SAME-SEX MARRIAGE PLEBISCITE PAUSED FOR FEDERAL ELECTION
Attorney-General George Brandis has met with both sides of the same-sex debate recently with no sense of urgency. The Turnbull government has shelved plans to produce the framework and wording for a plebiscite on same-sex marriage until after the election that is now expected on July 2. Previously, the Attorney-General’s Department had been working towards presenting a draft bill for the wording of a same-sex marriage plebiscite before Easter, as well as establishing the ground rules for the public campaign, including on the funding for the two sides. The threat of divisions within the Coalition and fears that the issue will distract government ministers and MPs from focusing on the key election issues of economic management and union lawlessness have, however, delayed the process.
Bill Shorten has already accused Malcolm Turnbull of disappointing supporters of same-sex marriage by continuing with the Abbott government’s promises and threatened to use the issue against the Coalition in the upcoming election campaign. The Attorney-General George Brandis will now not produce any draft legislation to put before Coalition MPs until after the election, delaying the whole process and reducing the likelihood of a national vote before Christmas. Senator Brandis angered the Prime Minister and conservative MPs opposed to same-sex marriage when he suggested that the plebiscite could be introduced and voted on before the end of the year if the Coalition were re-elected.
Mr Turnbull was concerned that Senator Brandis’s apparent acceleration of the holding of the plebiscite, promised by Tony Abbott only to be held “in the next term” had needlessly angered Coalition MPs and provided a distraction. The key to reassuring those opposed to same-sex marriage, including conservative Coalition MPs, is not only the wording of the proposed plebiscite question changing the Marriage Act but also the protections for freedom of religion and speech. Those involved in the talks regard it as essential that Senator Brandis provide protections for those beyond the tight circle of religious and marriage celebrants who do not want to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.
Senator Brandis had previously wanted priority given to the drafting of the plebiscite wording and conditions, and it was widely expected he would have a submission before Easter. The plebiscite submission was not put to the last cabinet meeting before Easter and government sources have confirmed there will be no draft bill or discussion before the election. The ground rules for the public vote are certain to spark controversy, given the debate over whether voting should be compulsory and whether the process should be largely the same as at a federal election, with postal votes as well as votes cast at a ballot box. The amount of public funding for the “yes” and “no” cases is yet to be decided, and there are questions about whether any funds would end up going to advocacy groups.
Senator Brandis has held meetings with representatives of both sides on same-sex marriage but the intensity of the meetings has declined in recent months. His suggestion that the plebiscite could be held before Christmas created suspicion among opponents to same-sex mar-riage that he and Mr Turnbull wanted to accelerate it. A recent Essential poll showed a people’s vote on same-sex marriage rather than a parliamentary vote was supported 66% to 23%. Even staunch opponents to changing the traditional laws on marriage do not believe the issue should be a distraction to the Federal election. “We don’t need this discussion now: we need to concentrate on the key issues for the election and not be distracted or divided internally over same-sex marriage,” one senior Liberal MP said.
The plebiscite has already become an election issue, with the Opposition Leader promising a Labor government would hold a vote on same-sex marriage in parliament within 100 days of the election, avoiding the need for a plebiscite. “I actually think that’s a job for the parliament,” Mr Shorten said. “I don’t support having a taxpayer funded opinion poll of $160 million where taxpayer money will be used to vilify relationships.” Senator Brandis said the government’s position was to hold the plebiscite “as soon as possible” after the election. “It’s just a matter of arithmetic that the earlier in the year the election is, the easier it will be to have that plebiscite before the end of the year,” he told ABC TV.
SENATOR BERNARDI TOYS WITH RAISING UP A NEW POLITICAL PARTY FOR CONSERVATIVES
Right-wing Liberal senator Cory Bernardi has laid the groundwork to launch a new political force, the Australian Conservatives, to “give a voice back to Australia’s forgotten people”. In a move that risks further splintering the Turnbull government, a company controlled by the South Australian senator’s wife has applied to trademark the name and logos of the new group, with the stated aim of providing the “services of a political party”. Senator Bernardi, who last year warned of a possible schism of the Liberal Party if Malcolm Turnbull did not uphold the party’s “distinctly conservative” character, described the Australian Conservatives as a program of his existing Conservative Leadership Foundation.
He would not provide further details about what the program involved nor give an assurance he would not leave the Liberals to lead a breakaway party. In a rousing email to supporters, Senator Bernardi referred repeatedly to the “silent majority of Australian Conservatives” who were challenging “the leftist agenda of big government and decaying society”. “Unless the mainstream parties connect with the ‘forgotten people’ they will choose a different path. It’s a global phenomenon and would be foolish to think it won’t emerge in Australia,” he wrote, citing the rise of Donald Trump. “My mission is to build a movement that will change politics. To fight against the tyranny of political correctness and give a voice back to Australia’s forgotten people.
“That’s what Sir Robert Menzies sought to do over 70 years ago in forming the Liberal Party. It’s time Australian Conservatives reclaimed Menzies’s vision.” After Mr Turnbull seized the prime ministership in September, Senator Bernardi raised the prospect of a split in the Liberal Party unless it maintained a “distinctly conservative vision”. “I don’t want it to come to that,” he said at the time. “I want us to be a mainstream conservative party, rather than just a vehicle for ‘anything goes, as long as I can climb the greasy pole’.” The senator would not say whether the risk of a party split had subsided. Senator Bernardi, a conservative stalwart, regards Islam as a “totalitarian political and religious ideology” and strongly opposes same-sex marriage and the Safe Schools Coalition anti-bullying program.
His foundation trains young conservatives to effectively advocate political change through business, media, academic, political and community organisations. Senator Bernardi is not due to face re-election until 2019 in a standard half-Senate election, but would be up for election this year if the Prime Minister proceeds with a July 2 double dissolution. The Liberal Party’s conservative fringe is being wooed by the Australian Liberty Alliance (ALA), which draws inspiration from populist Dutch MP Geert Wilders and champions a 10-year moratorium on Muslim immigration. Tony Abbott has long cautioned the Liberal base would “flirt” with “more extreme alternatives” such as the ALA unless the Turnbull government maintained tough immigration and counter-terrorism policies.
SAFE SCHOOLS JUDGE CO-CHAIR OF HOMOSEXUAL YOUTH GROUP TWENTY10
An academic paid with government money to independently evaluate the controversial Safe Schools Coalition anti-bullying program is the co-chair of a homosexual and transgender organisation that was promoted in the school material. University of Sydney academic Cristyn Davies is one of the researchers undertaking a $270,000 evaluation of the program. She is also the co-chair of Twenty10, a counselling service for young homosexual and transgender people. Access to the Twenty10 service was promoted on the Safe Schools materials through the “All of Us” resource. Liberal MP George Christensen, who is hostile towards Safe Schools, said in parliament that one of the biggest concerns he had with the program was the links to outside resources such as Twenty10.
“The safe schools teaching resource directs students to the LGBT organisation Twenty10. Earlier this year, Twenty10 held a hands on workshop for youth on sex toys and sadomasochistic practices,” Mr Christensen said. Professor Davies rejected the suggestion of a conflict of interest. “As part of university expectations of research staff, I provide service to the community in my area of expertise. In this capacity, I serve as co-chair of the board at Twenty10. This is an honorary unpaid position. My role with Twenty10 is on the public record,” Professor Davies said. Three of the four Sydney-based academics commissioned to independently evaluate Safe Schools has a history of advocating against the teaching of heterosexuality as the regular form of sexuality in schools.
The Safe Schools Coalition, ostensibly an anti-bullying program based around homosexual and transgender issues, has been overhauled by the federal government over concerns it pushes a leftist ideological agenda. The Gillard government agreed to contribute $8 million on the rollout of the program through schools, handled by a government-funded lobby Foundation for Young Australians (FYA). The government mandated that FYA commission an independent evaluation of the campaign as a condition of funding. While the federal government has done its own revision and is likely to pull funding after 2017, the independent evaluation, due later this year, might still impact the content of Safe Schools, as it will be compulsory in Victorian state schools by 2018.
The evaluation was last year outsourced to Western Sydney academics Kerry Robinson and Jacqueline Ullman and University of Sydney academics -Davies and Rachel Skinner after a competitive tender. Three of those authors – Professors Robinson, Ullman and Davies – have written extensively of the need to overhaul the teaching of sex education to touch on issues of sexuality and gender in line with what eventually became Safe Schools. Professors Davies and Robinson have written essays and co-edited a book. Professor Robinson co-authored an essay, Growing Up Queer in 2014, which was co-sponsored by Twenty 10.