Whether you approve or not, social conservativism remains a fundamental feature of the Australian political landscape. Even today in what should be a post-Howard sigh of relief, one could be forgiven for thinking politically, Australia never emerged from the 1950s as successive Governments continue to drag us toward an ill conceived sense of moral purity and social salvation. This time warp of popular politics serves to stroke the economic, anti-choice and pan-phobic fears of the masses by promoting illegitimate fears and religious fanaticism. For those of us who believed that with the incumbency of a new Government, we would be spared the Christian-centric rhetoric that swamped us post 9/11, we were sadly mislead. Religion and conservativism, no longer the mantra of any one party (if it ever was) remains an omnipresent and unstoppable force.
There have been noble efforts by Party faithfuls, those still possessing voices of reason and representation, to reposition Australian politics and society along a progressive and inclusive path. Nearly 30 years ago, one time Prime Minister John Gorton, disowned by the Liberal Party, consigned to the backbench and with nothing left to lose moved a Bill to legalise consensual sexual relations between men. Although most in his party disagreed, Gorton with the support of Labor was successful in removing legislated discrimination and taking the sexual liberation of the population one positive step further. The year was 1973 and although in his later years Gorton expressed some inexcusable, far-right discriminatory views, the foresight and compassion he demonstrated all those years ago was a pivotal step toward improving the legal rights of non-traditional sexualities.
More recently, Malcolm Turnbull committed conservative political suicide by advocating for a woman’s reproductive rights. Speaking at a conference of the Australian Christian Lobby group in November last year, Malcolm Turnbull showed no remorse for his pro-choice views on reproductive politics, just as he unapologetically disowned the Howard loyalists still polluting the Liberal Party with their black armband of history, by being one of the only high profile Liberals to unequivocally support the Apology to the Stolen Generations. Although struggling in the polls since the Oz Car furphy and revelations about his ‘Party shopping’ past, Turnbull still remains a progressive anomaly within the rank and file of the Liberal Party.
In his memoirs ‘A Thinking Reed’ Barry Jones recounts a divisive Bill against public funding for elective abortions. Despite representing the (in 1979) electorate with the highest proportion of practicing Catholic families Jones, firmly believed in the Edmund Burke inspired spirit of representation that; your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion. In spite of overwhelming electoral mail urging him to support the Bill, Jones refused, believing that the all-male House had no place controlling the reproductive liberty of the other sex and that the Bill attempted to use the personal economy of women to regulate theirs and societies morality.
Jones’ resilience in voting against his electorate to support a woman’s choice no matter her economic circumstances and Gorton’s defence of sexual emancipation, despite their own varying degrees of religious influence, offended the majority but their rebellion has been vindicated with the passing of time. This willingness to separate ones personal religious convictions from the decision making process which will ultimately befall the population, is largely lost in big politics today.
At the time of Federation, 97 per cent of Australians claimed to belong to a Christian based denomination, nowadays this proportion is less than 60 per cent and according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, regular Church attendance is unimpressive at less than 18 per cent. Despite this sustained decline in the number of Australians identifying as practicing Christians and the growing diversity of non-traditional religions in Australia, social policy has gradually come to be grossly influenced by Christian leanings. Far from being contained to church on a Sunday, nowadays the religious motivations of our elected representatives unashamedly encroach upon the direction of social policy in Australia.
As was the case recently when Liberal Party frontbencher and Opposition spokesperson on everything Tony Abbott suggested that the current divorce legislation makes it too easy for couples to get divorced when things go awry. Not one to keep his religious fanaticism to himself, Abbott suggested that the divorce policy in Australia needs to be reverted to the fault based system of the pre 1970s where couples had to prove wrongdoing in the relationship to be granted a divorce. While Abbott’s recommendation for the continuation of the misery experienced by incompatible couples (and their children) was largely ignored by the media and unsupported by many in his own party, Rudd’s high-profile marginalisation of same-sex couples wasn’t.
This year’s ALP National Conference was an attest to this, where despite a survey undertaken by Australia Marriage Equality, demonstrating that 60 per cent of Australians support same sex marriage as well as the presence of several openly gay and lesbian State and Federal Representatives; Kevin Rudd refused to budge on the issue. Instead Rudd welcomed a sort of muted debate on the issue, one where passionate opinions are expressed but no action eventuates. Ultimately, Kevin Rudd and his band of moral crusaders from some of the bigger right-wing unions, declared that despite the outcome of any Conference vote on the issue, Government policy toward marriage would remain exclusively favoured to heterosexual couples.
In denying National Conference and ultimately the Electorate an opportunity to seriously debate the issue of marriage equality, Rudd for all his Election Night rhetoric on being a Prime Minister for ‘all Australians’ has demonstrated to those who elected him that he has less social foresight, compassion and representative ilk than Gorton, Jones and former members of his own Party shared all those years ago. His self-motivated action has effectively put certain conditions on the gloss of his ‘all Australian’ guarantee and continued the marginalisation of same-sex relationships nearly 30 years after the Commonwealth first legalised same-sex relations. We really haven’t come very far at all.
As Anthony Albanese, himself disappointed at the outcome, declared to the Conference floor, the issue of equality is something that is unstoppable; we’re just waiting for a Government with the vision, compassion and a secular sense of public service to start listening to the reasonable voices and aspirations of the electorate over the demands of an archaic and prejudiced minority.
Leah D is a university graduate in Arts and Science and a one time student political activist and survivor. Now, a full time cog in the public service machine, Leah takes time out to write casually and occasionally constructively on a variety of social observations from politics, pop-culture and the joys of living in Canberra.
She spends her spare time defending Canberra from hostile interlopers, writing spontaneously and reading widely. Yet to discover the joys of blogging, Ozstraya is Leah’s first foray into online writing.