Monday, September 25, 2006

Sam Goes Tranny

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Arnie on the brink again

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Election Time - Ask Your Questions

What do you want to hear from the pollies?

As the state election looms (with a federal election to follow), Melbourne Star has teamed up with the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby to design a questionnaire we'll be sending to all candidates, to discover their views on issue of importance to the community. I'll also be hosting a series of interviews with candidates on Bent TV, Channel 31.

If here are any questions you'd like me to ask, post them here.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Ruddock Letter

Here is the text of the letter I (and several others) have received from the Attorney General, Phillip Ruddock. My translation in italics.

Dear Mr Pollard

I refer to your e-mail dated 15 May 2006 in which you raise a number of issues about same sex couples and in particular about the Civil Unions Act 2006 (ACT).

The Australian Government believes overwhelmingly in the institution of marriage and, in 2004. acted to define in legislation the common understanding in our community of marriage which is the union of a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life’. This legislation was passed with bipartisan support. The Government believes that this definition reflects the views of the majority of the Australian community.

It's not our fault - Labor voted for it too. And besides, everyone esle agrees with us. We're just reflecting the will of the people.

1 note the public assertions of ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope that the ACT legislation was specifically drafted to avoid confusion between civil unions and marriage. With respect I believe these assertions to be wrong. The arrangements under the Act bore marked similarity to those contained in the Marriage Act 1961. Indeed, on the web site of the ACT Legislative Assembly, debate on the Civil Unions Act 2006 was tiled in the subject index under the heading “marriage”, providing a revealing insight into Mr Stanhope’s real motivation.

John Stanhope and the entire ACT government are liars - only I can't say that directly 'cos it's a) not true and b) libellous.

The ACT Government did make some amendments to the Civil Unions Bill before its debate and passage in the ACT Legislative Assembly but they did not deal adequately with the fundamental concerns of the Government. As one example the legislation still states in section 5(2) that:

A civil union s different to a marriage but is to be treated for all purposes under territory law in the same way as a marriage.

In the Government’s view, the amendments passed did not alter the substance of the ACT laws.

The Government strongly opposes any action that would reduce the status of marriage to that of other relationships. It will also oppose any action which would create confusion over the distinction between marriage and same sex relationships. The Government does not believe that same sex relationships have the same character as marriages and therefore considers that they should not he given the same legal and community status as marriage.

Same-sex relationships and the people who enter into them are inherently inferior to us heterosexuals and our marriages, so the law needs to reflect that.

The Government believes the Civil Unions Act 2006 (ACT) compromised the unique status of marriage. This is why the Government decided to take action to ensure that the legislation would not be able to come into operation in the Australian Capital Territory As you may know the Governor-General, on the recommendation of the Australian Government has disallowed the Civil Unions Act 2006. This disallowance has the effect of repealing the Act.

I should note that the Australian Government condemns discrimination in all its forms, including discrimination on the basis of sexuality. The Government believes that each of us should have the opportunity to participate in the life of our community and to experience the benefits and accept the responsibilities that flow from such participation without fear of discrimination. The Government is committed to maintaining the Australian traditions of tolerance and respect for diversity, which are the foundations of one of the world’s most successful multicultural societies.

And in case anyone should think differently, I personally forbade all government departments from co-operating with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission (HREOC) Enquiry which is currently documenting existing anti-gay discrimination, to try to prevent them from finding the evidence that proves me wrong.

For example, Government amendments to superannuation law since 1999 have allowed trustees to accept binding death benefit nominations from members so that death benefits are payable to a person nominated appropriately where that person is a dependant of the deceased member or his or her personal representative. In 2004, the Government expanded the definition of dependant, and thus the range of potential beneficiaries of tax-free superannuation death benefits, to include people in an ‘interdependency relationship’. This will benefit, amongst others, people in same sex relationships who may not otherwise have met the definition of dependant.

This is the smallest possible change we could get away with, and of course you still have to prove you had a relationship (because you don't have a marriage or civil union certificate) and that you were dependent on the other person. If you were financially independent you probably won't get the cash - but then again, you won't need it, will you? And trustees don't have to accept death benefit nominations - it's at their discretion. And you still don't get a spouses survivor pension. And Commonwealth employees are excluded.

Further, in the area of migration, a person who shares an interdependent relationship with an Australian citizen or permanent resident is able to apply for an interdependency visa to allow them to reside in Australia. This includes people in same sex relationships.

But if you come to Australia on a working visa, your partner still doesn't automatically get one too, the way a wife does - even if they are 'dependent' on you. And anyway, even though we recently relaxed the rules on this, we're thinking of changing our minds.

The Government has also agreed to extend certain conditions of service entitlements to members of the Australian Defence Force in interdependent relationships, which will include members with same sex partners.

Yeah, the bastard poufs in Tasmania somehow persuaded the RSL this was a good idea, and we can't argue with our old soldiers.

In the area of industrial relations, the Commonwealth Workplace Relations Act 1996 contains provisions that prohibit an employer from terminating a person’s employment on various specified grounds, including because of their sexual preference. Complaints of unlawful termination on the basis of sexual preference can he lodged with the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC).

Actually we did away with 'unfair dismissal', which was relatively easy to prove and could be argued in front of the commission, and replaced it with 'unlawful dismissal', which means you now have to pay thousands to lawyer up and go to court - if you can afford it - and meet a higher standard of proof.

In addition to the AIRC, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) has power to inquire into and conciliate complaints of discrimination on the ground of sexuality in the employment context. HREOC also has the power to inquire into any Commonwealth act or practice which may be inconsistent with specified human rights and to report to me on its findings and recommendations, Such reports are then tabled in Federal Parliament.

However, we nobbled HREOC by refusing to co-operate with their current enquiry into discrimination against same-sex couples, and of course we can just reject or ignore the report when it coms in. Should play well to the god-botherers in the marginals.

All States and Territories of Australia also prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual preference in a range of areas of public life, including education and employment. ‘the majority of States and Territories also prohibit harassment on the ground of sexual preference.

We can't do much about this because all the State governments are held by the Opposition party. So we might as well take the credit for it while we're about it.

The Government believes that existing measures create a legal and policy framework that adequately addresses discrimination on the basis of sexuality.

We're going to ignore the HREOC enquiry, we're not going to let Warren Entsch have a conscience vote on his anti-discrimination bill, in fact, we're even thinking about bringing in a ban on same sex couples adopting. You don't vote for us anyay - and there's more votes in bashing you.

Don't forget, I'm the minister who recommends to cabinet what we do with the HREOC enquiry, and I'm the minister who recommends whether or not Entsch's bill is in the public interest. So you can all fuck off and die. Have a nice day.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Bleak House - Courts Not the Way

The way to win our equal rights cannot be, first, via the courts, then perhaps via legislation, and finally, converting public opinion. The order has to be reversed if there's to be any lasting success.
In Australia the argument has to be, first and foremost, about being treated equally. We are already tolerated, mostly, and grudgingly. Now we have to move towards acceptance, until the current law seems as absurd to the majority as it now does to us.
There are no short-cuts - as the US experience shows. Check out the link for details in this report from US News.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Media Tart Mark III

First it was radio. Then the newspaper. Today, I taped my first television appearance. Bent TV, which provides gay programming on Channel 31, has asked me to be a regular on a segment called QFocus, a fortnightly discussion on news and current affairs.

Along with my good mate Pete Dillon, formerly of VGLRL.

I haven't seen myself yet but I suspect I'll be horrid. I kept trying to remember not to do all the things I do on radio - look down at my notes, scratch my nose, pull faces at what someone else is saying . . . . and failing. I couldn't tell which cameras were on and when, and I couldn't see the time cards that were being flashed up saying 'three minutes left' etc.

So I didn't know where to look or when to shut up, AND I talked over the panel chairman, the lovely Mark Mead. But then again, so did Pete.

The resulting effort will air on Channel 31 on Thursday night, sometime after 10.30, or so I believe. Please don't watch - wait till I get better!!!

Are you gay or straight? Admit it, you are most likely an in-between

Matthew Parris

Times of London

Sexuality is a supple thing, and sometimes can be influenced, even promoted

SOMETIMES IT IS only after a period of absence that, on returning, we can see something — a room, a face, a place — for what it is. Perhaps we used to be too close to look properly, but now we see clearly what we never saw before. So it can be, also, with an idea.
Earlier this summer a television researcher making a programme about homosexuality and politics asked me a question that I must have heard a hundred times during the past couple of decades, but had not for some reason been asked recently: not for a year or two. “How many gay MPs would you estimate there are in Parliament?”

All at once it struck me that the question was absurd, like asking “how many merlot drinkers are there in this room?” Does the questioner mean heavy merlot drinkers, exclusive merlot drinkers, drinkers who wouldn’t exclude merlot if offered it, or drinkers who might like merlot if they were to try it? The answer to the question of how many gay MPs there are is “between five and two hundred, depending on what you mean”.
In my Notebook column in The Times I have been recording, in an occasional way, candidates for inclusion in a speculative list of truths or nonsenses staring us in the face that we somehow cannot see: things future ages may dismiss with a snort — just as we look with incredulity at our forebears’ faith in the theory of the four bodily humours or possession by demons. Here is another modern candidate: the idea that there is a set of males called homosexuals, and another called heterosexuals, plus a handful in the middle called bisexuals who can’t decide. This, we shall one day realise, is a distorting glass through which to look at male sexuality.
Let me suggest, first, what I think is the truer picture; and secondly my evidence for it. Thirdly, I shall explain why I believe such evidence is being rejected by an unwitting conspiracy between opinion-formers in the male “gay community” and moralisers in the heterosexual world.
Make a horizontal line whose left margin represents a sexual orientation so completely heterosexual that such men have never felt, however fleetingly, any sexual attraction to another man; and whose right margin represents gay men utterly unteased by any other interest. Mark 30 million dots between these two poles, representing each of us men in Britain, located towards left or right depending on the balance of the attractions we’ve felt in our own life. How will the resulting scatter look as a shape?
If popular talk is to be believed, the shape would trace the silhouette of a wine glass lying leftwards on its side: long, thin stem in the middle, opening out to a big bowl on the left and a small base on the right. The large cluster (at least 80 per cent, the bowl) would be the “straights”. A much smaller but distinct cluster (perhaps 5 to 10 per cent, the base) would be the “gays”. The stem would be a thin scatter of “bisexuals”.
But if only we knew it, the true shape, I believe, would be closer to that of a champagne bottle lying rightwards on its side, its base to the left, tapering gently towards its mouth at the right. I think a substantial preponderance of men are more heterosexual than homosexual, but scattered fairly evenly between 100 per cent and half-and-half; and that the smaller number who think of ourselves as gay are likewise quite evenly distributed along the spectrum from the halfway point.
My evidence? Direct experience and personal observation. I’m the type who calls himself totally homosexual, but I know from dreams and from occasional involuntary physical responses that some small heterosexual part of my nature, though elbowed aside, is still there. My sexual sample is less prolific than I would once have wanted, but I reckon about a third of the men I’ve slept with were what you might call “viable heterosexuals” — in the sense that they wanted and got girlfriends, believed themselves to be more straight than gay and in many cases ended up (unforced and happily) married. I’ve also known a fair few men who seemed quite contendedly gay, then changed their lives and went straight. And, of course, vice versa. We all know that plenty of married men dabble in homosexual behaviour; but plenty of gay men have flings with women too.
I talk to people. This is an area notoriously difficult to access through professional polling, but late-night conversations between people who trust each other are different. They suggest to me a world where men do not find their own actions and feelings neatly fit the categories that language furnishes for us. We end up saying, effectively: “Well, I am this but I did that — don’t know why really.” I doubt our age is supplied with the right language or conceptual framework to talk about these things. Perhaps Europe before the 20th century was not so wrong as we now think to have adopted no category of “homosexual” (or indeed “heterosexual”), and to have talked only of urges, acts and “sins” to which all human flesh was prone.
If I am right, why have both the gay and the straight worlds so fiercely resisted the ambivalent and perhaps fluid analysis I propose? Reasons why those we might call “hetero-evangelists” might resist it are obvious. It suits their view to see homosexuality as a deviation and to think in terms of “normal” and “abnormal”. The wine-glass silhouette suits this view much better than the champagne bottle.
Gay reasons for rejection of my “even scatter” theory are clear to me too, however. First, we who call ourselves gay know well that most men who call themselves “bisexual” are more gay than straight, but afraid or unwilling to say so. But what we overlook is that for every gay posing as a bisexual, there are probably a dozen bisexuals posing as straight.
Secondly — and this is very important — the idea that many of us have a potentially variable sexuality opens up the uncomfortable possibility of personal choice; and we gays have lived in a transitional era in which we have very much wanted to believe and claim that “God made us” like this, and “we can’t help it”. Whether or not this is true, it is comforting for those troubled by suppressed guilt, and has provided a knock-down argument against those moral conservatives who say we could choose, and therefore should choose, not to be gay. It has also seemed to rebut the complaint that homosexuality could be “promoted” or that gay men might “corrupt” potential heterosexuals. What, however, has not yet dawned on still embattled crusaders for equality is that true equality — equality of self-regard as well as public esteem — will have arrived when we are as careless as a blond or a redhead might be whether or not we were made that way.
Does “I can’t help being black” strike you as a self-respecting argument against racism? That “I can’t help it” is a subtly self-oppressing argument for acceptance does not seem to have occurred to supposedly liberated gay activists, for whom it has always been the easiest way of ending the argument.
But it is intellectually sloppy (would you accept it from a child molester?), calculated to close off troubling thoughts about might-have-beens, and no answer to the Christian evangelists’ insulting talk of cures for our “affliction”. We retreat into a simple, bipolar world of can’t-help-it straights and can’t-help-it gays. We push these feelings and people into closets marked “latent” homosexuality, “in-denial” homosexuality and “confused” homosexuality.
I think sexuality is a supple as well as subtle thing, and can sometimes be influenced, even promoted; I think that in some people some drives can be discouraged and others encouraged; I think some people can choose. I wish I were conscious of being able to. I would choose to be gay.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Statement from ACT Chief Minister John Stanhope


The Prime Minister appeared to have failed at the first hurdle in his attempt to prove that he was interested in removing discrimination against same-sex couples, with reports that federal departments and agencies had been instructed not to make submissions into an inquiry by the federal Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Chief Minister Jon Stanhope said today.

“Earlier this month, when the Federal Government made shameful history by overturning the ACT’s Civil Unions legislation, senior Government figures were keen to have Australians believe that they were not motivated by anti-homosexual sentiment,” Mr Stanhope said today. “And the Prime Minister himself has said on more than one occasion that he is in favour of removing discrimination on a case-by-case basis.

“Yet when his own statutory body charged with inquiring into discrimination decides to examine residual areas of financial discrimination against same-sex couples in this country, it seems the Federal Government is not even interested in knowing what the facts are, or whether the Federal Government itself might be a part of the problem, rather than a part of the solution.

“It is curious, to say the least, for any government to issue a blanket instruction to its departments and agencies not to make a submission to any HREOC inquiry at all, but most particularly to an inquiry looking at an issue upon which the Prime Minister wants Australians to believe he is active.

“It is interesting that the Federal Government has not been so reticent in the past in making submissions to HREOC inquiries. The Department of Workplace Relations, for example, was happy to make a submission to the ‘Striking the Balance’ inquiry into work-life balance and the Commonwealth Government made a submission into the ‘Stolen Generations’ inquiry, just to name two.

“I wonder if there has been any previous occasion upon which departments and agencies have received a blanket instruction not to cooperate with a HREOC investigation?”

Mr Stanhope said that in light of these reports, the ACT Government, which had so recently been witness to the Federal Government’s true and deepest feelings on the rights and entitlements of gay and lesbian Australians, was entitled to question the Prime Minister’s repeated assertions that he was committed to non-discrimination.

“Actions, not rhetoric, are what counts in this debate, and the Federal Government’s actions tell the true story,” Mr Stanhope said.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Civil Unions Issue - see below

I've posted my interviews on this topic with Senators Milne and Stott-Despoya here in full for those who are interested - the highlights I've already published in Melbourne Star.

They were done just after the Senate decided to let the government's disallowance of the ACT Civil Unions Act to stand.

I've also posted the news about the Howard government's attempt to nobble the Human Rights Commission enquiry into same-sex couple discrimination: it should be borne in mind that governments usually co-operate with these sorts of enquiries automatically.

And there's also a rundown of what Howard mught do against us next.

Although parliament has now risen for a six week recess this issue isn't going to go away, especially if Howard thinks he's on a roll with anti-gay manoeuvres.

An Interview with Senator Natasha Stott Despoya

DP: Why bring forward a Private Members bill to try to change the Marriage Act – we’ve got away from the marriage issue onto civil unions, and that seems to be playing very well for us, so what’s the reason for resurrecting the marriage issue?

NS-D: Simply as a last ditch attempt to override the changes the government made in 2004 that said that marriage, or civil unions, in way, are not available to same sex couples, so it’s making a very strong symbolic point.

Will it go any further than that

It’s up to the will of the parliament as to whether the bill is ever debated or voted on, but having said that, I’ve had private members bills that have been debated and voted on, but it’s a long process

I don’t suggest that marriage is necessarily the priority of same sex couples in Australia, what I object to is the debate and the amendments that were passed in 2004 that said that marriage is resolutely only between a man and a woman, and it suddenly defined marriage in a way that previously had not been defined in such a restrictive way.

So where do you think things go next – I was talking to Simon Corbell [ACT Attorney General] and he was very fired up with the idea of either brining the same bill back again with a few changes or bringing in a whole new bill. What will happen if he does that?

Well I thought the ACT Bill was a commonsense, unprovocative (to use the word that’s been bandied around), good piece of legislation that deserved to stand, and that’s why I was a co-sponsor of the disallowance motion. I hope that the debate is reinvigorated and obviously civil unions is an easy – relatively, we thought – way of dealing with this issue, so there’s no reason why the ACT or any other government shouldn’t pursue this, but its clear now that the government will stomp on this, and I think they need to be challenged every time they try to do this.

Do you think they’ll eventually stomp on Warren Entsch’s bill as well?

Obviously the Entsch legislation is good news. Obviously the Democrats are a bit ho hum about this, because this is something we’ve been on about for an extraordinarily long time, and received minimal if any support from other parties, let alone the Liberal party or backbenchers, on the issue of removing discrimination. And obviously that’s something we will vote for, but whether or not the government wants to proceed with something that is holus bolus a GENUINE removal of the prohibitions and the discrimination that exists, then that will be a sight to see.

I’ve yet to see legislation penned by the government and supported by the government that would do that, unlike the Democrats bill, which was introduced back in 1995 – that could have been passed a decade ago and this could all have been old hat if we’d dealt with it back in the 90’s, but I’ve yet to be convinced the government is genuinely going to allow something to go through.

One of the objections I’m told Howard might have is that he doesn’t like the big bang approach where you change a whole lot of laws at once to remove discrimination against gay couples, he’s said to prefer a piecemeal approach.

Piecemeal serves a very clear political purpose. That is “let’s not do too much too soon and not really effect change at all”, and I guess that’s why in some respects Senator Bartlett and I are making a big point with the marriage act.

Which is, “we’re sick and tired of you telling the world, telling Australians, that your marriage, a heterosexual marriage, is more valid than anyone else’s union,” and so in that respect I think this government has a homophobic element that is absolutely alive and kicking, and piecemeal reform is just an excuse for getting the issue off the agenda as opposed to realistically and genuinely confronting some age old prejudices and discrimination that exist in law throughout the land.

It’s also a very handy way of keeping the issue on hand: each time another piece comes up from discussion you can object if you need to distract people from another issue, and shore up your conservative base.

And wedge politics had worked a treat for the government this week but that doesn’t make it right, there’s a blatant discrimination that still exists against gay and lesbian partners in a relationship, and yes some of that will be addressed (we hope) by the Entsch bill, but its not enough. You’ve got to have absolute blanket removal of discrimination and I believe that’s got to be done by broad based legislation that makes a difference across the whole of government.

What about the HREOC Enquiry? The PM has said he’s committed to removing discrimination, won’t he look rather foolish if he’s given a list of what the discrimination is and he then refuses to enact the changes?

This is one the great ways of pressuring the government when you have an organization like that which will do a comprehensive enquiry, and I’ve looked at a couple of the submissions, and if the government's generally committed to removing discrimination it’ll have to pay attention to the findings of that report. I’ll wait and see – I feel a little cynical on this topic this week.

Victorian Libs leader and candidates say they’re in favour of civil unions. VGLRL say memberships are up. There was a surprisingly good turnout at the rally outside Melbourne Liberal HQ on Friday. Do you think here’s a groundswell happening here?

I suspect here is and I’ve got no reason to doubt it. Certainly the emails, the phone calls, the faxes I’ve received from a range of people all over Australia, different geographical areas and electorates, who are very committed to this issue, and this is the point.

It’s not up to me as a legislator to determine whether civil unions are appropriate or not, or marriage, it’s not up to me to determine how people want to live their lives and run their relationships. That, I guess, is my fundamental objection at the moment, the governments extraordinary restrictive, very conservative and very religious take on what constitutes a relationship, and I think that most Australians are offended by that regardless of our sexuality. I don’t think sexuality even enters into it, because I think most Australians just see this as an issue of fairness.

That in a sense is a classic liberal position, isn’t it? That the government should get out of peoples lives and allow them to organize them as they see fit, so long as they do no harm to anyone else.

Indeed. And I’m staggered by the shrinking number of small-l liberals that seem to be in the Australian parliament, especially in the Liberal party. I find this new censorious, restrictive, legislative approach extraordinary. That is not representative of what you would presume is their brand of Liberalism. Clearly there’s a religious influence here that can’t be underestimated.

Sen Milne said groundswell across a range of issues – nuclear, refugees etc. seems to be a sea change happening – including, as I understand it, many members of the Liberal party. They’re getting a little tired of all this.

Well I hope there’s a sea change, I’ve been in the parliament for more than a decade, a year of that now under a coalition controlled senate, and I’m incredibly concerned about the direction the country – and the federal parliament in particular - is heading.

So when I get to talk to people and go to functions and rallies like the one I’ve been at today for David Hicks, for example, I do get a sense of a groundswell of support for perhaps progressive views in some senses - environmental, or human rights, or a range of civil and political rights. I also worry too because the direction in the parliament is quite contrary to that. But we may see some cracks, some conscience voting, but there needs to be a lot more pressure applied, and maybe Civil Unions is the issue that’s started the ball rolling a little.

The trouble is if we get a conscience vote on civil unions we’re going to start seeing cracks in the Labour party too.

That’s the other aspect of the debate that people were concerned about. Had it been an even closer vote, you would have seen dissent on the labour side. A number of labour people were being heavily influenced by other factions, other political and religious considerations.

That’s inevitable in a parliament its about diversity and difference, but I would hate to see another debate in which even more conservative views were expressed. Civil Unions, to me, it just seems a no-brainer. I think the community gets that – I just don’t think the community is reflected appropriately in the parliament.

I don’t particularly want Senator Fielding telling me that “Marriages Bloom with a Bride and a Groom” - I guess I’m just not really a blooming bride – didn’t work for me, that one – it just goes to show you’re going to get all kinds of personal reflections that perhaps we shouldn’t open the parliamentary door to!

So what do you plan to do next.

To keep the pressure on the government, to keep them aware that the senate is still watching them on civil unions, that their decision to legislate against civil unions and marriage is something that is out of step with the majority of the population. I think it’s really important for legislators to be in there saying “your view of what constitutes a marriage or a relationship is not the only view, it is not the valid view.”

And that’s my role in introducing changes to the Marriage AC, not necessarily that I’m suggesting same sex marriage is the answer, that’s not my role, its up to other people to decide if they want to get married or not, not my decision. But it certainly is my role as a legislator to make clear to government that we cannot legislate for one form of a relationship that is more valid than another.

At the moment, according to our laws, heterosexual relationships are the only ones that count, and to me, that’s abominable.

Edited highlights from this interview appeared in Melbourne Star June 22nd

An Interview with Senator Christine Milne

CM: I’ve just made yet another speech about Inequality exclusiveness and unfairness with their new electoral laws

DP: Their electoral laws, their immigration laws, their same sex laws

CM: Exactly – that’s what I’m trying to argue here, to get the rest of the opposition parties to stop talking always as if they were different things and just say these are the values of the Howard government, which are unfairness, inequality and exclusivity – they argue that they are good old Australian values, what I’m trying to argue that this is at the heart of everything they do, inequality, cutting people out and unfairness.

DP: You said when you introduced the decriminalisation in Tasmania that was a very unpleasant experience

CM: It was absolutely horrendous. I’ve been in the Tasmanian parliament since 1989 and since 1989 the greens had repeatedly introduced gay law reform, and it wasn’t until we got balance of power when I was the leader in 1996 that we had the opportunity to actually achieve it. Now by that time R Croome and Nick Turnen had taken the matter to the UN but still here was nothing happening to force the issue in Tasmania.

But at that time I had Michael Hodgemen who is still in the Liberal party in the Tasmanian parliament, a former federal member going on the ABC News saying I was the mother of teenage sodomy – MTS – pretty good isn’t it (laughs).

I had the Attorney General of the day saying that if this legislation went through then Tasmania would be overrun with pedophiles.

I anticipated it would make a huge difference in Tasmania because the culture was just so repressive and the meanness the meanness was awful and I knew it would be better but I had no idea the shift would be as profound as it was. It was like the windows and doors were opened, the sunshine as let in here was a level of inclusiveness and happiness and tolerance I was even overwhelmed by – it has a had profound impact on Tasmanian society in that we went from having the worst gay laws to having the best in the country at that time. And I’m really proud of that.

But I have to say that I got the most vile letters and phone calls I was abused in supermarkets and on the streets it just demonstrates the point that you have to stand up for what you believe in spite of it all and ultimately you’ll be proved to be right, and that’s what should have happened here on civil unions and it didn’t

DP: Here in Victoria the new leader of the Liberals, Ted Baillieu, has reportedly received death threats since he said he was in favour of civil unions.

CM: Yeah that’s right, Bob [Brown] and I have had any number of death threats over the years in relation to this, I’ve had church groups ringing up praying for me people telling me I’m going to burn in the fires of hell and goodness knows what else – and that’s why I made that point yesterday – that the people who call themselves Christians are frequently the people who write the nastiest most vindictive most un-christian things to people who are actually trying to seek – as I said yesterday, do you believe in discrimination, do you believe in equality before the law, fundamentally that’s what this is about and I just cant see how people who claim to be Christians cannot recognise that.

That’s what they can’t argue against. They always invoke a whole range of things from the Old Testament but the you know the Old Testament also, if you want to be literal, has people cutting off hands and tuning women into pillars of salt, and there a few odd inconsistencies there I’ve noted.

DP: What next? There’s a great deal happening on CUs: Warren Entsch is bringing in his private members bill, Senator Natasha Stott-Despoya has brought in one to reverse the changes to the Marriage Act, and there seems to be potential for minor backbench revolt in Liberals

CM: I think that it going to take time and I don’t think you should underestimate the conservative rump in the Labor Party as well, they are certainly there, yesterday I noted that Penny Wong if you like paid tribute to her colleagues in the Labor party who hold different views and I just couldn’t understand why she pandered to an element in the Labor Party that apparently support discrimination.

DP: She’s declined to comment on that because its ‘off her portfolio’

CM: Well what nonsense the fact is that what was being proposed was discriminatory, the labor party is supposed to stand for anti discrimination and that’s the whole thing about it and I understand that’s why the Labor Party didn’t have a conscience vote on it, because it was a principle of discrimination, but look at what happened when we moved for women’s reproductive rights and the support of the millennium goal in regard to the education and empowerment of women, that the labor party folded on that, when the national party stood up and said they were going to oppose it, the labor party folded on it as well, and that was because of this conservative group in the labor party, so we shouldn’t underestimate the fact that they’re there.

Nevertheless I think there is . . ….I’ve been despondent for some years about the lack of activism in the Australian community in the face of what Howard has done to Australia, and you know it’s unthinkable ten years ago that you could have had a situation where you could excise the whole country from refugee laws and you wouldn’t have people marching all over the place, or you introduce the idea of becoming part of Bush’s nuclear club, and that’s just happened. Then they change the electoral laws to stop young people enrolling, you know, to cut them out of the process. Wherever you look it happens every day and I think that’s because – one of the reasons we’re not seeing protest is because people are exhausted by the aggressiveness of the radical change to Australian society that Howard has brought about..

But what I’m seeing in this last couple of months is a resurgence, there’s a growing movement in the universities around the nuclear issue, and the refugee campaign, and civil unions is part of the same sort of resurgence, or people saying we have had enough we’re not going to stomach this any more, and its going to the heart of everything we believe in and that’s why I’m trying to make people see that these things ought not to be seen as individual sorts of ‘silo’ issues, but they are the same issue, whether we’re talking about the West Papuans or we’re talking about civil unions, we are talking about a government which is not inclusive and is trying to exclude people from being part of Australian society, and which is unfair and discriminatory.

DP: Isn’t that part of salami tactics, splitting people up so they’re easier to pick off one by on?

CM: Yes, but at least there’s starting to be a resurgence and I take great heart from that and I’m certainly … my whole focus now is to try to get the community to see that whatever happens after the next federal election in terms of the lower house, that the government loses its majority in the Senate and the greens will certainly be campaigning to try to get control of the Senate, and this is where Victoria is critical because at the last federal election it was the labor party in Victoria that preferences family first ahead of the greens, and had not happened, we’d have had David Ristrom there yesterday instead of Steve Fielding.

Labor Party people in Victoria must vote below the line if labor does it again.

DP: The Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby say they’ve had the greatest surge in interest they’ve seen for years.

CM: That’s happening around the refugee issue, the anti-nuclear campaigns, I’m sensing it everywhere I go. There are always tipping points, and you can never know when you’ve actually reached them , you just campaign and campaign and then suddenly something happens and the community galvanizes and I can see that happening all around Australia, and that gives me great hope for next year.

DP: I was in England when Thatcher fell, and I’m starting to catch a whiff of the same thing here. I’m starting to see cracks in the façade, Howard’s own party getting fractious with their own leadership, discontent with people within the party being silenced….as well as external dislike of the government beginning to boil up. It feels like the end days of Thatcher.

CM: We shall see and I hope you’re right, I do sense there’s a change on and I do hope its as profound as that.

Australians are beginning to sense that Howards relationship with Bush, and his attempt to activate the Christian conservatives to keep Bush in the White House and the conservatives in power here, the pandering to Indonesia – people are getting really sick of him selling out the country, selling out what we believe in.

An edited version of this interview appeared in the Melbourne Star 22nd June

Travelling In Reverse

Not content with overriding the ACT Civil Unions Act, John Howard is rumoured to be planning more moves against the gay and lesbian community.

Sources in the Liberal Party say the government thinks that the override has given them the momentum to take matters further.

Senator Guy Barnett, who was also behind the push to amend the Federal Marriage to exclude same-sex couples, is pressing Howard to go further, arguing that unless the government introduces further amendments, there is nothing to stop state from legalizing civil unions.

Liberal MHR Michael Johnson agrees, saying, “There is a lot of concern that with the ACT and the Northern Territory, the Commonwealth has the power to disallow their laws, but with the state governments it doesn’t have the same legislative authority.”

Other backbenchers want Howard to go further. They think he should follow George W Bush’s lead and amend the Australian Constitution to ban same-sex marriages and civil unions, claiming that civil unions are just marriages in disguise.

They also want to stop the Immigration ministry from granting visas to the same-sex partners of skilled migrants, due to come into effect July 1.

But Attorney General Philip Ruddock denies the government plans any further legal changes.

He said, “The Government believes that the definition of marriage is quite clear and enshrined in common-law.”

(As published Melbourne Star 22nd June)

Friday, June 23, 2006

Federal ban on aiding same - sex rights inquiry

You won't find his on the net unless you have a subscription to the AFR, so it hasn't had wide publicity.


Federal ban on aiding same - sex rights inquiry

Laura Tingle
Chief political correspondent

Howard government ministers have instructed federal departments and agencies not to make submissions to a Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission inquiry into discrimination against same-sex couples in accessing financial and work-related entitlements.
The inquiry, set up early this year, is seeking to audit commonwealth, state and territory laws to develop a full list of circumstances in which same-sex couples and their children may be denied financial and/or work-related benefits and entitlements worth tens of thousands of dollars that are available to heterosexual couples.

But a spokesman for Attorney-General Philip Ruddock told The Australian Financial Review that ministers had discussed the inquiry and collectively agreed to instruct their departments not to make submissions to it, arguing that since it was HREOC’s inquiry it should be left to HREOC to do the work, rather than their departments

The instruction to the public service appears to fly in the face of the stated position of Prime Minister John Howard who, despite the federal government’s move last week to overturn ACT same-sex union laws, has in the past insisted his government was keen to address any financial discrimination same- sex couples might face.

Submissions to the inquiry already published document discrimination on issues such as public service superannuation, housing loans, war veterans pensions, workers’ compensation and Medicare benefits, which can cost couples thousands of dollars.

The superannuation industry has made a submission to the inquiry highlighting the problems of same- sex couples in super, such as being unable to split their contributions, leaving them exposed to tax payments of 15 per cent on amounts of more than $129,751 which heterosexual couples have not had to pay.

When Mr Howard announced amendments to the Marriage Act in May 2004, he also announced the government would be legislating in the area of superannuation to intro- duce the concept of financial interdependency.

This meant same-sex couples could access the same concessional tax treatment for superannuation death benefits available to heterosexuals instead of facing a 30 per cent tax bill.
But a pressing concern among the federal government’s own public servants is that the legislation did not apply the law to its own public sector funds.

This month, Mr Howard was asked if he had a problem with same-sex couples having the same entitlements as married couples.

‘ ‘I am in favour of removing areas of discrimination and we have, and I’m quite happy on a case- by-case basis to look at other areas where people believe there’s genuine discrimination but I think they should be looked at on a case-by- case basis,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s the sort of thing that can be done in an across the board fashion.

‘ ‘We made some changes in relation to entitlements a couple of years ago and if there are other areas of genuine discrimination, then I’m in favour of getting rid of them.

“But that doesn’t mean that you equate those relationships with marriage. I think that is a step that the Australian community doesn’t want to occur, whilst at the same time there are many genuine areas of discrimination.”

Last night on The Rainbow Report on Joy 94.9, Liberal MP Warren Entsch told me he agreed with the Attorney-General’s position, but Shadow Attorney General Nicola Roxon said it was unprecedented for government departments not to make submission to enquiries when requested to do so.

I also understand that HREOC may still ask departments for information, but they may have to pay for it. And of course, it all depends on knowing exactly the right questions to ask in the first place!!

Doug Pollard

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

It just goes to show

Just when you think everything’s going swimmingly, life creeps up behind you and socks you over the head with a lead-filled sock (apologies to P G Wodehouse).

Forgive me if I stray from my usual topics and get a bit personal for once.

Ever since I came to Oz various doctors have remarked about blood in my urine. Scans and X-rays showed nothing, and a particularly vicious cytoscopy under local anaesthetic only – dyno-rod your dick - produced a diagnosis of ‘possible stricture in the urethra’.

Now we know it was in fact a kidney stone. A small fragment of it passed a year ago, much to everyone’s surprise – they were all running around talking of prostatitis at the time. But scans still failed to show up anything else, and we all went back to sleep.

Of late I started saying to my partner that I thought I might have another stone. The waterworks were playing up, and there were ominous twinges from the left kidney after an evening’s wine-drinking.


The whole production moved into top gear last week, with excruciating back/groin pain, growing to the point where nothing the GP prescribed could quiet it, and we finally summoned an ambulance.

One night in emergency – and a large quantity of intravenous morphine – later, I was back home with some more scans, more pain-killers, and a consultant’s appointment.

My left kidney was twice the size of my right, and there were unclear indications of a stone. The consultant ordered more tests and more scans.

The stone had other ideas. The pain recommenced, and I went back to emergency. Within a couple of hours I was admitted, and found myself in a four-person room on the general surgical ward.

In one bed was G………, 90 years old, post-op bladder cancer. Then there was J…., a farmer from country Victoria, 70-something, also post-op – colostomy/prostatectomy. And me. The fourth bed was for very short term patients.

First there was the elderly gent with a very bad toupee who arrived fretting about his dog, which had been run over that morning. The dog had survived but was badly hurt.. They prepped him for surgery, wheeled him out, then wheeled him back half an hour later saying he was ‘too distressed’ to have his op. Total turnround time three hours.

The following day a similar thing happened, except the guy had his procedure and was gone by the end of the day.

A third occupant stayed two days and rarely emerged from behind the curtains at all.

J… was there the whole time I was. He and his wife and I struck up something of a rapport – mainly because G….. was way too sick to communicate with.

The day’s routine didn’t vary much. The nurses would come round about 9pm to settle us for the night, pump in the drugs, check the drips and drains. Then an hour or two later G….. would begin moaning. He would ring his bell. Moan louder. More often. Louder. Start yelling Nurse! Nurse! Nurse! Pain! Pain!

The rest of us were powerless to help, since we were tethered. On the right to a drip machine full of saline and drugs, firmly plugged into the wall, and some of the time also to a drain on the left, fed by a catheter.

At some point a nurse would respond to G…..’s cries and the bell. Sometimes before he’d reached the screaming stage. Sometimes not.

Depending on the quality of the nurse, she might ask, “Are you in pain? Where does it hurt?. Now we can’t have this G……, you’ll wake everyone up”

Or she might call for more help, start to check drips and drains.

Eventually – say within 30-45 minutes – G…..’s pain would subside. Unfortunately by then, everyone else would indeed be awake – and G….. was not the only screamer.

One woman could be heard in the distance, Aaah! Aaaah! Aaaa-aaah! (on a rising note), in surprisingly pure tones, almost like an opera singer warming up. Once she began, she often went all night. Later in the week, the night before I left, a baritone joined the duet.

Fortunately I had my earplugs. And the morphine.

That didn’t stop me overhearing things like a nurse telling the operatic screamer, “Now what is that noise? What do you think you’re doing? People are trying to sleep” Which did, amazingly, quiet her for an hour or two.

I thought the same nurse then said to one of her colleagues, “She doesn’t like me ever since I burned her.” But that may just have been the morphine.

Anyway, G.....’s wake up call usually got my pain going again, too, so I might get another shot of morphine. Or not, depending on the nurse.

A lot depended on the nurse.

They fell broadly into two camps – the bright and chirpy, rather like the kind of girls who work in pet shops and vets, and the grim. Despite the irritation, you wanted a chirpy.

Take Ersa. Small, bright, bouncy, and very, very Irish, she’d have made a great leprechaun. Fortunately she also made a great nurse. If she was your nurse for the night, and you were in pain, you got your shot, there and then. If need be she’d fetch a doctor to sign off on it. If G….. was in pain she’d summon help immediately.

At the other end of the scale was a slow, fat, bad-tempered part-chinese woman whose name I never quite caught, so I’ll call her Porkbelly. No one liked her. When the supervisor said one morning, “We’re overstaffed today – Porkbelly, will you take a short shift?” Porkbelly mulishly refused. If you rang for Porkbelly often, her response times got slower and slower. Even if you were G......

She lumbered around complaining about everything. “You think this is a five-star hotel, don’t you?”, she said. And if it was not precisely six hours since your last shot – no painkiller. I called her one night and she consulted the chart. She looked at me and said, “You’re too early. Call me in fifteen minutes.”

There was a couple of other nurses who, while not quite the cow Porkbelly was, still had a very cold demeanour and stuck precisely to the rules, no matter what.

One morning after my op I awoke with a sensation of pressure in my bladder and I knew exactly what it was. Either the drain bag was full, or it had not been hung correctly and was not draining freely. This, incidentally, turned out to be the main cause of G.....’s pain.

I turned on my light and looked at the tube leading to my bag. Although the bag was only half full, the tube was backed-up right to my dick. I rang for the nurse. No response. That’s right – Shanti – a very handsome middle-aged Indian woman with a wonderful waist-length braid of thick black hair, and one of the rule-sticklers – was on tonight. I waited. The pressure continued to build, the bell to chime.

I took matters into my own hands. I reached down for the bag and saw that it had been hung too low. The weight of the contents had caused it to stretch and slump in such a way that the fluid draining from me couldn’t get past the valve at the top of the bag.

I unhooked the bag, twisted, it, gave it a shake, re-arranged it, and finally flow was restored and the pressure eased. At which point Shanti appeared. I explained what had happened.

“No, that is not possible. You are mistaken. See, the bag is only half full. “

I explained again that the fluid had been backed up all the way.

“No, see, just a little at the top and the bottom, but it is running freely. There is no problem.”

“No, not now, because I fixed it while I was waiting for you – but it was not running freely before.”

“You’re wrong. That cannot happen. It is fine. Let me take your blood pressure. Hmm, rather high. We got upset over nothing, didn’t we? Anyway, it’s time for your shot.”

I ground my teeth and shut up.

Back to sleep. Until about five am, when G..... awoke in pain again, and the whole circus was repeated.

By the time the nurses had G..... settled it was time for our morning shots and clean-up. As breakfast was being served I looked out the door to see Shanti-strolling by, holding my drain bag at chest height and swinging it coquettishly. She saw me watching, and laughingly pointed to the fluid level, mouthing “Half-full.”

On my last day I was free of drips and drains, so as soon as G..... started moaning I didn’t wait – I got up and went straight to the nurse station. Fortunately Ersa was on duty – and we got help for G..... in record time. Porkbelly was there too, but looking after a different group of patients. She looked daggers at me.

Ersa brought in a whole group of doctors to look at G....., and they changed something – I don’t know what – and he slept right through till breakfast.


The day of my operation came round. I was scheduled for 11.30. By 11.25 there was no sign of any action, so I strolled out to the nurses station. A man sat here, busy with some paperwork.

“I’m scheduled for an op right now, “ I said, “ but no-one’s come to prep me or anything.”

Without looking up, he said, “You need to speak to the nurses.”

I spoke to the nurse sitting next to him, who reassured me all was well. I went back to my room, got back on the bed, and in walked the guy from the nursing station.

“Hi,” he said, “I’m your anaesthetist. First off I have to tell you that there will be an additional fee for my services which is not covered by Medicare or your health fund. It is not possible to give an estimate in advance as there are so many variables but it should be in the region of $300.”

“Secondly, you have a choice. You can have a spinal injection, which numbs you from about here down” he said, indicating his breastbone.

“You remain awake throughout the operation, though you won’t feel a thing, and you can watch the entire procedure on the monitors.”

He seemed to think this was a great inducement.

“Or you can have a general, which means you won’t know a thing till you wake up in recovery.”

“General, please,” I said firmly.

“Now some people don’t like the spinal for some reason,” he ploughed on, “but it’s much the best option.”

“Not for me,” I said, “I don’t want to know anything about it. General.”

“But it’s much more dangerous. The gas poisons your lungs.”

“Yes, but like you said, some people are unhappy about having needles shoved into their spines, and I’m one of them.”

“And of course there is a risk that you could vomit during the operation, so to prevent you drowning in it we have to insert a tube into your throat, which may give you a very sore throat. And when you’re coming round from the anaesthetic we have to remove that tube. By then you’ll feel us removing it, which is very unpleasant, and may also cause you to vomit – it’s pretty horrible.”

“I still want the general.” By now I was rather hoping I would vomit as I came round – all over him.

He sighed, and gave up.

Then the cash machine that is private medicine swung into action. I was gowned, trollied and wheeled into what looked like a vast underground carpark, all white-painted concrete, divided by curtains. I suddenly thought of the movie Soylent Green. My team – now all gowned in deepest blue – appeared, and hooked me up to this and that.

Trollies were being wheeled to a distant doorway. Trollies were being wheeled back to the booths. A woman was wheeled into the booth next to me – the curtains were open – and then she began to convulse. The curtain was whisked across, some medical code was yelled, a group converged on her and began work.

I was wheeled into another room which looked like the parts department of a garage. The walls were lined with bright blue parts bins, each one with a stash of stents, shunts, valves, tubes etc. A mask was put over my face, and I thought to myself, well, if this is it, at least I won’t know anything about it.

Then I woke up in my bed with a drip on my right, a catheter in my dick, and a bag of what looked like raspberry cordial hanging near the floor on my right. Made it!


My other roommate, J...., was a very gentle man. He chatted when he wanted to, retreated to his privacy when he felt like it, which suited me fine. I was much the same. The phone by his bed kept ringing – is Julia there? No, she’s not, said J..... She must have gone home. We wondered who this woman might be. Seemed to be very popular.

We didn’t always talk. By and large I kept the curtains round my bed closed, especially the one separating me from G...... But the curtain at the foot of the bed I kept open during the day, so I could see what was happening and chat with J.... if he felt like it. Whenever Porkbelly was on, she would of course immediately open all the curtains, whether we liked it or not.

J....s wife came every day, and for some reason took a liking to me, too, so we had a few polite conversations. She did some small thing for me one day, unasked – I can’t remember what – and when I thanked her she just smiled and said, “Well, that’s what friends are for,” and went back to chatting with her husband. I felt very proud. I had done nothing besides talk with her husband from time to time, and pay for his morning newspaper one day when he ran out of cash.

They were the epitome of small town country Australia – him dressed head-to-foot in R M Williams and Akubra – if he’d been from Lancashire he’d have bought his clothes from my uncle - her in neat dark blue suits and well-permed hair.

J.... was struggling with the news that his enlarged prostate had so restricted the flow of urine that his bladder had stretched to three times it’s normal size and lost all muscle tone. He had been wearing a catheter and bag for some time, and had hoped that after his prostate op he could go back to peeing normally.

He quietly persisted until his specialist agreed to operate again to try and improve the problem, take a bit more of the prostate away. The result was a crop of unsuspected stones – but he would still have to use a catheter to pee. He was given a choice – a permanent catheter with bag, which would have to be changed in hospital every three months.

Or he could catheterize himself three times a day – pop it in, pee, pop it out. He didn’t fancy this option much, as he had found previous catheter insertions difficult and painful. We talked it over, and I sympathized. Maybe he’d get used to it, I said, maybe it would get easier. In the end, that’s what he did.

When he left – he checked out just before me - J.... shook my hand and said it had been a pleasure to meet me. I felt this was not just politeness, he meant it. It was good to have met him, too.


A young guy on crutches with his lower leg in plaster hobbled in the first morning. Very loud, very laddish, introduced himself to everyone, then hobbled off. Doing his rounds, he called it, keeping mobile.

On the second day he told J.... – “That used to be my bed.” A small light went on in my head.

“Your name isn’t Julian, is it?,” I asked.

“Yeah mate, how’d you know that?”

“Oh, J....s just been telling all these people who’ve been ringing his extension that Julia’s not here, she’s gone home.”

We had a good laugh at that.

As I started to improve and could walk about, I started perambulating the ward – and found Julian in a private room. Now his leg was in plaster to the hip, and there was a cage over it to keep the weight of the bedding off.

He invited me in.

“So what happened,” I asked.

“ Oh, I was showing my nephew how not to ride a motorbike,” he said, “I got distracted. I came off and the footrest went through my calf when the bike landed on top of me. Looks like a shark bit me.”

He was a farm lad from somewhere in the country, very fit and handsome, about 30. He told me that for three days after the accident he had lain in the local hospital while the haematoma on his leg grew and grew. They didn’t think to drain it, apparently.

Eventually his parents had him transferred to Melbourne, where the doctors said if he had left it any longer he could have lost the leg.

The day I was checking out Julian saw me all ready to leave, and called me in to say goodbye. His ‘nephew’ had come to visit – and I saw how Julian got distracted. A stunner if ever I saw one – as tall and broad as his ‘uncle’, about 19, with a shock of unruly blonde hair and a killer grin. We shook hands all round, while my partner rolled his eyes and Porkbelly – who was waiting to hand back my morphine pills she had confiscated when I checked in – tapped her foot.


I had a final chat with my current urologist. My last one was a cold, arrogant 50-ish 10kms before breakfast type, who looked down his nose at people who were stupid enough to get fat and unfit. This one is by contrast a jovial forty-something Indian butterball. I know who I prefer.

He presented me with photos of my stone in situ. Apparently it’s a rare type, not the usual calcite stone. Actually, it looks like a tiny gold pawn embedded in a spiky gold nugget, about 7mm x 5mm. Analysis will tell us the rest. He has left a stent in me to allow my swollen kidney to drain, and I have to call him in a week or so to arrange it’s removal.


So now I’m home, feeling OK-ish but weak. Spending a lot of time reading or sleeping. There are a million things to do round the house but even small tasks are an uphill battle. I tire fast. And from the way things feel, there might be tiny fragments making their way out. There’s still blood in my urine. And the front of my left thigh has gone numb. That happened after my hernia op, too – something about a damaged nerve – so that may not come back. Time for bed again – and more Panadeine!!!! I’m resting from the radio station but keeping going with the paper – I can do most of the work from home. And we’ll see how we go.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Same Sex Marriage v. Civil Unions

Well, there’s one more piece of wishful thinking down the gurgler.

The chorus has been chanting for a while now. “We made a mistake asking for marriage, we should have just asked for civil unions. That worked in the UK, it will work here. They don’t mind so long as we don’t say the M-word.”

Well that line of argument has now been put to the test and it looks as if it was a mistake.

The ACT put up exactly that – civil unions with functional equivalence to marriage. Result: Howard and Ruddock pull on their boots and braces and wade in with fists flying.

Our need is simple: equality. To be treated in all areas of life exactly the same way as anyone else, regardless of sexuality. Our opponents think we are something less than full human beings with full human rights, and treat us accordingly.

It’s all about fairness and equality, and that means, among other things, our relationships being treated exactly the same as anyone elses.

By saying, “We’ll settle for civil unions, and you can keep marriage as it is,” we’d be offering a compromise before negotiations have even begun, fatally weakening our position.

A compromise is something you offer at the end of a negotiating process. You don’t go crawling in at the beginning saying, “Don’t worry, sir, we’re not asking for much.” The other side will naturally assume that’s a negotiating position and offer even less. You don’t reveal your negotiating position – if that’s what it is – in advance.

The case is very simple: equality, equality, equality, and whenever they offer something less, say no, as politely and patiently as you can manage. Explain what equality might look like, offer alternative ways to arrive at equality, refuse anything that doesn’t offer equality, unless perhaps it has a built-in timeframe to equality. The negotiation is about HOW the government plans to legislate equality, not whether we should have it at all. That’s clearly non-negotiable.

As long as the gold standard of relationship recognition is federal marriage and it’s attendant rights and responsibilities, equality means we must have the same.

But if they want to set up a new standard, such as gender/sexuality neutral civil unions, while passing marriages off to the religions, that could be one way to go.

In a supposedly secular country, that would seem to be the logical answer. To those who would drag their religion into parliament I can do no better than quote this riposte to a US Senator who was overly fond of appealing to the bible to justify his actions.

"Senator, when you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You did not place your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible." Amen.

In other words, for as long as they try to restrict marriage to only SOME citizens, we want it too. If on the other hand they agree to develop a more logical, sensible legal framework of relationship recognition, more closely aligned to reality and open to all, then the religions can keep marriage, and if gay Anglicans, Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, Zoroastrians and Jedi want one of those marriages, well, that’s between themselves and their priests.

There may well be other solutions that could be developed during negotiations. In that sense, and in that sense only, marriage is irrelevant. So long as the outcome is equality, the route taken does not matter.

Friday, March 31, 2006


Interesting show last night (Thursday 30th) with an interview by Tony Nicholls with Peter Stokes of the Saltshakers.

Tony’s naïve and wide eyed – but cunning – charm worked it’s magic and Stokes was remarkably revealing. Some bizarre theology: when asked that old chestnut – if you obey the bible literally then do you eat shellfish and wear polycotton (if you don’t know the story, they’re some of things Leviticus calls abominations, along with men having sex together), Stokes said you had to know how to read your bible.

If a rule was only mentioned in the bible once – like the shellfish and the mixed fibres ones – then that rule was specific to the time and situation for which the passage was written. These two, he claimed, were for a specific time and place – when the Isrealites were wandering in the desert.

Leaving aside the question of where you find lobsters in a desert, he passed on to homosexuality. He claimed this prohibition, by contrast, was inherent throughout the bible, and thus remained valid.

He also said it was obvious that men and women were designed by God to fit together – tell that to a child with no sex education – whereas gay men used what he called “the sewerage system”.

Now that’s a curious one: all sex takes place in and around the sewerage system – unless I’ve been getting it wrong all my life and ought to have been peeing through my nose. And given all the above it’s obvious Stokes puts his arse to some unintended uses too, so to speak.

So far, so predictable.

Audience reaction: mixed. At first quite a lot of “why are you giving this guy airtime”, “get this shit off our station” and so forth. I took time out to explain the (biblical) notion of ‘know thine enemy’ – and his ilk are influential and their nonsense is believed even within our government.

A US journalist friend could not believe this audience reaction: he said on his radio station he always gave opponents more than 50% of the time, because unless you understand that they exist, how they think, expose their prejudices, how can you counter them? Beside, he said, journalism is about controversy: we’re not here to “blow sunshine and bubbles up the listeners skirts.” Amen and hallelujah to that!

Anyway, back to Stokesy.

I always have trouble with people who claim literal and absolute truth for the bible.

For a start, it isn’t A Book – it’s a limited selection of the available manuscripts on the subject of the Jewish, and later Christian, religion. There are many many more that didn’t make it into the collection. Early in the church’s history, a bunch of male bishops decided what to keep and what to toss, according to the political requirements of the day, the state of historical and theological scholarship etc.. So from the start the enterprise was fatally compromised.

Then there’s the question of the manuscripts themselves.

All the bible stories stem from oral tradition. That is, for hundreds if not thousands of years, they were not written down, only memorized and spoken. So over time, changes and distortions crept in. Mishearings, a desire to tell a better, more gripping story, embellishments to hold the audience’s interest. Over and over again, over hundreds and hundreds of years.

Then the stories started to be written down. No printing presses, so copies had to be made by hand. More errors and embellishments. Plus, of course, different tribes might have different versions, in different languages. Not all these versions have survived, so how can we vouch for the ‘authenticity’ of what we have? We can’t.

And all the way along, new stories were being written and circulated. Sometimes in places and societies very different to those that gave rise to previous stories, with different understandings of the meaning of things, the relations between men and women, for example, or the role of a leader.

That’s the reason why, if you search the bible diligently enough, you can find stories to support both sides of an argument, not just one.

It’s hard for the layperson to spot his stuff in the Old Testament, but it becomes glaringly obvious in the New – have you never noticed that the four gospels give different accounts? That’s because they were written at different times: all of them long after Jesus was dead.

Did you know that St Paul, on whose writings most of the Christian religion is founded, never met Jesus?

And if all that wasn’t enough to place the claim of literal truth in serious doubt, then consider this. None of the stuff you read in the bible was originally written in English.

Most of it has been translated many times through several different languages. A story in the bible may have first been written in, say Aramaic, then later translated into Hebrew, the Hebrew version translated into Greek, the Greek into Latin, the Latin into early English, then into Modern English. Even now, when we try to go back and reconstruct the ‘original’ version (which, if you remember what I was saying before about oral traditions, won’t be very original at all), we probably don’t have a copy of the Hebrew or Aramaic versions, only the Greek. Or only the Latin. Or perhaps a copy of the Latin version made by an Egyptian scribe . . . . . you see the difficulty?

We’ve only recently discovered, for example, that the famous phrase about passing a camel through the eye of a needle should in fact read, a rope through the eye of a needle. A bit of ink on a manuscript had faded, changing the meaning of a word. X-rays revealed what was originally there.

So it is quite literally impossible to say that what we read in our bible today bears a true resemblance to what the original writer intended. And that’s before we even start to contemplate cultural differences. Think of all the Australian phrases that have to be explained to other people. No other culture has furphys or dummy-spits. No-one else says ‘on the nose’. The word ‘ordinary’ just means ‘plain and unremarkable’ in anyone else’s English – and nothing else. So we can’t be sure what we read means what it sounds as if it means. Not ‘a sure guide to deeds’ at all.

I have digressed somewhat – back to the programme.

The latter half of the show – the only bit of it I now produce as well as present – is a panel discussion. I gathered two gay priests, the Rev Heather Creighton of the Metropolitan Community Church, and Rev Fr Greg Horn of the Ecumenical Catholic Church. And we had an excellent discussion in which we placed Stokes in his proper context and discussed some of the above, and much else besides. Audience reaction swung round as people understood what we were attempting to do.

This panel business is so different from what I used to do – the old show was tightly scripted and controlled, mostly pre-recorded. Now I’m learning to manage people in real time on air. Daunting at times but fun.

Off next week as the Young Australians take over. I shall listen with interest.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

"We have failed," says AIDS Spokesperson

IN THE wake of the surge in HIV infections, disagreements have broken out in the AIDS sector on what has gone wrong and how to put it right.

Respected AIDS expert Dr Jonathan Anderson of the Carlton Clinic has written to Bronwyn Pike, Victorian Health Minister, suggesting a shake-up of the Victorian Aids Council that would see VicHealth take over some the VAC’s key functions.

While acknowledging the excellent work done by VAC in the past, he says, “Much of the education and prevention budget is spent on program staff and administration, rather than direct campaigns.”

And he also says a review two years ago, which identified changes that need to be made, has still not been implemented. And he said the problem isn’t just a lack of funds.

“If they can’t get additional funding from government they need to work out whether they can go ahead . . . within existing budgets. They were told two and half years ago that there were some programs that needed to be pared back, some could stand on their own or were being provided elsewhere, and some needed to be expanded to face the new changed environment.”

“Have they made those hard decisions?” he asked, “ I believe that if we waste money that is much worse than not having money in the first place.”

He suggests the VAC be split into a services and support community health agency, and a separate community representation agency, while their health education and promotion work should be taken over by VicHealth.

“What I’m saying is that I think we have an opportunity here in Victoria. We just happen to have Vic Health, which just happens to be one of the world’s best, if not the best, health promotion agency, so my suggestion is a constructive one.”

He dismissed objections that health education and promotion should be done by groups within the gay community.

“Certainly the programs need to be delivered by your peers at the local level, but that doesn’t stop the actual agency that’s commissioning the work and co-ordinating the whole program not being among the peers,” he said.

“If you look at the VicHealth website they’re doing tons of programs, and if they’re doing one for Somali women, for example, they’re funding Somali women to run programs.”

He said that VicHealth was a well funded body running very efficient and effective programs. And he pointed to the increasing acceptance of gays and lesbians in the mainstream in other areas, saying, why not in health promotion too?

“It’s changing nowadays . . we are more accepted in the wider world, we don’t necessarily need to rely on the gay community for everything. Which is why I argue that we should start to claim our part in the mainstream in terms of health promotion, too. Why aren’t we using the best mainstream health promotion agency in the world? Why don’t we?”

Sources within the HIV positive community said all the organisations involved had to face the fact that, “Whether we like it or not, we’ve failed. If our brief is to minimise infections in this state, we’ve failed. Now we have to say, what have we done wrong (?) and we must look for new ways to tackle the problem.

Mike Kennedy, CEO of the Victorian AIDS Council, said, “I don’t think we can talk about this in terms of success or failure. It’s not a useful way to have this discussion.”

Dr Anderson said the problem was that an organisation that tries to do everything may be unable to focus on the key things that need to be done. The VAC has been trying to be a jack of all trades he said, and when you do that, you lose focus.

But he was at pains to stress, “This is not about the VAC. This is about people not getting HIV/AIDS. If we look at the rates of unprotected sex, we don’t see any drop or flattening of the rates…if anything, it’s increasing. That’s the figure that matters. Let’s try and work out whether we can spend the scarce resources that are available in the best way to maximise health. That’s all I really care about.”

Reversing The Trend

FEATURE Melbourne Star – MAR 30 2006

Last issue of Melbourne Star we reported a significant spike in new HIV infection rates. Dr Jonathon Anderson from Carlton Clinic wants reform of the Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

HIV infections have been rising slowly but steadily since at least 2000, and the latest statistics show a big jump. Dr Jonathan Anderson has called for many of Victorian AIDS Council’s functions to go to Vic Health instead (see front page). But not everyone - and especially not Mike Kennedy, CEO of the VAC – agrees. Greg Iverson, President of People Living with HIV/AIDS Victoria (PLWHA), says a lack of funding is the problem. On the other hand, Sean Slavin, researcher with the Australian Research Centre in Sex Health and Society (ARCSHS), says the kind of big budget campaigns seen in Sydney wouldn’t work in Melbourne.

Mike Kennedy, CEO of the VAC disagreed with both analyses.

“Jonathan’s contribution is starting at the wrong end,” he said. “The discussion Jonathan has started is about who should be doing it. The discussion about funding is, we need more money to do it. We need to agree what this it is before we start talking about who is going to do it, or whether we need more money for it.”

Sean Slavin, of the Australian Research Centre in Sex Health and Society (ARCSHS), doubted that big public campaigns like those run by AIDS Council of New South Wales (ACON) could work.

“The Melbourne gay community is quite dispersed geographically and culturally. It isn’t anywhere near as coherent as the Sydney gay scene, and that does present some particular challenges for health education in Melbourne. There’s much more of a sense of identification around gay identity and institutions in Sydney.”

Slavin, who is normally based in Sydney, identified another difference campaigns would need to address. He said that positive men in Melbourne had a much harder time disclosing their HIV status to potential partners.

“From what I’ve seen, rejection would be the mildest outcome,” he said. “They also run the risk of some fairly strident stigma being thrown at them.”

So if the leading organisations and individuals involved in fighting HIV/AIDS can’t agree, who will sort out the mess? Mike Kennedy reckons Health Minister Bronwyn Pike needs to step in and take a leadership role, get everyone together to sort through the options and make the decisions.

Kennedy said the funding would be there if the community could make a case for it.

“I’m not suggesting we do another inquiry, it doesn’t need months and months of work. But’ve got to get the policy stuff right first,” he said. “You’ve got to mount the business case, and... when we’ve been able to do that effectively, government has found the money..”

Greg Iverson of PLWHA said that while he didn’t always agree with the VAC – in particular there were strong objections to the Staying Negative campaign – in this case they were right. Funding was the major problem. But he also thought that over the longer term the need for dedicated AIDS groups would fade away.

“This... trend is already happening,” he said. “Linkages have been established between AIDS councils and Hepatitis C councils. We’ve already got a gay and lesbian section in our health department – the only one in the country that does. Where does that leave the VAC? They need to ponder that.”

Dangerous Liaisons

While organisations, bureaucrats and activists wrangle, new infections continue to occur, because some dangerous myths are leading men to make high-risk decisions that increase their risk of getting HIV.

Unprotected sex – sex without a condom – also referred to as raw or bareback sex – is on the rise. That doesn’t mean that gay men are recklessly deciding the risk of HIV is worth the feel of skin-on-skin. Instead they are experimenting with a range of strategies to try and have unprotected sex safely.

Drugs, Drink and Sex-on-Site

A study of 15 newly infected HIV positive men in Melbourne, by the Australian Research Centre in Sex Health and Society, found that most of the men became infected while bottoming unprotected – half of them at a sex-on-site venue or beat. And “drugs and/or alcohol featured in the risk incidents” for most of the men in the sample.

Don’t Assume

Researcher Sean Slavin said the study also showed that positive men often assume that when a prospective partner offers unprotected sex, he is positive too. Negative men, on the other hand, assume he’s negative. Either way the false assumption leads to risky sex.

This is what’s known as sero-sorting – trying to reduce your risk by only having unprotected sex with partners of the same HIV status as yourself. The problem is, it’s not possible to have unprotected sex safely with a casual partner in any circumstances.

Sero-Sorting – Positive Guys

If you’re both positive, there is still the danger of other sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia, and syphilis, which are fast rising in the gay community. These are a major problem for people whose immune systems are already challenged. Mike Kennedy of the Victorian AIDS Council, says, “Particularly gruesome complications can arise from being HIV positive and having syphilis.”

Sero-Sorting – Negative Guys

In a casual context, you can never be sure that you’re both negative. Greg Iverson of People Living with HIV AIDS says you can never call yourself negative unless you’ve had an HIV test, “and what’s more, unless you had the test yesterday.” Otherwise your status is not negative, it’s unknown. In other words, sero-sorting is not going to protect you.

The Joys Of Monogamy

The only time when it’s safer – not safe – to have unprotected sex with a partner is within a monogamous committed relationship. But even that’s not simple. The VAC publishes guidelines on the web called Talk-Test-Test-Trust - Details:

In short, while community organisations try to decide what they should do next, we as individuals need to look at some the assumptions we’ve made that have resulted in some of us becoming infected.

In the meantime, as the party season gets under way, remember to play safe.