Tag Archives: Tony Abbott

Dancing around casual homophobia

ONE of the big stories of the week came and went as quickly as a Channel Nine dancer running screaming past the camera.

Breaking late on Tuesday afternoon from the Fairfax stable, what became known as the French Ambassador Incident trended at least twice on Twitter in the following 24 hours, then disappeared.

It’s hard to ascertain exactly what happened. Most media reported that Australia’s Ambassador to France, Stephen Brady, was witnessed shouting at someone on a Paris tarmac before, during or after the arrival of Prime Minister Tony Abbott fresh from Gallipoli late on Anzac Day.

“To many same-sex-attracted people, the stink of casual homophobia is unmistakable.”

The reason – according to eyewitnesses yet to be named – was the directive from the PM’s team for Brady’s partner of more than thirty years, Peter Stephens, to make himself scarce during the PM’s arrival, and wait in the car.

Quickly defined as a ‘hissy fit’ by some media, and a protocol error by others, the story of Brady’s reaction grew so fast that by Wednesday morning, Mr Abbott was forced to face questions about the incident during a doorstop about something else.

Visibly uncomfortable, he clarified that Mr Brady was a good “friend” and defined the conflict as “trivial”.

Neither me or my husband had ever heard of Brady and Stephens, or knew of their groundbreaking position in the international community as an out gay diplomatic couple.

But between us, we vocalised the rush of indignation that resonated on a gut level. To many same-sex attracted people, the stink of casual homophobia is unmistakable.

DIPLOMATIC DUO Australia's Ambassador to France Stephen Brady with his partner Peter Stephens. Photo: Ella Pellegrini
DIPLOMATIC DUO Australia’s Ambassador to France Stephen Brady with his partner Peter Stephens. Photo: Ella Pellegrini

LGBTQI people have different homophobia ‘breaking points’, but the trouble with casual homophobia is that it’s usually invisible. A protocol directive is a perfect place to deliver it, because, of course, it’s so diplomatic and neutral it’s all about how the message is taken, not how it’s given.

But as Wendy Harmer said in her tweet as the story grew: “‘Wait in the car’ – everyone understands what that means.”

Casual homophobia can be off-hand, even unintentional, but, by the sounds, it’s exactly what sent a man, who’s made a shining career out of being diplomatic, over the edge.

Speaking as someone who has received his share, the level of alarm and clamour witnessed on the Paris tarmac is the only way to register that casual homophobia has been directed at you. There is almost no use dealing with facts, all that hangs in the air is the intention to disenfranchise you or someone you love.

The PM’s office did not deny the incident took place. Junior staffers were blamed. Nobody offered an apology. The only thing that resulted was a resignation, in the moment, from Stephen Brady.

The last time international audiences were served this kind of open-ended story was the Jeremy Clarkson incident.

For weeks, more than a million Top Gear fans publicly defended Clarkson while an internal BBC investigation got to the truth of his violent physical attack on one of the program’s producers during location shooting. Clarkson spent the time making jokes in the media, but privately tweeting his apologies to his ‘alleged’ victim.

He was eventually sacked from the BBC’s flagship motor program. The voices in his defence have either come to terms with his crime, or silenced themselves.

Whether the French Ambassador Incident goes a similar way, or the facts never come to the surface, the limited, cautious reporting of it shows that, like most discrimination and bad behaviour, the media finds it almost impossible to report accurately on casual homophobia.

That’s possibly because the perpetrators sail so close, in fact beyond, what is legal and socially acceptable, that editors don’t know how to put the story in its correct context. In other words, they’re slow on the uptake when it comes to equality.

The social media is, of course, more of a free-for-all.

On April 24, Daily Telegraph columnist Miranda Devine dropped a casual clanger when she tweeted during the Brumbies vs Highlanders rugby match.

The Brumbies’ David Pocock had just scored his third try, and celebrated in front of the television cameras in a manner which Ms Devine took exception to:

So, Pocock’s vibrant gesticulation was actually the Auslan (Australian Sign Language) sign for applause. ‘Jazz Hands’ is a totally different thing.

Devine had scored a hat trick with her resort to “tosser” – not only was her tweet borderline unsporting, but she’d swiped the deaf, gay and showbiz communities in one try.

FOSSE'S WAY Classic Bob Fosse 'jazz hands' choreography.
FOSSE’S WAY Classic Bob Fosse ‘jazz hands’ choreography.

Many showbiz folk attribute the dynamic flat-handed open-fingered gesture, often accompanied by hat and cane, to the man who made it his signature move – American choreographer Bob Fosse – although it has deeper roots in centuries-old vaudeville.

Somehow, due to its association with enthusiasm and heightened expression, and probably because it involves articulation of the wrists, Jazz Hands has also come to denote camp behaviour – it’s shorthand for gay.


But Pocock wasn’t doing Jazz Hands: “Thanks, Miranda. That’s totally fine,” he replied, “also glad it wasn’t ‘jazz hands’.”

Which sounds like a casual diplomatic dance to me.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

This article appears in Michael’s eBook Creating Waves: Critical takes on culture and politics.

Burning issues for Tony Abbott

A Writer puts Direct Action on climate to the test.

CLIMATE change efforts in Australia have become a matter of simple mathematics.

With the Coalition’s Direct Action Bill in place just this week, after a deal struck with the Palmer United Party and Senate crossbenchers, Australia is now attempting to reduce its carbon emissions by 5 per cent by 2020.

It’s official: we’re trying, and we won’t have to wait very long to gauge if this policy of financial incentives for major atmosphere polluters to reduce emissions is working.

Mind you, the repeal of the perfectly good carbon tax was supposed to reduce my electricity bill. So far, it’s gone dramatically skyward, no matter how many times Environment Minister Greg Hunt assures me it has not.

Meanwhile, our television screens are replete with footage of Tony Abbott planting trees, as though fixing climate change was that simple.

But the first visible signs of Mr Abbott taking Direct Action against climate change as Prime Minister came a year ago, with his televised efforts fighting fires with his local Rural Fire Service (RFS).

While it’s commendable that he so visibly helped NSW volunteer fire fighters during the bushfire crisis in New South Wales in October 2013, by rolling up his sleeves and getting his hands dirty, questions were raised at the time about whether his government was doing its international climate change fighting as collaboratively.

“The guy doesn’t like talking about climate change, it’s clear.”

It seemed terrible timing for the newly-minted Prime Minister to close the Climate Commission, a science-based climate authority created under Julia Gillard’s leadership, just before some of the most damaging and unseasonal bushfires were linked, by scientists, to human impact on global warming.

Although I can see why many analysed Mr Abbott’s fire fighting motives, I’d rather he just encourage his MPs to volunteer for their local RFS, and look to ways he might represent us at international climate change events. Representing us is, after all, his job.

While bushfires ravaged parts of NSW in October and November 2013, destroying homes and impacting lives, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was meeting in Georgia.

The IPCC is described as: “The leading international body for assessing the most recent scientific research on climate change”. It’s outcomes are regularly reported in the Australian media, and not just the left-leaning titles.

In November 2013, climate change talks in Warsaw came and went without an Australian delegate.

Further bushfires occurred last summer, the most damaging were those in Western Australia in the Perth Hills region in early January.

Peak-of-summer bushfires are a commonplace occurrence in Australia, so the climate change link was not so intense in the media at the time.

In September, Mr Abbott neglected to publicly explain why he missed a UN climate change summit in the United States by just one day, while attending talks on Australia’s military  involvement in Iraq.

The guy doesn’t like talking about climate change, it’s clear.

As the traditional bushfire season takes it grip nationally, it will be interesting to observe attempts to hose the climate issue down, or whether unseasonal bushfires are assimilated into the new Direct Action plan.

GETTING HANDS DIRTY Australia’s Prime Minister, and local fire fighter, Tony Abbott.
GETTING HANDS DIRTY Australia’s Prime Minister, and local fire fighter, Tony Abbott.

Direct Action is the perfect solution for a local bushfire. Hazard reduction, containment lines and controlled burns are all utilised in the battle. Local RFS brigades are assisted by interstate teams when more assistance is required. On many occasions, international crews and/or equipment (such as aerial fire fighting machinery) are deployed from overseas. Bushfire fighting is an international movement which assistance to afflicted communities when there is a need.

If it’s okay to have an international fire fighting movement (the cure), what is wrong with an international community fighting the potential causes of extreme fire conditions (the prevention)?

What I hope is that the government has its eye on the issue  and someone (perhaps an elected leader?) sparks a rational debate based on the data, because surely Australia’s bushfire statistics would be of relevance to international climate change talks?

Only one person in this week’s Prime Minister’s Science Award’s audience gave Tony Abbott a loud show of applause after his speech, which seemed designed to inspire forgiveness for the Coalition’s terrible track record on supporting the concept of science.

His deft joke around the deafening silence was one thing. Whether Direct Action does what he is so confident it will, will be another.

As the Coalition is so fond of telling us: let’s wait and see.

But I suspect we’re witnessing a little of what Direct Action on climate change will consist of: getting hands dirty locally, fighting fires and planting trees, and plenty of support for coal mining in a continent perfectly designed for solar and wind energy capture, with no eyes in government on the bigger picture.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

It’s too late for marriage equality in Australia

A Writer calls-out a political stalemate.

IN April 2013 journalist Gay Alcorn declared the culture war was over for marriage equality and confidently asserted that after “a year or two” LGBTQI couples would bask in the same connubial rights as straight Australians.

She declared the debate “interminably dull” and credited lobby group Australian Marriage Equality’s (AME) latest pitch for support – via the small business benefits of allowing same-sex marriage – with triggering her boredom threshold.

Because I didn’t think Alcorn’s angle helped the debate, I began a long analysis of the foot-dragging this political football has endured in Australia. Here we are eighteen months since Alcorn’s boredom levels peaked, and only one thing has changed: support for marriage equality in this country has skyrocketed since Alcorn reported a 54 per cent assent, to a whopping 72pc.

This is a world record – even in countries which have already passed marriage equality legislation, community support for same-sex marriage is nowhere near that high.

So, with apologies to Gay and anyone else who’s asleep on marriage equality, here’s why it’s already too late for anyone in the current political spectrum to bring full civil rights to lesbian and gay Australians.

Tony Abbott will never take the free kick

After promising his cabinet would be free to raise the issue of marriage equality “after the election”, nobody in the Coalition party room seems keen to take up the challenge.

“In order to lead Australia to marriage equality, our primary leader, our Prime Minister Tony Abbott, needs someone in his party to lead him to the debate.”

I have an undeniable gut feeling that twelve months “after the election”, if he was ever going to back marriage equality, Tony Abbott already would have done.

His sister Christine Forster and her partner Virginia Edwards announced their engagement after the election. I imagine they’re getting quite impatient to tie the knot on home soil, and it’s Christine we have to thank for the latest news about her brother’s leadership on the issue, when she spoke at a Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) event in Brisbane last month.

“I have been married, I am a gay woman, a lesbian, but I was married for 20 years,” Forster said, “so I know the significance of marriage and how that speaks to your community, friends and family and what it says about the special relationship you have with your partner”.

THEY'RE WAITING Christine Forster (right) with her partner Virginia Edwards. (Photo: James Boddington)
THEY’RE WAITING Christine Forster (right) with her partner Virginia Edwards. (Photo: James Boddington)

“My brother is a very good Liberal and a very good leader of the party and if that’s what the party tells him that’s what he will accept,” Forster said.

You read it right: in order to lead Australia to marriage equality, our primary leader, our Prime Minister Tony Abbott needs someone in his party to lead him to the debate.

Even if this somehow qualifies as leadership, even if by some miracle a Coalition minister has the guts a week, a month, a year from now, Tony Abbott will never escape the taint that he left it too long.

Too late, Tone. Far, far too late.

Laboring on equality despite Plibersek’s evolution

Australian LGBTIQ must look elsewhere for our civil rights champion.

The Labor Party’s Tanya Plibersek has come a very long way on same-sex marriage, from towing the line against full LGBTIQ equality under Kevin Rudd’s leadership in 2007 (while proudly championing Labor’s record on equality), to challenging the government to provide a co-sponsor to her 2014 private members bill for marriage equality.

But both of Plibersek’s public gauntlet throws to the Coalition occurred while she was in opposition, and seemed designed to highlight the shortcomings of an incumbent government, because that’s the only impact they had.

Labor supports marriage equality without a binding ‘yes’ vote for their MPs, a situation which will not change unless the ALP national conference in 2015 agrees to it, and will not change anything for LGBTQI.

The last time any government had the numbers to do anything unilaterally was under Kevin Rudd’s first suck of the sauce bottle between 2007 and 2010, but the ALP didn’t do anything about marriage equality.

Not as late as some, but still too late, Tanya.

The sky did not fall down

Marriage equality arrived in Australia for a brief time when the ACT passed the Marriage Equality (Same Sex) Act 2013.

Alan Wright and Joel Player became the first Australian same-sex couple to marry under the fledgling legislation on December 7, 2013.

MARRIED AT MIDNIGHT Joel Player and Alan Wright who were due to marry in Canberra at 12.01am. (Photo: Melissa Adams)
MARRIED AT MIDNIGHT Joel Player and Alan Wright who were due to marry in Canberra at 12.01am. (Photo: Melissa Adams)

Fledging Attorney-General George Brandis couldn’t wait to put the territory law to a high court challenge, which handed down its findings on December 12, 2013, when six judges unanimously decided the ACT law was “inconsistent” with the federal Marriage Act.

After decades of inconsistency between state, territory and federal legislation on everything from homosexual criminality, de-facto recognition, superannuation, adoption and a host of other issues, the High Court suddenly demanded consistency.

Too late, judiciary. Way, way too late.

Sharman Stone likes her fruit different

Australian LGBTIQ got an awkward glimpse of backbencher Dr Sharman Stone’s conscience last month when she replied to a constituent’s letter asking her why she’d voted against marriage equality in 2012.

STONE'S FRUIT Sharman Stone MP, federal member for Murray.
STONE’S FRUIT Sharman Stone MP, federal member for Murray. (Photo: ABC)

I knew of this Victorian MP, federal member for Murray, because of the many voluntary sub-editing hours I gave in support of SPC Ardmona, the fruit canning company in Stone’e electorate, during the wave of No Fibs articles filed during the  2014 #SPCsunday campaign.

When she told the nation on the ABC that Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey were a pair of liars, Stone’s stance was the first eye-opening chink in the Coalition’s armour. I paid attention because I could see someone taking a risk.

According to Stone, the imminent closure of SPC Ardmona was an unfolding tragedy: “I do not intend to speak in the media about the suicides and attempted suicides now occurring particularly among the orchardists, and for the sake of the families I will not talk about them publicly,” she said in an email.

“But believe me the loss of the last Australian fruit processor would be a human as well as a regional economic and national tragedy.”

But Stone had little such empathy for her correspondent Tilly Rose Goldsmith’s situation, replying that her conscience did not extend to upholding marriage as an option for Australian LGBTIQ.

“The family implications of a marriage are totally different to the outcomes possible in a same-sex marriage i.e. not inferior but DIFFERENT” (Dr Stone’s capitalisation).

Stone’s response fell into the argument-breaking trap which invalidates childless heterosexual marriages, and it ignored how prone young LGBTIQ are to suicide as a result of bullying, a subject Goldsmith had raised in her letter to the minister.

I took a small stand on Twitter after reading Stone’s letter. As far as I am concerned, overseas canned fruit is no longer inferior, it’s just DIFFERENT. Food for thought for SPC Ardmona workers when it comes to election time.

Too late to question my support for Stone’s cause. More fool me for not checking her marriage equality record.

David Leyonhjelm truly liberal on LGBTIQ equality

Some good news came after July 1, 2014, when a swag of new Senators joined the debate and NSW Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm spoke with the most clarity marriage equality advocates had witnessed since Kevin Rudd’s ‘road to Damascus’ essay in 2013.

Defining Australian LGBT as “second-class citizens” until we have full marriage equality, Leyonhjelm’s announcement that he would bring on a marriage equality bill nevertheless contained some big qualifiers – he would not bring a bill forward until there was a conscience vote across the parliament, encouraging Coalition senators to tow the line and warning that, with six years as a Senator, he would see his “libertarian” bill through.

“There seems no urgency in Leyonhjelm’s stance on marriage equality.”

The Senate got a glimpse of Leyonhjelm’s courage last week when he threatened to bring a disallowance motion against agricultural sector levy increases, a controversial issue which is dividing rural Australia, where compulsory industry levies on primary producers are seen by many as crippling taxes.

When it came to crunch time, Senator Leyonhjelm pulled his punch and postponed the motion. With another six years of his Senate term ahead of us, there seems no urgency in Leyonhjelm’s stance on marriage equality.

Six years could be far too late, Dave. Bring it on.

Pink dollar last link to marriage equality?

Although Gay Alcorn seemed to be chortling to herself at AME’s idea that marriage inequality was hitting the back pocket of Australia’s wedding industry, there is some merit in looking at boycotts as a way to lever the Australian parliament into legislating for same-sex marriage.


AME has a regularly updated list of Australian businesses which uphold the validity of Australian gay and lesbian de-facto relationships and overseas same-sex marriages and civil unions amongst their staff and customer base. The list includes Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, an inclusion which puts paid to some of the claims about that company’s influence on Australia’s political landscape.

Major sponsor Qantas put corporate pressure on the Australian Opera until it sacked homophobic singer Tamar Iveri. Qantas also upholds the next of kin status of its staff and customers in same-sex relationships.

Corporate Australia has been acting on marriage equality for over 5 years. It’s getting very late, parliament.

Australian Christians ‘preying’ on same-sex community

Right now, Christian groups are disseminating timely news lists about progressive moves for LGBTQI equality in Australia.

At the lighter end, these news gathering services ask prayer groups to add LGBTQI advances to their prayer lists. At the heavier end, the content should probably be unpublishable in the public domain.

Fact is, there are widespread ‘faith boycotts’ encouraged by anti-gay advocates across the world, and Australia is no exception.

Before you write off the idea of the LGBTQI community boycotting anyone, name a single civil rights movement which succeeded without using the only language that moves postmodern communities into action: money.

For the LGBTQI community, their families and friends, those who constitute the 72pc of Australians who support marriage equality, the question is this: is it too late for you to boycott companies that do not support marriage equality?

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.