Dancing the Gillard Re-Shuffle

December 12, 2011

There’s a new dance show sweeping Canberra. It’s called the Gillard Re-Shuffle, and it’s hitting the boards just in time for the holiday season. Inspired by the retirement stylings of Nick Sherry, Minister for Small Business, these new fancy moves will undoubtedly put bums on seats for, oh, a matter of days. Of course Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, in his new, self-appointed role of the ‘grinch’ judge for Canberra’s Got Talent, is expected to provide his scathing commentary – but really, we expected that.

So who are the lucky Chorus members finally moving up to the front of the stage? Let’s take a look – and while we’re at it, we might spare a moment’s thought for those whose footwork just doesn’t keep up with the Prime Minister anymore.

Greg Combet, already dancing up a storm in Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, will also learn the moves for Industry and Innovation. In a sneaky switch-up, he’ll be backed up by Chris Evans, who takes over from Kim ‘Comrade’ Carr in Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research. Carr himself will be relegated to the Outer Ministry (or more accurately, the Outer Darkness) in Manufacturing and Defence Materiel.

Brendan O’Connor incorporates into his routine a sideways move, which will bring him into step with Peter Garrett on Education.

Jenny Macklin gives us some Disability Reform to go with her current role in Indigenous and Community Services, and Robert McLelland will display his skills in the excitingly-named but somewhat confusing role of Emergency Management, Housing and Homelessness.

Bill Shorten, long-time ‘faceless man’ of Labor’s Outer Ministry, steps up into a plum solo role in Employment and Workplace Relations, with a bit of Superannuation thrown in for good measure. His place in the supporting cast will be taken up by Mark Arbib, who’ll now be Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Small Business and Sport. As part of his new role, he’ll also be lead performer of business in the Senate.

Sadly, Shorten’s new move somewhat eclipsed the more exciting developments in choreography.

Mark Butler’s finally getting his big break; he’ll take his moves in Mental Health, Ageing and Social Inclusion to the spotlight.

Crowd favourite and QandA veteran Tanya Plibersek is going to wow us with her undoubtedly brilliant interpretation of the Health Ministry.

And finally, Nicola Roxon steps up to take on the traditionally male role of Attorney-General, with additional appearances in Privacy and Freedom of Information. This is a real opportunity for her to shine, especially with a Big Tobacco Freedom of Costume lawsuit looming on the horizon.

Of course, these big dance productions are always cut-throat, and we did have casualties. Comrade Carr was relegated and Kate Ellis lost her supporting role in Status of Women. A retrospective show-reel of their accomplishments will, presumably, be included in the upcoming DVD release.

So there we have the highlights. Few real surprises, some possibly interesting developments, and some sadly unsurprising appointments of Parliamentarians widely considered to be the major movers behind 2010’s shock replacement of former lead dancer Kevin Rudd with Julia Gillard.

‘The Gillard Re-Shuffle’ opens in February 2012. We’ll be watching with interest to see how this new company performs.


(Oh, and if the tone of this article is flippant – it’s because frankly, I just can’t get worked up about this. All last weekend the media was full of ‘ooh, ah, faceless men, scary factionalism’ stuff, as though this re-shuffle was something both unique and significant. The reality? Nothing about this is either surprising or unprecedented. Prime Ministers regularly reward those who support them, and just as regularly demote those who break ranks or simply become too unpopular. It’s about as thrilling as a reality TV show or one of those interminable ‘talent’ quests. So this is all the time I’m going to spend on it – there are some real issues out there in the Australian political landscape that deserve some scrutiny.)

Liveblog – the marriage equality debate.

December 3, 2011

Morning, folks. Kicking off the #marriageequality debate soon, though a conscience vote looks to be a foregone conclusion. #alpnc

8.45am And, we’re off. First up, delegates will pass a motion recognising today as International Day of People with Disability. #alpnc

This is a suspension of standing orders, so the agenda is interrupted. Have to wonder about this move, coming right before the #marriageequality debate. Is this designed to be a pointed reminder that it’s ‘less important’, a ‘second-tier’ issue?

8.54am If this is an attempt to pull the focus off #marriageequality, it’s a pretty poor one. #alpnc

8.57am Gillard makes the point that PMs don’t usually move motions at #alpnc. Underscores this as a political move. Pretty dirty politics.

I receive a tweet from @AustralianLabor telling me that ‘We are celebrating International Day of People with Disability and the great reform that Labor is working to implement #NDIS'(National Disability Insurance Scheme) … presumably in response to my tweets about this motion possibly being a cynical move … a distraction to take the focus off #marriageequality and relegate the debate to a second-order issue.

9.01am Over-egging the pudding a bit here. Disability a worthy cause, but this is gilding the lily, eating into #marriageequality time. #alpnc

9.02am Listen closely to the ‘equality and dignity’ rhetoric in this motion. Now remember that when #marriageequality comes up. #alpnc

9.12am Looks like the #marriageequality debate will now start at 9.30am. Meanwhile, Labor pulling out all the stops to position themselves as compassionate champions of equality with the NDIS.

Unsurprisingly, the motion passes unanimously.

9.20am After the NDIS motion, Macklin acknowledges traditional owners of the land. Whoops, probably should have happened earlier. #alpnc

9.21am Macklin banging the ‘compassion’ drum again. Really setting themselves up as champions of fairness here. #alpnc

9.24 Macklin: ‘We are a party that hears the voices of the voiceless’. Then stresses this is about the ‘most’ disadvantaged people. #alpnc

There are some deeply cynical political moves here. Labor paints itself as ‘fair’, concerned with ‘equality’ and ‘dignity’ – but makes sure that everyone knows there is a hierarchy of disadvantage. Undoubtedly, those calling for a conscience vote or arguing against same-sex marriage will use this same argument – which, paraphrased, boils down to ‘we’ve done heaps for you, be thankful, others are in greater need’.

Debate on the proposed conscience vote will *precede* Wong and Barr’s motion to amend the party’s policy. Very sneaky move, there.

9.30am @AustralianLabor hastens to reassure me that a Welcome to Country ceremony was held yesterday.

9.31am And now amendments relating to indigenous issues. #alpnc

9.37am Still on indigenous issues. Big slaps aimed at the Victorian government for making acknowledgment of traditional ownership ‘optional’ – but a resounding silence on the Northern Territory intervention.

9.39 am It just gets more cynical. If the Left doesn’t cave in to the Right and support a conscience vote, it will fail. The Right has already said they won’t support a formal change to policy. What are we left with? Status quo?

.46am Here we go … Gillard’s conscience vote up for discussion now. #alpnc

9.47am Gillard to speak first, arguing for a conscience vote on #marriageequality. Yet she’s not actually HERE. #alpnc

Gillard out of the room, so debate is suspended ENTIRELY. Shame. #alpnc #marriageequality

9.49am Oh wait, there she is. Not a good look. #alpnc

Gillard’s speech on #marriageequality starts with a ‘few words’ on jobs, growth and fairness. #alpnc

9.51am And from jobs, the PM moves to education. Which apparently also wants to get married. #alpnc #marriageequality

9.52am Jobs, growth, fairness, health care, disabilities. Aaaand #marriageequality? #alpnc

Gillard stresses that this debate must be had in a climate of respect. #alpnc #marriageequality

Of course, she did this after making sure everyone was reminded of *her* view on the subject.

9.54am Gillard: this is a ‘deeply personal’ debate; she stresses the need for respect for religion. #alpnc #marriageequality

9.55am Gillard now falsely claims that marriage was always a question of conscience. Doesn’t mention 2004. #alpnc #marriageequality

9.56am Gillard: ‘Whatever we determine to do with our platform … we should accord the views of all respect.’ #alpnc #marriageequality

Note that Gillard’s talk of ‘respect’ leaned heavily on the idea that religion should be respected *more*. #alpnc #marriageequality

9.57am Notice that Gillard didn’t actually address the ISSUE at all. Just the need for a conscience vote. #alpnc #marriageequality

9.58am Smith, like Gillard, doesn’t address the issue. And Smith fails to mention the 2004 changes. #alpnc #marriageequality

Smith says a conscience vote should depend on whether there’s a ‘deeply held personal belief’. So, we’ll see one on uranium then?

10am Shorter Gillard/Smith: we should respect discrimination and bigotry. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.01am Andrew Barr now up to speak on a direct platform change. HUGE applause and cheering. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.02am Barr, at least, speaks to the issue. #alpnc #marriageequality.

10.03am Impressed that Barr reminded delegates that this issue affects more than just ‘gay people’. #alpnc #marriageequality

Barr: ‘I can see no good reason for denying marriage to same-sex couples’.

10.0am Barr is choking up. ‘We’re not nameless and faceless people … we’re members of the community like everyone else’. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.06am Barr reminds delegates that this issue is ‘intensely felt’ by those who cannot marry. #alpnc #marriageequality

Standing ovation and cheers for Barr. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.09am Wong: if people were denied marriage on the basis of race, ‘there is not a person in this room that would countenance it!’ #alpnc

Huge applause and cheers. Wong is totally fired up.

10.11am Wong: ‘Do not ask us any longer to accept our relations being treated as less worthy … there is nothing to fear from equality’. #alpnc

10.12am Someone yelling from the audience ‘it’s against natural law’ (Joe de Bruyn?). Cries of ‘Shame!’ from the audience. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.13am Another standing ovation as Wong wraps up. #alpnc #marriageequality.

10.14am Big hug for Penny Wong from Tanya Plibersek. But now Joe de Bruyn is up to support conscience vote. #marriageequality #alpnc

10.15am de Bruyn: this should be decided with our heads, not our emotions. Scornful laughter from the delegates. #alpnc #marriageequality

de Bruyn: Heterosexual marriage has been that way ‘since the dawn of humanity’. More laughter. #alpnc #marriageequality

de Bruyn: Same-sex marriage cannot, of itself, produce children. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.16am de Bruyn, of course, doesn’t mention that infertile heterosexual couples are allowed to marry. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.17am de Bruyn just undermines his ‘marriage is historical’ argument by referencing the 2004 amendments. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.18am de Bruyn: ‘Are we going to turn our back today on something we’ve said is a core value?’ Delegates roar: YES! #alpc #marriageequality

10.19am de Bruyn references the ACL petition, which he falsely claims is ‘over 100,000 signatures’. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.20am de Bruyn trying to claim that the petition for #marriageequality is somehow sleazy, because many signatories didn’t give their electorates.

After his rhetorical call-and-answer fails, de Bruyn moves on to warning that people will lose seats over it.

10.21am de Bruyn lying through his teeth about petitions and community support for #marriageequality. #alpnc

10.25am Faulkner: ‘Human rights can never be at the mercy of individual opinions or individual prejudices’. #alpnc #marriageequality

Faulkner: ‘It is not for governments to *grant* human rights, but to recognise and protect them’. Huge applause. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.28am Faulkner: we don’t have a conscience vote on going to war. Pacifists can’t vote with their consciences. #alpnc #marriageequality

Faulkner: We compelled young men to go to war through conscription – no conscience vote then. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.29am Faulkner: ‘A conscience vote on human rights is not conscionable’. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.30am Standing ovation for Faulkner, too. Now Deborah O’Neill up to speak for a conscience vote. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.31am O’Neill supports a conscience vote. Asks for respect from those who disagree with her. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.33am O’Neill trying to run the difficult line that Labor’s ‘done enough’, and marriage is ‘not a rights issue’. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.36am O’Neill: ‘changing the platform will not remove the terror of homophobia’. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.37am Michelle Lancy up now to support Barr-Wong. ‘There are 2 opposing views here today, love and hate’. #alpnc #marriageequality

Lancy nearly crying: ‘I do this for the children whose beds I’ve sat at when they’ve attempted suicide’. #alpnc #marriageequality

Lancy: ‘I’m bringing my Christianity and my humanity in here today’. #alpnc #marriageequality

Standing ovation for Lancy. Now Mark Arbib. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.41am Mark Arbib wants to support both amendments. Huh?? #alpnc #marriageequality

10.42am Arbib asks how could he tell a potentially gay daughter she can’t get married? #alpnc #marriageequality

10.44am Arbib says the platform must change, but the only way it will work today is via conscience vote. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.44am *None* of the pro-conscience vote speakers admits that the 2004 ‘man & woman’ amendment was NOT a conscience vote. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.45am Anthony Albanese up! #alpnc #marriageequality

10.49am After an Adobe AIR malfunction …

Albo reminds Labor of its history on fighting HIV, passing laws against discrimination; calls on the party to keep it up. #alpnc

10.50am Delegate Polly up, very little applause. Claims she was ‘invited not to turn up’. #alpnc #marriageeqaulity

Polly says she respects Wong – but not enough to let her marry, apparently. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.51am Polly with the ‘some of my best friends are gay’ argument. (facepalm) #alpnc #marriageeqaulity

Polly: ‘Marriage is the heart of our community … it’s our way of life’. Possibly also Mabo and the vibe? #alpnc #marriageeqaulity

10.52am Polly: ‘Marriage is the basis of our social fabric’ – which is funny, given our PM is ‘living in sin’. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.53am Polly would like to point out that only heterosexuals can use the word ‘marriage’. Teh Gayz can have ‘unions’. #alpnc #marriageequality

Polly says we should be allowed to have different views – but only on some issues, it seems. #alpnc #marriagequality

10.54am Now Tanya Plibersek: ‘the time for this great change has come’.

10.56am Plibersek: We can focus on jobs and growth and fairness at the same time. We don’t have to choose. #alpnc #marriageequality

Plibersek: ‘I’m also here representing my straight constituents’. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.57am Plibersek says she’s here for the teenagers who are being told their love is ‘not right’. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.59am Plibersek: It’s not good enough to say to one group of people, ‘you’re almost equal’. #alpnc #marriageequality

Plibersek: ‘Almost equal is not good enough’. I may cry. #alpnc #marriageequality

11.00am No further speakers. Time for the votes. Conscience vote first, and a count is called for. #alpnc #marriageequality

11.04am I wonder if the #alpnc will publish a list of who voted which way on this? #marriageequality

11.07am Albo’s down on the stage watching the count. #alpnc #marriageequality

The tension is palpable – both in the room and on Twitter.

11.09am Call for delegates opposed to the conscience vote to raise their cards. Applause and cheers. #alpnc #marriageequality

So hard to gauge the voting, but looks to be very close. #alpnc #marriageequality

11.13am 208 for the conscience vote, 184 against. Conscience vote is carried. #alpnc #marriageequality

I am apparently over the daily limit for sending tweets. This cannot be happening right now.

11.15am Barr-Wong amendment passes on the voices.

11.20am Well, since Twitter’s cut me off, I’ll wind up the liveblog here. Labor’s in an interesting situation now … marriage equality is now officially included in their party platform, but any vote on the issue must be one of conscience. It’s likely such a vote would fail, given the Coalition’s declaration that they will vote en bloc to oppose such a change to the Marriage Act.

Nonetheless … how long, I wonder, before we see another private members’ bill from the Greens? Or even better, a private members’ bill co-sponsored by Wong, Albanese and Bandt?

Marriage equality and Labor’s national conference

December 2, 2011

The Australian Labor Party’s 46th National Conference starts today – and rarely has a meeting of politicians attracted such attention from so many areas of Australian society.

It’s got a full agenda – discussions on the sale of uranium to India, fundamental changes in how the leader is elected and possibly even the institution of a US-style primary system to decide pre-selection in individual electorates. The big issue, however, is same-sex marriage. Prime Minister Julia Gillard has already signalled she intends to propose that the issue be declared one of conscience – that is, to allow members to vote according to their own beliefs rather than along party lines. Rainbow Labor, led by Andrew Barr and Senator Penny Wong, in conjunction with the Left faction, intend to push for the adoption of same-sex marriage as part of the national policy platform.

Yesterday, Barr said that he thought he might have the numbers to win that argument. With Left and Independent factions determined to push for a firm platform, only twelve votes are needed from the Right. Last night, however, the Right announced they intend to vote in a bloc for Gillard’s solution. It comes down to numbers at this point.

For an issue that many commentators (such as former Labor Minister Graeme Richardson and Labor historian Troy Bramston) dismiss as ‘not first-order’, not ‘centrepiece’, same-sex marriage has become the major focus of this conference. Members of the Right accused the Left this morning of ‘pressuring’ people, union leader Joe de Bruyn voiced his vehement opposition to same-sex marriage under any circumstances, and – reportedly – some Labor MPs announced they would cross the floor if the party did change its policy platform, and risk expulsion. Interestingly, there’s been far less media time given to the Left – only Andrew Barr has had any substantial air time.

Paul Howes, head of the Australian Workers Union, managed to be sanctimonious, hypocritical and just plain wrong this morning when he was asked about the impending discussion. ‘Labor has a long and proud history of allowing conscience votes on these issues,’ he said, and went on to castigate those members of Labor’s Left who are pushing for a party policy on same-sex marriage, for daring to attempt to force their beliefs on others.

Honestly, where do I start with that one?

Howes, in high dudgeon, practically vibrated with righteous indignation as he tried to claim the moral high ground here. And oh, doesn’t it make for a good sound bite when someone passionately defends freedom of choice? Surely no reasonable person could argue with the idea that politicians must be able to hold to their own beliefs on important issues?

The problem here is that Howes ignores a basic fact of politics – that politicians are elected not to vote their own consciences, but to represent their electorates. And given that overwhelmingly, almost every poll shows a massive groundswell of support for same-sex marriage (at least 60% in favour), Howes is effectively advocating that Labor selectively ignore those voters. Coming from a man who regularly points to popular support to shore up his positions on various issues, this is inconsistency at best, hypocrisy at worst.

And let’s face it, most of us hold strong beliefs on a variety of issues. My religion, for example, was strongly opposed to the idea of invading Iraq. My religion absolutely rejects the idea that children should be exposed to religious indoctrination while attending a government school. Neither of these issues has ever been exposed to a conscience vote, nor are they likely to be. The so-called ‘moral issues’, such as abortion and euthanasia, are the ones that receive that dubious privilege.

What makes these ‘moral issues’? Nothing more than the fact that some religions declare them to be so. It’s cherry-picking of the worst kind – you won’t find many people arguing that there is a need for conscience votes on whether to allow women access to high office or to prohibit the sale of contraception, despite these issues being apparently as important to those religions.

Yet it’s perhaps even more disgusting that Howes chose to take this line, given that his appeals obscure the fact that, in effect, he’s advocating that Labor continue to deny that same freedom to others – just because some people don’t like the idea of same-sex couples being married. In this, he is no different from those Christian fundamentalists who declare that marriage equality would somehow destroy civilisation as we know it.

These are the same people who scream bloody blue murder when they think Australia is being ‘converted by stealth’ to Islam if they eat halal meat without realising it. These are the same people who raise their hands in horror and lament the death of ‘Australia’s Judeo-Christian heritage’ if their kids come home from school saying, ‘Happy Holidays’, instead of ‘Merry Christmas’. And these are the people who argue passionately that no one, no one, has the right to prevent them from living according to their beliefs.

And yet … by writing and upholding in law the idea that some love and commitment is less deserving of recognition – by, in effect, saying that only those forms of union that conform to their beliefs are worthy and legitimate – they force their beliefs on everyone.

But deep down, they know that. They know exactly what they’re doing. If they’re honest, they’ll say so proudly and point to some idea of divine ‘truth’ to back themselves up. If not, you can see it in their eyes. They’ll squirm and dance and fall back on mealy-mouthed appeals to ‘tradition’ – which, of course, means only those traditions they feel like preserving. And Howes, by clasping to his bosom this completely hypocritical ‘Champion of Freedom’ mantle, has put himself firmly in the camp of people like the Coalition’s Cory Bernardi and Jim Wallace of the Australian Christian Lobby.

And let’s not forget that Howes is just plain wrong, too.

Labor has not historically allowed conscience votes on ‘these issues’. In 2004, when the Marriage Act was changed to explicitly exclude same-sex couples, no conscience vote was either asked for or allowed. Labor simply voted its party line, which was to enshrine mean-spirited discrimination in law. If, as Howes and others have claimed, the issue of marriage is so important as to require that MPs be allowed to wrestle with their consciences, why weren’t they allowed to do so then?

Gillard, during the 2010 election campaign, proudly declared that Labor’s policy platform specifically included reproductive freedom for women. Back then, that issue was so important that it required party unity. To now claim, as she and supporters from the Labor Right have done, the exact opposite where same-sex marriage is concerned, frankly beggars belief. And raises more than the whiff of suspicion that those who hold this position are attempting to curry favour with one minority group by discriminating against another – and yes, fundamentalist Christians are a minority group, protestations by Wallace and his cronies notwithstanding.

No one’s life will be threatened if same-sex couples are legally married. No country will go to war with us over this. There’s no reputable conflicting science, as there is with matters of human cloning (which, incidentally, the Prime Minister supported during a conscience vote in 2007). By trying to place same-sex marriage on a par with issues of abortion and euthanasia, Gillard and the Labor Right are trying to sweep under the rug the real issue of equality. We no longer socially ostracise or legally penalise heterosexual couples who choose to co-habit rather than marry. We no longer prohibit interracial marriage. We don’t even require people to show ’cause’ for divorce. Those are the issues which should be discussed in conjunction with this question.

Marriage is a secular institution. Sorry, religious folks, but there it is. For a long time now the State has been solemnising marriages without benefit of church or clergy. As such, the State should serve all people equally.

Let’s suppose someone wanted to bring in a law designed to exclude a particular religious group from the right to marry. The screams of outrage would be heard from orbit. After all, it’s an utterly nonsensical notion, right? Yes. It is – as nonsensical as the idea of excluding an entire section of the population from marriage for being same-sex attracted.

The ALP National Conference will tackle this issue tomorrow. At this point, it looks like Gillard will get the result she wants. Which will, no doubt, be a great relief for her. She won’t have to worry about fending off interview questions about whether she has the support of the party. She can say she’s done the ‘moral thing’, and ‘listened’ to the party.

What she won’t be able to say is what Queensland Deputy Premier Andrew Fraser said when State Labor passed same-sex civil unions legislation two nights ago: ‘Today was a momentous occasion for civil rights’.

This issue now hangs on whether twelve people out of around 200 decide that those fundamental human rights are more important than a handful of religious beliefs and cultural prejudices. That equality is more important than doctrine, and that allowing the expression of love and commitment is more important than allowing bigotry to remain enshrined in Australian law.

Gillard argued in her keynote speech this morning that ‘fairness begins in the workplace’. That may be so – but why should fairness end at the altar?.

Gillard also said that ‘only Labor can govern for all’. I wonder how those who she denies the same rights she has the choice to embrace or reject would feel about that statement. When did ‘govern for all’ become ‘exclude those whose issues might upset Labor’s polling numbers’?

Perhaps those members should go home tonight and wrestle with their consciences on those issues. There’s an opportunity here for Labor to show itself to be a champion of human rights, regardless of personal belief – it shouldn’t be missed.


In response to requests, I’ll be live-blogging the same-sex marriage debate tomorrow on Twitter and posting a summary here afterwards. Feel free to follow me on Twitter, or to follow the hashtags #alpnc and/or #marriageequality.

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