Last week, Corey Irlam argued that there should be more LGBTI politicians in parliament, as only they would truly know how to represent and voice the needs of LGBTI constituents and citizens in the halls of power. However, heterosexual family man and state Liberal MP for Prahran — the electorate with Victoria’s biggest LGBTI population — Clem Newton-Brown did not agree in his response. He argued that a local MP’s sexual orientation or gender diversity was second, and that the “essential qualities of a good local member of parliament is that you represent the people who live in your seat.”
In today’s opinion piece, ACT’s Deputy Chief Minister Andrew Barr has taken exception to Newton Brown’s swipe at South Australian Senator Penny Wong, where the Prahran MP wrote: “And one parting thought — being an LGBTI politician is no guarantee that LGBTI issues will be progressed any better. Just look at Senator Penny Wong and her paralysis in achieving marriage equality when she and her government had the numbers to do it.”
PRAHRAN state Liberal MP Clem Newton-Brown’s recent attempt to cast doubt over Senator Penny Wong’s support for marriage equality was a cheap shot designed to gain political advantage in his vulnerable seat of Prahran, ahead of the forthcoming Victorian State Election.
Senator Wong is well loved and respected in our community and Newton-Brown’s cynical attack will not win him any friends. Penny is the greatest advocate for LGBTI Australians in national politics and her commitment to the fight for marriage equality, and a better future for us all, is absolutely beyond reproach.
Newton-Brown says he supports LGBTI equality but, as my friend and colleague Penny Wong would tell him, talk is cheap and actions speak much louder than words.
Unfortunately, when measured against his actions, Mr Newton-Brown is much less our friend than he would like us to believe.
One of his first acts in Victorian Parliament was to make it easier for religious organisations to discriminate against LGBTI Victorians – he voted for this not once, but three times. Thanks to his crucial vote on floor of the finely-balanced Legislative Assembly, it is now easier for religious organisations to refuse LGBTI people services and sack LGBTI employees.
Does Mr Newton-Brown truly expect Victorians to believe that his repeated votes in favour of bigotry, intolerance and hatred against LGBTI people were the act of a friend? I doubt the gay student expelled from his religious high school during the crucial moments of his Victorian Certificate of Education or the lesbian teacher fired from her job would think so.
The LGBTI community will not be taken for fools by MPs who cynically feign interest in our issues around election time. This is as true in Canberra as it is in Prahran. Coming from a man who claims to take offence at others’ using LGBTI issues to score cheap political points, Mr Newton-Brown’s newfound interest in our community smacks of desperate election year stunt.
If he expects LGBTI Victorians to believe that he truly does support the community, then he must put his words into action.
A good start would be to publicly condemn Tony Abbott’s decision to deny Liberal MPs a conscience vote on marriage equality. Abbott’s stubborn refusal to grant a conscience vote is the single biggest obstacle to achieving same-sex marriage in Australia. If Abbott allowed MPs like Malcolm Turnbull to vote according to their conscience, marriage equality might already be a reality.
He could also denounce the Napthine Liberal Government’s heartless changes to Victorian equal opportunity law. The equal opportunity laws introduced by the previous Labor Government, but savagely rolled back by the Liberal Party, protected LGBTI Victorians from being discriminated against.
It’s time for Mr Newton-Brown to match Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews’ commitment to reinstate strong equal opportunity laws and restore dignity to LGBTI Victorians.
This is a very clear test – will he stand up for us or will he quietly tow the Liberal Party line?
As Mr Newton-Brown himself says, his seat of Prahran has the highest concentration of LGBTI voters in Victoria and politicians should always represent their constituents’ interests rather than their own.
If he can’t find the courage to do this, then the very least he can do is have the decency to apologise to Senator Wong for his unfair slur on her character. Failure to do so will send LGBTI voters a loud and clear message that Clem Newton-Brown and the Liberal Party don’t deserve their support in the future.