On 2017, national identity, fear, and hope

Well, hasn’t this been an interesting year?

I don’t think I’d even know where to begin with a proper recap of all the madness that has appeared on the Australian political scene in the last twelve months.  And really, why would I need to?  We’ve all lived through it.  Most of us have no desire to relive it.  And if we do, well, there are many excellent blogs that can help you with that (did you know that Andrew P. Street now has a blog on Patreon?  It’s pretty fantastic, and this post here seems like a good place to start, though he’s pretty reliably witty and interesting at all times.).

So I’m not going to do that.

Instead, I want to write about something that has raised its head in a variety of ways this year, and has, I think, almost been a defining theme of politics in this country.  It’s a question which has been around for a while, and which seems to be being asked a lot at present – or perhaps it would be truer to say that it is a question that is continually being answered, with great forcefulness, even when nobody is asking it.  And it’s a question which I think is going to be part of the political discourse for a good long while yet.

That question is, of course, what it means to be Australian.

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The sky is not falling: How marriage has changed in Australia over the last two and a bit centuries

The people have spoken, the Parliament has done its job, and marriage equality is finally law in Australia.  For my LGBTIQ friends – I am so very pleased that we are finally doing the right thing by you.  And you know that I am just *itching* to make wedding cakes at the earliest opportunity.  (Just don’t all get married on January 9, because there really are only so many cakes I can make in one day…)

Back when this whole debate started, a friend of mine commented that the Marriage Act had certainly changed plenty of times before, and it would be interesting to see how, and who had objected. I started compiling a list of changes (objections were harder to research), but the whole project got so enormous that I never did manage to finish it before I went overseas, and then I came back and was sick for weeks, and by the time I had any brains to speak of, the vote was over and done with.

Still, with Marriage Equality finally signed into law, it seems to me that the time has arrived to take a quick look at all the ways marriage has changed in Australia since European settlement. This is not going to be as carefully referenced as my usual post (December is bedlam when you are a singer, an event organiser, and the person who organises the charity drive and the choir at work), though I will link to all the articles that informed this list at the bottom of the page, so that you can delve further if you are interested (I’m sorry, but referencing often takes longer than the post itself, and December is a busy month for me).

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Marriage Equality: The case for returning your survey (and marking it yes!) if you don’t really care about this issue

This is a post for people who really don’t feel very strongly about marriage equality, and are thinking of maybe not filling in their survey.  Perhaps it doesn’t affect you, or perhaps there are other issues that affect you more, or you perhaps think this whole debate is a waste of time and a big distraction from the business of governing (I’m with you on the last two, by the way).  Perhaps you don’t have a problem with gay marriage, personally, but you don’t feel strongly enough about it to do anything active to promote it.

Perhaps you are just really, really, REALLY tired of people going on about it and wish that everyone could forget about the whole thing.

I do get that, actually.  Right now, there are a lot of people who *do* have strong opinions about marriage equality – on both sides of the debate – and they are all expressing them at the top of their lungs, and without ever stopping.  If marriage equality isn’t something that you feel particularly strongly about, it’s very tedious, often insufferable, and sometimes just plain mean.  Especially as this is – what, the third time? the fourth time? – that we’ve had this conversation in the last couple of years.  It never seems to end.

For me, it’s personal.  I have friends who are directly affected by this issue, and you can bet that I want to do anything I can to help them.  But even I can see how incredibly annoying it must be.  And I can understand the temptation to just wash your hands of the whole thing and throw your envelope in the bin when it arrives.

I’m not going to try to convince you that marriage equality is awesome (even though I think it is!).  You’ve heard all those arguments already, and if they’re not inspiring you, I’m unlikely to change that.

Instead, I want to convince you that if you are sick and tired of this whole debate, the absolute last thing you should be doing is throwing your vote in the bin.

There are five very good reasons to select ‘YES’ on the survey, even – perhaps especially – if you don’t care about this debate.

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Impending election, registering to vote, and an announcement

Well, here we are then.  Malcolm Turnbull has his trigger for a double dissolution, and indications are that he is going to pull it in early May, for an election date of July 2, or, just possibly, July 9.

Before you get any further into this post, there is something you need to do.  Yes, I’m being prescriptive about this, but I’m assuming that if you are here and reading this, it’s because you care about voting.

So first of all, please visit this link and make sure you are currently enrolled to vote at the right address and in the right electorate and with the right name.  If you are not there, you can enrol online or through your local post office.  You can also update your details online.

According to the AEC website, the electoral roll closes 7 calendar days after the writs are issued – that is, after the election is declared. If you are not enrolled at this point, you will not be able to vote, and you will also not be able to change any of your enrolment details after this point.

(I could have sworn it was three days only, but I can’t find information about this. My advice would be to get your enrolment sorted now – you lose nothing by being a little more organised, and you don’t want to risk losing your vote if I’ve got this wrong.)

Sorted?

Good.

Now for the announcement.

As you know, I usually spend the two weeks leading up to the election feverishly reading and reporting on the policies of every party on the Senate Paper (and not sleeping).  That’s not going to be possible for me this year, because I’m going to be overseas for five weeks from May 24th – and I am not going to spend my hard-earned long-service leave reading and writing about politics.  Sorry.

Apparently, close of nominations can be anything between 10 and 27 days after the election is called, so the earliest we could possibly know who is on the ballot paper will be May 16.

My plan is to create, as early as possible, a list of all parties who are running in this election, with links to their websites.  I’ll also link to anything I’ve written about them in the past.  And then I will do my level best to write about all the brand new parties and independents between now and the election.  If, by some very unlikely chance, I have time, I will return to update the posts I wrote in 2014 about existing parties.

I’ll also be writing a post sometime in the next week or two about the new Senate Voting Rules, so that you know where you stand with those.  (Not today, though, because I have laryngitis and my brains are made of marshmallows.)

I apologise for the reduced service this year – blame it on Malcolm Turnbull’s impatience!  If he’d stuck to a proper electoral term and an election in September or October, there would not have been a problem…

Thought Experiment

Let’s, just for a moment, consider the possibility that Malcolm Turnbull has been entirely sincere in the various small-L-liberal things he has said over the years.  That he sincerely supports marriage equality, that he wants a republic, that he wants action on climate change, that even one child in detention is too many, all that stuff.  We’ll leave his economics out of the picture for now, because that’s not what this is about.

If he does believe all these things – and I’m quite willing to believe he does – and he is now Prime Minister, what, precisely, can he do about them?  Without, that is, ceasing to be Prime Minister.  Which is the catch, really, isn’t it?  I mean, theoretically, he has the power to make huge changes, but in practice, I don’t think he can actually do that and continue to lead a Coalition government.  Even setting aside our current fashion for changing our Prime Minister at the drop of an opinion poll, there is only so much the party room can tolerate.  One cannot lean too far outside the boundaries of what is acceptable to the Party.

And this, I think, is one of the big failures of the political party system, at least in the larger parties – the incredible pressure it imposes to compromise, to conform.  No matter how idealistically you start out, at some point, if you want to be pre-selected, you are going to have to get the votes of your fellow party members, and this will mean compromise.  Then you have to get the votes of the public, which may mean more compromise (though not necessarily in the same direction).  How many of your ideals do you have to trade away in order to get to a point where you can act to them?  Is there, in fact, such a point?  Or are you more tightly controlled the higher you get in the party?

Have we set things up so that by the time you reach the top job, nothing is left that is not open for negotiation?

Well, perhaps not quite.  Certainly, your Party will have certain core values that are non-negotiable.  Maybe.  But again, those values change over time – consider Malcolm Fraser’s policies on refugees versus Howard’s.  Howard was, of course, Fraser’s Treasurer, so both sets of policies were Liberal dogma during Howard’s political lifetime.  But something evidently changed in the interim.  Still, if one had entered the Liberal Party in the Fraser era because one sympathised with the Party’s ideology, one might have felt rather compromised by the time Tampa rolled around…

Then again, this example is also one of change occurring within a Party.  Someone clearly drives this change.  Is it the Party Leadership?  The Party Membership?  The Chief of Staff?  The polls?  A bit of all four? Does this mean that Turnbull does, in fact, have the power to change the party from within, if he chooses to use it?

And which policies can be changed, anyway?  Which values are ‘core’ to a party, and which are subject to negotiation?  How fast do these core values themselves change?

And would you, if you were a Prime Minister in our current climate be willing to take that risk?

I suppose it would depend on why you sought power, and what you thought you could do with it.  I mean, if you think you really can push through some vital and fantastic legislation that the country needs, so long as you stay around long enough to do it, that might be a reason to compromise on the stuff you felt was less central.

Then again, the fact that you think certain stuff is less central also tells us a bit about how sincere you are about it and how much you really care…

I’m hoping that Turnbull will work to change the conversation in the party room around marriage equality, around refugees, around climate change.  If he does, that’s definitely a useful thing.  But I think he has already signalled where his priorities lie, and for him, promoting fiscal conservatism clearly trumps promoting social liberalism.  (I note that nobody anywhere has claimed that Turnbull is anything less than sincere in his economic opinions.)

Assuming he really is sincere on the social liberalism side of things, perhaps he feels that getting conservative budget measures through is the only way he can ‘buy’ tolerance for considering these other issues.  This does not seem unlikely.  But I’m pretty sure that’s a price that he is very, very happy to pay.  I’m sure he’d like to be the PM who presided over Australia becoming a Republic that allowed Marriage Equality.  It would be a lovely legacy to leave.  But he wants to be the PM that brought Australia into a new economic Golden Age (for a value of Economic Golden Age that I personally find terrifying) more.

If he makes compromises, it won’t be on the side of economics.

Politics: What is Australian?

I’ve been thinking about Australian-ness for a while, partly inspired by a friend’s blog posts about nationalism in France, and partly inspired by the new Citizenship Test and other acts of idiocy currently being perpetrated by our government.

And I’ve come to the conclusion that I have some ideas about what being Australian is all about that are perhaps more unusual than I’ve thought. Because to me, the key thing that makes Australia Australia is immigrants, immigration, and the stunningly diverse population we have as a result of these things. Let’s face it, with the exception of the few people of Aboriginal and Koorie descent, we are all immigrants here. And most of the waves of immigrants, now I think of it, have been from classes or races that were at the time considered socially unacceptable (criminals! Irish! Miners! Chinese! Greeks and Italians! Chinese again! Vietnamese too! Muslims! Sudanese!). I find it both sad and ironic that the descendants of these earlier settlers now feel the need to turn around and reject classes of immigrants based on religion, colour or alleged criminal tendencies. And this from a country whose most long-established families take pride in being descended from… convicts. Or, less romantically, economic refugees fleeing the Highland Clearances. Or, if they were lucky, Catholics, which carried a fine set of prejudices in its day.

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