Category Archives: Politics

Divorced from reality: the Coalition’s marital problems

“The Coalition will just have to take care of itself, because the political wedge has finally hit its target.”

AFTER the Coalition’s narrow win, the plebiscite on Marriage Equality should be getting ready to kick off, yet the same election promise has been blamed for the major swing against Malcolm Turnbull.

And the paradox has all the hallmarks of failure. In one of his delayed post-victory interviews, Malcolm Turnbull conceded the plebiscite would have to be pushed ahead to 2017.

His reason: “My commitment to have it dealt with as soon as practicable is there, but we… have to obtain the support of the Senate,” Mr Turnbull told Leigh Sales on the ABC’s 7.30 program.

This rhetoric is in stark contrast to Mr Turnbull’s pre-election claim that a guaranteed ‘yes’ plebiscite result would “sail through the parliament” under his leadership. 

At the dawn of a more diverse Senate than the one Turnbull tried to shift with his double-dissolution election, another narrative swiftly emerged this week that throws even more doubt on the PM’s grasp of the reins.

A Galaxy poll commission by PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) conducted after the election indicates less than half of voters want a marriage equality plebiscite.

So the promise Mr Turnbull campaigned on – majority community support for asking the people by the end of 2016 – has fallen flat.

This is not a surprise. Equality campaigners not only saw it coming, we made it happen.

Marital problems

In my electorate – the division of Bowman in South East Queensland – a small team of us started door-knocking the neighbours of our federal MP Andrew Laming in March.

It proved to be a confronting process – knocking on doors asking for your human rights is not always fun – but we were already angry at how the mainstream media had given the Coalition’s Mr Laming a free kick in 2015.

Screen shot 2016-07-22 at 10.59.10 AM
LAMING’S PROJECT Federal Member for Bowman, Andrew Laming, interviewed by Waleed Aly.

When he appeared on Network Ten’s The Project Mr Laming claimed to be conducting a “scientific survey” of his constituents on Marriage Equality, and committed to vote in Canberra based on the results. Waleed Aly, Carrie Bickmore and the program’s producers let his claims go live to air completely un-analysed.

Mr Laming’s annual information-gathering session in his electorate gave voters one say per household on issues like live export and sand mining in addition to “gay marriage”, as though LGBTI want something special, like gay supermarkets, or gay sports fields. It came back – unsurprisingly – with 58 per cent against “gay marriage”.

So we sorely needed data of our own. Working with national lobby group Australian Marriage Equality, a unique petition was devised in which we offered a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ option to anyone registered to vote in this electorate who had a firm view either way on altering the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couple equal access.

Instead of Mr Laming’s claim that Marriage Equality was a 50-50, “red-hot issue” across our community, what we found after months of cold-calling voters in their homes, at public transport hubs, shopping and at local markets, was more like the national trend in support for marriage equality: that is, overwhelming support.

Our petition proved to be an incredible experience. On several occasions we had people lining up to sign ‘yes’ to Marriage Equality, and locals engaged in many conversations about their LGBTI family members. If there was anything ‘red hot’ it was their anger that it was way past time for reform to be put in place by our elected representatives.

On social media threads we dealt with all the usual naysayers, accusing us of only petitioning at ‘gay discos’, but most people got the message – we were open to anyone with a firm view either way, and our percentage of ‘no’ signatures became strangely validating.

COULDN'T CARE Andrew Laming's initial response to a marriage equality petition.
COULDN’T CARE Andrew Laming’s initial response to a marriage equality petition.

Fairfax Media picked up our data and put it to Mr Laming, who said he: “Couldn’t care less”, which ran as a headline for 24 hours until the MP’s office hosed it down and reclaimed his first response as off the record. He subsequently apologised to petitioners and professed to be in support of our work.

But when we delivered the petition results to Mr Laming at a meet-the-candidates event run by the local chamber of commerce, his rhetoric changed again.

For the first time, the federal Member for Bowman indicated he’d vote with the majority of this electorate’s result at a national Marriage Equality plebiscite.

Nowhere in Turnbull’s plebiscite enthusiasm had there ever been a hint that the national result could be impacted by a rogue electorate. There had been talk from Senators and MPs about ignoring the nation and voting against Marriage Equality despite the plebiscite outcome, but that was written off as simply the hard-right rabble. We’d sprung a backbencher towing the same line.

On social media, other campaigners were reporting similar language at meet-the-candidates events across the country. The dots were connected and the Coalition’s new plan became clear: a marriage equality plebiscite would only pass a yes vote if it was carried by a majority of electorates.

Questions were put into the laps of journalists. A record number posed them, and Turnbull was forced to admit he had no control over how his MPs would vote on the issue.

The Coalition countered with its last-minute claim that there was majority support nationally for the plebiscite, but the media smelled a rat and hammered Turnbull and other MPs throughout the last week of the campaign.

If the PM was not being upfront about the plebiscite, what else was on the nose?

The stink nearly lost Turnbull the election.

Coalition in splitsville

So the timetable has altered and now there’s evidence that voters don’t like the idea, yet Turnbull is sticking to his plebiscite plan. 

“Marriage Equality activists are match fit and we’ve built an ongoing connection with Australian voters.”

But the election produced another result. The majority of federal MPs who support changing the Marriage Act to allow equal access to same-sex couples increased to a record majority.

If a parliamentary free vote was held now, it would easily pass. 

One of the best headlines of the election campaign described Malcolm Turnbull’s plebiscite deal with the National Party as a ‘Faustian pact’. Now the dust has settled, the Coalition’s betrothal on Marriage Equality will soon start to look more like the kind of stranglehold common in domestic violence.

If Turnbull approaches the Senate with the plebiscite, it’ll likely never pass. If he tries to seek refuge in a parliamentary free vote, he’s likely to be rolled by the man who foisted the plebiscite nonsense on the Coalition with his last captain’s pick: Tony Abbott.

The Coalition’s response is to lead people to think it’s a case of plebiscite or nothing, but despite some commentators suggesting campaigners just submit to the public vote for the Coalition’s sake – in case it breaks apart – we are capable of multi-tasking around any of the Coalition’s plans for our equality.

We’ve had plenty of practice. The Coalition will just have to take care of itself, because the political wedge hit its target regardless of the election result. Other parties and lobby groups have started driving it in.

For Malcolm Turnbull, there’s simply no more hiding from the albatross he voluntarily tied to his own neck; yet he expects to resolve the marital problems the Coalition has always had around LGBTI relationship equality with $160-million dollar pretty lies about ‘asking the people’.

Blaming campaigners is like pointing at your spouse’s best friend over your own divorce. Marriage Equality activists are match fit and we’ve built an ongoing connection with Australian voters by having the important conversations. Trigger a fairly posed, timely, compulsory, binding, public vote and we’ll be there.

QUESTIONABLE DEEDS PRMichael Burge’s book Questionable Deeds: Making a stand for equal love traces marriage equality in Australia through one man’s battle to maintain his rights in the wake of his same-sex partner’s death. It’s available to buy in paperback and eBook.

Bayside Brisbane Welcomes Marriage Equality is affiliated with Australian Marriage Equality’s national campaign. Join us!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved. This article also appears on NoFibs.

We need to talk about Pauline

“One Nation sends mixed messages, and its followers are able to live with policy blind spots, just like other Australians.”

WITH no result on election night, it wasn’t too surprising when people came up to our market stall at Cleveland in South East Queensland on Sunday morning asking who’d won. We weren’t selling anything, but petitioning voters in the federal electorate of Bowman about marriage equality. Recognising the rainbow flag and the symbol of national lobby group Australian Marriage Equality, many assumed we were a good bet to talk politics.

I did an eye roll after I mentioned to a punter that one thing was sure: Pauline Hanson had been elected to a Queensland Senate spot. This shopper jumped in with a couple of perceived positives about Pauline. “Not many people really take the time to find these things out,” she said. A bit chastened, I back-pedalled behind my concerns about how Hanson will vote on marriage equality.

But it bugged me. The petition I have been championing since April across the region I’ve lived in for almost four years has led me to feel I have a place in this community, whereas my sudden education about Pauline Hanson’s popularity reminded me with a thud that the place I am living is Queensland, One Nation’s spiritual home.

Screen shot 2016-07-05 at 10.27.27 AMWith nothing new to report on vote counting, the media flocked to Pauline Hanson’s press conference on Monday. Twitter exploded. The mainstream media followed. News Corp’s was the first lead story I saw, with the headline: “What Pauline Hanson thinks”.

As a former sub-editor, I thought it was either a lazy header or one dripping with irony. The story behind it proved to be no story at all, just a list of direct quotes from Hanson’s presser (sourced from Australian Associated Press) interspersed with capitalised sub-headings. The only journalistic intervention was filtering out the clearest quotes from the Hanson press conference and packaging them in easy-to-consume bites.

I scanned through the list to find meaning. It was in the last two lines: “ON MEDIA TREATMENT ‘Don’t take me out of context what I’m saying here at all’.”

Irony, then. One way to capture Pauline, unfiltered.

Not quite believing what I was reading, I sought a recent precedent for what I saw as a dumbed-down approach to reporting Hanson. Buzzfeed wasn’t as stripped-back as NewsCorp, but in late 2015 it ran with what looks like dialogue in a screenplay when seeking more information on James Ashby’s role on Hanson’s staff. Their reason: Hanson Redux is big on the legal threats.

Twitter storm

No Fibs’ editor-in-chief Margo Kingston took to Twitter Monday afternoon with her eyewitness accounts of Hanson from the late 1990s:-

She also linked One Nation to the growing popularity of offshore processing of asylum seekers:-

Margo followed this up with an opinion piece in The Guardian – her debut on that news source – in which she appealed to Australians to “have the conversation” with Pauline.

da16197630f4974d2bc7fad3b990db88Despite Margo’s experience in the Hanson space (she wrote the definitive book about Hanson – Off The Rails: The Pauline Hanson Trip) her suggestions garnered Kingston a lambasting on social media.

Somewhere between Hanson’s second chance in parliament and Kingston’s experience of the real woman, is there a way to understand what One Nation wants without getting labelled a Hanson apologist or a sneer?

An education

Overnight, a German friend posted Pauline Hanson’s infamous “Please Explain” 60 Minutes video on Facebook, which I had never seen in full. When it was first broadcast I was living in the United Kingdom, unaware, as so many were, that the seeds of Brexit were already growing in the widespread dissatisfaction of the post-Thatcher years.

I watched it Tuesday morning with great interest, Margo’s appeal in my mind, seeking any evidence of commentators or others giving Hanson the chance for a dialogue.

I found it in the last third of the clip (after 22’00”). To her credit, Hanson visited Palm Island in 1996 as the independent Member for Oxley after Charles Perkins (deputy chairperson of the now defunct ATSIC – The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission) challenged her to see the region in addition to having such strong opinions about it.

Hanson met a group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) women, perhaps community elders. One addressed Hanson calmly and said: “You are a very young person. You’ve quoted your age as 42, that is still very young. Not so much in age, I’m not talking about years, but knowledge. What I would like you see you do, Pauline, is get educated.”

This was before the international media’s presence at the Sydney Olympics raised Australians’ level of awareness about ATSI language groups. The concept of Aboriginal Knowledge (that which you seek from community Elders) was not widely known enough for the journalist – or Hanson – to realise how uninitiated we all were in the way ATSI communities operate.

Hanson’s immediate reaction was not recorded in that interview, but by the time she was back on the couch answering Tracey Curro’s quite calmly-delivered question about xenophobia, Hanson was not about to admit she was proposing simple solutions to complex problems.

“Those people are there because they want to be there, and it is causing problems, because they want to live there,” she said of the generations of Palm Island residents, descendants of the penal colony created there.

“Where would you suggest they go?” Curro asked, neutrally.

“I’m not saying they up and leave, but they’ve got to accept it, that they are away from mainstream Australia,” Hanson relied.

A telling precursor to former prime minister Tony Abbott’s 2015 description of ATSI communities as a “lifestyle choice” two decades later.

For many progressives, that’s the end of the conversation.

Let’s talk

In the past two days, I’ve been trying to find a primary source for the positives that the punter at Cleveland used to convince herself that a vote for Pauline Hanson was justified, and I just cannot find one. They’re an urban myth that wouldn’t bear publishing here.

trudeI could have asked her why she voted for Hanson – ‘had the conversation’ with her – but on reflection she was defensive, and so was I. What would I have said if I found her misquoting incomplete half truths? What would she have done if I’d pressed her to come up with proof?

When pressed to give answers in 1996, Pauline Hanson retreated into an old saying about having to be cruel to be kind when it came to Palm Island, and perhaps nothing has changed in two decades.

The divide between ‘ordinary’ and ‘privileged’ Australians observed so effectively in Kath & Kim served as a more palatable way to have the conservation in the wake of One Nation’s demise, but it’s disappeared from our screens in time for Pauline’s return.

Hanson Redux is moving at pace, although it is fluid. On Tuesday’s ABC Radio National morning radio news, One Nation supporters distanced themselves from the racist and anti-Muslim elements of Pauline Hanson’s Monday press conference.

Labelling such differences as hypocrisy isn’t helpful. Like all political parties, One Nation sends mixed messages, and its followers are able to live with policy blind spots, just like other Australians. Labor’s policy match with the Liberal’s on offshore detention of refugees comes to mind.

But I am not so sure about having the conversation.

Perhaps conversations are not on Pauline’s agenda this time? During a hung parliament, do conversations revolve around listening and understanding, or do opposites simply thrash out the horse trading in the pursuit for power, legislation by legislation?

Talk is cheap, and if we were brave enough, we’d admit we just don’t like having conversations with other ideologies. We leave that to those we elect, Pauline Hanson included.

If we cannot live with what the politicians are saying to one another, we do something, like petitioning in public, or creating new political parties… hey, did I just find common ground with One Nation through nothing more than a conversation with myself?

This article also appears on No Fibs

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Go beyond the like button (you know you want to)

“Westerners have lost touch with one of our strongest power bases: we are consumers.”

PROGRESSIVES internationally are being hit with some hard facts, from the reality of the United Kingdom’s vote to end its politico-economic links with the European Union (EU); through the rise of Donald Trump as the Republican United States presidential candidate; to Australia’s problem catching up with both nations on the human rights inherent in Marriage Equality.

It’s become impossible to participate on social media without also being hit with online petitions.

“But is it realistic?” I saw one concerned Remain voter ask her Facebook friends, of yet another public vote attempting to reverse the Brexit result.

It could be, I wanted to reply, if only you’d just sign it.

But I didn’t write that response (I just said “sign them all, in only takes a few minutes”) because we keyboard warriors and slacktivists get very sensitive about doing much more than ‘liking’ stuff.

Liking is good. It’s a show of hands sweeping through our Facebook feed, but let’s be real for a minute: Liking really achieves nothing. No-one has to show up. At best, it’s little more than virtual loyalty over morning coffee.

I was reminded this week (by another Facebook post) of the principles of the civil rights movement, and the way it continues to define change in Western nations where politicians and corporates have stymied communities and left us feeling speechless and disenfranchised.

Rosa Parks on a Montgomery bus on December 21, 1956, the day Montgomery's public transportation system was legally integrated.
BACK SEAT BOYCOTT Rosa Parks on a Montgomery bus on December 21, 1956, the day Montgomery’s public transportation system was legally integrated.

I also reminded myself of some fundamental tenets of most democracies, proven long before the social media came along. People generally have the right of assembly, demonstration and petition – that is, we should not fear meeting, protesting with and canvassing other members of the public for common views.

From the Montgomery Bus Boycott triggered when African-America Rosa Parks refused to give her seat up for an Anglo-American passenger in 1955; to the Sudanese Civil War Sex Strike, when Samira Ahmed encouraged wives to abandon sexual relations with their husbands until the second Sudanese Civil War ended, people have been taking relatively peaceful, simple stands to enact lasting change.

It was a pamphlet distributed by community leader Jo Ann Robinson that reminded African-Americans of a mathematical reality – that they were the majority of Montgomery’s bus ticket-buying marketplace – and they reacted with courage. Bus travel was out, replaced by car-pooling and other simple efforts actioned by individuals, and by 1956 the Montgomery racial segregation laws were ruled unconstitutional.

It’s never completely simple, it’s never totally peaceful, yet withholding what a large number of people want has proven to move mountains, particularly when what they want is our money.

“International corporate and individual brands are already making such decisions easier for consumers.”

Perhaps it’s the weight of all our first-world problems, but Westerners have lost touch with one of our strongest power bases: we are consumers with an array of choices when it comes to everything from the weekly groceries, to clothing, entertainment and countless other products and services.

Nationalistic movements like Brexit, populist candidates such as Trump, and human rights outcomes linked to a nation’s economy (Malcolm Turnbull’s commitment to spend $160 million on an unnecessary plebiscite on Marriage Equality) leave themselves wide open to economic boycotts.

The internet makes it relatively easy to find where products originate and which corporates support or political candidates and movements. Some are politically savvy and hedge their bets, but most are not.

In just a few clicks, you can choose between banks, department stores, communications companies, financiers and even restaurants that support causes you’re aligned with.

In just a few well-directed emails, you can ensure other companies know why you’re making the choice to spend your money with their competition.

Although sites are cropping up that make it very easy, there’s no need for blanket bans on buying British or American products – remember, not everyone in the United Kingdom wanted to leave the EU and not everyone in America is voting for Trump.

Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling went public on Brexit.
HARRY’S WAY Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling went public on Brexit.

But one of the most powerful things you can do is to ask a simple question of the management in these companies. Are you supporting Trump? Do you want to leave the EU?

They’ll be affronted, no doubt. They might not even give you a clear answer, but it’s your money, right? You get to choose where you spend it.

International corporate and individual brands are already making such decisions easier for consumers. Richard Branson came out early as a Remain supporter in the Brexit fallout on behalf of Virgin Group. British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver likewise made his Remain stance crystal clear for his followers.

One of Britain’s most lucrative (and nationalistic) cultural exports of the past two decades is the Harry Potter brand, yet Harry Potter wants to stay in the EU! Author J.K. Rowling is one of the highest-profile Remain advocates in the unfolding Brexit landscape.

Silicon Valley CEOs went public earlier this year about their concerns over Donald Trump’s presidential nomination. Large US retailers, media outlets and sporting and cultural events led the way a year ago.

A snapshot of Australian corporates that support Marriage Equality.
CORPORATE BACKING A snapshot of Australian corporates that support Marriage Equality.

National Lobby Group Australian Marriage Equality has published a growing list of more than 1000 corporate entities that support changing Australia’s Marriage Act to allow equal access to same-sex couples. I’ve been using it for more than a year to make high-street choices that sit better with my equality activism.

Consumer boycotting often gets negative attention, amid suggestions that it’s ineffective, or a form of trade protectionism; whereas in actual fact, it’s already proven itself to have deep impact at the highest corporate level in Australia.

Australian telecommunications giant Telstra wavered on its public expression of its support for Marriage Equality in April this year, reportedly under pressure from Christian organisations threatening a boycott of Telstra services across Catholic organisations.

But the consumer backlash was fast and profound, and Telstra was forced to reassert its public support for legal reform of Australia’s Marriage Act.

There’s a whole world of consumer boycotting going on – check out the site that claims to be: “The most comprehensive English language list of progressive boycotts”.

There isn’t a ‘dislike’ button on the majority of social media platforms. Facebook has no plans for one. If there was, social media shareholders might lose their grip on this lucrative new wave of media – and millions in advertising revenue – when participants grow sick of their thoughts and opinions garnering the type of protests that a thumbs-down would attract.

Perhaps that leaves some hope for progressive politics? With no way to give the thumbs-down at the keyboard, the only thing left – if you’re still frustrated – is to do something.

This article also appears on No Fibs

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.