Don't Blame The Gays If Labor Loses


When I sat down with the Prime Minister for dinner last month with three same-sex couples the most frustrating thing for everyone at that table was we all felt the Prime Minister was one of us.

We all saw a person who has overcome discrimination and stereotyping to succeed in life. Someone who is progressive and believes in a fair and equal society. More than one person at the dinner praised her for all that she has achieved and promised her their vote if she stopped blocking us at the altar. What the PM needs to know is that many Australians want to like her, want to vote for her, but we need a reason.

The Prime Minister knows she is on the wrong side of history. Even Tony Abbott tacitly acknowledges change will come in the final chapters of his book, Battlelines.

So as Labor works out how to rebuild and rebrand after Queensland’s bloodbath, they must not forget that marriage equality was the one issue that motivated Labor’s grassroots supporters more than any other last year. The issue went to the core of what Labor believes in: fairness and equality. No other single issue has seen such coordinated and passionate internal advocacy.

The reasons are obvious. Gay and lesbian Australians who are open and comfortable about their relationships are everywhere and because these relationships are so prevalent and proud they change the attitude of those around them. Australians recognise there’s no difference when it comes to love. This trend is only going to continue.

Understandably, the Prime Minister and her advisers need to consider risk management and what she has to lose by backing and delivering equality. But religious fundamentalists whose vote is motivated by archaic views of the world were never going to vote for someone with her background anyway and the old Howard battlers in Western Sydney and Suburban Queensland are more concerned about the carbon tax than two dudes from Darlinghurst getting hitched.

Inside the party, she will piss off SDA boss Joe De Bruyn, but it’s about time someone told him where to go. Of all the faceless men and backroom powerbrokers, he is by far the most dangerous for Labor. This one man is doing whatever he can to block a reform that will do his party proud and deliver a result Australians want.

If "the Dutchman who doesn’t like dykes" continues to have his way, he will be the person to blame if Labor loses the next election.

Not just because he would have blocked something Labor can truly be proud of, but because he is the personification of Labor’s problem: an unelected powerbroker, whose factional power gives his ideology disproportionate influence inside the party. His influence over Labor would be considered far worse than the influence Clive Palmer has in the Coalition.

If the PM wants to prove that Labor is fixing the toxic problem that Joe De Bruyn represents, she will need to stand up to him and show the leadership Australians desperately want her to.

So, if Julia wakes up tomorrow morning, taps Tim on the shoulder and says "I’ve finally gotten over it, I’m going to deliver marriage equality", we can be confident we have leader with a track record of determination and drive to do whatever she can to make this happen.

Countries that have voted for marriage equality have only ever done so when the country’s leader comes to the "wedding party". She could take the many loyal but undecided members of her party on a journey of acceptance and add to the ranks more passionate activists and election volunteers who will letter box, work on polling booths, and turn up to meet-the-candidate forums. This wins votes, perhaps enough votes to save some seats.

The reward will also be helping to halt the Greenslide in inner city and progressive seats around Australia. Adam Bandt’s stance on marriage equality helped win Melbourne for the Greens, so if Labor delivers reform and puts up one of Victorian Labor’s many marriage equality heroes against him, they could win it back. Indeed voter intention polling conducted late last year showed Labor would get a swing of over 7 per cent, mainly from Green voters, if they delivered marriage equality. That would win them the seat back, and protect Sydney and Grayndler.

Even if Tanya Plibersek and Anthony Albanese vote for and champion this reform but the Prime Minister and Joe de Bruyn block it, the Greens will campaign in their seats with the message that Tanya and Albo come from a party where Joe has more power than the two of them combined — so vote Green.

The Queensland election showed the public isn’t afraid of being vicious to a government that doesn’t understand them. With 62 per cent of Australians supporting marriage equality, Julia Gillard needs us more than she needs Joe De Bruyn.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.