It’s time Finance Minister Penny Wong was given her due.
The LGBTI community can be rather unforgiving when someone doesn’t tell us what we want to hear and Wong has certainly copped her fair share of flak, including from this paper, in the past over her reticence to publicly back marriage equality.
But all has been forgiven since she took the lead with ACT Deputy Chief Minister Andrew Barr this month to move to change the Labor Party’s platform to support same-sex marriage.
It was a historic win, advocated behind the scenes by Wong, Barr and Western Australian senator Louise Pratt, among many others. I’ve no doubt it marks the start of the final steps towards enabling marriage equality in this country.
But Wong’s past reluctance to publicly support same-sex marriage made blood boil in the LGBTI community.
Some of that frustration spilled over in July 2010 when she appeared on the ABC’s Q&A program and was criticised for “sit[ting] idly back and … remain[ing] silent” only to reiterate party lines when asked about her own stance.
She was swiftly defended by an exasperated Graham Richardson who offered a wake-up call.
“You would not have had many of the things that have now happened … if people like Penny weren’t in the Labor Party and weren’t pushing for them,” Richardson said.
“There are a lot of people in the Labor Party who don’t agree with this stuff.
“At the moment there’s nowhere near a majority but there will be. There will be over time because Penny will work for it and it will get up in the end. But give her a break, for God’s sake … She doesn’t run the government, she’s a part of it.”
Richardson’s prediction has come true. But Wong is a strict team player — and her captain (still) will not play ball.
Frustration from voters, however, was understandable. The situation typified everything wrong with political robots, unable to express their opinion, even if it meant betraying their own deeply held thoughts and feelings.But there is another reason to be thankful for Wong’s place in Australian public life.
Wong and her partner Sophie Allouache celebrated the birth of their daughter Alexandra this month. It was front-page news, reported sensibly and with genuine warmth.
This is not to overlook some of the more puerile comments flung at Wong and Allouache for simply going about their private lives.
One can only hope they both ignored some of the truly repugnant remarks that surfaced on online news forums. Indeed her own colleague, South Australian
Labor frontbencher Tom Kenyon, was forced to apologise to her after claiming the child was not hers.Politics aside, Wong has been an incredible role model for gay and lesbian Australians.
She has never shied away from who she is and she has quietly gone about showing Australians that same-sex parented families are just like any other.