigrate those who don’t live in Shelton’s ‘nuclear’ family. While you could suggest that Shelton has ‘jumped the shark’ (again), Turnbull as the nation’s leader has a responsibility to ensure that all are treated equally. He clearly hasn’t to those children in Australia who for a variety of reasons (including same sex partnerships, death, divorce or numerous other reasons) have only have one parent. Clearly keeping the conservative rump of his political party ‘on side’ is far more important than correcting the false testament of people like Shelton who is belittling Turnbull’s own upbringing.
Another example of Turnbull’s behaviour concerns his ‘new’ approach to climate change. It has been widely reported that the Great Barrier Reef is undergoing significant bleaching of the coral. The government’s own Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (better known by its slightly easier to say GBRMPA acronym) reported in June 2016 that this was caused by a seemingly small rise in sea surface temperature. The overwhelming consensus of scientists with experience in the area of study suggests that sea surface warming is an indicator of human induced climate change. One proven way to reduce human induced climate change is to move away from burning fossil fuel to generate electricity. South Australia has probably moved quicker towards renewable energy power than other states connected to the ‘National Grid’, but recently suffered a statewide power failure. Turnbull is publically implying that ‘extremely unrealistic’ renewable energy targets are the problem.
In reality, the South Australian blackout in late September had nothing to do with renewable energy. Twenty-two high voltage power pylons blew over due to excessive wind during a severe storm. As the article points out:
If the recently closed Port Augusta coal power station was still operating, it would have been cut off by the downed distribution lines too. And that would have likely made the disruption worse, since it would have created an even bigger sudden change to the network.
Lenore Taylor argued recently in The Guardian:
… state targets are exactly what Australia needs to meet the promises the prime minister made in Paris last year about reducing greenhouse gases.
Of course it would be preferable to have a consistent national policy to reach those goals, but it’s not exactly the states’ fault that we haven’t got one.
That vacuum was Tony Abbott’s proud achievement, with the abolition of the carbon price and the winding back of the federal renewable energy target, after a lengthy debate about whether it should be abolished altogether, which of course dried up almost all investment in renewable energy.
And consistent, credible national policy hasn’t been any more evident in the year since Turnbull took over either.
His own officials admitted in a Senate inquiry this week they had undertaken no modelling at all about how to meet the target Turnbull pledged in Paris for reducing Australia’s emissions out to 2030. That’s the target he is about to ratify, the target that will be Australia’s legal obligation.
But plenty of others have done modelling and analysis for him, and they all conclude that he won’t meet it, not with the Coalition’s current policies.
Clearly Turnbull is keeping the conservative rump of his political party ‘on side’ and apparently arguing the false testament of notable ‘thinkers’ and conservatives such as Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, Queensland Senator (with 77 direct votes) Malcolm Roberts and Brett Hogan, the Research Director of the Institute of Public Affairs.
(Roberts actually linked to a news item stating the real reason for the power failure and still gets it wrong!).
In an environment where Turnbull publically called for the resignation of ALP Senator Sam Dastyari for accepting around $6,500 from people who have ‘connections’ with the Chinese government, he is doing nothing about the claims of a former minister in his government, Stuart Robert, who apparently sees nothing wrong with attempting to stack the Gold Coast City Council with people sympathetic to development proposals. Robert was sacked from his ministerial position in February after (separate) claims of inappropriate use of political donations. Fairfax’s The Age called for his resignation from parliament in an editorial on September 29. At the time of preparation, however, it appears that Turnbull is again keeping the conservatives in his own party ‘on side’ rather than calling out Robert’s behaviour for what it is.
When Turnbull became prime minister, there was a hope that he would bring the claimed decency and ability to appeal to the middle ground that was so lacking with Abbott. After 13 months, it hasn’t happened. There are two possibilities: Turnbull is just as bad as Abbott (except for better clothing choices and living in a ‘more expensive’ postcode); or, to coin a phrase, Turnbull ’doesn’t have the ticker’ to promote and implement policy and legislation that isn’t approved by his conservative rump thereby ensuring his longevity as prime minister.
Either way, the rest of us as Australian citizens will continue to suffer as a result.
This article was originally published on The Political Sword
For Facebook users, The Political Sword has a Facebook page:
Putting politicians and commentators to the verbal sword
Like what we do at The AIMN?
You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.
Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!