THERE is too much focus on same-sex marriage and not enough on other issues affecting the LGBTI and wider community, one of the new intake of openly-gay MPs in NSW Parliament has told the Star Observer.
In an interview to mark his swearing in as an upper house MP, the Liberal’s Shayne Mallard said he wouldn’t rule out an Abbott government legislating for marriage equality while job losses should be a key focus in the upcoming review of the NSW’s controversial lockouts laws.
Brought up in western Sydney, Mallard is a former state president of the Young Liberals and served as a councillor on South Sydney and then City of Sydney councils for 12 years from 2000.
In 2012, he lost to independent Alex Greenwich for the Sydney electorate by-election while Lord Mayor Clover Moore defeated Mallard twice for the city’s top job.
Yet when he entered NSW Parliament, Mallard was initially placed in Moore’s former diggings which she was forced to give up after the Coalition backed a Shooters Party policy to ban mayors and councillors from also being MPs.
“I always wanted Clover’s office and I finally got it,” he laughed.
Mallard’s previous roles have included running a Darlinghurst garden shop, serving as an adviser to the Liverpool mayor and, in his spare time, helping out at the catering firm owned by his partner, Danish chef Jesper Hansen.
The couple married in Copenhagen in 2013 and Mallard said his preference would have been for Australia to follow Denmark’s “two-step” approach to marriage equality.
“I thought we’d go civil unions and the full hog later when they’d seen the church halls hadn’t fallen down crushing us all,” he said.
But with the US on the brink of legalising same-sex marriage nationwide — which Mallard believes would be “a game changer for Australia” — he has called for his colleagues in to be given a free vote on the issue.
“That includes releasing cabinet ministers from the obligation to support cabinet, it should be a conscience vote across the board,” he said.
Yet, if he had been an MP in 2013 Mallard said he would have voted against the marriage equality bill that came before the NSW parliament.
“That’s not because I’m a contradiction… but this was clearly a federal issue, you’ve got to have consistent marriage laws,” he said, highlighting how separate NSW laws would’ve prevented that.
He also defended the slow progress of many in his party, including the prime minister, to embrace same-sex marriage.
“They need to be convinced that changing an institution that serves us well doesn’t radically change our society,” Mallard said.
“So they make you go through hoops before they agree and that’s the innate definition of conservatism.”
So, could he see Tony Abbott eventually coming round?
Mallard hesitated: “I can’t rule it in or out.”
“When Nixon recognised China, that’s when it moved from being a radical proposition to OK,” he added.
Mallard said he lamented the focus on marriage while wider issues that also affected the LGBTI community, such as public housing, were rarely discussed.
“It’s an important issue but it’s not the be all and end all of our political existence,” he said.
“Gay and lesbian friends of mine are just as interested in the proceeds of poles and wires being invested constructively.”
Last week Mallard’s old council, the City of Sydney, called for the police to apologise for heavy-handedness at the very first Mardi Gras in 1978.
While he acknowledged a sorry from the force could aid in the healing process, Mallard said he does not “personally see an apology as a priority”.
“I think they’ve demonstrated through their actions they support the community,” he said, citing the police’s inclusion in the Mardi Gras parade and the ranks of gay and lesbian liaison officers.
Mallard first met his future husband at Darlinghurst bar Stonewall in 2001.
“I’d been at a dinner and I remember getting there very late and I met Jesper about two or three but if the lockout laws [were in place] we would probably never would have met each other,” he said.
While the controversial laws had sent a strong message that violence would not be tolerated, Mallard said he would be keen to be involved with a review of the laws amid claims by local businesses the lockouts are sending them to the wall.
“I’m concerned about job losses and the issue of what it means to be a global city if you can’t go to bars at one in the morning with guests,” he said.
“It’ll be interesting… whether or not we select certain locations for a trial opening up a bit.”
Mallard said his passions included the environment, heritage and transport.
“I’m probably the highest profile, right-of-centre, pro-cycling MP in NSW,” Mallard said.
Had that led to debates with a number of notoriously anti-cycleway Liberals?
“I’ve had those arguments, don’t you worry,” he said.