Facts are, in Ronald Rea-gan’s immortal phrase stubborn things. Fact: the coalition parties had a massive electoral victory on 9 October and are almost certain to be in office for at least the next six years. Fact: the coalition will control the Senate, either in its own right or with the help of the homophobic Family First party. Fact: the Democrats no longer constitute a viable force in Australian politics. Fact: the Greens did spectacularly less well at this election than was anticipated. Fact: if Family First gets any Senate seats it will be entirely courtesy of the Labor Party which preferenced Family First ahead of the Greens and Democrats where it really counted. Fact: with the Liberals in control of the Senate there will be no amendments to legislation and no inquiries or committees established that the government does not want. Fact: the agenda for the next three (and probably six) years is entirely in the hands of John Howard and Peter Costello. Fact: there is nothing the Labor Party, the Greens or anyone else can do about this -“ electorally they are now irrelevant. Fact: the idea of gay marriage is as dead a dodo.
These are the facts -“ get over it, get used to it or move to Spain.
It is now time for the GLTBI community to stop its moaning and whingeing about the election and for community leaders like Rodney Croome (SSO 735) to desist from their pathetic paranoid Chicken Little impressions about what they think might be the worst government ever and start using some productive energy to work out what can be achieved for the community over the next six years.
Three questions need to be addressed: what can be achieved; how can it be achieved; and who will help achieve it?
Clearly it’s time to forget the gay marriage debate. Neither Howard nor Costello is going to be moved on this issue. Focus on what can be achieved. This means having a rational debate to set priorities for what our community actually wants, balanced by a realistic assessment of what can be achieved under a coalition government. I have no doubt that finalising superannuation reform, dealing with immigration matters, eliminating some of the social welfare discrimination and getting a properly funded national HIV/AIDS strategy in place are all eminently achievable.
The Latin maxim res ipsa loquiter -“ the thing speaks for itself -“ has to be the guide. Well reasoned and argued cases dealt with on their merits and not presented within the victim paradigm have to be developed and put forward. They have to be framed not in the rhetoric and values of our community but in the rhetoric and values system that resonates with the listeners in the coalition party room -“ hard but by no means impossible. Let’s remember Philip Ruddock’s key role in ensuring the success of the inter-dependency visa immigration reforms, Helen Coonan’s support of superannuation reform and various Liberal ministers’ positive approaches to AIDS policy.
Personal relationships need to be built with key Liberal insiders such as the out councillors Shayne Mallard (City of Sydney), Bruce Notley-Smith (Randwick) or Trent Zimmerman (North Sydney); with people who run the Gay and Lesbian Business Association (president Stephen Peoples was Howard’s deputy campaign manager in Bennelong) and similar organisations that have many Liberal Party members. Relationships must be built with sympathetic state and federal NSW parliamentarians. At the state level, the likes of John Brogden, John Ryan, Peta Seaton, Patricia Forsythe, Jillian Skinner and Don Harwin have shown their sympathy and understanding of our issues. Federally, NSW parliamentarians Marise Payne, Bruce Baird, Helen Coonan, Kay Hull (Nat); libertarians like Joe Hockey, Brendan Nelson, Malcolm Turnbull (an active AIDS Trust supporter) and even Tony Abbott are approachable; on some issues so is Philip Ruddock.
Who also means who in the community is going to speak on its behalf. Community leaders who have publicly, irrevocably committed themselves to the ALP or who have been the greatest public abusers of Howard personally are not likely to cut much ice in Canberra. A new level of political professionalism is required. Spokespeople who, however they might vote in private, or whatever private support they may give to any political party or organisation, are seen by coalition parliamentarians as reasonable, rational, fair, competent and politically savvy, have to take over the reins from some of the tired, old, compromised regulars. Without in any way failing to honour their efforts and achievements in the past, I would say for many of them it is time to step aside and let those who can work within the new paradigm get on with the job that they can no longer do successfully.
Of course it is galling that our rights and issues are not respected and supported on their intrinsic merits alone and that progress remains possible only by getting involved in the grubby world of realpolitik (a process which has left me with a few scars), through the process of presenting cases and asking for support. But that is how it is and that is what needs to be done, especially by a community which can realistically deliver very little in return (such as votes) and which has shown itself in electoral terms to be essentially irrelevant as far as the current government is concerned. It is actually a cruel and tough world out there -“ sorry, but that’s another Fact.
Our fellow Australians have spoken -“ vox populi, vox dei. It is no good sitting back and sulking for the next six years, muttering imprecations into our vodkas or trying to maintain some synthetic rage about the injustices of this world. It will make life better for no-one and may in fact, through failure or inactivity, make it positively worse for many.