Thursday, October 27, 2005

Howard is Still Not our Playmate

I feel obliged to nip a certain misperception in the bud before any more people get the wrong impression.

Having read this posting from somebody who is obviously an intelligent and perceptive blogger I can appreciate why some people might now believe, with the recent Defence Force reforms for queer servicemen and women, that the Howard government is in fact a friend to same-sex couples and that, contrary to lefty/socialist propaganda, reform can be achieved under this government through productive open channels of communication.

This is just not the case.

Let's look a little more closely at some of the myths.

1. Australia allows a same-sex partner of an Australian resident or citizen to emigrate here.

True, but at the same time the Immigration Department will not issue same-sex partners residency visas because such partners are not recognised as family. So bad luck if your partner plans to be here working for only a few years, you won't be joining him or her unless you apply for a 12-month visitor's visa...that must be renewed overseas...and does not allow you to work here yourself.

2. The government granted same-sex couples access to one another's superannuation as a partial concession to the marriage ban.

Not exactly - the government created a category of "interdependent" relationships for the purposes of superannuation in the private sector, which luckily same-sex couples, after a few additional hurdles, can qualify for. Queers working in the public sector still have to wait.

I've already outlined the problematic nature of classifying our relationships as interdependent rather than acknowledging what we really are - spouses - but let me drag out one of my preferred analogies to illustrate the point.

Two people work in adjoining cubicles doing the same job. The boss leaves one alone to do his job without interruption, but every morning approaches the other employee and asks: "So, why shouldn't I fire you today? Justify your presence here until I am satisfied."

3. Queer soldiers serving in the armed defence forces now have parity with heterosexual soldiers regarding their relationship entitlements and benefits.

Again, not entirely. This week's reforms work on the same principle of interdependency, so not all areas are covered here, such as superannuation, veteran affairs' pensions and compensation.

As I've argued, the overarching problem is the government's blanket refusal to define same-sex couples as spouses and comprehensively reform all federal laws accordingly, still facilitating massive discrimination in taxation, welfare and family laws to name a few. Occasional bones thrown at us, almost accidentally, by legislating for interdependents, while better than nothing, still do not go far enough and will always lead to gaping holes in any kind of legislative reform.

Before I'm accused of being too socialist/pro-Labor/parochially anti-Liberal, let me make clear that I don't believe queer law reform and right-wing politics are automatically oxymoronic. The Victorian Kennett government, for all its many faults, was proof of this. Similarly, the current SA Rann government is a good example of how anti-queer a Labor government can be (and before anybody rushes to their defence by pointing out the reform Bill currently in parliament that this government introduced, please read this).

I have no bias towards Labor over Liberal in this area other than acknowledging what is fact: comprehensive reform of state laws relating to same-sex couples has always happened under Labor governments, and federal Labor, unless the policy changes before the next election (certainly not out of the question, especially with Kym Beazley at the helm), is committed to an audit and reform of all federal legislation, not merely piecemeal patchwork that the Howard government periodically offers.

What I do believe are oxymoronic concepts are comprehensive queer law reform and the current Howard government, not necessarily federal Liberal governments generally. This week's defence force concessions did not occur because of a sudden seeing of the light in the Liberal caucus - it happened because of agitation from groups within and outside of the ADF, including, somewhat surprisingly, the RSL.

The government would never have devised this reform of its own recognisance. The occasions it specifically targets same-sex couples are invariably part of negative, eg anti-terror laws, or regressive (same-sex marriage and adoption bans) policy. In fact, the theory that this week's reform has only occurred as a sweetener to the likely ban on same-sex couples adopting children from overseas, to be introduced later this year, seems quite logical to me.

The Howard government is resolutely unwilling to equate same-sex couples with The Family as it has defined in its extremely myopic terms. Federal Labor might feel uncomfortable about this too, but its history and (current) commitment demonstrate it is at least vaguely open-minded to the possibility of including same-sex couples and their offspring in their concept of "family".

This is why the Howard government attracts the most extreme of Bible-thumping zealots and Family Snobs (ie those who seek to exclude legitimate possible candidates from the concept). Granted, federal Labor might also harbour a few individuals like this - former Senator Jacinta Collins springs to mind - but such would likely be in the minority, and are not influential enough to prevent Labor caucus committing explicitly to comprehensive reform.

Which brings me to myth No 4, which I'll quote verbatim from the aforementioned blogsite:

4. The likes of the ACE engage in indiscriminate Liberal bashing.

It's not Liberal-bashing for queer lobby groups to identify and condemn the shortcomings of the Howard government; it's common sense. The Australian Coalition for Equality would like nothing more than to engage productively with a federal government, but it's just so plainly obvious this particular federal government does not want to engage with the ACE, or indeed any other queer organisation.

There may be an argument, often popular with conservatives, that some reforms can happen behind closed doors, in a very civilised, sherry drinking by the fire manner and without the threatening, in-your-face style of queer lobby groups. This week's reforms would appear to be proof of this, although I still believe the former approach is at heart naive. Comprehensive state law reforms only occurred due to the pressue of various state lobby groups. The impetus for comprehensive federal law reform will only exist with a federal lobby group to remind the Labor government (or, who knows, maybe even the non Howard-led Liberal government) of its commitments.

As I say, this has nothing to do with bias. It's just common sense.


At 29/10/05 11:17 pm, Anonymous Richard Kings said...

Your comments regarding liberal bashing must be kept in context.

You mention the ACE, now let us look behind this glossy liberal style white red and blue banner adorned with southern crosses as to who they really are!

Three people at most, one of whom a lady is directly connected to the Perth based 'Independent Media'

Whilst they appear on the surface as a psuedo non socialist site, they are wolves in sheeps clothing.

The Perth independent media is a left wing organisation which links world wide and has an agenda of anti liberal/conservative rhetoric extending from not only gay rights to encompassing anti Americanism/Bush and ani Iraq War and other apologetics of socialist and communist clap trap.

Is it therefore, an wonder why the Howard Government would engage in any meaningfull dialogue with them?

Come on, this government is not stupid.

On the vast question of the 'marraiage debate' (et al)the Australian Family Association and more to the point the Australian Christian Lobby are the real culprits.

The ACL has a University in Queensland devoted to spewing forth anti gay rhetoric christian fundamentalist style the likes of which fuelled by their counterparts in the labour and liberal parties are a force to be reckoned with.

Coupled to a full time fully paid secretariat in Canberra means they out lobby the gays 100 fold.Equally the amount of meetings position papers and media releases by the tonne produced by such an organisation means even the most reasonable MP who does not hate gays and would not normally vote for such state legislatively imposed discrimination does not hear much to the contrary.

State gay rights groups have never lobbied federaly and would not dare to now becuase of the tendency of the federal parliament and the australian people are getting more conservative every day, where those championing rights versus duty, obligation and persoanl responsibility are viewed with scepticism, suspicion or selfishness.

The battle here is an idealogical one as well as libertarian and compassionate. Ideally we are all equal before the law.

What the gay community must bury is its estranged partnership with rights lobbies banner and placard waving marching and student activisim ACTU/ALP style of the past, and stand up for ourselves in the party which prizes freedom,choice and liberty over collectivist socialist clap trap of the past.

The world has moved on, and so must we. Not to engage our federal MPs and be counted amoung their forums and meetings is akin to walking into a freight train.

How we approach the government is to prove our worth. Show them who we are, just as capable as the hetro or metro or whatever euphemism tag or label they place on constituents these days.

Prove that we pay large taxes, hold down senior executive positions in multi national global companies, run departments are creative advertsisers artists trademsan and small businessman, clergy, professional, doctors dentists, council workers and yes even liberal politicians!

We have as much to give and offer and we are far from the threat from those who oppose us say.

Equally we have to prove, that to not fully recognize us is singling out a group who are now far from a minority. Our numbers outweigh the congregations of the fundamentalists evangelicals (e.g. Hillsong) by hundreds of thousands. Their total following including Baptists,Witnesses, etc are 120.000.

We are a significant voting block.

The voting bloc though is where we mess up. Sending protest votes to the greens means feeding the socialist and labour party. The Government also knows this. We do ourselves a vast dis service.

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

Time now, for all the gay community to seriously think about making their votes count and making our MPs work for that vote.

The best means open to us is to drop the left wing socialism that has ruled the gay community for so long, and ask ourselves where did it get us? What this gave us was the first state imposed legislative discrimination in the history of Australian Politics. We were not alert to the dominance of certain fundmanetalist rekigio's and groups who had infiltrated liberal ranks to our detriment.

Whilst we let our guard down, we should have had equal representation in the Liberal Party, in positions of leadership in branches and influential policy forums pre selection panelsand federal electorates.

Rather we were on the wrong ship, and for nearly ten years of this government.

The government as I recall, and the cry of MP's after the event was where were you? The liberal party has this name for a reason. In it it seems you can have liberal doses of just about any thing. Liberal doses of free marketers, Catholics, Jews, stock brokers, bankers, high flyers of every description, socialites, those with and without money, rich and poor married, divorced, un married, not married and never married, but not gay married!!!

Where were we, and are we prepared to even up the numbers now?

At 31/10/05 1:08 pm, Blogger Sam said...

Good grief Richard, that's a big one (posting, I mean). I really don't know where to begin, but I'll pick up a few select points you've made that I think should be addressed.

1. ACE is more than 3 people. Not much more, but definitely more than 3.

2. Don't let the Howard government off the hook just because the ACL/AFA are more offensive. Such organisations only continue to exist because both parties legitimise them by listening to their "concerns", legislating for them and speaking at their functions (as Beazley, very worringly, recently spoke about no longer having to separate politics from personal faith to ACL members). Any group that speaks in equivalent terms about other minority groups, ie League of Rights about indigenous and non-Anglo cultures, is condemned as a bunch of extreme racist freaks, which they are. But gay-bashing is still acceptable in mainstream politics, thanks largely to both the government and the opposition.

3. Queer people cannot stand up in the Coalition proudly as you would hope. The experiences of Mark Brindal in SA Liberal are testament to that, as is the number of closet cases in that party (we know who they are) who've had to perform sham marriages in order to gain pre-selection. It is not a queer-friendly organisation.

Labor is not much better, but it does at least have one open, if not vocal, lesbian Senator and now in NSW an openly lesbian mother in the Upper House.

4. I believe the greatest disservice any self-respecting queer person can do is vote 1 Howard. You can't ignore the reason why a lot of queer people don't, why they reluctantly accept Labor is the inevitable lesser of the two evils. There are still individuals in the Coalition - Abetz, Roswell, Katter, Burnett etc - who are on record saying appalling things about queer people/culture who have not been reprimanded; in fact, often they're encouraged (I will send you the Hansard links if you'd like).

There are a few ALP folk who've expressed some unfortunate sentiments too, but they're only ever few and far between and many more speak about the need for reform and the positive changes they would like to see happen.

5. You speak of the gay-friendly members in the Coalition, and I don't doubt they exist. On this site I have credited Warren Entsch, Joe Hockey, even Brendan Nelson. But I don't see the Liberal moderates working as hard to lessen the extremities of Howard queer policy the way they are with the extremities of this government's immigration and anti-terror laws. Why isn't Petro Georgiou speaking out more on this issue? If memory serves he was pretty quiet during the gay marriage ban last year. They have been bullied into silence because any image of queer friendliness does not bode well with a government so hell-bent on appeasing an admittedly growing number of voters who subsribe to fundamentalist, evangelical anti-queer teachings.

The Liberal party is, as you say, by definition supposed to be a broad church incorporating a wide array of individuals and politics. But the reality is the Howard government is not a liberal party in any way shape or form. It is both socially and economically radical - contrary to the liberal concept of minimal government intervention - quashes any views contrary to the Howard Way and refuses to properly and comprehensively address and reform legislative discrimination against queer people.

At 31/10/05 6:28 pm, Blogger Kelly & Sam Pilgrim-Byrne said...


I am assuming that you are referring to me when you mention the "lady who is directly connected to the Perth based 'independent media'?

I'm Kelly Pilgrim-Byrne - one of the founding members of ACE and I can assure you that I have absolutely NO affiliation with the IndyMedia. I've posted press releases on their site previously and also notifications of upcoming events, as I have done to other sites, but connected to Indymedia in any way, I'm certainly not.

And for the record, there are more people involved than just 3. It would be great if you could get your facts straight before spreading untruths.


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