Vicvotes 2010 – the count semi-live

November 27, 2010

The Victorian election is over. We’ve cast our votes, been thoroughly drenched, and now it’s all down to the counting. Right now I can confidently predict many, many absentee days in the coming week due to colds and hangovers.

6.00pm

A Sky News exit poll delivered a staggering 54-46 win to the Coalition.

8.00pm

Sky is happily calling the election for the Coalition. ABCNews24 is more circumspect – but they just lost their internet feed, so right now they’re flannelling wildly. The Twitterverse is making helpful suggestions, like ‘Give Antony Green an iPad and wireless – STAT!’

Even though it’s still early days, there looks to be a big swing on to the Coalition.

Maxine Morand, ALP candidate for Mount Waverley, has all but conceded.

Independent Craig Ingram in East Gippsland has thrown in the towel, delivering his seat to the Liberals.

The ABC is showing 10 seats tipping to the Coalition.

It appears that the Greens, who were tipped to pick up Brunswick and Northcote, may well have been scuttled by the Liberals’ preferencing the ALP. Melbourne is still in play, but it’s very very early days yet.

I … am drinking.

8.30pm

With the loss of Craig Ingram, the only Independent in the Victorian Lower House has gone, replaced by a National MP.

The ABC have all but called the election for the Coalition. With nearly 30% of the votes being cast in pre-polls, some close seats may swing, but the overall result appears to be a resounding dictionary.

Labor has conceded South Barwon.

Weirdly, Sky has dropped back to a somewhat more cagey stance, handing the Coalition 37 out of the required 45 seats.

Approximately 50% of the vote has been counted. At most, 70% can be counted tonight.

9.00pm

Possibly the single most sickening part of this election count is the Twitter feed. It’s one thing to express joy, or even relief, when your preferred party gets up. It’s another to indulge in rabid insults and schadenfreude. Why laugh at the Greens or Family First because there’s been a swing against them? Why gleefully announce that Labor voters would be committing suicide? It’s not a laughing matter.

And yes, I’d say the same thing if Labor voters were indulging in the same behaviour.

9.30pm

Things you can kiss goodbye for the next four years:

Any hope of Victoria following the lead of South Australia in officially supporting same-sex marriage.

Home detention and suspended sentences.

Double jeopardy. The Coalition have promised to institute new legislation so that someone acquitted in a court of law can be re-tried for the same crime.

Any hope of a conscience vote on euthanasia.

Qualified psychological counsellors in schools – principals will have the discretion to put in their own welfare officers, who do not need to have formal counselling or social work training.

Things you can look forward to for the next four years:

Increased stop-and-search powers for police.

Unprecedented powers for school principals to search, confiscate, suspend and expel students.

Police surveillance for anyone who has served a sentence for arson-related offences.

9.45pm

The ABC says 48 seats for the Coalition.

Sky says ALP 43, Coalition 42, with 3 in doubt.

Things are definitely weird when the Murdoch vehicle won’t call it for the Coalition. And Peter Reith, former minister in the Howard government (infamously associated with the waterfront lockout), commented that he thought the ABC was ‘premature’ to call it so early.

10.00pm

Sky … ALP 43, Coalition 44. 1 in doubt.

If the ALP picks up that seat, we would have a hung Parliament.

Rob Hulls, currently Attorney-General, just took the stage at Labor HQ in Broadmeadows. He’s saying it’s too close to call, and will depend on pre-poll votes. ‘Our government has been sent a clear message from Victorians … we understand that we need to do better … Labor has heard the message.’ His prediction? Hung Parliament.

The big question is: where is John Brumby??

During Hulls’ speech, Sky dropped its numbers to ALP 40, Coalition 43, with 5 in doubt.

10.30pm

Commentators are backing off with astonishing rapidity from their original calls. Whether Hulls’ speech convinced them, or they are having to take into account new numbers, is an open question – but now the phrase ‘hung Parliament’ features in their conversations.

Interestingly, the idea of a hung Parliament seems to automatically carry with it the accusation that voters are ‘indecisive’. There’s little room for the possibility that people may have started to shake off the idea that a two-party result is the only viable result for workable government. Minority government is very, very common around the world, and hardly unheard of here in Australia. Is it fear of abandoning the known for the new?

Sky keeps putting seats back in doubt as margins narrow. If this election has taught us anything, perhaps it’s that premature announcements are good for only one thing – keeping the graphics department in television stations busy.

And here is where I prove I’m psychic: if we do end up with a hung Parliament, the first words out of the Coalition’s mouths will be, ‘The Victorian people have given us a mandate, because we won more seats’.

11.00pm

Not five minutes after my prediction, Kelly O’Dwyer uttered the ‘mandate’ mantra.

A very quick-and-dirty crunch of the numbers shows that the Australian Sex Party have a chance of picking up Legislative Council seats in both the Northern and Western Metropolitan regions. This, of course, does not include pre-polling.

Brumby has just taken the stage at Labor HQ. He’s running with the ‘too close to call, likely hung Parliament’ strategy.

Of course, a hung Parliament in this case will most likely mean we go back to the polls around Christmas time. Brumby knows this – that’s why he and Hulls are taking the time to go through their policy agenda, laying the groundwork.

11.30

Baillieu has taken to the stage. ‘The election result may be uncertain,’ he says, mugging furiously for the cameras as raucous laughter erupts in the room. Actually, I’d have to agree with the tweeter who remarked that the mood was ‘feral’. Unlike Brumby and Hull, Baillieu is full of nothing but self-congratulation. To hear him talk, you’d think that the Liberals have already won in a landslide. Now, the swing against Labor is substantial, and definitely reflects badly on the government – but there is no result yet, and Baillieu is coming off as unbelievably arrogant. He’s completely unable to speak about any other party with anything but contempt.

Labor only held onto many of its seats because of Greens preferences, according toa sneering Baillieu, and the room erupts again with boos and angry shouts. There’s a definite Tea Party vibe in Liberal HQ tonight. Curiously, Baillieu forgets to mention that Labor has held some inner-city seats because of Liberal preferences.

12.00am

No result. Counting continues into the night, but it’s time to close out this blog post.

Waking up will be interesting tomorrow.


Victorian policies, side by side

November 26, 2010

One day out from the Victorian elections, and – if possible – the level of ennui is even higher than during the Federal poll. Apart from a few committed pamphleteers and online trolls, most people’s attitude seems to be summed up in one word: ‘meh‘.

That could have something to do with the fact that both major parties and the Greens spent a great deal of time in this campaign simply attacking each other. The Labor Party is all about waste; the Coalition will destroy the public service; the Greens will make you take cold showers! (And no, I’m not exaggerating on that last one – it was part of an anti-Greens Twitter campaign that purported to reveal the ‘truth’ about the consequences of Greens policies on coal-fired power stations.)

Now I don’t know about you, but I like to make my voting decisions based on policy, not on who had the most ridiculous claims or nastiest insults. So with that in mind, here’s a quick-and-dirty comparison of some key areas of policy for most of the parties contesting the Victorian election. Let’s focus on Public Transport, Health and Education.

Policy statements are taken from the parties’ websites: Labor, Sex Party, Country Alliance, DLP, Family First and Liberals. I have not separately listed National Party policies, as they are in coalition with the Liberal Party and their policies are folded into the latter’s website.

Full disclosure: I’m currently volunteering for the Australian Sex Party. As such, while I’ll list policies, I won’t comment on them.

Public Transport

This is a huge area of concern for Victorians, to judge from questions directed at John Brumby and Ted Baillieu throughout the campaign. Metro Trains’ poor record, ‘black holes’ in Melbourne’s train system and overcrowding on some heavily-travelled lines (Dandenong and Pakenham being two of the most notorious) have seen most parties make highly-publicised announcements.

Australian Labor Party

Labor’s budgeted $432 million for public transport infrastructure and development. They’re promising more train services to Geelong, more bus services lasting longer into the night and a shuttle bus from Clayton Station to Monash University. In terms of maintenance and upgrade, Labor plans to make over train stations, buy new train carriages, and work on updating Melbourne’s ageing tracks and signalling system. The flagship policy is a pledge to establish a Safety Control Centre to monitor trains by CCTV and be in constant contact with stations which will all be staffed.

Australian Sex Party

The flagship policy for this party is a 24-hour public transport system on weekend, to be manned by security personnel. Other areas of concern are the Metro Rail Tunnel – with the Sex Party calling for stages One and Two to be simultaneously planned and delivered, upgrading Melbourne’s signalling system to take advantage of new technologies, and the separation of regional and metropolitan services to allow the regional network to be upgraded to a metro-style system.

Country Alliance

No listed policy.

Democratic Labor Party

No listed policy.

Family First

Family First has focused on encouraging more Victorians to use the metropolitan transit system. To this end they advocate implementing various (though unspecified) strategies, abolishing Zone 2 ticketing in favour of a single-zone system, conductors on all trams for safety and to reduce fare evasion, and guards on trains. They have also called for a feasibility study into the idea of building a tunnel to connect the Eastern Freeway to the Tullamarine Freeway, and for improvements to the most dangerous and congested intersections and railway crossings.

Greens

In keeping with a general focus on initiatives to help reduce dependence on fossil fuels, the Greens have set out a suite of policies. They have called for upgrades to Melbourne’s rail system (including the elimination of bottlenecks), more staff to improve passenger safety, revised scheduling to include more express train services for long lines, frequent and direct light rail, rail links to Tullamarine Airport, Rowville and Doncaster, improved disability access to buses and trams, giving traffic signal priority to road-based public transport and new trains with longer carriages to reduce crowding. Regionally, the Greens advocate restoring passenger train services (including direct services between Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo), estabilishing a feasibility study into location and costs for a very-high-speed passenger train service between Melbourne and Sydney, and investigating the feasibility of opening rural school bus services to the general public. Acceleration of construction of the Principal Bicycle Network, and increased road space for cyclists would be encouraged. A combined ministry for planning and transport would be established, and all proposed road network expansions would have to be valuated against alternative public transport solutions on environmental and social grounds.

Liberal/National Coalition

Running with the ‘safety and security’ angle, the Coalition have promised 900 Victoria Police Protective Service officers at train stations, as well as 350 Transit Police to ride along. They have also pledged to spend $130 million to build a Kilmore-Wallan bypass, and to construct new bus shelters in the Yarra Ranges.

Health

As in most elections, the Health policy tends to be diffused by including ‘social agenda’ policies such as those surrounding abortion, euthanasia and reproductive technologies. I’ve deliberately excluded these issues from this policy area.

Australian Labor Party

Labor has promised to boost numbers of medical personnel: 2800 additional nurses, doctors and other health professionals over the next two years to improve nurse-patient ratios. 200 more nurses will be recruited specifically for palliative care, cancer, geriatric and rehabilitation wards. Elective surgery operations are promised to increase by 50,000, and an extra 300,000 outpatient appointments created. Along with this, patients needing an initial appointment for treatment of hip or knee osteoarthritis will be seen within eight weeks. Labor has also promised to increase emergency department capacity to treat 315,000 additional patients, 70,000 more dental care places, 300 new specialist and GP training places and 50 doctor places in rural and regional Victoria.

Australian Sex Party

The Sex Party’s policy focuses largely on community-based initiatives. It has called for protection of community health services under the new, nationally-managed plan, for communities to be included in planning new initiatives, and resourcing for community health support for sex workers, culturally and linguistically diverse populations, HIV sufferers, indigenous people, rural communities, the elderly and those affected by age-related illness and the transgender community. Additional areas of concern are sexual health initiatives, including state-funded sexual health clinics and inclusion of a range of sexual health treatments on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme regardless of the age and gender of patients. On mental health, the Sex Party has advocated for ongoing funding and expansion for early intervention initiatives such as Headspace and ORYGEN, community education, social support services and funding for qualified, secular counsellors in schools.

Country Alliance

In keeping with its focus on rural and regional concerns, the Country Alliance has called for the establishment of basic standards for access to medical and dental care within rural Victoria and identification of those communities who do not meet those standards, and for 20 scholarships per Upper House region to be offered each year to attract doctors to regional areas.

Democratic Labor Party

The DLP’s health policy is entirely conflated with what can only be described as a ‘social agenda’ policy. Picking through it, there is one specific health initiative: increase in the allocation of funding for palliative care facilities for the terminally ill.

Family First

Family First has called for an increase in funded doctor and nurse training places, support for medical personnel who work in rural and regional communities – in the form of subsidised public indemnity insurance and reduced stamp duty to aid relocation, more acute and aged-care beds, and more respite carers. In other health areas, they have advocated more support for alcohol/drug rehabilitation groups, more detoxification centres, and more mental health inpatient beds.

Greens

The Greens have called for more community health centres (including co-location of GPs in those areas), nurse practitioners, increased access for concession cardholders to public dental care, improved integration between health services, better conditions for home care and personal care workers, and accreditation standards for ‘non-traditional’ practitioners, including registers and complaints procedures. They have pledged to reduce waiting times in hospitals and increase outpatient services and institute ‘healthy eating’ programs (including requirements for school canteens to provide healthy food choices). Maternal and Child Health Services would be expanded, particularly in the areas of midwifery and post-natal depression treatment.

Liberal/National Coalition

The Coalition has promised new ambulance stations and a 50% decrease in ambulance subscription fees, upgrades and new hospitals in regional areas, and they have pledged to ban ‘bongs’ and related paraphernalia. In the area of mental health they have promised to set up a $10 million Mental Illness Research Fund, central co-ordination of inpatient mental health beds, and an education/employment program to increase workforce participation of those living with mental illness.

Education

The policies outlined vary wildly, from new national programs to smaller, individually-focused issues.

Australian Labor Party

The big announcement for Labor was the ‘Education for Life’ initiative. This program, aimed at Year 9 students, is budgeted at $208 million, and includes a two-week residential camp. It is aimed to teach financial literary, bushfire awareness, community service, public speaking, first aid, advanced water safety, self-defence, and alcohol/drug awareness. Labor has also promised $1.7 billion for school upgrades, provision of Primary Welfare and Home School Liaison Officers (the precise nature of which – psychologist, social worker, chaplain – would be determined by the school itself), rural ‘virtual’ classrooms and four new bilingual secondary schools. For non-government schools Labor has pledged to increase funding to 25% of that given to government schools, and to provide professional development for teachers and principals.

Australian Sex Party

The Sex Party has called for an end to the government school chaplaincy program, to be replaced by qualified psychological counsellors, as part of a general advocacy for a secular public school system. Special Religious Instruction programs would be replaced by curriculum-based comparative religion and ethics classes. They have also advocated age-appropriate sex education classes, beginning in primary years with safety, body image and self-esteem, and a program to educate students on the safe use of information/communication technologies. Private schools would be required to implement inclusive, non-discriminatory policies.

Country Alliance

In keeping with its focus on rural and regional concerns, the Country Alliance has called for the establishment of basic standards for access to education services within rural Victoria and identification of those communities who do not meet those standards.

Democratic Labor Party

The DLP has called for a voucher system so that parents may choose to send their children to non-government schools without financial penalty, at the same time advocating for redistribution of funding to allow government schools to compete on an equal basis. Government allowances for students would be rolled into a single, non-means-tested, Universal Living Allowance and tax deductibility for when deferred HECS fees are paid. TAFE courses would receive more funding, the Howard government’s ‘Voluntary Student Unionism’ legislation would be rolled back and a professional institute to oversee teacher performance would be established. Finally, the DLP has advocated ‘an education system based on the promotion of competence appropriate for the age and status of each student in a range of skills, including numeracy, literacy, social and civic participation, health skills and knowledge and an informed appreciation of the religious, moral and ethical codes to which the mainstream community adheres’.

Family First

Family First has a suite of policies: reduced class sizes, focus on numeracy and literacy skills, so-called ‘plain English’ school reports, financial literacy programs, relationship programs designed to promote marriage and family life, more TAFE colleges, promotion of the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL) and Vocational Education and Training (VET) as pathways for students who do not want to go to university. They have also called ‘genuine choice’ for parents in selecting a school that supports their family’s values.

Greens

The Greens have called for two years’ free pre-school education for all children, no fees and charges for the public education system, a full range of education programs for compulsory schooling years including special-needs education, locally-targeted initiatives, optimum class sizes and implementation of education ICT including video conferencing. Assessment and reporting would be aimed at integrating and supporting learning rather than ‘competition’. All levels of education would be integrated into a flexible network to assist students throughout their learning periods. For educators, the Greens have advocated better remuneration, professional development and accountability, financial transparency and non-discriminatory staff recruitment and enrolment practices. Finally, all public schools buildings (renovated or new) would be required to achieve best practice Ecologically Sustainable Development standards.

Liberal/National Coalition

The Coalition has promised funding for existing and new schools, including the establishment of Years 11 and 12 at Somerville Secondary College. Truancy laws would be enforced. The Victorian College of the Arts attracted particular attention, with the Coalition pledging $6 million to cover its current shortfall, as well as a return to its former independent status. The Rock Eisteddfod would receive $800,000. They have matched Labor’s commitment to raising funding for Catholic schools to 25%, and promised to make Victorian teachers the highest-paid in Australia. Finally, the Coalition would expand the powers of principals to ban ‘dangerous items’, and to search, suspend or expel students at their discretion.

*****

Phew. Well, there you are. That’s the Big Three this election. Of course, every party has a raft of other policies on everything from euthanasia to water to programs for specific regions, and I urge you to look them up. I deliberately did not include climate change initiatives, mainly because almost all the parties have no specific climate change policy, and their environment policies are often mixed up with regional initiatives.

Hopefully, though, you have an idea of what’s behind all those press conferences and jargon-laden rhetoric, and can make some informed decisions.

Don’t forget to vote tomorrow. It might ‘only’ be a State election, but many of these policies will directly affect us in a way that grand federal initiatives often don’t. It’s your democratic right and your responsibility – please use it.


Wonkley Awards – voting now open!

November 24, 2010

Earlier this month I blogged about the inaugural Wonkley Awards, the media awards where you get to cast your vote for your favourite journalist, blogger, cartoonist and news service.

The voting is now open!

It’s not just shameless self-promotion – although yours truly is nominated in the Best Amateur Political Blog and Blogger sections. This is a chance us to show everyone what we like, as readers, viewers and that most mythical of beasts, ordinary everyday people.

(And on a personal note – I’d really like to thank those who nominated me. I’ve been running this blog publicly for a pretty short time – only about six months – and it’s an amazing and wonderful thing to know that readers think so highly of it!)

So please – take a few moments to go and vote. And ask your friends to vote. And the guy sitting next to you on the morning train with the crazy eyes and the – erm. Ahem. Okay, maybe not that guy. 🙂

Voting closes on December 12. Good luck to all who are nominated!


We don’t need your permission, Your Holiness

November 22, 2010

Although this post doesn’t directly bear on Australian politics, it does relate to some of the issues surrounding the imminent Victorian state election. Parties are positioning themselves on issues relating to human sexuality. The most obvious, of course, is same-sex marriage. Saturday’s Equal Love rally in Melbourne saw State Education Minister Bronwyn Pike break ranks with her party to speak out. She was joined by Fiona Patten from the Australian Sex Party and Senator Sarah Hanson-Young from the Greens. In contrast, the Democratic Labor Party went on Sky News to strongly oppose same-sex marriage on religious and (increasingly spurious) cultural grounds, and Ted Baillieu, speaking for the Coalition, simply issued a blunt ‘no, I don’t support it’.

Same-sex marriage isn’t the only such issue, however. In the seat of Richmond, Greens candidate Kathleen Maltzahn has taken aim at sex workers, and the Sex Party in particular for putting forward policies targeted at securing rights and protections for them.

Adoption by same-sex couples is also on the table. Premier John Brumby has already flagged his intention to review the laws surrounding this issue, and both the Sex Party and the Greens have policies calling for same-sex couples to be treated as equal under the law.

And that’s without going into abortion policy, access to reproductive technology, sex education and surrogacy!

Sexuality, it seems, is a bigger issue than it might appear in the Victorian election. It probably pales in comparison to people’s preoccupation with an efficient and comprehensive public transport system, but it’s there. People are thinking and talking about it.

With all that in the air, recent statements by the Pope deserve a closer look. There are a lot of Catholic voters in Victoria, and at least one political party – the DLP – with its roots firmly in the Catholic Church and its doctrines. And while, at first glance, the Pope’s words might not seem at all related to any of the above, take a closer look.

The Pope now thinks it’s okay ‘in some circumstances’ to use condoms. How nice of him. But wait, just what are those circumstances?

“In certain cases, where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection, it can nevertheless be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality,” said the head of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics …

“There may be justified individual cases, for example when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be … a first bit of responsibility, to re-develop the understanding that not everything is permitted and that one may not do everything one wishes.”

And this ‘softening’ of a hard-line anti-condom stance is being ‘cautiously welcomed’ by HIV activists and health experts. The AMA even likes it.

I don’t think so.

This isn’t any kind of softening. This is the Pope saying, ‘what you’re doing is wrong, and you get one chance to avoid the wages of sin. I’m being generous here – I’m letting you use a condom but you’d better come to your senses.’

Gosh, whatever can he be talking about? Oh wait, of course, he’s talking about anal sex between men. Which is, of course, wrong. His one example is a little homily about a rentboy – who, implicitly, is infected with HIV – who might be ‘allowed’ to wear a condom so he doesn’t spread the disease to any of his clients. Of course, the Pope’s not condoning it, oh no. He wants said rentboy and his clients to realise that, by generously granting permission to protect themselves, they are expected to – what was the phrase – develop a ‘more humane’ sexuality. In other words, stop what you’re doing and be heterosexual or celibate.

And make no mistake, the Pope’s not saying the client gets to use the condom. No, no, it’s the filthy whore who needs to protect the client – who, after all, can be redeemed. Never mind that sexually-transmitted HIV has to come from somewhere, usually the client – in Pope World, just making yourself available for paid sex appears to automatically ensure you’re infected.

Of course, female prostitutes don’t get a look in. They don’t get the special dispensation. And why should they? After all, this whole sorry mess came about because of a woman, didn’t it? It’s one thing to give men the chance to get on the straight and narrow, but a ‘fallen woman’ doesn’t get the same chance. They reap what they sow.

Oh, and forget about using condoms as contraception. The Church is rock-solid on that one. No special dispensations, either. You don’t want kids? You can’t have kids because it would endanger your life/pass on genetic abnormalities/send you to the poorhouse? You have one option – don’t have sex. Because we all know that sex only has one purpose, right?

There’s a lot of talk about how it might be a small thing, but at least people will be protected.

No, they won’t.

Contrary to Papal belief, most prostitutes are extremely careful about the use of condoms. Many will actually refuse a client who won’t wear a condom. (Oh but wait, the clients don’t have to, do they?)

Yes, there are exceptions – people who are victims of sexual trafficking, who don’t get that kind of choice, and people who are either too stupid or too uncaring to take precautions so that they don’t pass on the infection. Now, I’m going to give the Pope some credit for brains here. I’m going to assume that he doesn’t really think some trafficker of underage boys in Thailand will now sit up and say, ‘Hey, the Pope said it’s kind of okay to give my kids condoms, better go do that’.

So what’s the Pope’s real point?

This little pronouncement of the Pope’s – which the Church are already rushing to say isn’t ‘magisterial’ (i.e. insert disclaimer here) – isn’t some indicator that maybe his religion is finally waking up to a few realities of life. It’s not a ‘compassionate’ acknowledgment that there are terrible diseases out there that can destroy the lives of innocent people. (Remember, this is the same guy who said condoms didn’t protect anyone against AIDS, and banned his African followers from using them.)

This is about some kind of horrible pseudo-redemptive ‘lesson’. Some things aren’t permitted, and you’d just better consider yourself lucky that he’s giving you the chance to wake up and toe the line. After all, unless sexuality is ‘humanised’ – i.e., stop with the buttsex you filthy men – not even a condom will save you. If AIDS doesn’t get you, Hell will. And that goes double for sex workers.

And just to spell it out in really blunt language: this is not really about protecting anyone. Although the Pope – when asked – admitted that using condoms might ‘reduce infection’, he was very clear that the real purpose of this ‘permission’ is purely to give people enough time to repent. It’d be a good thing if people (see: men who have anal sex) didn’t infect others, but condoms are not a ‘moral solution’.

This is entirely in keeping with the Church’s historical aversion to the free exercise of sexuality between consenting adults. That the Pope is dressing it up with grudging little concessions doesn’t alter that one bit. It’s still about dictating what expressions of sexuality are permissible. To paraphrase a certain former Prime Minister: he will decide who gets to have sex, and under what circumstances they can have it.

Now I don’t know about you, but I find that just a tad offensive – particularly when it comes at a time when we are at last talking and acting on issues that have for too long been branded as ‘immoral’ or banished to the too-hard basket by politicians with both eyes on the numbers and none on the people.

So, Your Holiness? Take your oh-so-gracious, lesser-of-two-evils concession and shove it. We don’t need your permission to love each other. We don’t need your permission to protect ourselves from infections that have nothing to do with God and everything to do with blind shitty luck And we don’t need you to tell us we can’t have sex unless we’re prepared to risk pregnancy. We will care for each other without your ‘help’.

We live in the 21st Century, and you have no power over us.


R-E-S-P-E-C-T

November 18, 2010

I have two girls in primary school. Along with their science projects, their times tables and reading courses, they participate in a lifeskills program. Some of the subjects covered there include how to deal with bullying and conflict resolution. Most importantly, they are taught some common courtesies of human interaction – not interrupting when someone else is talking, not trying to shout people down, listening and responding well to what they are hearing.

It all hangs on one word – RESPECT.

This morning Senators Stephen Conroy (he much-maligned Minister for Communications, Broadband and the Digital Economy) and Barnaby Joyce (Shadow for Regional Development, Local Government and Water) were guests on Sky News’ AM Agenda show. The plan was that reporter Ashleigh Gillon would first interview Conroy about the growing pressure on the government to release the NBN business plan, and later bring Joyce into the conversation.

Joyce had other ideas.

Conroy was in the middle of answering a question when Joyce decided to barge in. The studio microphones picked him up at first, but he could be clearly heard, raising his voice to drown out both Conroy and Gillon. For his part, Conroy seemed happy to sink to Joyce’s level, and in short order an orderly interview degenerated into a shouting match peppered with ridicule and stinging insults. Gillon tried repeatedly to regain some sense of order, pointing out that ‘Gentlemen, if you keep on talking at each other but not listening this isn’t going to work’.

Both men completely ignored her. Judging by the grins on their faces, they were both enjoying themselves far too much to worry about little things like courtesy, and the fact that they were live on a national TV program. It was a points-scoring match, nothing more, and frankly, a very poor example.

It’s called bullying – and Ashleigh Gillon was caught in the middle, doing her best to control the situation and being completely disrespected by both Conroy and Joyce.

Luckily my kids were already on their way to school, so I didn’t have to explain to them why they needed to respect each other when grown-ups – our elected representatives, no less – were ‘allowed’ to be as rude as they like. But they’ve seen Question Time before, and they’re well aware of the fact that our Parliament is, at times, a barely-controlled brawl.

And speaking of Question Time … maybe it was the long break between sessions, but so far this sitting we’ve seen MPs being warned, and – in the case of Christopher Pyne, Shadow for Education – actually ejected from the chamber. Speaker Harry Jenkins has delivered lecture after lecture reminding members that it is not simply a courtesy to listen to someone in silence, it is the rule – Standing Order 65(b). He might as well be reading from Alice in Wonderland, for all the notice people take of him. At times, even, members he’d just reprimanded jumped up to argue with him.

While all that was going on, both Opposition and government engaged in the same kind of ridiculous point-scoring we saw with Conroy and Joyce today. Gillard mocked Abbott, Pyne insulted Gillard, Hockey and Albanese traded verbal blows across the table, and Julie Bishop hissed

The Speaker has powers that people like Ashleigh Gillon don’t. He’s able to penalise MPs for this kind of behaviour, and while reluctant to apply those penalties, he’s shown he will do so given sufficient provocation. Being ejected from the chamber is no light thing – it shows up in Hansard, and it’s a black mark against the MP in question. It should be a form of public shaming, that someone is unable to control themselves long enough to take part in an orderly process. To look at Christopher Pyne and the Opposition yesterday, however, you could be forgiven it was all a big joke, and that Pyne was simply going to get a cup of tea.

And when these members return to the chamber? They go right back to the same verbal sparring, disrespect and rowdy behaviour.

Right now we’re waiting to see the vote on Greens MP Adam Bandt’s motion to get members to canvass their electorates on same-sex marriage, as well as some votes on whether we’ll finally find out the NBN business case and get better funding for mental health. All pretty important stuff.

And what happened? Pyne jumped up with a motion that two other motions be voted on – one of which would push the same-sex marriage vote back even further – and spent nearly ten minutes sniping at the government, accusing them of deliberately leaving those motions off the agenda. Anthony Albanese, acting as Leader of the House, returned fire with mockery and more stupid points-scoring. Already it’s become so heated that the Speaker has had to rise in his place – which is a signal to the chamber that everyone better shut up right now – and both Pyne and Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop have been reprimanded.

It’s a pretty clear signal that what’s important here is not the substance of the motions, but whether either of the major parties can get in a few barbs and make their opponents look stupid and/or corrupt.

None of this is clever. It might be mildly amusing at times (we do like a well-delivered put-down, after all), but it’s no way to run a country.

So we wait, until they’ve run out of points to score and finally get on with some actual governing. Meanwhile, it might well behoove the major parties to listen to the words of a song that my children learned as part of their lifeskills program – and maybe spend a bit of time thinking about the kind of example they set, and whether they are proud of how well they are conveying the message that what matters is not substance, but the ability to browbeat and insult your opponent into silence.


Victorian Coalition campaign launch

November 17, 2010

In the lead-up to every election, political parties ‘launch’ their campaigns – usually some time after the first promises have been made, hands shaken and babies kissed. The event is little more than a pep rally for the faithful, at which old leaders are trotted out and families turn on their glassy-eyed smiles for the camera. There might be a few policy announcement, but for the most part, launches are all about motherhood statements.

Of course, there are exceptions. The federal Labor campaign launch in 2007 was peppered with specifics; how much spent, how many things it would buy, and how many people would benefit. The Greens launch for the federal election this year, while unable to provide the hard numbers, was full of details. These are exceptions; but what we got from the Victorian Coalition this time around set a new low in lack of substance.

The campaign slogan stuck to the front of the lectern should have been a dead give-away: ‘Fix the Problems. Build the Future’. Right there you know what’s in store – a diatribe about what a terrible government Victoria suffers under right now, and a non-specific ‘vision’ of how it will all be different if the Coalition are elected instead.

Federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott set the tone, indulging in a good headkicking of John Brumby’s Labor government. He didn’t quite manage to work in ‘Stop the Boats’, but otherwise tarred Victorian Labor with almost all the accusations he regularly flings at the federal government. Waste, mismanagement, betrayal of the people – it would have been an easy speech for Abbott’s writers. They could have cut and pasted much of it.

‘Our job is not to save the Labor party, our job is to save Victoria,’ he thundered to wild applause. Then Abbott switched tactics, bringing a message of hope for the believers. ‘You can almost hear the tectonic plates shifting … not towards a hung parliament … but towards a coalition majority … [that will] get things done and have the courage of its convictions.’ Stirring stuff.

After a quick refresher course on the Coalition’s mission statement – lower taxes, smaller government, greater freedom, a
strong family and ‘values which have stood the test of time, Abbott wound up by comparing Ted Baillieu to former Premier Jeff Kennett, and added a little garnish of jingoism. ‘As Australian patriots we support policies which will work and build a stronger and better future for this great country.’

See what he did there?

It all sounds very reasonable. After all, who wouldn’t want policies that will work? Who wouldn’t want a better future? Ah, but wait. We’re not talking about just any policies here, oh no. The policies that will ‘work’ are clearly those of the Coalition (given we are, after all, at a Coalition campaign launch). The logical inference, then, is that if you do not support those policies, you are not a patriot. You are un-Australian. Why do you hate this great country of ours?

In case viewers and listeners didn’t get the message, Ted Baillieu opened up with, ‘I love this state! I love this state!’, completed with a pause for enthusiastic applause. After an embarrassed moment, a few belated ‘whoo-hoos’ were heard around the room. Undaunted, Baillieu plowed on, and soon hit his stride.

Our streets are not safe, he warned. He’d spoken to families whose loved ones had been ‘bashed, stabbed or even murdered’, and they were crying out for action. Our transport system was failing. Bushfire-affected families had been forgotten, planning and infrastructure was in ruins, the sky was falling. ‘More of the same is simply not good enough,’ Baillieu yelled.

But, lest we all throw ourselves off the burned-out shells of buildings in our anarchic cities in despair, Baillieu had a message of hope. ‘There is a great Victoria … it’s the Victoria that first emerged 160 years ago with the courage, ambition and aspiration of new settlers. They came in search of new opportunities … unconcerned by fear or distance … what they lacked in labour, skills or technology, they more than covered with determination and passion.’

Ted Baillieu, it appears, is an enthusiastic support of the principle of terra nullius. Before a bunch of British capitalists, seal-hunters and convict ‘guards’ decided that settling Victoria might be a good idea in order to exploit resources and stop the damn Frenchies from getting another colony, Victoria was an unspoiled Eden. It was a land just waiting for white people, and let’s not talk about sites of habitation dating back 35,000 years, diorite mining and established trade networks with the Aboriginal peoples. No no, it’s all about the Pioneer Spirit.

These dauntless types ‘simply got on with it … they dreamed of a future for our state [and] inspired others to go on and build that future’. As time went on, more and more new arrivals were attracted by this visionary settlement, and ‘our multicultural heart’ was formed. ‘No one understands the value of opportunity better than those who came looking for a new start,’ asserted Baillieu.

Unless those people turn up in boats fleeing persecution, right, Ted?

The grand vision of prosperity is all different now – because of Labor, of course. Victorian families are in dire circumstances, struggling to cope with failing services, rapidly rising bills, increasingly unaffordable housing, an economy dependent on population growth and, ‘above all’, escalating debt. ‘Victorians have been asked to tolerate, accept and regard as normal record levels of violence, unsafe streets, unreliable public transport, crumbling country roads, local communities being ignored, a planning system without certainty or confidence … vulnerable children left unprotected … secret hospital waiting lists, under-resourced schools, secrecy and incompetence, waste and mismanagement, and inadequate investigations of corruption. No one should consider this as normal!’

Excuse me a moment while I check my perimeter defences, field-strip and clean my arsenal and throw some chunks of scavenged meat to my slavering guard dogs.

Yes, that’s right. Baillieu’s vision of Victoria – the state he ‘loves’ – is one of a fall from grace. In the golden age of the pioneers, people of spirit and drive came here with their dreams of a capitalist utopia and built something marvellous. (Presumably, these people would have voted Liberal if there had been such a party in those days.) But then, the dastardly, moustache-twirling Labor men (with apologies to former Premier Joan Kirner) snuck in and ruined it all. Weep, weep, for the lost glory.

Excuse me again for a moment. I have to go hold up some old ladies for their pensions so I can get my kids on a secret hospital waiting list – and siphon some diesel for my all-terrain vehicle so I can drive them across the battle-scarred landscape.

Twenty minutes into Baillieu’s speech, and still no policy announcement. Not one. Nada. But wait – here comes the Coalition’s plan.

The Coalition will ‘maintain surplus … get rising debt under control … ensure state taxes are fair and competitive,’ said Baillieu, adding for good measure – in case he hadn’t made the point strongly enough – that people no longer felt safe. ‘We stand for more jobs, safe streets, safe and reliable public transport, quality country roads, strong families and communities, a planning system that works, better access to hospitals, more support for schools and teachers, cutting waste – a government that you and all Victorians can trust.’ All these claims were, he stated, ‘fully costed and fully budgeted’.

Fantastic. Here comes the policy. Now we’ll see some good, chunky detail giving us a credible alternative government.

At which point Baillieu thanked everyone for coming, and left the stage to wild applause.

Wait … what?????

That was it? Not one number? Not one specific policy measure? A bunch of motherhood statements tacked onto the end of some revisionist history and dystopian scare-mongering??

Now, as I said in the beginning, campaign launches are all about revving up the faithful, so perhaps it’s unreasonable to expect a lot of detail. But even the faithful need some sausage with their sizzle – and any swinging voter that tuned in out of curiosity would have been left with the clear impression that the Victorian Coalition was long on criticism, short on policy.

Of course there are policy statements available on the web (and I’ll be looking over them in the days to come). But if you go to the trouble of setting up a big, well-publicised event, invite the media along and have it televised – shouldn’t you at least attempt to show yourselves in the best possible light?

Baillieu’s Coalition appears not to think so. The strategy seems to be entirely about trying to scare Victorians into voting for them. If that means they have to grossly overstate crime figures, misrepresent community attitudes and mislead the public into holding the State government responsible for local and federal government purviews – well, that’s excusable. The important thing, after all, is to get elected.

They’re going to have to do better than that, though. It’s not enough to run down your opponents and mutter darkly about a ‘Labor-Greens alliance’. Voters need to know that you’d do better.

Right now, they don’t know any such thing.


Same-sex marriage – yes, it’s that important

November 15, 2010

Greens MP Adam Bandt will introduce a Marriage Equality Amendment bill into the House tonight. Simply put, the amendment will call for the definition of marriage to be changed in order to include same-sex marriages.

Both major parties have already signalled that they have no intention of supporting this bill. Neither will allow a conscience vote. Government Senator Mark Arbib, a former leader of the Labor right, said in an interview last week that he believed Labor should change this policy, and said he would raise the question at the next national conference in 2012. It’s possible that the parliamentary party could consider it sooner, but there’s no guarantee of that. Labor Senator Doug Cameron, an outspoken member of Labor’s left faction, rejected the idea of a conscience vote – because, he said, it is ‘absolutely crazy’ for the party not to endorse same-sex marriage. Even with pressure coming from both the left and right, however, Prime Minister Gillard stands firm. Labor policy does not support marriage equality.

The Coalition, for its part, remains in lockstep. No same-sex marriage. At all.

Given all this, Bandt’s bill looks utterly doomed. It won’t even make it to the Senate. Why, then, introduce it at all? Well, there are several reasons. There’s always the hope that someone might cross the floor to support it, even though it could well be political suicide (at least for Labor MPs). It keeps the issue alive in the Parliament. And – perhaps most importantly – it keeps the issue alive in the public sphere. It forces parliamentarians to keep justifying their stances, and subjects them to close scrutiny.

And on the subject of those stances – let’s take a long, close look. (And yes, I’m going to leave aside religious objections here – they have no place in a political debate in a secular parliament.)

The major justification for not supporting marriage equality hangs on two points: the ‘traditional’ view of marriage, and the definition of marriage as contained in the Marriage Act 1961 – or rather, the definition as amended:

Marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.
Certain unions are not marriages. A union solemnised in a foreign country between: (a) a man and another man; or (b) a woman and another woman; must not be recognised as a marriage in Australia.

Let’s start with the second point. Because of the way marriage is defined in the Act, politicians argue it simply is not possible to allow same-sex marriage. Indeed, to hear people like Gillard talk, you might think that this definition is possessed of an eternal quality that binds even those who might disagree with it. ‘That’s just the way it is’ seems to be the way the thinking goes.

Reality check.

That definition, originally crafted by former Liberal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock, did not exist in law until 2004. In fact, there was no definition of marriage. Ruddock’s amendment was, according to the Howard government, designed to bring the Act into line with common-law understanding. In other words, everyone ‘knew’ that marriage was between a man and woman, and it simply hadn’t been necessary to define it before.

That, of course, brings up a question: what made it necessary to define marriage as between a man and a woman in 2004? It was all about ‘protecting’ marriage – so what was the threat? Answer: the desire of same-sex couples to marry. This definition was brought into law – with the shameful, weaselly co-operation of the then Labor Opposition – purely to deny same-sex couples the right to formalise their relationships in the eyes of Australian law and society on an equal basis with mixed-sex couples.

So much for the immutable nature of Australian law.

And then there’s the rest of the definition, which is equally out of touch with Australian society. It presumes that a marriage will be lifelong, and that the partners will stay faithful to each other. One only has to look at the massive divorce statistics to see that this is far from true. One-third of marriages ends in divorce, and divorced partners often remarry. This is in clear violation of the definition of marriage – but do we see anyone in Parliament calling for tougher penalties for those who break that vow?

Of course not. The very idea is ludicrous – and politicians know that. It’s a rare MP who would stand up and argue that divorce should not be allowed in our society. Presumably, these representatives are aware of the definition of marriage – and yet they seem able to ignore that particular section.

So where is the consistency? The answer is short and brutal – there is none. Those who quote the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act as a good reason to deny same-sex couples equal rights are simply hiding behind it. Perhaps they have a religious objection that they don’t want to disclose, because they are worried they’ll lose votes – which goes beyond cowardly to downright deceptive. Perhaps they have a poll result that tells them they’ll win more votes by opposing same-sex marriage – in which case they should fire their pollsters. Galaxy’s 2010 poll showed that 62% of all those surveyed supported marriage equality, and 80% of respondents aged 18-24 years of age.

Or maybe it’s the ‘traditional view of marriage’ argument. After all, marriage has always been between a man and a woman, right? Think again. Even in so-called ‘Western’ society, same-sex relationships have had equal weight of law at various periods throughout history.

Another ‘traditional’ argument has a somewhat Darwinian slant. The most important thing a species can do is survive, right? And they do that by reproducing, right? So marriage is really about continuing the species – and therefore denying marriage to same-sex couples makes sense.

Wow. Where do I start? Let’s take that argument to its logical extreme. If we accept it, we would need to make sure that anyone seeking to marry was not only capable of reproducing, but would commit to doing so. No marriage for infertile people, or anyone not wanting to pass on genetic abnormalities, or even just not wanting to have children, for whatever reason. Oh, and if a marriage didn’t produce children, the licence would have to be revoked, and possibly some kind of penalty would be applied.

Absolute nonsense. The mere idea flies in the face of people’s essential rights to self-determination – and while those rights may not be enshrined in Australian law, they form the assumed basis for much of our social freedoms and protections. Why, it would be like denying couples of different races the right to marry! No sane, right-thinking person would dream of applying such a draconian regime.

Yet apparently ‘sane, right-thinking’ people don’t see that, in denying the right of same-sex couples of marry, they are doing exactly the same thing.

Exactly one week ago, Prime Minister Gillard announced that she would hold a referendum with a view to changing the words of our Constitution to acknowledge the first peoples, who have long been wrongly disenfranchised by our society. This was couched in terms of ‘respect’ and ‘healing’. To quote Gillard:

‘There’s a false divide between working practically and working to increase trust. In fact they go hand in hand … building trust can make practical things possible. To make a life you do have to feel that you are recognised and respected.’

Noble words, and a truly noble goal. (And I am absolutely not attempting to downplay the significance of this historic resolution.) Yet this is the same Prime Minister who hides behind the weaselly justification that she is bound by the amended definitions of the Marriage Act, and who tries to excuse that by talking about all the practical measures her government has put in place to remove discrimination against same-sex couples.

Apparently, she doesn’t see the hypocrisy of holding such a double standard. She doesn’t think allowing same-sex attracted people the same ‘symbolic’ right of marriage as is granted to other-sex attracted people has any value. At least, not any value that might justify the serious step of changing a definition in law that was only made in order to deny those rights. For Gillard, Abbott and the major parties, it’s enough to allow same-sex couples to be recognised by Centrelink – what else could they possibly want?

What else, indeed? Only the right to fully partake of Australian society without discrimination. Only the right to publicly show their commitment to a beloved other – and have that commitment recognised throughout the country. Only the right not to be treated as second-class citizens, ‘separate but equal’ (and what a filthy phrase that is).

As long as the government enshrines this discrimination, the tireless work of those who give their time, money and – sometimes, horribly – their lives to build trust, rapport and respect between all Australians regardless of their sexuality will continue to be undermined. It’s easy to look at other problems in Australia – continuing discrimination and disenfranchisement of indigenous people, the terrible burdens of living with mental illness or caring for someone with disability, and the dreadful racism against people of Muslim faith – and say that same-sex marriage is a ‘minor’ issue compared to what else is going on.

It’s not a minor issue – none of them are. It’s a matter of building what former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd described as ‘a future that embraces all Australians … based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.’

And that’s why Bandt’s bill is so important, and why it, or something like it, must keep being presented to Australian Parliaments – both state and federal. It may be not be as ground-breaking as the Apology, but without it, we will never have that future.

(The GetUp ‘Marriage Matters’ campaign has a form where you can leave your local MP a letter urging him to support the amendment.)


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