b) Gay Australia
An electoral face-lift for Labor
This article about the 'Wear It With Pride' campaign was published in MCV on 11.2.10.
Education and celebration…they seem to be the main objectives of the new $350,000 “Wear It With Pride” campaign, launched last week to raise awareness about the recognition of same-sex de facto partners in federal law in 2008.
The educative role of the campaign is important and sets a welcome precedent.
The 2008 reform covered areas as diverse as superannuation, Medicare rebates, migration and pensions. This means the impact of reform is complex, different for each couple, and long term. Each of us needs reliable and accessible information about what it all means.
On top of this, state or former federal governments have rarely bothered educating the public about the importance of their LGBT law reform initiatives. The Rudd Government has set a new standard from which it will be difficult for future governments to retreat.
Celebration is also important, up to a point.
The 2008 reform showed what the LGBT community and its allies can achieve when we work together.
But celebrations should be tempered by the fact the 2008 reform was way overdue, reduced the welfare entitlements of some poorer, older and disabled same-sex partners, and pointedly excluded equality in marriage.
There’s also a danger celebration will circumscribe the funds available for education.
Arty, pat-on-the-back celebrity launches at the Opera House speak to an inner-city audience that is relatively aware of reform.
That money should be spent on reaching the increasing number of same-sex couples who live in suburban, regional and rural Australia.
But the bigger issue overshadowing the WIWP launch is timing.
Instead of being rolled out when reform occurred in 2008, or when it was implemented mid 2009, we have been hit with WIWP at the start of a federal election year where the Rudd Government’s record on same-sex relationship recognition will be strongly contested.
Over the next few months, the Federal Government will argue it has done more for same-sex couples than its predecessors, and that its achievements have been in those practical matters that benefit people day-to-day.
The retort will be that comparisons with John Howard set the bar too low, while Kevin Rudd’s intransigent opposition to marriage equality, and even marriage-like civil union schemes, panders to homophobic prejudice by sending out a clear message that same-sex relationships are second-rate, if not downright dangerous.
Where this debate will be hottest is in inner-Sydney and Melbourne where Labor-held seats with high concentrations of LGBT voters are under threat from the Greens.
Seen in this context, the WIWP campaign looks like one big, tax-payer-funded election ad for the Labor Party generally, and inner-city Labor MPs in particular.
I’m not saying this was the intention of WIWP.
An education campaign was being demanded by non-partisan lobbyists at least as far back as mid 2008.
The Government responded to these demands, it said, because of a genuine concern about the uncertainty and fear experienced by same-sex partners in their dealings with Centrelink (a problem, by the way, the Government says is now mostly resolved).
But whatever the origins of WIWP, both the appearance and the effect of the campaign will be an electoral face-lift for Labor.
Don’t be surprised if supporters of marriage equality respond in kind with reminders that same-sex partners have yet to achieve full legal equality and until that happens there is little to celebrate.
It will be an interesting year.
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