All posts by Polly Bush

Rats in the ranks

Polly Bush is a Webdiary columnist.


Canberra has been infested by a vermin outbreak that threatens to mutate across the country as the federal election gets underway. Queensland Senator George Hamster Brandis first noticed the little-man turned gigantic-lying-rodent, but now denies sighting such a Kafka style transformation.

Senator Brandis, who keeps scurrying in his tax-payer funded rat wheel treadmill exercise gym, has since been branded a blind mouse.

While the main mouseketeer is said to be none other than Prime Miniature John Gopher Howard, rat experts are speculating whether all elected representatives have some form of lineage tracing back to the Order of Rodentia.

It is believed it is possible for elected representatives to morph into rats if suffering from ‘rankititis’ (not to be confused with a ‘pancreatitis’).

Sufferers of the disease are said to have sharp grinding teeth, are commonly dressed in suits and display symptoms of delusional acts of denial and deceit.


“Nobody told me” is a common rankititis expression according to internationally acclaimed rat experts, who universally agree “arse-covering” is another widespread rat trait.

Donning his Big Cat Hat, Opposition Leader Mark Mighty Mouse Latham wanted to add “arse-licking” to the list of rat qualities, but refused to say as much, preferring not to engage in any dirty squeaks as he continues to re-mould his whiskers.

Instead, Mighty Man Boobs Mouse Latham pledged a policy of rat extermination efforts if elected, smoking them out of their rat burrows, making sure they inhaled any wacky substances in an effort to clean up the rat halls of Canberra.

Riding a bicycle, Senator Bob Mickey Mouse Brown refused to comment on whether such rat extermination rounds would occur in conjunction with any ecstasy trials.

South Australian Liberal Trish Minnie Mouse Worth said if the reports of the rat outbreak are true, she hoped they would be subject to stricter quarantine laws than the poor little mice who fled traumatic overseas warrens. Later, she regretted referring to them in such a way.

Mike Scrafton, one of the principle Rat Hunters, not to be confused with Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin, undertook another rat interrogation session to swear Chief Rat Gopher Howard was told there were no poor little mice in the water.

In fact, there were no rodents on any boats as the only vermin of the land were living as elected representatives of the Coalition Ratbaggery Government.

Once again Chief Rat Gopher Howard avoided any rat discussions, instead sending Hamster Brandis to run on the treadmill again, where the Hamster told the critters of the land they could “trust” the Chief Rat.

To fend off any ratbaggery claims, Prime Miniature Gopher Howard spent part of his rat re-election campaign chewing on the troops returning from the Athens war, as well as waving off more athletes to the Iraqi Olympics, with Mighty Mouse Latham knawing close behind.

But whether the Chief Rat wins another term is a non issue for some – even in the Chief Rat’s own ranks.

Rat-in-Waiting Malcolm Danger Mouse Turnball allegedly told a voter in Jarlsworth that the rats in the ranks didn’t really matter, as Chief Rat Gopher Howard would be eradicated within two years of winning another piece of cheese.

However, Chief-Rat-To-Be Peter Ferret Costello has ruled out any future rat race off, preferring to instead highlight how Mighty Mouse Latham will lap up all the creme in the kitty.

And so the treadmill keeps on spinning …

Not Happy, Nicola

Sly Defensive. Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies

Polly Bush is the Webdiary columnist reporting the joint custody and gay marriage sagas for Webdiary.


With little hypocritical bibles under their wings the vultures descended on Canberra last week to meet with their fellow clansmen. Waving crucifixes, they brought with them fury and rage, with so much built up hate boiling in their blood over something so unspeakable, something so hideous and evil – the vultures came to divide and conquer love. Those, who in their mind did not deserve to uphold the “bedrock of society”, would be chastised with fire and brimstone. The vultures invited lawmakers to address their gaggle. Not surprisingly, Count Howard gladly agreed. Sadly and surprisingly, the Australian Lip-service Party sent their chief lawmaker along for the ride. The colourful parrots and lovebirds of the land shook their beaks with dismay. Confused about why Fickle-a Roxon would even greet such a fiendish flock they cried: Not Happy Nicola!

When the Federal Government last year announced an inquiry into child custody to examine a flawed plan of enshrining a presumption of 50/50 shared parenting for all divorced couples in family law, the Shadow Attorney-General Nicola Roxon appeared to be brave.


Roxon was brave enough to say the obvious.

She nailed the point of why the Government was holding such an Inquiry, describing it as “dog whistle politics to men’s groups aggrieved by the Family Court”.

Quite simply, the Howard Government’s announcement of the Inquiry wasn’t about “the best interests of the child” and it wasn’t about looking at constructive ways to improve the family law process in the event of divorce. It was about votes, and it was about the Howard Government chasing an angry clutter of votes.

The Inquiry recommendations rightly stopped short of enforcing equal shared parenting time in law.

Still, the process was about the message it was sending. It was about John Howard’s subtle attacks on single mothers by talking up the so-called importance of “male role models”. It was about the Government appearing like they were engaged and listening to fathers dissatisfied with the family court, the same court that had been at loggerheads with the Federal Government over the issue of asylum seeker children in detention.

The presumption of equal shared parenting in family law is classic One Nation party policy. Once again, with the collapse of One Nation’s voting base, John Howard picked up the ONP policy ideas ball and ran with it.

Dressed under the guise of caring for the nuclear family and describing marriage as “the bedrock of society”, the Howard Government is again after votes with his pursuit of banning gay marriage.

It also helps that Howard’s “conservative tolerance” of homosexuals means he’s partial to the odd gay bashing policy.

What is different with this issue is that it appears the Labor Party are now trying to do the same, running after the same votes.

Unfortunately, by doing so, both the Government and Opposition are condoning discrimination and homophobia. They’re condoning the hate filled bigots who, for some bizarre reason, feel that the allowance of gay marriage will somehow erode their rights and the “institution” itself. They’re condoning people who hate and fear loving relationships.

Somewhere in between the custody Inquiry and the gay marriage issue, Nicola Roxon has changed stripes. No longer is she brave enough to stand up and tell it like it is. No longer is Roxon prepared to say “This proposed legislation is unnecessarily enshrining discrimination in law. This legislation will only fuel homophobia and hate. This legislation is dog whistle politics to the angry loopy so-called “Christian” fundamentalist homophobes of society that John Howard appeals to so much.”

No. It seems Roxon now wants these people to vote for the Australian Labor Party.

Roxon’s appearance at the National Marriage Coalition conference last week was telling enough. Some members of the Marriage Coalition, are the same sad mad dad groups who pursued the failed 50/50 shared custody proposal.

Others included the likes of Margaret Court, tennis player, reverend and complete and utter homophobe (I don’t use the term lightly, and Court has proven herself on so many occasions that she is full of so much bile for homosexuals that it is disappointing she is still celebrated as an Australian sporting icon).

Why Nicola Roxon chose to attend and address such a forum is beyond comprehension. In the words of JOYFM newsreader Doug Pollard the event was like a convention for the “Christian Taliban”.

Whatever the reason, it was a curious way to announce to the gay and lesbian community that the ALP would support the Government’s marriage amendment without waiting for the Senate Committee’s report as promised.

When the ALP initially discussed the marriage legislation, some members passionately argued against supporting the Government’s bill. To ease the dissenters, the ALP agreed to pass the amendment in the House of Representatives, but the party would open up the issue to examination by a Senate Committee. That was what caucus agreed to.

But Roxon’s appearance at the forum, sent a strong message to the gay and lesbian community. As the Equal Rights Network’s Rodney Croome said to Webdiary, Roxon’s forum soiree and her resulting comments show the ALP “don’t particularly care about the gay vote – they care about the fundamentalist Christians”.

Croome said there was still no proper reason given for Roxon’s appearance: “Everyone seems to be mystified. No one’s been able to adequately explain why she was there.”

In making her comments at the forum, that the Labor party would now support the gay marriage ban without waiting for the Senate Committee’s report, Roxon broke the decision of caucus. Since then there have been rumblings of anger towards Roxon’s actions.

On Friday, Rodney Croome wrote:

Nicola Roxon is not popular. The colleagues of ALP Shadow Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, say they are mystified by her announcement that Labor will support the Government’s same sex marriage ban before the Senate Legal and Constitutional committee has had a chance to thoroughly investigate all the implications of that ban.

Some of them are genuinely bewildered. Others may be trying to divert blame away from conservative and/or ruthlessly pragmatic sections of the Party and towards an individual who is already unpopular with the LGBT community.

Whichever, it’s clear that what Nicola Roxon did is unpopular in the ALP. She defied caucus policy, broke a promise to a traditional constituency, and lent legitimacy to fringe anti-gay and anti-choice groups. It’s also certain that she will grow even more unpopular over the next few days as the depth of LGBT community anger reveals itself to Labor.

-With groups like Rainbow Labor slating the ALP, some Labor pollies now concede it will be next to impossible to re-engage with the LGBT community before the election. I’d add, after the election as well, especially if Nicola Roxon is made Attorney-General.

One member prepared to publicly vent her anger towards Roxon’s actions was Sydney’s Tanya Plibersek. Late last week Plibersek told the Sydney Star Observer:

I think it’s terrible. It doesn’t reflect the decision we made in the Labor Party caucus to send this legislation off to a committee. I’ve told Nicola in the strongest terms that I feel betrayed by what she said yesterday and I take very seriously the fact she’s not followed proper caucus procedure.

It’s been suggested that one of the reasons Roxon broke caucus ranks was due to submissions to the Senate Committee being overwhelmingly anti-gay. The NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby’s co-convenors Somali Cerise and Rob McGrory said the ALP’s recent turnaround “was in response to 12,000 submissions by the fundamentalist Christian Right in support of Howard’s marriage ban”.

However, numbers of senate committee submissions don’t necessarily need to dictate policy – take for example submissions in response to Anthony Albanese’s private members bill in 2000, examining the issue of superannuation rights for same sex couples.

Despite only five submissions out of 1200 arguing against equal super rights for same sex couples, the Federal Government’s resulting report opposed the bill, you guessed it, on the basis equal rights for same sex couples in superannuation would lead to “the gradual devaluation of the traditional family structure in the eyes of the law and society in general”.

Still, the NSW G&L Lobby is urging people to counter these alleged anti-gay marriage numbers by emailing Nicola Roxon and Mark Latham their views. The Lobby wishes to reach a target of 13,000 emails by this Friday 13.

It’s just as abhorrent that three members of the Howard Government also addressed the forum, but sadly it’s not a surprise – after all, John Howard has made fear driven policies and attacks on people’s rights his Government’s stomping ground.

Labor’s Shadow Cabinet met yesterday, where the issue was discussed. According to today’sAustralian, Latham and Roxon were confronted with members of the left angry at Roxon’s appearance at the forum. Patricia Karvelas reported:

Mr Albanese and other frontbenchers argued Ms Roxon had gone too far in an attempt to impress a group of Christians, who were unlikely to vote Labor, at the expense of the gay and lesbian community, which had shown the party support.

Today, Labor’s caucus met and supported Roxon’s backflip last week. The ALP have however, promised to consider the outcomes of the Senate Inquiry, but should parliament debate the marriage amendment in the next few days, expect the ALP to vote this legislation through anyway. Very disappointing.

It was hoped, that today’s caucus meeting would flag some support for a registry for civil unions for same sex couples. Sadly, no such commitment has been made at this stage. If, by crazy chance, the ALP is brave enough to make such an announcement in support of civil unions in the lead up to this year’s election, it better be a strong statement.

According to Rodney Croome, unless the ALP “make a concrete commitment”, such a move won’t be believed by the gay and lesbian community, particularly given Roxon and the ALP’s latest turnaround. Croome said that for many in the gay and lesbian community this issue is not necessarily about gay and lesbians wanting to get married:

It’s about choice, it’s about not being seen to be second class citizens, and it’s about not giving in to an ideological crusade.

In short, it’s about equality.

Before this week’s parliamentary debate gets underway, it’s worth reading a couple of reports from last week’s conference. The first is from Rodney Croome’s website, the Webdiarist “Punter S Thompson” provides a frightening rundown of the speakers and content canvassed at last week’s meet.


Latham and Howard exchange vows at the alter of bigotry – Labor has betrayed the trust and hope of the LGBT community

by Rodney Croome

It was a soul destroying scene: Labor’s justice spokesperson, Nicola Roxon, enjoying a standing ovation from a crowd of hard-right fundamentalist Christians, being mobbed by an adoring phalanx of homophobes as she walked from the stage, shaking hands with and smiling to anti-gay activists.

Why all this unlikely adultation? Roxon had just committed the ALP to support the Government’s ban on same sex marriage within the fortnight. The incomplete Senate inquiry upon which the hopes of thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people have been pinned, and which Labor had promised to support because of the gay marriage ban’s many legal, constitutional and social impacts, had effectively been scuttled.

I was witness to all this from the door of the Great Hall of Parliament. Only minutes before in front of a crowd of 700 that had assembled for the “National Marriage Forum”, the Prime Minister had declared he would re-introduce legislation banning same sex marriage. No surprise there.

What was a shock was Roxon’s complicity. She stated her agreement with the Prime Minister, John Howard, that heterosexual marriage is a bedrock institution. She stated her agreement with Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson, that the number of people who actually want gay marriage is tiny, a minority within a minority.

Then she went on to announce Labor’s betrayal. According to Roxon, Labor will allow Howard’s legislation to sail through parliament in a few days time, two months before the Senate inquiry into this legislation was due to report.

Those LGBT people who made submissions to the inquiry in good faith have been snubbed. The same sex couples who have asked the Family Court to recognise their overseas same sex marriages have had their hopes dashed. The possibility of same sex marriage will be delayed by years. The principles of equality and justice have been sold out.

The comparison with the Free Trade Agreement is telling. Labor was willing to let the inquiry into that legislation run its course before it voted on the issue. Despite all its talk about the importance of marriage, Labor clearly doesn’t think marriage is important enough to allow a proper inquiry into all the implications of reforming the Marriage Act.

Worse still is that the Australian Family Association and the Australian Christian Lobby knew about Labor’s position before the LGBT community.

The day before her announcement I had a meeting with Nicola Roxon. Marriage and the Senate inquiry were discussed and never once did she give any indication of what she was about to do. No such reticence was shown to anti-gay groups.

As soon as Roxon alighted the Great Hall stage, Forum organisers urged the audience to welcome her with a standing ovation. Not what you’d expect for someone who those same organisers had been accusing of going soft on traditional marriage only days before.

Minutes later, as Roxon’s announcement approached, those same organisers suddenly descended on and crowded around me. They showed no surprise at her announcement when it came. They simply turned to me grinned and expressed their “sympathy”.

The Australian Family Association and the Australian Christian Lobby, and I assume the Howard Government, had been told of Labor’s decision well in advance.

The only people who didn’t know what was coming were those who will actually be disenfranchised by all these dirty deals – same sex couples and their children who will have their families demeaned, diminished and disadvantaged by the very legislators who fall over themselves to “support the family”.

But it’s not only same sex couples and their children who will suffer. This announcement spoke of the fact that Australia’s far right – once lost on the fringe of national politics – is now determining public policy across the political spectrum and across a range of issues. It also says that the influence of the social left as well as the nation’s LGBT community has shrunk to next-to-nothing.

Now I know why Roxon warned me not to go to the Marriage Forum as I left her office two days ago. She wanted as few witnesses as possible to her task of selling out Australia’s future as a society which embraces difference.

So, what on earth has prompted Labor to indulge in such vile behaviour?

Roxon cited the fact that an overwhelming majority of submissions to the Senate inquiry are against same sex marriage, that the people have spoken and the matter is therefore closed.

But when has weight of numbers been a reason to pre-empt the outcome of a parliamentary inquiry or cut it short?

Other Labor sources say it will benefit both Labor and the LGBT community if gay marriage is neutralised as an election issue. But where’s the proof that marriage was hurting either Labor or the LGBT community?

There has been no high profile public debate on the issue since the inquiry was announced. Consequently there has been no upsurge in discrimination or violence against LGBT people, no mass mobilisation of anti-gay prejudice – just a healthy, mature debate on the merits of marriage equality.

As for Labor, none of the hard right Christians represented at the National Marriage Forum will vote Labor in a pink fit. Middle ground voters are utterly indifferent. Plenty of LGBT people who will now vote Green and Democrat instead.

In short the LGBT community and the Labor Party have nothing to gain and everything to lose from what Labor has done.

The only possible explanation for Labor’s behaviour is that powerful ALP MPs share with their Coalition colleagues an ideological commitment to carving the second class status of same sex relationships into legislative stone, and that these MPs have the power to make Opposition policy.

I’ve witnessed many evil things in my career as a gay activist. I’ve seen angry crowds bay for gay blood, I’ve seen indoctrinated children spew hate. But I’ve never seen a Labor spokesperson play up to an anti-gay crowd, declare herself on their side and betray the trust and hope of LGBT people.

Confronted with hate-groups like the AFA and the ACL, state Labor leaders from Michael Field, through Wayne Goss and Jim McGinty to Jon Stanhope and Jim Bacon never once agreed to speak at the forums organised by such groups, let alone concede to their demands.

It is an indication of the unworthiness of the Federal ALP to govern that it would break ranks with its state counterparts, stoop to dealing with anti-gay hate groups, and exchange vows with the Coalition on the alter of bigotry.

If Labor cannot be trusted to see through to the end something as simple as a Senate inquiry on changes to the Marriage Act, how can it be expected to carry out its commitments to other gay law reforms like anti-discrimination legislation and de facto status for same sex couples?

If Labor cannot be trusted to deal honestly with the LGBT community, and to give hate-groups the cold shoulder they deserve, how can fair minded Australians ever hope to have their voices heard?

If Labor cannot be trusted to see the justice in a cause as straight forward as recognising the love and commitment in same sex relationships, how can it ever expect to be taken seriously as a party of social reform.


Punter S Thompson’s Marriage Matters Experience, 4/8/04

It was a cold and drizzling Wednesday morning on the drive to Canberra. As I stopped momentarily at the stop sign near the front lawn of Parliament House, there to the right, was Tony Abbott striding off to somewhere with a class of school kids and their teacher following behind. I shivered, with coldness. Perhaps it was the omen?

It was already 9.45am and the Marriage Forum had started. I was late. The huge crowd still waiting to find a seat meant that by the time I finally passed through the registration process and found a seat among the already seated 1000 plus Christians John Anderson was mid-address. I’d missed John Howard’s remarks along with the organisers of the Forum, Jim Wallace (ex-SAS) leader of theAustralian Christian Lobby, Warick Marsh of the Fatherhood Foundation and Senator Guy Barnett. I wasn’t too bothered. It was others whom I was more interested in, although I’m not dismissing the influence of ex-military men who have some how paid for this country’s freedom with their service, in often illegitimate wars, and who just happen to be in the Christian Right along with the many Cabinet members and other parliamentarians too.

There were war-analogies in several speeches. Comments like “we are fighting not just flesh and blood, but evil in dark places” stirred the foot soldiers. “Marriage is the line in the sand, and we are being called to fight back” had calls of ‘Amen’. “Marriage is between a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others for life” was the striking missile that drew the audience to their feet with thunderous applause.

Apparently this was the impetus that the government needed to push through their defining marriage legislation. This was the show of force, like the North Koreans on military parade, to all others that the Christian Right can fill the Great Hall in Parliament House with only a few weeks notice.

My camouflage holding, specifically what drew me to attend were the two family-law professors, Parkinson and Altobelli. In this religious-political arena, particularly in this Forum which followed hotly on the heels of Howard’s announcement last week of more family law reforms in the form of 65 Family Relationship Centres and greater fathers’ rights, what further influence or network were these two men hoping for? What was their connection to the Fatherhood Foundation? After all, some of Howard’s announced reforms are authored by Professor Parkinson, a member of the Family Law Council, and adviser to the Federal Government.

Parkinson’s words found their target as he announced as a Christian he “is against gay and lesbian marriage”. There it was as if some street mortar had exploded on a street patrol of down town Bagdad and the insurgents were cheering. The fear and loathing was not reserved for the terrorist of Iraq rather, the gay and lesbians of Australia (and probably anywhere else for that matter). They’re not the only group.

Parkinson continued that “there is a creeping equation to extend to other domestic relationships the same benefits of marriage” while these other relationships leave children with an experience of instability. Apparently, marriage is a protective fence. It is the bedrock of family, of society, the foundation for a healthy nation. So marriage is a national interest. Parkinson is concerned with public policy – and what protection and support is there for heterosexual marriage and how that will exclude other relationships, yet protect the vulnerable.

I silently yelled questions. Don’t you want to clarify things here Professor? Don’t you mean healthy loving relationships? You know as a researcher, that there are many marriages that implode because for too long abuse and dysfunction devastated. We all know of harmful marriages, dishonest marriages. Who benefits? Marriage doesn’t protect against domestic violence and incest. You are aware of child abuse and the Family Court. Shouldn’t you be pointing out the need for integrity and ethics in relationships? What about R.E.S.P.E.C.T? And what would happen to that research your quoting if there was adequate support services for those vulnerable people? Questions were firing but this forum wasn’t inquisitorial.

Nicola Roxon took to the stage. She corrected any confusion or misinformation anyone in the audience may have had that the major parties differ on the position of marriage. They don’t. Labor like the Liberal-coalition will vote for the legislation – that marriage is between a man and woman at the exclusion of others. Within the next two weeks if Howard schedules it.

While that attracted cheers of approval, when it came to adoption, specifically for gay or lesbian couples and Labor’s deferment that this is a state matter, jeers of disapproval and condemnation erupted. There’s no spin these people are going to swallow, and it was also clear there was little electoral support for the ALP among this constituency. At that point I wondered how many of them lived in marginal seats.

The Reverend Dr Margaret Court (former tennis champion) spoke next. She described the spiritual and physical interactions between man and woman and how this is at the foundation of marriage benefits. That this spiritual and physical interaction is supposed to be why marriage only can be between a man and woman. Again, I couldn’t help question does this still only apply when the marriage is good, or what if the couple hold the different spiritual outlook and commitment? And when she gave the example of a boy’s distress at being teased because he had two mothers, she blamed the lesbian relationship rather than addressing peer bullying and teasing as being the destructive force.

Mary Louise Fowler focused on key elements of marriage – which could be applicable to any relationship where the parties valued and committed themselves to nurturing.

Professor Altobelli’s approach was one of values and where do values come from, even for law. Isn’t the point of any good loving relationship that we value one another and if we have children, them too? How could widening the definition of who can marry erode those values? There was no argument that addressed a lack of respect or dysfunction which erodes good relationships and is the mark of poor marriages. And isn’t that the point, poor marriages devalue marriage. Other types of relationship where people may actively seek not to marry but still has “protective measures” -even marriage benefits- doesn’t devalue marriage, or make a child’s life insecure unless there is dysfunction.

Speaker after speaker, including Altobelli seemed to focus on the event of divorce as the cause of social problems rather than the events that led to the process of divorce. There are greater social problems when a child living with married parents in a household with domestic violence, or where there’s mental illness, or even where substance abuse takes place than a child of a partnered couple who may not be formally married. Isn’t the bedrock of society, of family, a society that supports a parent or parents (whether married or not, straight or gay) who parent effectively and lovingly and whom nurture the children supporting the majority of their needs? Isn’t that how to grow a healthy society? Isn’t this really about the need to grow healthy relationships?

Altobelli also proud to declare his Christianity, suggested the lack of literature and calls by the gay and lesbian lobby is another reason to make exclusive marriage between a man and woman. An argument that’s odd as it seemed to ignore social trends and shifts in tolerance.

Angela Shanahan gave further insight into the fear and loathing behind accepting other relationships. Other than the bleeding obvious (as she so eloquently put it) is that any relationship that mimics marriage but is not marriage goes against the faith. It also requires a certain cultural acceptance of the “unacceptable”.

Further, Shanahan and then Bill Muehlenberg (Australian Family Association) argued that gay and lesbian relationships lack a proper role model for children of that relationship, which have to be obtained by artificial methods. (Let’s not remind her, just because she managed to pop out nine kids, that all married hetro couples can/want do the same- and do we condemn their use of IVF and/or adoption in order to be parents?) So what is the issue with role models? Now I’m no expert on gay or lesbian parenting – matter of fact my only knowledge in this area relates to a friend who is a lesbian parent, who is raising a happy child with her partner. Neither of them try to be “daddy” which Shanahan suggested happens and is part of the problem for the child. Most gay fathers wouldn’t try to be mummy either. However, I can testify that having had a lousy father and a friend who has a lousy mother, perhaps all this focus on biological or even parents being the role model is a tad misguided – just ask any DOCS or child protection worker, they have their work cut out for them more than any American soldier in Fallujah.

Yet this same emergent discourse about role models for children, and/or “fatherlessness” assertion that rears it’s ugly head especially when it comes to single mothering and occurs elsewhere (now Shanahan used such terms when referring to lesbian parenting). For instance Howard expressed his “worry” about growing “fatherlessness” and “boys’ needing male role models” as one of the impetuses for calling the Inquiry into Child Custody and Child Support in July 2003. So such a discourse also has implications in other areas of parenting and public policy. And which organisation was behind the promulgation of “fatherlessness” and boys’ needing male role models, specifically their biological father – yep the Fatherhood Foundation- used to push changes in the area of family law. And what were the problems there?

The fatherless claims published by the Fatherhood Foundation contained bogus statistics, with no factual basis yet became a powerful weapon in asserting their fathers’ rights political agendas. The significance of the disinformation about “fatherlessness” was that this claim disseminated as “fact” was further repeated by many conservative politicians, and by some journos, gaining a largely uncritical foothold. This political and media take-up strengthened political support for fatherless claims and is now influencing public policy formulation and almost considered fact by the ignorant. And now we have Marriage Matters publication with how much misinformation?

The political strategy of building an alarmist discourse about the problem “fatherlessness” aims to stem the perceived permissiveness of marriage breakdown by stigmatising single mother, and now lesbian families as “fatherless” while at the same time promoting marriage by comparing social outcomes between the traditional families and single mother families. A key contributor to the Fatherhood Foundation and now this Marriage Coalition, Meuhlenberg claims that “85 per cent of sole parent families are fatherless families” when in fact 85% of sole parent families in Australia are headed by a woman. Muehlenberg’s insults discount single mothers and lesbian mothers’ capabilities, ignores fathers who have regular residency but not primary residency, ignores those fathers who have no contact orders due to a past history of violence, and overlooks those fathers who abrogated contact with their children, makes silent those widowed families and totally ignores other role models for kids found in extended family, teachers, sporting coaches, etc etc.

Now if readers think the Marriage Coalition only have the support of the Christians, you’d be mistaken. They have endorsement by the Australian Muslim Public Affairs and are opening dialogue with other religious groups.

Perhaps more significantly was the “testimony” of Pastor Ron Brookman who after 30 years of being a closet gay man has for the past 12 years converted to be heterosexual through faith and counselling and yes marriage (and kids). His testimony skidded close to linking gay sexuality to child-youth predators, but for faith and God’s grace. Perhaps again, the reminder not all parents are good for kids as (heterosexual) incest testifies but in this audience such horrifying practices by “married” families is just too challenging. Apparently Pastor Ron’s one case is enough to “prove” that being gay or lesbian is a lifestyle choice, as I overheard, among the faithful when they recounted his “powerful testimony”. Well I’m just not going to touch this one.

Other speakers sought to blame everything from feminism to UN to judicial activism to lack of literature on same sex marriages, to insufficient Christians in federal parliament for the need to make distinct the definition of heterosexual marriage. At no point was there any discussion of bad marriages breaking up – may be good for some people, and that with a bit of support those people can move through the difficult and painful process and find peace and stability and so good for the nation.

If this Marriage Coalition want to make marriage benefits exclusive to all other relationship types, how is that necessarily going to make Australian society better, tolerant? How will that protect the vulnerable? And that’s where this forum and all the speakers bothered me. If they were so het up about social problems why not advocate for more social support measures? Instead other issues were only slightly hinted at, and with such an agenda such gatherings have real implications in other areas of public policy development. As the day finishes, I was only slightly pleased that there was some show of protest with six (probably staffers) holding signs as the Christians exited. What was really rammed home though is how effective one or two people can be, in their influence and energy in drumming up support, networking within parliament, even when they use disinformation. If they can achieve this, what can you do? As Margo Kingston’s book, Not Happy John, argues now is the time for democratic activism.


Punter S Thompson can be emailed on Polly Bush can be emailed on

Third time lucky for Howard on gay wedge?

Webdiary columnist Polly Bush is our expert on Howard’s gay marraige/gay adoption wedge play. Her previous pieces on the saga include Another Let’s-Attack-A-Minority-Group-Wheel of Fortune, by John Howard and Keeping it queer.


When the Prime Minister today announced yet another attempt at amending the Marriage Act to exclude gay couples, it was fitting for the PM to launch it at a conference for the National Marriage Coalition, a group set up by the Australian Family Association, the Australian Christian Lobby and the Fatherhood Foundation

Whenever there’s a contentious issue involving gay and lesbian Australians (or a not so contentious issue like Playschool’s two mums reference) the media love to run to the Australian Family Association’s Bill Muehlenberg for a good gay bashing quote. It’s extraordinarily predictable.


This new amendment, to be introduced in the next fortnight in parliament, will be a third time lucky attempt by the Government to ensure this issue gets a good run in time for the election. It will also again test the ALP’s position.

The Prime Minister, of course, said the opposite at today’s conference, stating his reintroduction of the Bill was to actually avoid it becoming an election issue!

“I think it would be a great pity if this issue were left hanging in an election campaign,” the PM said.

A great pity indeed. Howard’s reference to the issue being “left hanging” is about a Senate Committee’s examination of the Bill, which has a reporting date of October 7.

The Labor Party supported the initial Marriage Amendment, but referred it to the Senate’s legal Committee for community input and further examination.

Despite the Senate’s review, the Attorney-General tried to re-introduce the Bill shortly before parliament last finished sitting. Labor again supported it, but the Bill was defeated in the Senate in favour of the Committee process (see Another Let’s-Attack-A-Minority-Group-Wheel of Fortune, by John Howard).

The initial bill was tied to an amendment banning gay couples from overseas adoption rights, which the Labor Party did not support. The solution for the Howard Government? Separate the adoption amendment and try the Marriage wedge once again.

But like his Attorney-General in the House of Representatives June debate, the Prime Minister today denied that gay marriage was a “wedge” issue:

“In putting it into law in the next two weeks nobody can say it’s being used as a wedge, nobody can say it’s a diversion, everybody can say it’s a united expression of the national parliament and therefore of the will of the Australian people.”

According to ABC online, Labor’s Nicola Roxon has once again lent her party’s support to the amendment, indicating this time the ALP may pass the bill. Roxon reportedly told the forum:

“Labor’s position about gay marriage is clear and unequivocal and from the Prime Minister’s statements today it sounds like the major parties will be voting for this Bill some time in the next fortnight. I’m sure that you will all welcome that.”

In response, the Equal Rights Network’s Rodney Croome has predicted Labor will be the big loser if it side-steps the Committee process. Croome said:

There’s only one consequence of this decision electorally – Labor will lose votes. The people who may have voted Labor who now won’t are gay and lesbian people in inner-city Melbourne and Sydney. They’ll be much more likely now to vote Democrat or Green and Labor will lose their primary votes.

Croome’s right – such a decision by Labor will upset the gay and lesbian community. In an email to Mark Latham and Nicola Roxon, JOYFM newsreader Doug Pollard today wrote that was time for the real Mark Latham to stand up:

Dear Mark and Nicola,

I hope the reports I’m reading – that you are displaying your yellow streak and cutting and running from the gay marriage issue – are wrong. The Senate Enquiry is in place and working and neither you nor the Prime Minister should pre-empt its conclusions at the behest of a few toxic self-styled pseudo-Christians and Bob Santamaria leftovers.

I thought the point of having you, Mark, as leader of the Labor Party, was to have someone with guts (not just A gut) in the job. First you poodle up to the free trade agreement and now this. It’s time you stopped listening to those insipid ‘advisors’, whoever they may be, as well as what the press are bleating on about, and reverted to your true fighting style. You’ll not win an election by trotting after wee Johnny wagging your tail and yapping “Me too! Me too!

Listen to your inner Paul Keating instead and go for his ankles!

And it’s no good saying you’ll fix it up after the election: you know damn well that if you get in having supported this, it’ll be well nigh impossible to change course. You’ve got to put your money on the table now.

Doug Pollard, Writer, Presenter & Producer, Breakfast News & Rainbow Reports online, Joy Melbourne 94.9FM – Australia’s first and only 24/7 GLBTI Community Radio Station”

Despite Howard’s denials this is a wedge issue, it’s just another wedge in the election mix.

Yesterday, by supporting the FTA, Labor leader Mark Latham threw Howard’s main American alliance wedge back at Howard by insisting on more protection for the PBS. Today, Howard threw the gay wedge back at Latham. Don’t you just love elections?

Another Let’s-Attack-A-Minority-Group-Wheel of Fortune, by John Howard

Polly Bush’s blow by blow account of the people, the politics, the parliamentary debate and the tactics in Howard’s dog whistle on homosexuals.

Polly Bush is a Webdiary columnist. Her spoof of Howard�s anti-gay laws is at Keeping it queer.


Another Howard election, another Let’s-Attack-A-Minority-Group-Electoral Wheel of Fortune, with the Howard Government seemingly perfecting the wheel’s spin.

A couple of years ago, shortly after the US President’s infamous ‘axis of evil’ state of the union address, a mate of mine suggested Howard had his own ‘axis of evil’. It went something like this: Blacks � not stolen, no land rights. Asylum Seekers � shouldn’t come here, could be terrorists. Gays � shouldn’t breed, don’t have real relationships.

As fear and loathing is one of Howard’s election specialties, the news of the Government’s proposal to write in legislation to ban gay and lesbian couples from marriage and overseas adoption rights came as no surprise.

Indeed, the gay wedge potential was flagged on Webdiary by both Margo and long-time gay rights activist Rodney Croome in Wedge watch.


The “sweetener” to these pieces of legislation was the Government finally agreeing to give gay couples the same rights as heterosexual couples in superannuation (albeit under the vague definition of interdependence). Given the one step forward, two steps back approach, the victory was bittersweet for many in the gay and lesbian community.

“The Howard Government has had their hands in our coffins for nine years and are now trying to create a diversion while denying our rights,” the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby Group’s David McCarthy said.

Behind the proposal to enforce a ban on gay marriage was a group of backbenchers led by Liberal Senator Guy Barnett.

In a piece published in The Australian (�Guy Barnett: Let’s not get mixed up on matrimony�, 27 April 2004), Barnett wrote:

“To remove the growing doubt about the future of marriage as a fundamental institution in society, I drafted a letter to the Prime Minister that was signed by 30 of my federal Coalition colleagues, and it recommends federal amending legislation to achieve this objective. Marriage is a rock-solid institution. It’s not a fashion to be updated.”

Still, it must be trendy to persecute people. When the trendsetting Attorney-General Philip Ruddock first announced amendments banning gay and lesbian couples from marriage and overseas adoption rights, one of the intentions would have been to sit back and watch the Opposition implode – a mini Tampa take two of sorts.

The Opposition had the usual suspects vocal about the amendments discriminatory elements, but the ALP toed Howard�s line on accepting � while referring the matter to a Senate Committee – the Coalition’s rewrite of marriage as being exclusively between a man and a woman.

What Howard may not have expected was the small but passionate uproar amongst his own team, a team normally resigned to sewing their lips together on Government policies they oppose.

Warren Entsch, a North Queensland member, who admitted Howard might be surprised by his views, joined Chris Pyne, Peter King, Mal Washer, Alan Eggleston, Judi Moylan, Petro Georgiou and Senator Marise Payne in voicing their opposition to the amendments in what was described as a �heated� party room debate.

Wentworth MP Peter King told the Sydney Star Observer:

The important thing is that commonwealth legislation not discriminate against gay and lesbian couples. And I’m concerned, as I’ve said in the party room, that the danger of this is it looks to be a gratuitous insult. I’m also disappointed this is not a conscience vote. Normally such issues are treated as conscience votes, and I can see why that would be appropriate in this case.

Also vocal in the party room was Trish Worth, fearing such legislation could mean the loss of her Adelaide seat. Worth also suggested Howard was getting right behind George W. Bush with the sudden introduction of the issue.

And in the wake of a travel rorts expose, Trish Draper probably breathed a huge sigh of relief and privately pondered the meaning of ‘spouse’.

As former Liberal and now Democrats member Greg Barns wrote in Online Opinion, such a proposal ten years ago would have sparked a healthy debate within the Liberal Party. But not now, not under Howard’s regime:

Media reports that Mr Howard’s Cabinet last week decided to amend the Marriage Act to insert the common-law definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman should disturb liberals like Defence Minister Robert Hill, Communications Minister Daryl Williams and Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone. Yet there is no sign that they are dissenting from the Cabinet decision on this issue. What sort of signal does that send to backbenchers like Senator Marise Payne, New South Wales backbencher Bruce Baird and Victorian MP Petro Georgiou � about the only three MPs in Mr Howard’s Party who have put their heads above the parapet over the past decade to assert liberal values of tolerance and respect?

While the Government had its small group of dissenters, most members were willing to sell the Government�s line. In a debate with Labor’s Tanya Plibersek on ABC’s Lateline, Parramatta MP Ross Cameron made clear the Government�s superannuation sweetener wasn�t really about gay couples:

CAMERON: In relation to superannuation, the provision is not specifically directed towards same-sex couples. It relates to a concept of interdependence which will specifically benefit for example carers of children with profound disabilities or even perhaps members – elderly sisters who may live together in an interdependent relationship.

PLIBERSEK: You wouldn’t want to accidentally do anything good for same-sex couples, god forbid.

Within the ALP, Plibersek was part of the vocal opposition to the Government’s marriage amendment, and while the Party rejected the proposal of banning overseas adoption rights for same sex couples, in the end, it lent its support to Howard on the marriage reforms.

“Labor has made clear that we don’t support gay marriage,” Shadow Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said as the Party’s immediate response, but shortly after her statement generated media coverage, she sent an email to Labor colleagues:

Despite the extensive reporting that Labor has declared its support for the Government’s Bill, caucus and staff should note that at no time has such a commitment been made by me. My doorstop yesterday expressly indicated that this Bill must go through the usual caucus process prior to stating our formal position. I have indicated, consistent with past statements, that we would not support same sex marriage. I have also confirmed Labor’s position that we intend to remove all other forms of discrimination against same sex couples. Naturally, Shadow Cabinet and caucus will examine the Bill to see if it is consistent with this and with our platform.

Roxon’s �consistent with past statements� comment may have been in reference to the stifled debate on gay rights at the ALP’s National Conference early this year. As website Crikey reported on February 3, the debate never even properly made it to the floor:

News from the ALP Conference floor, or its back room, is that the first ever attempt by the ALP’s new gay and lesbian sub-group (Rainbow Labor), was defeated by the God botherers before anyone had time to reflect or genuflect. Rainbow Labor (which has apparently been boasting in the gay press about it’s power and influence with the Latham regime), had circulated a rather benign motion before the Conference and which called on the ALP to support same-sex relationships under Commonwealth law. Hardly revolutionary stuff, and something on which Latham has already indicated support.

But the ALP’s resident homophobe and Vatican virtuoso, Joe De Bruen (Shoppies Union), was having none of that! Sweeping around the conference floor like a bat wind, Joe foamed at the mouth and put the fear of God into anyone who would listen, telling them that the motion was all about (SHOCK! HORROR!) – “gay marriage.” It wasn’t, but enough ALP delegates and minders were intimidated enough by the Catholic mafia to put the thumbscrews on the queer lobby, which then meekly withdrew the motion and shied away from a fight with the bible bruvvers. Catholic Right – 1, Rainbow Labor – Nil.

During the IVF debate, Joe de Bruyn�s conservative Catholic views earned him the label of the �Dutchman who doesn�t like dykes� courtesy of Gough Whitlam. The Shoppies Union represents the single most powerful voting union bloc at ALP conferences. The Union is considered extremely right-wing, particularly when it comes to voting on social policies.

It was largely the Party’s dwindling lefties, and inner-city members, who were most vocal against the marriage amendment. As Victoria and Tasmania gay community newspaper MCV reported on June 25, according to a �federal parliamentary analysis� of 2001 census figures, four federal seats, all held by Labor, contain the biggest concentration of gay couples.

According to the research, seats held by Tanya Plibersek (Sydney) and Anthony Albanese (Grayndler), contain nearly one fifth of Australia�s �declared� gay couples, while the seats of Melbourne (Lindsay Tanner) and Melbourne Ports (Michael Danby) also register significant numbers of same sex couples.

And it was these four members who spoke out against the issue during the caucus meeting.

Plibersek argued the common law definition of marriage was adequate and as such, the legislation unnecessary. Tanner called for the ALP to introduce civil unions for same sex couples, but with no success.

Labor Senator Penny Wong, who outed herself as a lesbian, compared the legislation to defunct inter-racial marriage legislation in the United States. While many heralded Wong’s caucus “outing” as brave, she supported the Party line on gay marriage. Others who spoke out included ALP President Carmen Lawrence, and Michelle O’Byrne. The end result was the ALP would oppose the adoption amendment, support the Government on the marriage amendment, but refer the Bill to a Senate Committee. Like the Government’s stance, there was a bittersweet response from the gay and lesbian community.

“Obviously we are bitterly disappointed that Labor did not oppose entrenching discrimination in the Marriage Act, but we believe that once a Senate inquiry has raised awareness of the issues at stake, support for full legal equality will inevitably grow,” Rodney Croome told the Sydney Star Observer.

The ALP’s “sweetener” was that it would conduct an audit of all federal legislation when in Government. While commendable, it was nothing new – flashback to the ALP’s National Conference where the audit was first mooted.

John Howard referred to Labor’s response as trying to have “two bob each way”. The same could be said about the Government with the superannuation reforms. And both Ruddock and Roxon took similar lines – they both had parties providing �practical� reforms to the gay and lesbian community – flashback to the Howard Government�s �practical reconciliation� approach.

Ruddock and Roxon were interviewed by Melbourne’s Gay and Lesbian radio station JOYFM’s Damien Nicholas shortly after the amendment was announced. Roxon continually tried to diffuse the issue, telling Nicholas “it is a bit silly for us to get too hot under the collar or too excited about something which is actually not taking away people’s rights”.

True, but when you don’t have such rights, you are still being denied them. Writing in such legislation would make it absolutely clear that both the Government and Opposition do not equate gay relationships to the same status as heterosexual relationships. Put simply, the proposed legislation is discriminatory.

While Roxon seemed on the defensive, Ruddock was more relaxed during his JOYFM interview. Nicholas posed a rare question to the Minister:

Nicholas: How have your gay friends reacted to this news?

Ruddock: Well, some have said they think it’s targeting them and I assure them that it’s not, but others don’t necessarily put the same weight on it. Some do, some don’t.

This flies in the face of the argument that gay Australians are not interested in gay marriage. As Ruddock rightly suggested, some are, some are not. Most, however, would agree that they want the same rights as heterosexual couples.

The Marriage Bill’s debate in the House of Representatives on June 17 was filled with hate and hope. What was particularly curious was the passionate speeches from some Labor members, who sounded like they vehemently opposed the legislation, until the pinch of reality of voting in support of the Government’s amendment set in at the end of the debate.

After the Liberal Member for Patterson Bob Baldwin quoted biblical passages in support of the Bill, Labor’s Carmen Lawrence provided a lesson on the wider history of marriage, one that went beyond Nicola Roxon�s remarks that Australia’s history of marriage was a “heterosexual institution”. People who rabbit on about the ‘history of marriage’ should be careful. It was only a couple of decades ago, when it became illegal for husbands to rape their wives. Family violence and rape, is hardly a “history” of marriage the Shadow Attorney General would be advocating. As Lawrence explained:

Indeed, if you go back through the history of marriage as an institution you will find�I think this is correct; I have not been able to fully check it, but the research seems adequate�that between the fifth and the 14th centuries, for instance, the Roman Catholic Church conducted special ceremonies to bless same-sex unions which were almost identical to those they used to bless heterosexual unions at the time. At the very least these were spiritual if not sexual unions�it is not altogether clear�but there existed a form of ritual even within the Catholic Church.

Along with debunking the notion marriage was necessarily tied to religious doctrine in Australian society, Lawrence questioned the Government’s motives with introducing the provision without community debate:

No matter how you look at the proposals that this legislation embodies, they have a nasty political whiff about them, because the Howard government has shown itself capable on many occasions of pulling out an issue that it regards as likely to divide the community and to result in the expression of certain prejudices for its own political advantage. You have to ask: why are we debating this right now? This government has been in office since 1996. It has had many opportunities to open up this question to the wider community.

Lawrence then touched on Howard’s ‘axis of evil’ and the ‘Let’s-Attack-A-Minority-Group-Electoral Wheel of Fortune’ strategy:

I have no difficulty at all in seeing this as just another form of �divide and conquer�. You sow seeds of bias, prejudice and discrimination out in the community, just scatter them around a bit, and then allow them to grow for your political benefit. It is a very nasty tactic. I have seen this government do it with Indigenous people. It has tried it before with lesbian couples in relation to the IVF debate. It has done it with asylum seekers. In my view, history will judge this Prime Minister very harshly for having implemented this strategy so comprehensively and so often in Australian political life since 1996.

Lawrence’s speech came under immediate attack due to her Party’s support of the amendment. Pat Farmer, former ultra-marathon runner turned Liberal questioned the ALP’s approach to the amendments:

I believe that as elected representatives we should stand up for those people and for what they believe in. But those opposite agree with one side of politics and then leave it up to the Senate to come up with a different answer because they do not have the spine to stand up for what they should truly represent in this place.

The independent member for Calare Peter Andren took a similar line to the ALP by supporting the Government’s marriage amendment on the grounds it reflected the legal definition, but he questioned the Government’s notion same sex marriages would erode the “institution of marriage” and indeed, Howard’s ‘survival of the species’ purpose of marriage. It’s a valid argument, as how can allowing more people to embrace a concept destroy it? As Andren said:

As far as I can see, if this place were to allow same-sex marriages, the end result would have no effect on the incidence of heterosexual marriages and heterosexual couples willing to contribute to the survival of the species.

Andren was harsher on the Government’s adoption amendment, explaining how the bulk of the states already don’t provide such rights for same-sex couples anyway. He also explained the loophole in the adoption legislation:

This policy is full of holes. Even in those states and territories where same-sex couples are banned from adopting, there remains an indirect mechanism for a same-sex couple to adopt, as most allow single persons to adopt�albeit in special circumstances. One partner of a same-sex couple could well take this approach. However rare a successful adoption in these circumstances may be, the opportunity legally remains. This is policy on the run, and the government is scraping the bottom of its wedge politics barrel.

Another MP who spoke passionately on the adoption element of the Bill was Labor’s Tanya Plibersek. Plibersek was scathing of the Government, and the tone of her speech suggested her own Party�s stance may have not sat well with the Member for Sydney. Plibersek spoke of the inevitability of legally acknowledging same sex relationships:

Some time in the not too distant future, there will be formal recognition of same-sex couples, and the sky will not fall in, and we will not be destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah, and life will continue. The main difference will be fewer violent or abusive attacks on gay men and lesbians, and fewer teenagers suiciding, because they will not be taught to feel shame about their sexuality as many are now.

Plibersek questioned the authority of politicians, who spend many nights away from their families, as being in a position to dictate the nature of families in legislation. She also praised the parenting abilities of same-sex couples:

I have to say that the same-sex parents I know are often more thoughtful, dedicated parents than the average parent. They have made a clearer, more considered decision to have a child�there are no unwanted pregnancies in lesbian relationships.

Indeed. Despite supporting the Government’s amendment, Plibersek’s speech was in stark contrast to Costello clone Anthony Smith’s, who equated society’s success to heterosexuality:

Marriage is between a man and a woman. It is the bedrock of our society, it is a fundamental reason for the success of our society and it will be a fundamental ingredient to the future success of our country and the wider society in the years ahead. In passing this amending bill, the parliament is doing precisely what it should be doing.

The Greens� Michael Organ Cutting countered Smith�s notion of who contributes to a successful society:

The contribution of gay and lesbian people to our community has been enormous. Despite this, we still seem to be determined to discriminate. Some are willing to give in to the rantings and ravings of homophobes. For centuries many gay and lesbian people have been forced to hide their sexuality through fear of discrimination. Let us make no mistake: this legislation sets their cause backward� back to the fifties, I would suggest, a time period that the Prime Minister is obviously very comfortable with.

I believe that acknowledgment and acceptance of the legitimacy of gay and lesbian people and of their love is inevitable; the community is very much supportive of that. But the government and opposition are today making that journey that much harder.

Organ referred to the Marriage Bill debate of 1961, and how a Country Party Senator tried to introduce an amendment dictating marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The last amendment was put to the vote and defeated by 40 votes to eight. While it can be argued that for the purposes of Australian law �marriage� does not include unions between persons of the same sex, it is also true that our understanding of who can contract a valid marriage under Australian domestic law is changing.

Liberal MP Alby Shultz then joined the Government�s chorus in support of the Bill and in doing so provided a potential “pollie waffle” joke for 2004 when referring to the Government’s relationship with the predominantly conservative Murdoch broadsheet:

Those of us on this side of the House know that The Australian is not a print media outlet that has any great love for the government.

Shultz quoted The Oz’s editorial �Gay Marriage not needed’, which oh-so-sensitively suggested gay people who wish for the right to get married “should get over it”. He also provided the precursor to Ruddock’s argument by justifying discrimination against gays as really fighting discrimination against heterosexuals:

Each of us should have the opportunity to participate in our community and to experience the benefits and accept the responsibilities that flow from such participation without fear of discrimination. It is clearly in the best interests of children for them to have, all other things being equal – as the Prime Minister has said on numerous occasions – the care and affection of both a mother and a father.

Shultz also took issue with the Greens Michael Organ�s defence of gay rights:

I take very strong exception to people coming into this place and making loud noises about minority groups.

Gawd forbid. Attorney-General Philip Ruddock rejected the idea these amendments were about wedge politics. Instead, the urgency to introduce such provisions was in response to pending legal challenges by same sex couples who had married overseas. In some respects, this whole debate is another instance of the Howard Government’s attack on the judiciary.

When questioned by the Shadow Attorney-General Nicola Roxon about the number of such cases, Ruddock responded:

A number of them. I understand there are as many as five. They have been reported in the press, so the information is as much available to the member for Gellibrand as it is to me. The fact is that in the government�s view, with those proceedings afoot seeking a declaration of validity, this is not a matter in which the government should abdicate its proper leadership role in relation to families.

In defence of the Government’s adoption amendment, Ruddock wheeled out the �genuine� couples argument:

It is ensuring that priority will be accorded for genuine couples, a male and a female, and that same-sex couples would not be proposed as suitable under the scheme which permits overseas adoptions.

Ruddock took the point further while arguing against Labor’s proposed audit of federal legislation, openly suggesting there were instances of sexuality based discrimination that should remain in place:

In relation to an audit of all Commonwealth legislation and a statement that, regardless of what that audit might discover, measures that are discriminatory on the basis of sexuality might be removed, the only comment I would make is that there may be for some reasons in some parts of Commonwealth legislation valid differences that some might want to maintain. Ruddock also made clear that for him the matter was an immigration issue, wheeling out the ol’ ‘we will decide’ argument:

The Commonwealth legislates on who does or does not get a visa to enter Australia. Under inter-country adoption arrangements, where the proposers for adoption are a same-sex couple a visa for a child to enter Australia will not be granted.

Roxon’s main beef with the Government was on adoption. Throughout this debate (and outside of parliament), Ruddock stressed the Opposition’s stance on adoption rights for same sex couples was prioritising these rights over heterosexual couples. Roxon rejected this:

To suggest that we are seeking to prioritise same-sex couples is totally wrong and totally inappropriate. What we are saying is that your government, Attorney, is trying to interfere to say that they should never be on the list. We all know that no overseas country at this point in time recognises or allows adoption to same-sex couples. We know that most of the states in Australia do not permit it. But we do not think it is necessary for the federal government to intervene in the way that it is simply to make its point about its view of what a family should look like and what it thinks is always in the best interests of the child.

We do not believe that, if a child is in traumatic circumstances, if they are living in poverty or if they have been involved in a country which is war torn or has some other civil disruption, there will never been a good home for them here in Australia with a same-sex couple.

Gawd forbid same sex couples should have access to adopting babies from less traumatic situations. Circumstances aside, the Bill made its way to the Senate, where the focus shifted on a Committee reporting date for the Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2004.

There were six matters the Committee was asked to investigate:

(1) The legal interpretation of the marriage power in the Constitution, and the extent of this power with regard to the creation of marriage law and the recognition of foreign marriages;

(2) Whether the Bill raises international comity issues, or inconsistency with laws, policies and standards of domestic and overseas jurisdictions;

(3) Whether the Bill breaches international instruments including the Hague Convention and human rights mechanisms prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation;

(4) Whether the Treaties relied upon in Schedule [2] of the Bill provide the Commonwealth with the necessary power to act, and how this action interferes with state and territory responsibilities to legislate for and to run adoption processes;

(5) the consequences of the Bill becoming law, and those remaining avenues available to the Commonwealth for legally recognising inter-personal relationships including same-sex relationships;

(6) The government�s insistence that this Bill be introduced as a matter of urgency when there has been no demonstrated reason for its urgent introduction and no community consultation on the provisions of the Bill.

Democrats Senator Brian Greig led the charge, requesting a Committee Reporting date (through the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee) of October 7. He said one of the Democrats main reasons for an Inquiry process was to avoid gay and lesbian people and their families “being used as punching bags for the purposes of an election campaign”:

These are very serious issues. These are issues of relationships that affect people immediately and personally. These are issues of children and family that affect people immediately and personally. The polarised and volatile environment of an election campaign is not the place to properly discuss, debate and resolve such issues.

Senator Greig also rejected the notion that this legislation needed to be urgently implemented:

An argument has been presented by some religious commentators and conservative politicians that there is urgency in this, that there is a crisis within marriage and the parliament must move swiftly. We argue that that is a nonsense and point out that civil marriage has been available in Canada for exactly one year this month. So the government has known for one year that it was obvious that test cases were going to be taken in Australia. Why then has it been raised at the eleventh hour? We are arguing that has been done for cynical political and election campaign reasons and must not be pandered to.

The Government’s insistence that the reporting date be changed to August confirmed Democrats fears that this Bill would indeed become part of an election campaign, but the Senate rejected the Government�s attempt to change the reporting date to August 5.

But within a day of the Senate deciding on an October 7 reporting date, Ruddock re-introduced the Marriage Legislation into the House of Representatives. He said he was re-introducing the Bill urgently because “there is significant community concern about the possible erosion of the institution of marriage”.

Ruddock cited cases currently seeking “recognition of offshore arrangements” as part of the urgency. It was a direct challenge for the ALP to fast-track the legislation and ignore the Senate’s pending review:

It is the government’s view that the provisions of the Marriage Act which we are seeking to enact should not be delayed and should not be the subject of Senate referral. The opposition having indicated its support for these measures should ensure�having restricted it to those matters that relate to a definition of marriage and the recognition of overseas marriages, which they say they support�that they receive a speedy passage. I invite the opposition to accede to that.

The Shadow Attorney-General Nicola Roxon appeared shocked by the move:

This is extraordinary. Not only does the Attorney want to use the processes of this House to get around procedures that have been agreed to in the Senate – which is of course something that we have come to expect from the Attorney – but it seems that the government cannot even manage the order of business in terms of the debate today.

Roxon also addressed Ruddock’s claim for the need of legislation in the face of cases before the courts:

The Attorney would have us believe, in the comments he has made, that the reason for needing to urgently press ahead with this matter is that, if we do not, there would be a major crisis in this country. This is because two applications have been filed seeking to have gay marriages recognised, but they are 99.9 per cent likely to be rejected by the courts.

I have no doubt that the Commonwealth will appear in these matters and make its views known. Frankly, I have no doubt that it is most likely that they will be rejected. It is just not credible for the Attorney to come into the House and say, ‘Unless this bill is passed, the world as we know it will come to an end.’ We are sick of dealing with an Attorney who thinks that crisis is just a way of life. He has manufactured a crisis out of this matter. There is no crisis.

Yet the ALP supported the Bill! Roxon said:

The content of the bill is something that we do not have an objection to, and obviously we will not be voting against the bill. But we object strenuously to the process which is being used.

However she warned the Government the ALP might not be so supportive in the Senate.

Greens Member Michael Organ again attacked the Government and the Opposition:

Marriage does mean, in part, the union of a man and a woman, but, as I have pointed out, in this day and age in this country, marriage is more than that. There are individual gay and lesbian couples living in loving, caring marriage relationships, asking that they not be discriminated against in the many areas that they are� for example, superannuation, entitlements, living as married couples et cetera. It is not up to this parliament to interfere there�not at all. I condemn the government for this bill and I condemn the ALP for supporting its introduction.

Organ also moved this amendment to the legislation: “Marriage means the union of (a) a woman and a woman, (b) a man and a man, or (c) a woman and a man, to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.”

The only minor party member of the House of Reps appealed to the Government and Opposition to consider the issue of democracy and representing all Australians:

We are here in 2004. We have come a long way since the bad old days of gay bashing and homophobic behaviour and things like that. Hopefully we have come a long way. We are an open democracy here in Australia. We should be sending a clear message to the community that discrimination against people based on their sexuality and on homophobia is not to be condoned at all. Unfortunately, this Marriage Amendment Bill does send the wrong message out there to the community. It caters to some of those homophobic attitudes in the community and it is the wrong message to be sending. But it is a message that this government seems happy to send and unfortunately it is a message that the opposition seems happy to support as well.

During the Senate’s marathon last sitting that went well into the weekend, the Ruddock amendment was defeated in favour of the already agreed Committee process.

Since then, with the opportunity of an early August election date now closed, this issue could still become an election battle ground. And with the possibility of parliament sitting again, there’s speculation Ruddock would try to introduce yet another marriage amendment to test the Opposition.

Submissions to the Senate�s Inquiry closed Friday, July 30, but late submissions can be accepted. For more information go to senatecommittee

Since the publication of Margo’s book ‘Not Happy John!’ the book�s website has sparked debate on how citizens can reclaim their democracy. One avenue, open to all citizens, is to write a submission to the Committee and actively contribute.

Unfortunately, as demonstrated in this debate, the major parties have prevented members from voting for what they truly believe in, or at least pay lip service to. Yet while the Government and Opposition have taken collective approaches in our parliament, individual members are quietly letting their views be known.

A couple of weeks ago, it was revealed Liberal Trish Worth sent a letter to constituents in her Adelaide seat airing her distaste for this legislation. According to the Adelaide Advertiser, the letter labelled the legislation “completely unnecessary and could be seen to marginalise a section of the community for no sensible reason”.

Likewise, the ALP Member for Melbourne Ports Michael Danby recently sent out (no doubt selectively) a completely gay focused newsletter.

Ideally, these members should have the courage to stand up in parliament and challenge their party lines through voting means.

Prior to this legislation being introduced, if gay marriage wasn’t an issue for gay and lesbian Australians, it is now � largely thanks to John Howard putting it on the agenda. Thanks John.

Keeping it queer

Polly Bush** is a Webdiary columnist.


A new contestant has emerged in the lead-up to this year’s federal poll, with the launching of a political party prepared to take on the Howard Government’s gay wedge issue – or at least, take the issue up to a higher level.

The Keeping-It-Queer (KIQ) Party, launched today, has been formed as a direct response to the Government’s recent policy announcements to legislate against marriage and overseas adoption rights for gay and lesbian Australians.

While the new Party opposes the Government’s policies, Party President Les Beyan said the Coalition’s “regrettable” position left it no other option but to work with the Government in further creating a segregated society.

“If John Howard wants to create an Us-and-Them Society, the KIQ Party will ensure we roll out these reforms to all spheres of Australian life,” the new Party President said.

“We will help create clearer divisions between straight and gay Australians, so to preserve the sanctity of both groups.”


Heading up the KIQ Party’s agenda is the issuing of pink triangles to all gay and lesbian Australians, which will bolster John Howard’s canvassed introduction of a national ID card system following the next election.

“By helping John Howard fight the war on terrorism, the pink triangles will also help the Government’s war on diversity,” Les Beyan said.

The triangles will also help identify lesbian and gays at polling booths, complementing the KIQ Party�s proposal of limiting their voting choices to gay and lesbian candidates.

This policy will also be put in reverse, meaning heterosexuals will be banned from voting for candidates such as the Greens Bob Brown, the Democrats Brian Greig, and Labor Senator Penny Wong. Les Beyan warned it could also affect several others.

“While the Labor Party has promised an audit of all discriminatory federal legislation, we will conduct an audit of all closeted members of parliament and out them,” Beyan said.

The pink triangles will also identify gay and lesbian Australians as consumers, permitting them to buy products like Robert Dessaix and Patrick White books, Peter Allen records, and attend festivals run by Robyn Archer, which will now be prohibited for all heterosexuals.

Geographical zones declared �Pink Triangle Areas� will also be set up, and will only be accessible for gay and lesbian Australians.

Oxford Street in Sydney and Brunswick and Chapel Streets in Melbourne are already considering the Pink Zoned Areas, fearing these bustling inner city trendy retail strips will be reduced to ghost towns if they reject the move.

Gays and lesbians living in Yarraville in Melbourne’s inner-west are considering a ban on allowing their Federal member Nicola Roxon from visiting the suburb, following her comments in support of the Government�s marriage ban.

Suburbs of Highgate Hill and New Farm in Brisbane, Prahran and South Yarra in Melbourne (part of Treasurer Peter Costello�s federal seat), and several inner-city Sydney suburbs are considering blanket pink zones. Northcote in Melbourne has already agreed to revert to the suburb’s friendly local term of Dykecote.

Similarly, Cairns and Noosa in Queensland, and Daylesford in Victoria are also weighing up the pink dollar in their areas.

But it’s predicted the pink designated areas will face stiff straight opposition, with heterosexuals living in and around such areas threatening to set up heterosexual rights lobbies in response.

“I pay my taxes, I’m law abiding and I have a right to shop in Oxford Street if I bloody well like,” one angry heterosexual Sydney resident said upon hearing the KIQ announcement.

Workplaces would also be allocated straight and queer workstation areas, and where possible, gays would be siphoned off.

Such a move would force gay athletes in the Australian Olympics team out of the Athens squad and into the Gay Games.

Swimming’s governing body is shocked by the move, saying it would potentially wipe out almost the entire Australian squad from competing in this year’s Olympic Games.

Other measures announced include the banning of frocks worn by straight men, a move that Channel Nine is reportedly appealing, given that footy shows are high ratings programs for the Network. The Churches are also said to be incredibly confused by this particular move.

Justice Michael Kirby will only be allowed to hear High Court cases relating to gay and lesbian Australians, a proposal that has sent panic waves through the Attorney-General’s Department, Bill Heffernan’s office, and the shoebox of the Australian newspaper’s Janet Albrechtsen.

Hugh Jackman will be banned from performing any more musicals, while Adam Elliot will be forced to hand back his Oscar.

Kylie Minogue is set to be devastated by KIQ’s formation and goals, and is considering canceling her greatest hits tour fearing she won’t be able to fill seats if she has to rely on heterosexual ticket purchases.

Network Ten’s Queer Eye for a Straight Guy will be relaunched as �Straight Eye for a Straight Guy� with Warrick Capper being touted as a potential host, despite an insider from the Network fearing “nobody will watch it”.

Play School will be re-marketed as Gay School, so as not to offend or confuse any Howard Government members, or the Leader of the Opposition who are all regular viewers.

The KIQ Party also wants to ensure the Howard Government�s marriage act and adoption rights proposals are rolled out in full to include Howard�s ‘survival of the species’ sentiments, and will introduce a new series of amendments if elected.

“Married couples who can�t have children will have their marriage annulled with the introduction of compulsory fertility testing at marriage registries,” Les Beyan said.

The Opposition said while they supported the Government’s recent amendment of the marriage act, they really and truly care about the rights of gay and lesbian Australians.

The Prime Minister and the Government refused to comment on the Party’s launch and proposals.

**Polly Bush is a pink triangle adorned lesbian who sought full permission from KIQ President Les Beyan to report this story.

Teaching sex discrimination

Webdiary columnist Polly Bush explains the decision by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission not to allow the Catholic Church to discriminate in favour of men in teaching education. She also answers queries by Webdiarist Rob Bruce in Wedgewatch.

Poor Jim was being discriminated against and was suffering a ‘crisis in masculinity’. As a Christian white male, he had terrible trouble coping with his ambition to be a primary school teacher, subject to the brutal qualities of what was heralded a “feminine” occupation. The girls at uni picked on him all the time, relentlessly taunting and teasing him and making sexist jokes. Plus, he couldn’t keep up with the intrinsic drinking culture the female students embraced. Some, drunkenly made moves on him, reducing him to feeling like an objectified piece of meat. Others talked over the top of him in class, ignoring his ideas, and praising other women when they echoed his ideas moments later. Jim just couldn’t win in this cruel female dominated world. He would just have to take the first job he could nail following graduation, and safely assume the male passage out of the lower paid classroom and into the higher paid assistant principals office and assume his dreaded role in life. And gawd help the male kiddies who missed out on a male “role model” and were subject to the teachings of all those women, no doubt teaching them no good.

Since when did the Howard Government become a champion of addressing gender inequity in the workplace? Did I miss something? If Howard truly is the champion of gender equity, will he override the Sex Discrimination Act to ensure an increase in the pathetic figure of 8% of women who are directors in Australia’s top 200 companies? Will he suddenly embrace Joan Kirner and Emily’s List in seeking more female representation in Australian parliaments? Will he address the issue of women earning 66% of mens total average weekly earnings? Will he address the lack of visibility of female role models in sport, sports people who are arguably better role models than rugby league players? Will he sort out the bloke near my work who regularly greets me with the phrase “nice tits”? Will he accept female applications to join the frontline of our Defence force? And if he’s still around for another term or so (sorry Pete), will he search Australia high and low for a woman good enough to be governor-general or a High Court judge, cos gawd knows there’s gotta be one or the other out there?

The Howard Government’s latest proposal to override the Sex Discrimination Act after the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s rejection of an application by the Catholic Education Office to provide male-only teaching scholarships has similarities with the last time the Government tried to fiddle with the Act.

Like the initiative to ban single women and lesbians from accessing fertility treatments, the Government has hidden behind the agenda of addressing the so-called lack of male role models and this crazy concept labelled a ‘crisis in masculinity’.

The male teaching push not only gives the Government another reason to bemoan the so-called lack of male-role models, but also shows up Howard’s complete disregard of human rights and his misunderstanding of discrimination and the Sex Discrimination Act (SDA) itself.

It also demonstrates the Government’s naivety in introducing real long-term policies to address the number of male teachers in primary schools. The reality is twelve teaching scholarships for men are hardly going to balance up the numbers. (MARGO: But Howard’s planned law will give blanket authority ‘to discriminate against another person, on the ground of the other persons sex, by offering scholarships to persons of the opposite sex in respect of their participation as students in a teaching course…’.)

It’s the twenty year anniversary of the Sex Discrimination Act, an Act the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) says has “played a crucial role in promoting a greater acceptance of the need for equality between women and men”.

Under the Act, sex discrimination is unlawful. The HREOC identify the major objectives of the Act as being to:

* promote equality between men and women;

* eliminate discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status or pregnancy and, with respect to dismissals, family responsibilities; and

* eliminate sexual harassment at work, in educational institutions, in the provision of goods and service, in the provision of accommodation and the administration of federal programs.

Under Section 44 of the Act, the HREOC has the power to grant temporary exemptions. The Act also provides a range of permanent exemptions (the HREOC uses the example of “where the sex of the employee is a genuine occupational qualification”). In such instances, there is no need to apply for a temporary exemption.

On top of the permanent exemptions granted, Section 7D of the Act provides the allowance of “special measures” exemptions. Under this provision, the HREOC states:

“It is not discriminatory to take an action (for example an act, practice, policy, plan, arrangement etc) for the purpose of achieving substantive equality between men and women, people of different marital status or women who are pregnant/potentially pregnant and those who are not. For example, an action that has the purpose of addressing disadvantages experienced by pregnant/potentially pregnant employees in areas where they have been and continue to be unequal may be a special measure.”

While there are certain criteria that need to be met in order to be eligible to use the special measure provision, if the action meets the criteria, again, there is no need to apply for a temporary exemption.

As the HREOC’s exemption guidelines explain, “Because the SD Act already provides for both permanent exemptions and special measures, the circumstances in which temporary exemptions need to be sought are therefore very limited. As a result, temporary exemptions are rarely granted.”

In 2002, the Archdiocese of Sydney’s Catholic Education Office applied to the HREOC for a temporary exemption to offer male-only teaching scholarships. The Commission’s first response was to seek public submissions on the matter, and as such, eleven were received.

According to the Commission’s Notice Of Rejection Of Application For Exemption, submissions supporting the Catholic Education Office argued, “male teachers are necessary for the sound development of boys, that male and female teachers teach differently, and that boys need male role models.”

On the other hand, submissions against the Catholic Education Office application argued, “the contention that the exemption sought would subvert the fundamental purpose of sex discrimination legislation to ensure equitable opportunities and economic parity between the sexes. A number of the submissions opposing the grant of the exemption pointed to what was said to be a lack of evidence showing that financial hardship is the barrier preventing a higher number of males from enrolling in primary teacher training.”

The Catholic Education Office also provided material which included statistics highlighting the difference in male and female teaching ratios in NSW, and a 1999 Catholic Church study titled, ‘Men in Primary Schools: An Endangered Species?’. According to the Commission, the study concluded, “the decline in males enrolling and completing teaching training is a ’cause of concern to educational administrators and systemic policy makers and [has] wide-ranging educational and social ramifications’.” (All documents are at HREOC.)

The House of Representatives 2002 report ‘Boys: Getting It Right’ was also examined by the Commission.

Based on the material, the Commission found that (a) there are more female primary school teachers, (b) reasons for the imbalance included the “status of teachers in the community, child protection issues and the pay and conditions of primary school teachers relative to other occupations”, (c) there is “insufficient evidence” the proposed scholarship scheme would address the imbalance, and (d) there is “insufficient evidence” the imbalance will “detrimentally affect school culture or the education of boys enrolled as students in primary schools”.

The Catholic Education Office’s application also cited Section 7D of the Act, the special measures provision, arguing the male only scholarships were an attempt to achieve substantive equality. As the Commission noted in its rejection ruling, “If this is correct, then it would be unnecessary for the Commission to grant a temporary exemption.”

The Commission inferred the Catholic Education Office had failed in sufficiently proving the scholarships would achieve substantive equality:

“Although not entirely clear, it does not appear to be suggested by the Catholic Education Office that the scholarship scheme is aimed at addressing alleged substantive inequality between male and female teachers. If such a suggestion is advanced, the Commission notes that the Catholic Education Office has not sought to identify any “practices said to exclude, disadvantage, restrict or result in an adverse effect” upon male primary teachers or “leave uncorrected the effects of past discrimination against them.”

To utilise the special measures provision, the Commission notes the most important element in addressing substantive inequality, is the examination of the “overall effect of current practices and to trace unequal outcomes to their source.”

In the rejection of the Catholic Education Office’s application, the Commission cited the ratio of female to male principals in primary schools, and the occurrence of men more likely being promoted in the teaching profession:

“In those circumstances, it is not at all clear that the Catholic Education Office would be able to identify an “overall effect” that amounts to substantive inequality favouring female teachers.”

The Commission also found that the Catholic Education Office had not established a link between the gender of teachers and improvements in boys’ performances. It cited the House of Representatives Standing Committee report ‘Boys: Getting it Right’, which states:

“In supporting the presence of more men in schools, the Committee is not suggesting that female teachers should be displaced in favour of men or that women are not equally good teachers. The Committee agrees that the quality of the teacher is more important than the gender of the teacher.”

Interestingly, the same Standing Committee Report recommended the introduction of teaching scholarships but not male only scholarships the Committee recommended HECS free scholarships for equal numbers of males and females, based on merit.

The Catholic Education Office is appealing the Commission’s rejection and the case is to be heard next month.

Despite this pending review, the Federal Government still pushed ahead with their proposal to override the SDA to allow the Catholic Education Office to offer male-only scholarships.

In response, Labor’s Shadow Attorney-General and Minister Assisting the Leader on the Status of Women Nicola Roxon accused the Prime Minister of failing to “understand the operation of existing laws” within the SDA.

Like Opposition Leader Mark Latham, Roxon argued that “The Catholic Education Office, in seeking to attract more male students to take up primary teaching courses, could have put their proposal forward as a ‘special measure’.”

Again, this would not have required the Catholic Education Office to submit a temporary exemption application.

In Bettina Arndt’s article, ‘Jobs for the boys’ (The Sydney Morning Herald, March 20 2003), Arndt reported on the rejection of the Catholic Education Offices application, and the alternative avenue of the special measures provision:

“All over Australia, there are universities being bold and getting away with it. Four years ago, HREOC told the Australian National University that it was not willing to grant an exemption to enable the university to offer women-only academic positions to address gender imbalances in earth sciences. However Susan Halliday, the then sex discrimination commissioner, advised the university that if they could show “barriers exist in relation to the appointment of women staff”, then advertising for women-only could qualify as a “special measure”. (She noted there were risks associated with this approach.) The university advertised the positions and got away with it.”

Arndt also addressed what Webdiary contributor Rob Bruce argued in ‘Wedgewatch’. Bruce challenged Margo Kingston to a Google challenge of sorts, and, using examples of scholarships offered to women in engineering and IT, queried her statement that “it is inconceivable that low percentages of women in other jobs would get such special treatment”.

Personally, I interpreted Margo’s description of special treatment as the Federal Government intervening to override the Act not the functions or exemptions of the Act itself.

Interpretations aside, Bettina Arndt raised the same comparison in her piece:

“It’s interesting to note that similar arguments could be made about scholarships to attract women into fields such as engineering – with the reasons women avoid engineering having more to do with the tough male-dominated work conditions than the costs of training. Yet here universities get away with offering women financial incentives.”

Similarly, Miranda Devine in her piece ‘Labor has a list for Emily … but not for Edward’ (The Sun-Herald, March 14, 2004), cited areas where women are being encouraged into professions, arguing the Labor Party was practicing “positive discrimination”:

“There’s Emily’s List, Joan Kirner’s instrument for enforcing targets of female representation in Parliament. And the Victorian Labor Government warning to law firms of dire consequences if female barristers didn’t get more government work. Women comprise 18 per cent of the Victorian bar, which happens to be almost exactly the percentage of males (18.8 per cent) among trainee primary school teachers in Australia.”

Is there any validity in comparing legal and engineering initiatives to the latest teaching decision? In Wedgewatch, and in response to Bruce’s engineering comparison, Margo asked if there were “any sex discrimination experts out there who’d like to comment?”

Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Dr Jocelynne Scutt has provided Webdiary with this answer:

“The attempt at comparing engineering scholarships for women and teaching scholarships for men is misguided. Exemptions are not to be given lightly. Every application must be considered on its merits, in light of the facts of the particular application. Attempting to argue by analogy isn’t productive, and particularly in this area, because the principle is, as stated, that each case must be considered on its own merits, and exemptions should not be given lightly. Hence, if there is no valid or substantive argument on the basis of the application itself, there can be no grant of an exemption. What has or has not occurred in relation to a different set of facts, in a different area, trade or profession, cannot ‘shore up’ an entirely different application. An extraneous matter, such as the grant of another exemption which is based on its own terms, in relation to its own facts and circumstances, cannot bolster an argument or application dealing with a particular problem or issue in another area.”

Unproductive analogies aside, by taking up Bruce’s Google challenge, there is a lot of literature available tracking the barriers faced by women in engineering. The same cannot necessarily be said for men in the teaching profession.

In 1996, researchers Christopher McLean, Sue Lewis, Jane Copeland, Brian O’Neill, and Sue Lintern examined the Masculinity and the Culture of Engineering (Australasian Journal of Engineering Education, Vol 7, No. 2, 1997).

The researchers surveyed male students in engineering faculties at two Australian universities, as well as interviewing academics and looking at previous research with female engineering students. What they found was a masculine dominant culture in engineering, and resistance to those who attempted to change this culture:

“A number of students recognised that, to belong to the engineering group, there are certain rules of behaviour that need to be followed, and that pressure would be brought to bear on anyone who transgressed. Attempts to change the nature of engineering – such as special assistance for women – was often interpreted as an attack on the ‘group’ to be resisted strenuously. Similarly, unacceptable views or behaviours by students – such as feminism or homosexuality – were seen as warranting exclusion. Engineering was also quite clearly seen as ‘white’, with ‘Asians’ viewed as outsiders.”

Many of the male survey participants identified with the stereotypes normally associated with studying engineering like binge drinking and joking around. The researchers of the study also identified an underlying theme of sexism in the embrace of joking around:

“There was also a tendency to dismiss the issue of sexual harassment by saying ‘it’s just a joke’:

‘I think some females can be a little bit sensitive to comments whereas it’s not aimed to be sexual harassment or anything like that. I’m probably guilty of it myself. At one time in one of our subjects we were talking about setting up an office at a company. I said, ‘Oh, we need a secretary as long as she’s wearing a short skirt and topless’ as a joke, and I know I offended one person. I apologised afterwards, but it wasn’t meant to degrade anyone. It’s just an offhand joke.'”

Male respondents also spoke of the survival mechanism for women, suggesting women were more likely to fit in to the course if they were “one of the boys”:

“Several male students pointed out that female students who act like this are seen as ‘chicks with dicks’. As one noted:

‘I think that would make it one hundred per cent easier to do engineering if you were the sort of girl, you know … sort of act like one of the guys. Very strong-willed and not shy sort of pretty little girl sort of image that is portrayed. I think they would struggle to come to grips with all the guys. So if you act like one of the guys I’d say it would be a lot easier to cope, yes’.”

On the other hand, women who identified as feminists faced ridicule:

“It is clear that comfortable survival in an engineering faculty necessitates an open, even aggressive rejection of feminism. We argue that the sanctions contained in the dominant discourse act to ensure that females in engineering do not openly call themselves feminist or appear to be following a feminist political agenda. Some of the sanctions applied against those seen as feminist were laughter, exclusion from social and study groups, cruelty, rudeness, and labels of ‘lesbian’ and ‘masculine’.”

Far better to be a chick with a dick than lesbian or masculine. The research also referred to a letter to a student paper by a second year engineering student who wrote of the dominant male culture in the course:

“Being supportive of women’s issues and drawing attention to them, even referring to the fact that you are female and surrounded by men, gets you virtually nothing but hostility in engineering. Male students seem to think that you are trying to make them feel insecure, or gain some sort of advantage. They tend to become extremely defensive and obnoxious, or increasingly fearful and maintain a blank silence, neither of which are much help when you need their help or co-operation… There are no long-term advocates of any form of feminism in engineering.”

The report directly addressed the issue of female scholarships, and other such measures to encourage female participation in the face of the dominant male culture:

“We believe that strategies developed to increase women’s participation in engineering must take account of the culture of engineering faculties and should focus on changing this culture. Given the negative responses of female and male students towards special measures for women such as women’s officers, scholarships and extra support, it would seem that many of these measures are destined to provoke a backlash and in doing so, to essentially fail. In a sense, these measures are band aid measures because they are about enabling girls to cope in the existing culture of engineering rather than about challenging and changing that culture. Such measures still focus on the girls, rather than on males or on engineering itself. Having said this, we also recognise the importance of continuing these strategies, perhaps in low key ways – to continue to support the women who currently take advantage of these programs and support systems. Our experience is that some female students covertly participate in these events and have learnt to not mention their participation to the male students.”

Indeed, women or male only scholarships are a contentious issue, and it is valid to question the long-term solutions they provide. Former Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Sue Walpole addressed the issue of special measure provisions in an International Womens Day address in 1997. Walpole said:

“Another reason for history being so difficult is that it leads us directly to the question of special measures. Recent amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act make it explicitly clear that special measures are not reverse discrimination. Rather, they are positive steps to achieve equality of outcomes for men and women. Despite this attempt to clarify the law, special measures remain controversial. We only have to reflect on recent debates around the so-called ‘race issue’ to understand this.

“In my view the main reason for the misunderstanding of special measures is that it is difficult for people to see positive steps in any other framework than a current zero-sum game: to give to one is to take from another. What this ignores is the question of historical discrimination and the reality of difference. Men and women are not the same. If we only treat them as the same we will not achieve equality of outcomes. Achieving equality is not merely a matter of applying a formal equation. It requires analysis, discussion, protest and a consistent focus on measuring the outcomes of what we put in place-rather than simply assuming that because we have policies, because we have procedures, then we will automatically get the right outcomes. If history teaches us anything, then it is clear that it teaches us this.”

History, has not been on women’s side, and if the Masculinity and the Culture of Engineering study is anything to go by, there are many barriers women still face. So where does that leave Poor Jim in the teaching profession? Well, in ten years time, my bet is Poor Jim will be taking up a more senior, higher paid position, perhaps in the Catholic Education Office.

Pollie Waffle Awards 2003


Martin Davies image.

“Another year, another war, another conga line of suckhole quotes to commemorate. As 2003 comes to a close, it’s time to rejoice in the bum jokes again.” Polly Bush

G’day. This is the last Webdiary for the year, folks, so thanks to all of you who wrote and read this year. And what a bloody big year it was, although I reckon next year will be even bigger. I’ve just written my last Sun Herald column for the year, out Sunday, and you can check it out online then at margo kingston opinion.


I’m in blind panic mode over my book, so no break for me. Hope you have a good one. Webdiary will return at the start of February.

Today, Polly Bush’s annual Polly Waffle awards. Thanks, Polly! Last year’s awards are at Pollie Waffle awards, 2002. Let’s chat again next year.


Pollie Waffle Awards 2003

by Polly Bush

Another year, another war, another conga line of suckhole quotes to commemorate. As 2003 comes to a close, it’s time to rejoice in the bum jokes again.

It was the year that saw one million Australians take to the streets to oppose bombing the bejeezus out of Baghdad, the year that Peter Hollingworth was evicted from the Big Brother mansion, the year that John Howard provided a pained expression while presenting the rugby world cup medals, the year Mark Latham climbed his own ladder of opportunity, and the year Saddam was found hiding down a dusty hole, not to be confused with a cupboard in Rockhampton.

Keeping with Webdiary tradition, the Pollie Waffle Awards “celebrate the drone and the dribble, the babble and the drivel, and the pure porkies our nation’s finest have serenaded us ordinary, extraordinary and not-so-ordinary folk with” in 2003.

[Last year’s conventional drum roll replaced with this year’s Saddam tribute of sporadic machine gun fire in the air]

To begin proceedings, we delve back to the not-so-memorable Federal budget.

The 2003 McHungry Award goes to �

Former Family and Community Services Minister Amanda Vanstone, who, after her Government provided the budget relief of a couple of extra bucks a week, said:

“$5 � hell, what will it buy you � a sandwich and a milkshake if you’re lucky.”

Lucky Mandy wins an unpaid national advertisement campaign with a Mchappy McZillionaire company that swiftly produced a picture of the Minister sucking on a rival’s (yeah guess who) milkshake. The image was combined with the Minister’s comments and the underlying words, “She’s obviously going to the wrong place.”

Never a shy flower, the Minister for Fast Food Promotion was so flattered by the advertisement she generously decided to share her hard-earned tax cuts with the creator of the advertisement. How?

“I’m that impressed that I’m taking the guy who thought up the idea � out to lunch,” Senator Vanstone said.

Also in response to this year’s federal budget is another gong. While the Budget made Senator Vanstone hungry, it caused regurgitation from others, which leads to �

The 2003 Finger-Down-The-Throat-Award. The award goes to �

Federal MP for Parramatta Ross Cameron.

The Liberal MP in Sydney’s western suburbs took on those horribly unfair and ungrateful baby boomer sods who, how dare they, complained about the lack of spending on luxury services like health and education. Cameron got the bucket out, responding:

“People turn around and have this massive collective whinge – they make me want to throw up.”

Cameron’s prize is contesting his 1.2% held seat in next year�s federal election, and counteracting the new Opposition Leader’s Meatloaf-appreciation-constituents head-banging across the rest of Sydney’s west.

Moving up the NSW coast to another marginal seat leads us to �

The Bettina-Arndt-Feminism-Is-A-Filthy-Word-Award.

This award is presented to pig-farmer-and-politician descendant, Larry Anthony.

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (they should really think about changing that word “affairs”) wins a gong for continuing the Howard Government�s degradation of women�s voices in Australia. In response to Nicola Roxon’s take that the Federal Government’s Inquiry into child “custody” was “dog whistle politics to men’s groups aggrieved by the Family Court”, Anthony said:

“I respect the Member’s long academic interest in women’s rights – but she must not let that cloud her vision when it comes to children and young people.”

For this, Anthony wins a grunt from the men’s rights lobby, who heard the whistle loud and clear. He also wins the prize of Roxon being reshuffled to Shadow Attorney-General – a probable sign of pending opposition if the Government decides to turn the whistle into legislation next year.

This prize leads us to the annual Dog Whistle Award, which unfortunately for others only really has one contestant until the Member for Bennelong hangs up his cricket pads or alternately gets his arse wiped in next year’s federal election.

Yes, as long as our Man of Steel continues to flush through the extra taxpayer dollars at Kirribilli House, this award is his to keep.

For 2003, John Howard�s Who-Let-The-Dogs-Out corker comes from one of his many and varying reasons why Australia joined in on mass destructing Iraq. Prior to sending in the troops, Howard pulled on raw grieving emotions when he requested the nation lie back and think of Bali:

“I will, amongst other things, be asking the Australian people to bear those circumstances in mind if we become involved in military contact with Iraq.”

Howard’s eventual prize is Saddam’s head [insert sporadic machine gun fire] making it all worth it, changing the initial emphasis on ridding the world of still undiscovered weapons of mass destruction to the “liberation” of the Iraqi people.

Howard also picks up another prize this year � the Nothing-Wrong-With-The-1950s Award. Joining in on some Vatican-fun, Howard rejected gay marriages, arguing:

“Marriage as we understand it in our society is about children, having children, raising them, providing for the survival of the species.”

For this, along with insulting homosexuals, Howard wins the prize of insulting every heterosexual couple who can�t have, or god forbid, don’t want children. He also wins a declining birth rate, and nominates himself for prime first contestant on Australia’s version of Queer Eye for an Aging Balding Very Straight Guy.

Despite these being national awards, there is a special international inclusion in this year’s ceremony. The Most Visually Inspiring Award for 2003 goes to fellow dictator liberator President George W. Bush, for his description of going power walkies with our steamy esteemed green and gold tracky clad Prime Miniature:

“I was breathing hard and Barney was breathing harder. I had trouble keeping up with him.”

For this prize, the President’s dog Barney wins a bone, which appropriately leads to �

The Most Inspiring Political Performance For A Baz Luhrmann Production Award.

[intermittently interfuse Saddam tribute gunfire with edited snippets of show tunes, opera, and n-ce-n-ce-n-ce sounds of bum-f^&* music]

Thanks to Andrew Denton the world now knows the truth. The character of a bumbling snooty sounding duke audiences around the globe cringed at in Baz’s Moulin Rouge was based on �

Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister, the one and only Alexander Downer.

Looking for inspiration, actor Richard Roxborough needed only tune into the news to catch a grab from the fishnet wearing globetrotter. As Roxborough explained to Denton earlier this year:

“This is completely a true story. I was watching the news and Alexander was banging on about something or another and I thought, there’s my man – absolutely perfect”.

Alexander wins the prize of not being taken as seriously as his shadow minister, which leads to … The Honorary Peter Beattie Award for Most Brazen Media Tart. The award goes to …

Shadow foreign affairs Minister Kevin Rudd.

Krudd shot from virtual unknown to Mr News Grab in 2003, and most recently spent the weekend following Simon Crean’s friendly “tap on the shoulder” (euphemism for knifing) um-ing and ah-ing over his leadership ambitions, while coincidentally parading the fam munching out in the Brisbane burbs (Lillith Bartlett was safely tucked in bed that weekend). Rudd proved he is the true generational change leader by regurgitating his line that:

“Once upon a time I said of course I’d like to be a leadership candidate for the parliamentary Labor party by 2020 and that remains my aspiration.”

Rudd’s prize is backing Beazley in the caucus vote the followed Crean’s stabbing, and ultimately missing out on this year’s generational leadership change. However, his second chance draw means that should new leader Mark Latham lose next year’s election, he might just end up Labor’s next Prime Minister � which possibly won’t happen until 2020 anyway.

On the topic of leadership ambition, the Oops-I-Did-It-Again Award for 2003 goes to �

Kim “unlucky talisman” Beazley, who only managed to lose two leadership ballots this year.

During his first shot at Crean mid-year, Beazley repetitively reassured us this would be his last shot at becoming a three-time election loser. Beazley told the ABC’s PM program:

“There”ll be no second ballot. Not as far as I’m concerned.”

The weekend before the ballot against Crean, Beazley again stated:

“I’m in the business of winning this ballot and as I said, I’m not a spoiler. I’ve said from the outset, I’m here for one shot.”

In the business of losing, Kim lost that ballot to Crean, spurring him on to declare following the vote:

“I also said that this was one challenge, the one challenge I would make. I said it, and I meant it.”

Yet on November 28 2003, Kim “not a spoiler” Beazley decided to have one more whack at it. Moments after Crean had thrown down his poison chalice, Beazley announced:

“As a result of his decision to stand down, I’m announcing today my intention to contest the leadership again of the Australian Labor Party.” Following his loss to Mark Latham most recently, Beazley also picks up the Eat-Your-Own-Words Award for comments in his defeat speech:

“It is never the time in the Labor Party for disunity and it is far too late for disunity now.”

Beazley’s efforts in 2003 win him the remote chance of the Labor Party being in Government again in the foreseeable future, thanks to his defeats in the caucus room.

The Gritted Smirk Award for 2003 goes to �

Federal Treasurer Peter Costello again!

Patiently waiting for that earmarked 64th birthday party for John Howard, Peter Costello missed out on blowing out the candles and getting his ultimate 2003 wish. Later, his failed plea for generational change was picked up by the Labor Party in its election of Mark Latham as leader, a salty rub into Costello’s leadership aspiration wound.

Following Latham’s elevation, The Age’s Louise Dodson asked the Treasurer whether he welcomed the concept of generational change. It was a ball Costello couldn’t dodge:

“Oh, that is a real googly Louise. I think I will just sort of step back and raise the bat as that goes � through to the keeper.”

Costello’s prize is another good dose of self-imposed tolerance.

Speaking of imposed exiles, the Oh-How-They-Change Award goes to �

Pauline Hanson

Prior to becoming a prison reform campaigner, Hanson came out beating the Laura Norder drum during her attempt for a Senate seat in the NSW election:

“I think that we need to have tougher sentencing that befits the crime.”

Later, following Hanson’s ‘You Used To Bring Me Roses’ experience, this comment was picked up by Labor’s Mark Latham, who threw back, “Mrs Hanson spent the last New South Wales election campaign campaigning for tougher penalties � and now she’s got one.”

Hanson also wins her own honorary award � the Please Explain Gong, for her response during the state election campaign on how good a job NSW Police Commissioner Ken Moroney was doing:

“Well, I don’t, and I’m not going to comment on that.”

Quizzed further on her knowledge of Moroney, Hanson replied:

“Well, at the election, I will know. “You have to realise that yes, I am from Queensland, I’ve only been involved in federal politics.”

This 2003 multi-Pollie-Waffle award winner also picks up the Blurry-Crystal-Ball Award for this corker, also said during the campaign:

“If I felt that there was any chance of a conviction against me, I would not be standing for a NSW seat.”

Hanson’s prizes include no NSW seat and a conviction of electoral fraud, successfully overturned on appeal after an 11-week lock up at Brisbane�s WACOL prison. Other gifts include a new-found appreciation of the perils of prison life, an outpouring of shock from political foes across the spectrum, a renewal in public support, a ridiculously bad music single launched by her son, and a lifetime nemesis in Tony Abbott, whose shady set-up of the curiously named �Australians for Honest Politics� fund caused more outrage than applause.

The You’re Joking! Award for 2003 goes to �

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock

The hilarious grey-green stallion cracked yet another funny in the House this year, when the Opposition compared his tactics of tackling terrorist organisations in his new portfolio with his asylum seeker strategy as Immigration Minister. The longest serving member of parliament mused:

“I’ve become fascinated by this new term �wedge politics�. I’m not sure what wedge politics is all about.”

Ruddock’s prize is a big piece of ASIO legislation cake, slightly chewed on by the ALP, but pretty much still intact.

The next gong is the Tying-the-Extraordinarily-Long-Bow Award. And the winner is �

Senator George Brandis, for his comments that a “feature of contemporary Green politics which bears chilling and striking comparison with the political techniques of the Nazis and the fascists is not merely their contempt for democratic institutions but a very cynical willingness to use those democratic parliamentary institutions to achieve anti-democratic ends”.

Brandis’ bold statements came after Greens Senators Bob Brown and Kerry Nettle were rugby tackled by some Government members in the House of Representatives during a joint sitting of parliament for President Dubbya�s fly-by-wreath-laying-crocodile-hunter-bbq-ing visit.

Senator Brandis wins a special prize from fellow Liberal Senator Jeannie Ferris, who, with the help of Prime Minister John Howard�s tut-tuts, more recently got away with gross hypocrisy by attacking the stupid but sad actions of the Leader of the Australian Democrats. On that note, Senator Bartlett’s decision to hold a press conference with screaming toddler in hand in response to the booze-up broohaha almost qualifies himself for the next award. But not quite.

Instead, the very special Child Care Advocacy Award goes to …

Wilson Tuckey

The West Australian MP gets the Goose of the Year gong for his use of ministerial letterheads in a desperate and reckless attempt to get his son off a traffic fine. While defending his actions in barracking the case of his 40-something-year-old son, Tuckey descended into absurdity, hollering across the House:


Iron Bar Tuckey’s prize is being dumped from his ministerial position, with Iron John not-so-convincingly arguing there was no connection with Tuckey�s clear breach of ministerial conduct and the reshuffle that followed.

The topic of reshuffling brings us to our last Pollie Waffle prize for the year. While 2002 produced the unforgettable ‘arselicker’ comment, 2003 had the same politician continuing to provide us with bum jokes.

And while many tipped Bomber Beazley’s re-elevation to the not so prized ticket of leading the Australian Labor Party in the ballot early this month, in retrospect it wasn’t all that surprising that he lost another winnable contest. Instead, the rise of Mark Latham to the position of Opposition leader, at the very least provides an interesting election year in 2004, and no doubt a plethora of more waffle on its way.

[drum roll, gun fire and farting sounds]

The 2003 Bend Over And Feel the Breeze Award goes to �

Mark Latham, who, by winning this prize also highlights the most profound political interview of the year, with the ABC 7:30 Report’s Kerry “knock out” O’Brien. In his first interview with the new opposition leader, Kerry cut straight to the chase, dropping the bomb:

KO: What is this obsession you have with bottoms?

ML: I’ve no particular obsession with bottoms, it’s a figure of speech –

KO: Howard the arse-licker and the brown nose kissing bums, as you put it, Abbott hanging out of the Queen’s backside, the conga line of suckholes.

ML: Well I think ‘bum’ is a word that gets used a bit in this country. It’s not a swear word. I’m sure you have used it yourself, so … …you take together a full public life. I have been in public office for 16 years. I will go through your tapes and have a look at some of your commentary –

KO: Feel free, but I’m not aspiring to lead this country.

ML: No, no, but you’re leading a fine current affairs program.

KO: I’m glad to eventually have you on it.

ML: I’m very pleased to be here and let’s keep talking about the Australian language.

Indeed. New opposition leader Mark Latham’s 2003 prize is an orgasmic “oooooohhhh” sigh from the media scrum on the announcement of the caucus vote. Breath it in folks, that’s the fart of fresh air, potentially sweeping across the country in 2004. Bend over, soak in the breeze, and have a bloody good one.

Strange encounters

Enter the stallion. Image by Martin Davies.

“You know how it goes, you’re meeting your friend Polly Bush for a quiet drink after work when all of a sudden you find yourself at Parliament House surrounded by Labor MPs, celebrity journalists, and free beer. I have no idea how this strange and disturbing scene escaped from Polly’s imagination and became real but I know that, somehow, Margo Kingston is to blame.” Don Arthur

Polly Bush is a Webdiary columnist. Her report on the 2001 Walkley awards is Polly Bush Walkleys.


Simon Crean’s last day as Opposition leader on Monday was surreal. Coinciding with the timing of a leadership-knifing contest, I managed to pick one of the most exciting days of the year to visit our nation’s capital.

Some people raise eyebrows when you explain you’ve chosen to spend some of your annual leave in the home of politics, adult sex shops, and concentric circular drives, but there were several reasons why Canberra seemed so compelling. For a start, there were people to see, including a couple of Webdiary greats.

One was our editor-extraordinaire � the fast and furiously brilliant Margo Kingston. It had been two years since I’d met Margo and attended the 2001 Walkley Awards, and after recovering from one of lifetime’s greatest hangovers, it was time to catch up again.

Another highly anticipated meeting was with one of Webdiary�s finest contributors, Don Arthur, who after a long series of frenetic email exchanges, had become a great cyber buddy of mine. Don’s Webdiary posts (and later, his blog spot, A Hail of Dead Cats) are always an extraordinary pleasure to read � he’s incredibly thought provoking, craftily creative, and writes in a fluid, whimsical, yet natural style. Don’s been having a hopefully-temporary-only break from Webdiary to try and put his baby to bed � a Phd on welfare reform.


One of the other reasons for being in Canberra was to indulge my inner-nerd, and Monday’s Question Time didn’t disappoint. While some reports labeled Simon Crean�s final date in the big chair as tediously dull, I was on the edge of my seat, and it wasn’t just because of the intriguing sight of Bob Katter’s blinding white mop or the bird’s eye view of Brendan Nelson’s all-encompassing forehead.

Crean’s first question asked whether children in detention centres would be released before Christmas. The question provided horrible memories of Kim Beazley succumbing to the wedge on the crucial asylum seeker issue at the last Federal election, and the fear that the ALP would return to the same rollover tactic the very next day if they re-installed him as leader.

While it suddenly seemed apparent Crean’s tenure as leader had actually altered the ALP’s take on the asylum seeker issue, John Howard’s answer was a reminder the Government would be standing firm:

“With respect to the Leader of the Opposition, the observation should rather be directed to their parents and guardians rather than to the government,” Howard replied.

Howard also pulled out his opposition to Sydney’s heroin injection room from his button-pressing dog-whistling pre-election hat as Sydney Member Tanya Plibersek got swiped by Speaker Neil Andrew for interjecting. Highlighting World AIDS Day, Julia Gillard took on a red ribbon clad Tony Abbott, questioning the Federal Government’s commitment to pharmaceutical costs with a pending free trade agreement with the United States.

And to top it all off, Bob Katter marched in at the end of Question Time like a Thunderbird statue that had suddenly come alive. Questioning the Government�s research into motor vehicle pollution, the Member for Kennedy managed to say the word “emissions” three separate times, and on each instance, inserted an extra delightful Quoonseland syllable to make it “emisiyons”. Hardly a tediously dull moment in the House.

The Coalition MPs were unusually well-behaved during the process, biding their time and biting their tongues. One of the morning’s newspapers had speculated as to whether the Coalition would target one of the leadership contenders, so as to try and influence the vote over who was the perceived threat. But there were no swipes at either of the two potential Labor leaders. There were no swipes at Simon. Howard even began question time announcing a donation to Hazel Hawke’s Alzheimer’s fund – a donation that Crean had previously requested.

In terms of body language, leadership aspirant Mark Latham appeared engaged. He walked around during question time, around the front bench to whisper to colleagues such as Craig Emerson. He looked relaxed and confident. Likewise, Laurie Brereton, Latham’s numbers man, occasionally walked the floor to have a yak to colleagues.

It was an interesting contrast to Beazley’s crew, who sat tight in their trenches and kept their heads low. Everyone seemed to be tipping a Beazley victory. Beazley’s people reportedly had the numbers. Either some people were lying or had a late change in heart, or somebody couldn’t count.

On the backbench, Beazley kept his head down and seemed to be immersed in reading � no murmurs to colleagues, not even the occasional rise of his head. He looked like a student in class who hadn’t done their homework and wanted to avoid any undue attention. He looked like he didn’t want to be there.

In a way, Question time on Monday seemed more about what wasn�t said. The only reference to the leadership of the Labor Party emerged from Simon Crean himself � a seemingly jovial reference of having more time on his hands to appreciate the Davis Cup tennis victory.

Indeed, a tennis match of sorts was still causing a quiet racquet, the match tight. It�s hard to imagine the frenetic extent of the lobbying efforts up until Tuesday. Strangely, this vote pulled apart friends and factions. As Former Prime Minister Paul Keating said following the historic vote:

“It is a victory for a new beginning and a defeat for the bankrupt factional system and its operatives.”

Crean’s wake on Monday and the sniff of change in the air indeed constituted a bizarre, surreal day. And the funereal proceedings only got more bizarre that evening, but I’ll let Don Arthur tell that story.


The Polly Bush Effect

by Don Arthur

You know how it goes, you’re meeting your friend Polly Bush for a quiet drink after work when all of a sudden you find yourself at Parliament House surrounded by Labor MPs, celebrity journalists, and free beer. I have no idea how this strange and disturbing scene escaped from Polly’s imagination and became real but I know that, somehow, Margo Kingston is to blame.

It was the evening before Kim Beazley had finally satisfied his seemingly insatiable appetite for humiliation and Simon Crean was throwing a party. Not that Crean had any idea how satisfied Beazley would be before lunch the next day – Crean hadn’t organized the party to tell how pleased he was to be spending more time with his family.

Instead it had been arranged some time before this latest tilt at the leadership snuck up on everyone like a quietly clanking Collins class submarine.

So at Margo’s invitation we arrived at the party and Polly located the beer. The VB and Farmland brand soft drink was in a big garbage bin near a podium and once we were there, there didn’t seem to be any compelling reason to be anywhere else. Empty bottles of beer and Rawson’s Retreat already littered the tables and within minutes of arriving we found ourselves directly in front of the ex-leader of the opposition who was mounting the podium to deliver a speech.

It was something about the speech that tipped me off that we’d all been plunged into one of Polly’s fantasies. The thing was laced with so many (admittedly dated) pop culture references and bad jokes about a West Australian MP who allegedly eats at Rooster Hut that it had to have come from Polly’s imagination. The man behind the stand up routine was lost in a kind of haze. I didn’t feel the sense of loss, disappointment, or anger, that you feel in the presence of a real human being. Instead there was just a kind of genial bitterness that seemed to hang in the words themselves.

And it’s this disconnection between words and emotion that makes me wonder when fantasy had first begun to seep into reality. How was it that anyone could have believed that this man’s ambitions for the Prime Ministership could have become real? It was never his words and ideas that were the problem – I’m sure if they ran them past a focus group they’d play at least as well as the Howardy mush that seems to go down so well with the iffy voters. There’s little doubt he could have been a Prime Minister, it’s just that he was completely unable to become one.

What separates Simon Crean from more successful leaders like Bob Hawke or Bill Clinton is his inability to communicate emotion. He told when he should have shown. Politics is fundamentally about pride and shame, hope and despair, elation and sadness. It’s about big ideas fused with deep emotions – ideas made real by feeling.

The other big give away about the fantastic nature of the evening’s events was the presence of so many of Polly’s media idols. Margo had rounded up so many celebrity journalists and introduced them to Polly that even as a pub yarn or daydream it was starting to get far-fetched. And it was just at that point when the thread of credibility is about to snap that I turned around and saw one of Polly’s heroes offering her advice on her career. “Drop me a line,” said a journo with thick glasses and long wavy hair.

It was somewhere between when the beer ran out at the party and we were chased out of a pizza place in Kingston that the thread snapped and fantasy took over completely. Margo had followed some staffer into his burrow and we found ourselves wandering lost in Parliament House. It was exactly like one of those dreams where you’re trying to cross the road but no matter how hard you try you never manage to reach the other side.

Before I go on I’ll share something a bit confidential with you � one of Polly Bush’s favorite Labor politicians is young, blond, and more than a little left wing. And it was this brainy, blond politician who showed up in a midriff top and rescued us. She ushered us out of the building and, back into the real world.

Same sex super not on, again

Newly ordained high priestess Meg Lees zipped into the Senate on her Harley like a bat outta hell and zipped up the deal, ditching a convoy of dykes on bikes along the way. In doing a deal in the name of the sisterhood, Meg dumped the rest of the sisterhood in the process. But seriously, who would have thought Meg Lees would save her former party the Australian Democrats from an embarrassing split over same-sex amendments?

Webdiary columnist Polly Bush reports the denouement of the latest failed quest for equal superannuation rights for same sex couples. Her earlier reports are Same sex super: how we value loveCoalition heat melts Democrats on same sex super and Same sex super rundown.


It’s no real surprise the houses of parliament still begin proceedings with the Lord’s prayer, given the debates can spawn a chamber of unholy alliances battling it out for what sometimes seems the holy grail. Or the unholy one.

Last week was no exception in the Senate, as the parties drew swords to thrash out the Government’s superannuation reforms, slashing away equal rights for same sex couples in the process.

In one pew sat the holy ghost, the Democrats, dancing with a deal with the devil, but at the same time waving a piece of gospel from their bible – a tattered rainbow flag recently kissed by Judas Cherry Picker.

Also brandishing the multi-coloured sash and jesus sandals was Big Brother Bob Brown High, who delivered a sermon sanctifying his sisterhood and condemning the holy ghost to death by stoning.

In his black cape and glittery purple polish, Gothic Prince Bartlett cursed Big Brother Bob and demanded he release his sacrificial lamb to the alter.

Coonan the Contrarian crucified the Australian Lip-Service Party, who had recently split from her sanctimonious church. But new Missionary Nick Blood-of-Christ Sherry vowed to continue to don the technicolour dream coat.

On his mighty catholic crusade, a frocked up Cardinal Harradine sprayed holy water at the other life of Brian. But despite the mist surrounding the holy ghost, Disciple Greig helicoptered the incense straight back.

But it didn’t matter in the end. Newly ordained high priestess Meg Lees zipped into the Senate on her Harley like a bat outta hell and zipped up the deal, ditching a convoy of dykes on bikes along the way.

In doing a deal in the name of the sisterhood, Meg dumped the rest of the sisterhood in the process.

But seriously, who would have thought Meg Lees would save her former party the Australian Democrats from an embarrassing split over same-sex amendments?

If the question is worded, “Who would have thought Meg Lees would vote with the Coalition Government on an economics related package?” then it is not so surprising.

Last Monday night, Independent senators ushered through the Federal Government’s Superannuation package.

For those who earn under $27,500, the Co-Contribution for Low Income Earners Bill means the Government will match any voluntary contributions of up to $1,000 a year.

It’s no wonder the passage of this bill has received widespread support from the superannuation industry (which also upports same sex rights) – as many have said the Government’s package has produced the most significant reforms in 15 years.

But while many have praised the Co-Contribution bill, some experts doubt whether people on low incomes will be able to add extra into their super.

Industry Funds Services’ financial planner Lynne Wilkinson said that people on low incomes are flat out trying to cover the cost of living.

“The people who are going to use it will be the spouses of doctors and lawyers and the like who have part-time jobs, whose families can afford to because their partners are on higher incomes,” Wilkinson said (‘Battlers’ super doubt’, Sunday Mail, November 2, 2003).

For those who earn over $96,000, the Governments Surcharge Rate Reduction bill will reduce the surcharge tax from 15 per cent to 12.5 per cent over three years.

Ironically, one of the main superannuation issues for same sex couples is the tax rate.

Because of the gender specific terms in legislation, death benefits for same sex couples are taxed at either 20 or 30 per cent, as opposed to the tax-free status for heterosexual couples. (See overtherainbow.)

But the Government’s package passed the Senate last week without the amendments giving same sex and interdependency couples the same rights as heterosexual couples.

The support of senators Meg Lees, Brian Harradine and Shayne Murphy meant the Australian Democrats were able to stick with party policy by insisting on the amendments.

Senator Len Harris was absent from the proceedings, however his vote was registered as a “pair” (when the House pairs up opposite votes from absentee members so as to nullify the numbers). Rumour has it the organisation of the One Nation senator’s pair vote was orchestrated at the last minute by Liberal senators, desperate to ensure they could get the numbers.

The passage of the super reforms would have been a frustrating victory for Democrats superannuation spokesperson John Cherry, who negotiated much of the Government’s package with Revenue Senator Helen Coonan.

In the last few weeks, Senator Cherry said the party was planning on backing down on the party’s policy of insisting on same sex couple recognition to let the Superannuation Co-Contribution for Low Income Earners Bill pass.

While the Democrats held firm on party policy and insisted on the amendments, their commitment to the issue has been questionable due to these comments. Prior to the vote, if the Democrats had every intention of insisting on the amendments, why then was it not raised in negotiations with the Government, as alleged by Revenue Minister Senator Coonan last Monday night?

Following the vote, ABC PM’s Matt Brown queried Democrats leader Andrew Bartlett on how far they lobbied the Government on the issue of same sex amendments:

MATT BROWN: I’ve just been told it wasn’t put on the table by people on your own team, that it wasn’t substantially explored?

ANDREW BARTLETT: Well, look, it was put on the table. The reason why we couldn’t substantially explore it because it’s very hard to negotiate with the Government to agree to something we haven’t even been able to get the Labor Party to agree with in the Senate in the past. That’s why it was difficult for it to progress.

Another loitering question is – did the Democrats thoroughly lobby the Independents (particularly Lees and Murphy) on insisting on the same sex amendments? And if not, how serious are they in seeing the amendments eventually become law?

Overall, last Monday night’s debate just added to a cynical couple of weeks in politics for same sex couples. In the end, the bulk of the debate over same sex couple recognition was hijacked by party politics and was sadly not about human rights.

The Coalition held onto supporting the discriminatory definitions in superannuation legislation. The Labor Party’s sudden support of the same-sex amendments – while welcome – seemed to be more about a means in which to reject the Government’s legislation as well as throwing a wedge into the Australian Democrats.

The Independents, particularly Meg Lees and Shayne Murphy, were particularly disappointing as they both support same sex rights yet voted with the Government.

As disappointing as many players were on this issue, the real sticking point is the Howard Government’s refusal to change the gender specific terms enshrined in legislation.

However, the debate last Monday night provided a skerrick of hope in relation to future same sex couple recognition, with Revenue Minister Senator Helen Coonan indicating the Government may examine the issue:

“There will be opportunities to canvass the issues again in a more informed way. Interdependency is a very complex issue. Frankly, I would have ministerial colleagues (READ JOHN HOWARD) and many other issues to consider before I would be in a position at an appropriate point to participate in that debate and take issue with most of what has been said. The choice bill is very close to being introduced. It is always a bit difficult to give absolute commitments, but it is listed for the week commencing 24 November.”

While vague, this statement from Coonan is encouraging as well as surprising.

Indeed, last Monday night’s debate provided a few surprises, with some senators still of the view the Democrats were about to back down on the amendments prior to the vote.

“I recognise that the Democrats are going to vote down Labors same sex couple amendment, in all probability. We have not had the vote yet but I recognise that that is likely to happen,” Labor Senator Nick Sherry said in the Upper House when the debate began.

Greens leader Bob Brown and Democrats leader Andrew Bartlett traded insults over who was “selling out”. Senator Brown said:

“The fact is that the Democrats are giving away the leverage where they should have stood, eyeballed the government and said, ‘if you want to see this package through, do the decent thing and end discrimination on superannuation amongst Australians’.”

Senator Bartlett replied, “Senator Brown is not interested in extra gains for low income earners, because he would rather score political points using the gay and lesbian community as his sacrificial lamb.”

Senator Cherry queried the overall commitment to same sex couples from the Greens:

“[This] is the first time in seven years in this place that we have seen Senator Brown move an amendment in recognition of same sex couples in this area of superannuation. The Greens are so concerned about this issue that Michael Organ did not even vote in the other place to insist on this amendment.”

The Democrats superannuation spokesperson continued to play it both ways, talking up the benefits of the Government’s reforms as well as supporting the amendments:

“We need to get a message out not only that this package is worth supporting and worth going through but also that the amendments to remove discrimination against those in same-sex and interdependent relationships are worth doing and worth going through, which is why the Democrats will be insisting on our amendments,” Senator Cherry said.

But Senator Cherry’s commitment to persuading the Government to support recognition of same sex couples came under fire when Revenue Minister Senator Helen Coonan admitted the Democrats superannuation spokesperson had not raised the issue in their dealings.

“I have to say to the Senate that there was no mention at all in the negotiations of the Democrats insistence that there should be some amendments that relate to same sex couples and other relationships,” Senator Coonan said.

Coonan was cynical of the Labor Party’s motivation to support same-sex couple amendments, arguing, “They knew that their stance on same sex couples would embarrass the Democrats”.

Former Democrats leader and now independent Senator Meg Lees began her address congratulating Senator Cherry and his “very good arrangement with the government”.

She attacked the Labor Party for their sudden support of same sex couples:

“I think it is rather opportunistic of [the Labor Party] to start moving these amendments in the hope they can embarrass others, cause some disruption and, if not delay, fail in this very important measure for low-income Australians. I would say that Labor are at a bit of mischief making.”

Lees also made a last minute appeal to the Democrats to back down on the amendments.

“As Senator Cherry said this morning, the Democrats want this to go through. I say to Senator Cherry: if you are going to insist on these amendments it is simply not going to go anywhere.”

At the expense of lesbians, Lees said the main reason she was voting in support of the Bill was that women would benefit – as they make up a large proportion of low income earners.

“Women simply do not share the same access as men in terms of pay, employment, super benefits,” Senator Lees said.

Senator Shayne Murphy, who sided with the Government in rejecting the amendments, only made a brief address to the House. He appealed to the Federal Government to re-examine the same sex debate in future legislation, but backed the Government on this occasion:

“The issue of same sex couples is a very difficult issue and has not been resolved. These bills, whilst they are relevant to the issue to some degree, have a very significant impact on the broad community in terms of superannuants,” Senator Murphy said.

Fellow Tasmanian independent Senator Brian Harradine also argued the benefits of the Bill to low income earners, before launching into an at-best ridiculous justification in rejecting the same sex amendments:

“Superannuation treats everyone in our society equally and has made the judgement that there should be positive discrimination in favour of married couples or persons living in a marriage like relationship. This decision is not against other groups but in favour of a particular type of relationship, which has been deemed to be important to the Australian community because of its ability to provide a safe and stable environment for children,” Senator Harradine said.

Democrats Senator Brian Greig was quick to reply to Harradine’s remarks, arguing:

“Senator Harradine is of course wrong on all counts. The fact is that superannuation was introduced in a way that had absolutely nothing to do with the institution, preservation or protection of marriage, but rather as a means for people to save for their retirement.”

Greig, who has been in a same-sex relationship for 18 years, directly asked Harradine, “How is it that denying my partner superannuation death benefits improves the marriage between Senator and Mrs Harradine?”

Later in the debate, Senator Greig referred to Harradine’s comments again:

“As far as I am concerned that is just heterosexist supremacy. That is just like saying the government of South Africa was not really discriminating against blacks; it was just upholding the rights and privileges of whites. It is not acceptable.”

Greig provided arguably the best point of the day on why the Bill assisting low-income earners was discriminatory. While Revenue Minister Helen Coonan continually pushed the line that this Bill couldn’t possibly discriminate against same sex couples as it only applied to individuals, Greig countered the argument by pointing out that same sex couples were also low-income earners.

“This is where I think you are wrong Minister: the discrimination kicks in when, at some point in the future, those people in same sex relationships who have taken advantage of this legislation, should it proceed, then try and bequeath their fund to their surviving partner.”

Greig also attacked Prime Minister John Howard’s 1996 election comments that he would be governing for “all of us”.

“If we are serious about governing for all then you cannot exclude some people in the community,” Senator Greig said.

It’s a great statement, because it also ties back into the Democrats policy of always (yes John Cherry) blocking Superannuation bills unless they remove the discriminatory definitions in the law.

If John Howard is really wanting to govern for “all of us”, by changing the gender specific terms in superannuation legislation he’ll be able to get a lot more super packages through the Senate, which, in the end, can finally benefit all of us.


Finally, one last thought. Prior to last week’s vote, speculation that some Democrats senators were about to back down on the amendments evolved around the so-called ‘gang of four’ (John Cherry, Lyn Allyson, Andrew Murray and Aden Ridgeway).

However before the showdown, Senator Aden Ridgeway told Queensland Pride he would be insisting on the amendments and gave admirable reasons why – the memory of a gay friend who had recently passed away, as well as supporting solidarity amongst minority groups.

Perhaps Ridgeway’s stance convinced the other wavering Democrats senators they needed to continue their support of same sex amendments. Here is Queensland Pride’s report:

Queensland Pride newspaper Issue #186

Story by Iain Clacher

DEMOCRAT Senator Aden Ridgeway will join rebel colleagues Brian Greig and Natasha Stott Despoja and vote against the Superannuation Co-contributions bill unless the Howard Government accepts an amendment to recognise same sex couples.

However the unamended legislation looks set to pass the Senate early next week with the support of independent Meg Lees, One Nation’s Len Harris, and at least two of the four remaining Democrats: Lyn Allison and the co-architect of the bill, John Cherry (Qld).

Yet to declare their intentions are Andrew Murray and party leader Andrew Bartlett (Qld).

“I’ll be voting according to my conscience on a matter of principle,” Ridgeway told Queensland Pride.

“The principle is that same sex couples need to be recognised. While I respect the measures John Cherry has been able to achieve for low income earners in his negotiations with the government on this bill, at the same time I feel I need to make a stand.

“A friend of mine who was gay passed away recently and I would be offending his memory if I didn’t support this,” he said.

Ridgeway also noted gay Senator Brian Greig had been ‘very supportive’ of his own stand on indigenous human rights issues.

LGBT rights advocate Rodney Croome welcomed Ridgeway’s decision.

“It sends out a very positive message about LGBT and aboriginal solidarity,” he said.

“That we have strong and vocal supporters in the aboriginal community reminds us in turn that we should be strong advocates of aboriginal rights.”

Croome said it was ‘unacceptable’ that despite the stance of Ridgeway, Greig and Despoja there was still a ‘great possibility’ the legislation would pass without the same sex amendments.

“[Ridgeway’s decision] will further embarrass those of his colleagues who aren’t supporting same sex couple rights.”

Coalition heat melts Democrats on same sex super

The Democrats are on the verge of another bitter split, after superannuation spokesman John Cherry said his party would abandon its long-held commitment to achieve recognition of same sex couples in superannuation law.

The latest Democrats implosion followed yesterday’s report in The Age that the Government had called the Democrats bluff by threatening to dump its superannuation package rather than give same-sex couples equal superannuation rights.

Senator Cherry told The Age political correspondent Annabel Crabb the party would pass the super reforms when they hit the Senate again next week without the same sex amendment the Senate passed after Labor voted for same sex super rights for the first time. “I think it was worth doing for the moral victory of getting Labor on the record (but) there are plenty of other bills coming up that these amendments can be attached to,” Senator Cherry said.

But Western Australian Democrats Senator Brian Greig told the Herald online he would cross the floor if his Party caved in. “Senator Cherry does not speak for me on this issue. I will not vote for this Bill if the same-sex amendments fail,” he said.

Senator Cherry’s announcement flies in the face of more than a decade of failed Democrats attempts to achieve same-sex equality in superannuation law under both Labor and Liberal governments. Last month’s vote was the first time the Democrats achieved the numbers in the Senate to achieve their goal.

Senator Cherry’s spokesman played down the back-down yesterday: “The Democrats will be moving our amendment when the Senate resumes on Tuesday. We would hope the Government gives it favourable consideration.”

A spokesman for Democrats leader Andrew Bartlett said The Age report was “jumping the gun”, and that “negotiations” were still underway.

But Victorian Democrats Senator Lyn Allyson told the Herald online: “I will be (reluctantly) not insisting on the amendment.”

Senator Greig said a back down would be “profoundly disappointing” given Labor’s first-time support on the issue. He said he was yet to notify the Democrats National Executive (standard procedure for conscience votes within the party) that he would cross the floor.

Greig, an openly gay Senator in a long term same sex partnership, has campaigned against discrimination against homosexuals since he became a Senator in 1998.

Polly Bush is a nom de plume. She is a Melbourne writer and regular Webdiary columnist. Polly’s backgrounder to the same sex super saga is at Same sex super: how we value love.