Two men who staunchly campaigned against marriage equality now appear poised to square off for the Liberal Party leadership, and thus the Prime Ministership: Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison.
The government is falling deeper into turmoil with Scott Morrison today throwing his hat in the ring for the top job.
The Senate continues to debate, but the House is not scheduled to sit again until September 10, by which time Australia will maybe have a new Prime Minister – or two.
In one corner, Peter Dutton – he of decrying the advancement of LGBTI rights as a “PC agenda” – has been challenged by current PM Malcolm Turnbull to settle, once and for all, his eligibility to sit in Parliament under Section 44.
Dutton, a significant player in orchestrating last year’s harmful and unnecessary postal survey and the man who was until recently responsible for extralegally imprisoning gay and bisexual asylum seekers on Manus Island on top of using dog whistle politics to vilify African-Australians, also recently spoke out against a Victorian government inclusivity initiative.
The former Minister for Health said it was rude to respect people’s wishes and refer to them using their preferred pronouns.
“This whole industry that you see come out of government departments, out of universities, it’s an affront to common sense, and we should call it out,” he said on 2GB earlier this year.
“A lot of good people you meet right around the country just shake their heads at this and say, ‘How can we allow this nonsense to continue?’ But good people need to speak up and we need to stare this down, because this is a significant movement, there are people making fortunes out of all this garbage.
“We need to push back against it, and nobody tolerates any sort of racial abuse or discrimination on the basis of gender or anything else, but our kids are taught to have respect for each other, they’re taught to have respect for themselves, and this invading the minds of young people with this sort of garbage message, I think really, we need to push back against it because it is creeping into different parts of society.”
Dutton similarly criticised businesses for working to be more cognisant of gender and sexual diversity in the workplace and how prejudice and discrimination can negatively affect employees.
“They are participating in social and political debates that have absolutely nothing to do with their stated purpose,” he said at a conference recently.
“These companies are using company funds and brand equity to pursue pet political and social causes. Some businesses are now acting in the interests of special-interest activist groups.
His prospective opponent in the spill, Scott Morrison, is a former Minister for Immigration and a noted No voter on the postal survey. “It is OK to say ‘No’,” he said last year.
Morrison earlier this year leapt to the defence of Israel Folau – who used his social media platform to insist that gays are going to hell – saying Folau “behaved with great dignity”.
“Good for him for standing up for his faith,” Morrison said.
“I think he wouldn’t have wanted to intend to have offended or hurt anyone, because that’s very much against the faith that he feels so passionately about, but he’s shown I think a lot of strength of character in just standing up for what he believes in, and I think that’s what this country’s all about.”
Morrison threw a minor tantrum following the successful Yes result, insisting that more Australians wanted religious freedom legislation than voted for same-sex marriage despite a poll showing only 37 per cent of Australians think more religious protections in law are needed.
Pauline Hanson once stated she preferred Morrison as Prime Minister over Tony Abbott.
A mentor of Morrison’s is Hillsong founder Brian Houston, who wrote in 2015 that “we are a gay welcoming church but we are not a church that affirms a gay lifestyle.”
“The writings of the apostle Paul in Scripture on the subject of homosexuality are also clear, as I have mentioned in previous public statements,” Houston said in a statement during the postal survey.
The ascension of either man to the Prime Minister’s office is cause for concern for the entire LGBTI community.
Morrison called marriage equality a “done deal” and a “finished debate”, but what makes either of these men trustworthy?
And even if marriage equality is a “done deal”, can we be certain that their evident desire to veer the Liberal Party even further to the right – seemingly in a desire to win back voters who have defected to the One Nation fringes – won’t simply place the trans and gender diverse members of our community under even greater threat?
Though Malcolm Turnbull’s support of same-sex marriage came at significant cost, it was nevertheless support; his desire to remain a relative moderate was compromised from day one as he shifted further and further to the right on other issues in order to retain support of his party.
Now that support has dissipated and Turnbull attempts to blow things up behind him as he leaves – stating that he’ll resign as MP if toppled in the coming party room meeting which would cause the government to lose its majority – he is left making vain attempts to claim credit for marriage equality’s passage.
When Tony Burke says Turnbull abandons his principles, Turnbull replies “say that about same-sex marriage.” #qt
— Josh Taylor (@joshgnosis) August 21, 2018
Turnbull’s legacy, should he be ousted tomorrow, will instead merely be that he managed to survive his own party long enough to even see marriage equality become a reality.
While most of us know that the credit for achieving that major milestone in LGBTI rights goes to the tireless activists and grassroots campaigners who made it possible, it may remain the one genuine change that actually happened during Turnbull’s time in office.
Should the petition Turnbull has demanded be delivered to him tomorrow, he may be gone by lunchtime – leaving LGBTI Australians without even the flimsy protection his more centrist tendencies afforded us from the Coalition’s historical opposition to progressive social reform.
While neither Dutton nor Morrison are appealing prospects on that basis, they will have their supporters in the electorate.
Having both overseen Australia’s immigration policies in recent years they have had a significant impact on the lives of non-white people in Australia, including LGBTI people of colour.
Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane wrote of the purported rise of African gangs – a talking point initiated by Dutton – that “unfortunately we are seeing right now the return of race politics and the fuelling of racial fear and anxiety.”
“And if we’re not careful about this, we risk doing some serious damage to our racial harmony.”
No matter who wins, we all lose – for at least the foreseeable future. Though with third party Julie Bishop throwing her hat in the ring, things have become more complicated.
Should the next election, be it this or next year, bring about a change in government we won’t see a significant enough ideological shift for the gay and bisexual men whose lives remain endangered in offshore detention, or any who may be sent there in future as a result of fleeing homophobic regimes, to be delivered to safety.
“No one knows how many gay, transgender or bisexual refugees live on Manus, but what is clear is that the suffering they experienced in their countries has been repeated on Manus in a disastrous way,” Behrouz Boochani wrote in May.
“Fear, humiliation, threat, banishment, rape—these are all concepts and experiences lived daily by these men.”
If we as LGBTI people condone their suffering and the extant struggles of so many more, perhaps we all lose regardless.