Tag Archives: Malcolm Turnbull

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.

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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.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

This article also appears on NoFibs.

Don’t fund my art, just grant me access

“Australian artists will never be silenced by cuts to funding.”

MUCH is being made of the recent wholesale cuts to arts funding in Australia. We knew it was coming, it’s shocking to witness, but does it mean anything to the average Australian artist?

Well, if you’re an independent Australian artist, probably not.

There is a simple reason for this, and it’s going to be hard for many commentators and readers to accept: for decades now, arts in Australia have been funded in a trickle-down manner that Margaret Thatcher would be proud of.

I’m an artist who practices several art forms. I am a fiction and non-fiction author, playwright and painter, and I’ve also worked as an actor, illustrator, designer and filmmaker.

Funding? Yeah, tried to get that many times, but I failed far, far more often than I succeeded. I genuinely wonder what it’s like to have public funds to practice my art. I imagine it’s a bit challenging, especially being accountable to the funding body (and the public), but I’ve never been in that right time at that right place to get my ticket to the top floor of Australia’s arts sector.

Although I haven’t let that stop me. Ever since graduating two decades ago, with two art diplomas, I’ve worked a string of day jobs to support myself while I practice my art. I thrive while telling stories, it’s in my DNA and I’ll never give it up; yet if I’d had to rely on the meagre income generated from my art, I would have given up long ago.

That’s not to say I subscribe to the notion that my output should have no currency just because it comes naturally. Far from it! Artists should be paid well for our skill and our time. The trouble is, creating a market for art in this country right now is almost impossible whether you’re funded or not.

The problem for independent artists is not funding, it’s access.

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HERE’S AN IDEA Malcolm Turnbull wants innovation, but not from artists.

My ears prick up when I hear Malcolm Turnbull talk about Australians needing to be agile enough to ride his ideas boom, because to date he’s never thought enough about the arts to include it in his revolution.

But artists are in it up to our eyeballs, already risking everything with the best of them. I innovate, particularly as an author. In the past two years I’ve been agile enough to teach myself how to publish quality books – my own – using the online tools that are at the fingertips of any burgeoning writer.

In many art forms, from literature to live performance, it’s now possible to create content and generate sales channels via the internet and social media. There’s a sense that artists harnessing these continually expanding innovations have no known boundaries, but unfortunately this is not the case. Audiences simply don’t know we’re there, and for artists, no audience equals no consumers (and therefore no income) for our art.

Anyone who’s self-published books will tell you how hard it is to interest the mainstream media in their titles. It simply doesn’t matter how excellent and innovative the product is, if it hasn’t been fostered by a major publishing house it’s unlikely to make it into the critical context of mainstream book reviews, literary festivals and awards.

This is no surprise. The major publishers created this critical mass decades ago to sell their titles within, and they don’t want competition from the thousands of writers who annually get rejected by mainstream publishing and turn to the DIY book revolution.

Yet we are the first ones expected to be outraged and up in arms when Australian literary icons call for a halt to some dodgy-sounding import rules.

I’ve been selling my books into a market with no such protections for my work, as have countless other independent Australian writer-publishers. If authors supported by the Australian publishing industry are taking a hit, join the queue behind the rest of us! You’ll get a higher return per sale of every book if you self-publish, so what’s stopping you from going it alone?

That’s an easy one to answer: artsworkers – those employed to facilitate art. In the case of book publishing, these are the editors, designers, proofreaders, publicists and other professionals who put writers’ books together for the marketplace.

Some artsworkers are also artists (I’ve been known to cross over more than once), and they’ve been highly visible of late, expressing disappointment at funding cuts that will impact their bottom line and their forward estimates.

“It’s past time for getting real about arts access and distribution in Australia.”

In a sense, artsworkers have more to lose than artists, although many have framed these lean times as the contributing factor in employing less artists. I suspect many companies will cut art rather than cut artswork, at least initially, but many will simply run out of funds for both, and that is where the greatest shame lies in this debate. As a result, artists will have to learn to stop relying on artsworkers to develop our careers.

I abhor wholesale cuts to the arts, but we’ve been on the frontline of the blade for centuries, seen as a frivolous, non-essential extra. The argument against that definition is too obvious to construe here, but I encourage artists to do what we have always done: keep making art.

Artsworkers have a different challenge, and it’s past time for getting real about arts access and distribution in Australia. If our political leaders want innovation in the publishing sector, then a literary competition in this country need only launch an independent book-publishers’ award. The rest will follow.

But right now, literary awards have a snobbish, unnecessary block to independent authors making a decent splash in Australian publishing by locking us out of competition, publicity, exposure and opportunity.

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SPEAKING OUT Australian actor and playwright Kate Mulvany.

Actor and playwright Kate Mulvany used multi-story metaphors this week when she urged major theatre companies to notice what is being amputated on the lower floors of an already struggling performing arts sector in Australia, and to do something about it by keeping the top floor open.

“We need to keep those voices on the ground floor and middle floors ringing out with Australian stories or our much-loved house will collapse beneath us,” she said. “If they’ve been evicted from the middle and ground floors, then invite them upstairs.”

Consumers of art could do a lot better too. If you are really outraged by arts funding cuts in this country, you should already be buying independent Australian art.

Have you ever purchased an independently published book, created by an author who has self-funded their entire enterprise? Do you buy from high-street shops or from independent Australian artisans who are innovating as best they can in a marketplace dominated by cheap imports?

Do you support independent Australian films at the box office? Are you aware of burgeoning independent theatre festivals in Australian cities?

1460862671Are you signing-up to The Arts Party to make your concerns heard in our parliament?

I’m all for innovation spreading new-wave tendrils into the arts sector – who would be foolish enough to attempt stemming the flow anyway?

But if politicians want to support the arts, while butchering funding for artists, ‘there’s never been a better time’ for them to make small budget-neutral changes with big impact by starting with opportunities at their fingertips.

I look forward to ‘having a go’ by entering an Innovation in Independent Publishing Award at the 2017 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, personally guided into existence by whichever leader wins the next federal election. The state Premier’s literary awards will follow suit, of course, by creating categories that no major publishing house will be eligible to enter books into, and I can’t wait to buy every title on that shortlist.

Art happens regardless of politics, and Australian artists will never be silenced by cuts to funding. Many of us are already proving our durability in the independent sector… if you can’t hear us, you’re just not looking in the right places.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.