b) Gay Australia
'Brutal and unfair'
This article was published on 'ABC Unleashed' on 9.3.10.
What is Tony Abbott up to?
In the last few days he has smacked down gay and lesbian Australians with some of the harshest words we’ve heard from a national leader in years.
First on Sixty Minutes he said he felt threatened by homosexuality. Then, explaining the “threat” on Lateline, he said homosexuality “challenges orthodox notions of the right order of things”.
That’s much more serious than John Howard’s comment, made in 1996, that he would be disappointed if one of his sons was gay.
Abbott’s use of the word “threatened” says there’s something menacing, even predatory, about homosexuals. His phrase “the right order of things” echoes traditional religious and legal ideas about homosexuality as unnatural, sinful and “disordered”.
These prejudices are out of step with mainstream values. In a 2008 Morgan poll only 29% of Australians said they believe homosexuality is immoral.
Worse, Abbott’s prejudices are deeply damaging to gay and lesbian people, their families, and the idea of an inclusive Australia.
Gay community representatives have rightly highlighted what’s wrong with the Opposition Leader’s views.
Anthony Bendall from the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby has pointed out the negative impact Abbott’s words will have on young gay people who already have a hard enough time struggling with prejudice and discrimination. We know that these young people are 3 to 6 times more likely to seriously consider suicide because of the prejudices Abbott has affirmed.
Corey Irlam from the Australian Coalition for Equality has written to Abbott inviting him to meet ordinary gay and lesbian people to see we don’t pose a threat and some of us are quite “orthodox”. Surveys show that as many as a third of same-sex couples are raising children. According to ABS stats there is an increase in the number of same-sex couples staying in or moving to precisely the suburban, regional and rural areas Abbott is trying to pitch to.
But what no-one has noted so far is that Abbott himself seems to have changed his tune, dramatically.
Two years ago, Abbott condemned former Prime Minister, Paul Keating, as “typically brutal and unfair” for saying "two blokes and a cocker spaniel don't make a family”.
Abbott went on to declare,
“The love and commitment between two people of the same sex can be as strong as that between husband and wife. People should not be looked down upon, thought less of, or treated differently because they happen to be gay. Gay people are just as capable as anyone else of loyalty, selflessness and the capacity to take the rough with the smooth, the qualities that the establishment of lasting relationships require.”
When did “people who should not be looked down on” become a “threat” to the “right order of things”?
Perhaps it was when Abbott became Coalition leader? He owes his position to Liberal power-brokers whose views on homosexuality are far closer to Abbott in 2010 than Abbott in 2008.
Perhaps it was when the nation entered an election year? The Coalition wants to corral those conservative Christians who “defected” to Rudd in 2007 over issues like asylum seekers and industrial relations. Kicking the homosexual can is the time-honoured way of frightening these people back into line.
But whatever the reason, Tony Abbott has shown he can be something far worse than a bigot. He can be an opportunist, willing to say whatever he feels he must to get ahead.
Despite this, I hold out hope that the Federal Coalition can emerge from this episode with a more constructive approach to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) human rights than we’ve seen recently from Tony Abbott.
An example of such an approach is to be found in Tasmania.
In the lead up to the state election on March 20th, the Liberal Party, led by social moderate, Will Hodgman, has committed itself to tackling violence against GLBT people, reviewing outdated sections of the state’s relationship and anti-discrimination laws, and providing greater recognition of transgender people.
The Federal Coalition could adopt a similarly policy based on tackling homophobic violence and adopting a national sexual orientation discrimination law. Existing state and federal discrimination laws fail to protect federal employees from unfair treatment on the grounds of their sexual orientation. With 83% support for this reform nationally according to a 2008 Galaxy poll, filling the gap between state and federal law seems like an eminently safe, gradualist and conservative thing to do.
But of course, that depends on your definition of “conservative”.
The Australian Liberal Party seems torn between the tolerant and pragmatic conservatism exemplified by UK Tory leader, David Cameron, and the strident ideological conservatism of most US Republicans.
How the Tories fair in the UK’s June national election, and how Republicans do in America’s November primaries, will have a significant impact on who’s in and who’s out in Australian conservative circles.
And the best barometer of which way the Party is tipping will be Tony Abbott’s views on homosexuality.
If they shift back to what they were two years ago we will know common-sense conservatism has prevailed.
Rodney Croome is a long-time gay rights advocate.
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