This is not balance, this is nonsense, and The Age should know better

Why does The Age print articles like this from Karina Okotel, the federal Liberal vice-president under the banner.

‘Yes’ campaign must keep its promises after 5 million people voted ‘No’ in same-sex-marriage ballot.

Karina Okotel with her children Hannah, 3, David 2, and baby Grace.  Photo: Jason South

To start with, the people who voted Yes, and I was one of them, didn’t make any promises to the people who voted No.

We also voted about the rights of all people to get married, not on the rights of the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker to deny services to various customers. We don’t expect that to be incorporated into Dean Smith’s bill which we do expect to be passed before Christmas

She goes on to write: “Senator Dean Smith’s bill provides protections only around a wedding ceremony and to religious clerics, but does not encompass protections for speech, religious beliefs more broadly, or to children being exposed to radical gender theory against a parent’s wishes.”

I still find it incomprehensible to understand how someone can get themselves worked up into an intellectual lather that allows them to  think that gay couples getting married will mean that radical gender theory will be taught in classrooms.

I know a number of gay couples, all of whom will certainly get married once legislation is passed, but best of my knowledge none of them will be storming into the classrooms of Victoria to teach radical gender theory. They will just be living happily ever after.

A bit like the fairy story.

She also writes about  Felix Ngole who posted some biblical passages on Facebook to support his religious beliefs and got tossed out of Sheffield University which regarded him as being unfit to be a social worker. The High Court later upheld the University’s decision. Without making the point, presumably Okotel sees this as an indication of the kind of discrimination that will arise from the legislation of same-sex marriage. No, the High Court, not normally given to exaggerated utterances, saw the posts as ” judgmental, incompatible with service ethos, or suggestive of discriminatory intent”. This means that Felix is not really a poster boy for a tolerant society.

Okotel’s article is absolute nonsense and the editors of The Age should have recognised it as such and should not have printed it.

The “No” vote  campaigners had their chance to mount this argument in the run-up to the postal vote. It was comprehensively rejected because it was a spurious argument. Now Okotel’s having another bite at the apple courtesy of The Age.

Is it because The Age ran a heartfelt article by Penny Wong Why all Australians had a stake in the postal vote on same-sex marriage that it felt it should have some “balance” by printing an article by Karina Okotel?


If it did, running the article by Okotel didn’t achieve that.

It is time to move on. A highly divisive and expensive postal vote has now been concluded. Malcolm Turnbull must ensure that the legislation is passed by Christmas and  the responsible media must ensure that the divisive voices such as Karina Okotel are no longer given access to “balanced coverage”.

Conservatives lining up for another bite at the same sex marriage apple

Mark Kenny and Jaqueline Maley writing in The Age comment that “Conservative forces push to frustrate same-sex marriage legislation”.

The arguments are currently being  spruiked by Eric Abetz. All the irrelevant old stuff that was raised during the campaign for the same-sex marriage vote:  freedom of speech, religious freedom, businesses being able to refuse to serve same-sex couples, the sky falling on Chicken Little.

Conservative Liberal senator Eric Abetz: “In the event of ‘yes’ vote, the Dean Smith bill is an insufficient basis to start the conversation.” Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

 The Very Conservative, Very Christian and (in their own minds) Very Right rump of the Parliamentary Liberal party  (she had gone by ex-Liberal Cory Bernardi) will be running a rearguard action in the case of a likely victory by the Yes vote.

Apparently some of the Christian right, Morrison, Cormann and Dutton believe it’s time to step aside and accept the decision of the Australian people and let the Dean Smith bill through.


The private member’s bill drafted by Liberal senator Dean Smith is presently the only proposed same-sex marriage legislation on the table. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Not so Australian Conservatives senator Cory Bernardi who doesn’t want a parliament that may be full of people who shouldn’t be there on the basis of dual citizenship voting on such an important issue.


How’s that for a good argument!

Should the postal vote return a Yes majority, the Australian public could reasonably expect that there would be a swift resolution of the matter in Parliament, preferably before Christmas.

But  the citizenship fiasco is spiralling beyond Malcolm Turnbull’s control and it is demonstrating his complete inability to control any political process. And nobody is really trying to make this worse.

lt is unlikely that Turnbull be able to exert any control over the politics of the same-sex marriage debate, which have been effectively and skilfully driven by a small group of right wing conservatives lead by Tony Abbott who must be looking forward to a very  happy Christmas.






The rabid right barks again

Funding for the same-sex marriage plebiscite has become an issue again for elements within the Coalition.

The usual gang of right wing malcontents lined up to have a shot at the PM.


In a dramatic intervention, former defence minister Kevin Andrews backed church leaders, rather than the Prime Minister, in a dispute over whether Mr Turnbull promised taxpayer support to run the campaign against same-sex marriage.

Mr Andrews said “The Prime Minister’s statements were clear that there would be a quantum of public funding for a yes and no campaign similar to a referendum.

That is what I expect.”

Cory Bernardi said “people will make up their own minds” about whether they believe Mr Turnbull or the church leaders.

“If a promise is made it has to be honoured,” he said. “We don’t want the plebiscite to be dominated by money wealthy individuals overseas.”

Eric Abetz, a former Senate leader, said: “I am sure that nobody, when we first discussed the plebiscite, thought there would not be equal public finding for both sides and that each side should receive $10 million to make its case.

The PM denies that he has made any such promise.

What do people like Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz, Cory Bernardi and  Kevin Andrews think they are doing when the loudest voices coming out of the Coalition of those advocating positions that are not only at odds with those of their party but also out of step with the mainstream view of the Australian electorate?

I  find Eric Abetz’s suggestion that Lyle Shelton of the Australian Christian Lobby and his ilk should be given $10 million to fund their campaign against same-sex marriage deeply repugnant.


The vast bulk of the Australian people realise we don’t need a  $160 million plebiscite to work out what the vast bulk of the Australian people think about same-sex marriage and we don’t need to spend $20 million to find out the arguments for and against.

We already know the arguments and we have made up our minds.

The voice of dangerous bigotry

The Australian Christian Lobby has compared same-sex marriage and the Safe Schools program to the Holocaust, dubbing them all “unthinkable things” that happened because societies lacked strong moral guardians. Whatever the case, we have much to learn from the dead

In a blog post, ACL director Lyle Shelton invoked the rise of Nazi Germany before arguing that Labor leader Bill Shorten’s support for Safe Schools reflected “a failure of those of us who know better”.

Speaking to Fairfax Media, Mr Shelton defended his communique and said he was not putting the Safe Schools program on the same level as the Holocaust, in which more than six million Jews, homosexuals and other minorities were murdered.
“Safe Schools is not like that, but it’s a terrible ideology nonetheless. Different consequences, but it’s a terrible ideology,” he said. “This is not comparing anyone to Nazis. I’m saying that bad things happen when people are fearful of speaking up.”

Well ,the good thing is that Shelton is not comparing the Safe Schools program or gay marriage to the Holocaust.  But he’s pretty close to it.  Even if you accept that he has not made this direct comparison, what he is saying is that supporting programs like Safe School or gay marriage will produce events like the Holocaust.

It’s a pretty fine distinction.

The marked difference between Lyle Shelton and the people who support the Safe Schools or gay marriage is that these people do not vilify and attack people’s views disagree with theirs. In fact, the Safe Schools program is arguing for greater tolerance, inclusion and understanding while Lyle Shelton argues for greater intolerance exclusion and bigotry.

The man is entitled to his point of view and he is entitled to express it.

It’s a pity that The Age chooses to print his views.



Celibate bishops support “institution of marriage”

Marriage and family are at the heart of a healthy social environment, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference states, but “political decisions can end up undermining marriage and providing less and less support for families despite a rhetoric that claims otherwise”.

The fact is that economic decisions have been less and less favourable to families in recent years; and it may be that political decisions in the future will undermine further the dignity and uniqueness of marriage as a lifelong union of man and woman,” the bishops say.”

It is ironic that a group of people who  have made a conscious decision not participate in the “institution of marriage” can see it as so important.  Clearly it is important, but not for them.

It is interesting to examine the logic and tactics behind this claim.

The tactic is to label a decision to support same-sex marriage as a  “political” decision. The implication being that anything that is political is inherently flawed. But the more important point is that same-sex marriage is, for many people, a question of social justice, not just politics.

Is just as valid to say that opposition to same-sex marriage is a religious decision.  For many people, myself included, that deciding issues of public policy and social equity on religious beliefs is a very poor way to make decisions affecting the whole population.

But it is the logic of the “undermining the Institute of marriage” argument that is so faulty.  Allowing same-sex couples to marry should not, and probably will not, affect the  relationships of established heterosexual couples.

Do the bishops really believe that the  legalisation of same-sex marriage would suddenly lead to the breakup of large numbers of heterosexual marriages? That a whole lot of  married blokes are going to say, “Great, it’s legal now. I’ll go and marry my best mate.”?

More than a hundred years ago, there were similarly fallacious arguments being extended to deny women the right to vote.


 There have always been people who turn their backs on important social issues. It’s usually men.

And hundred years before that, the argument was that people who did not own property should not be allowed to vote.

A recent letter writer to The Age said he found it incongruous that an organisation which had condoned, ignored and, indirectly, supported the activities of paedophiles should be expressing such concern about support for families.



Same-sex Marriage and Senate Voting Reform.

Malcolm Turnbull’s position: A plebiscite for one and a vote in the Parliament for the other. Stalling on one, rushing the other one through.


 A gay couple discusses parliamentary reform

Malcolm Turnbull and his predecessor Tony Abbott were both  trying to stall legislation of same-sex marriage with the idea of a plebiscite in the hope that the issue would go away.


 Abbott and Turnbull trying to find a way out of the same-sex marriage question

While the Prime Minister insists we have a plebiscite on gay marriage when public opinion is quite clearly known, he is unwilling to allow the public to have a say on the way they elect their politicians.

Best to let the politicians decide that!

Reforming the system for voting for the Australian Senate provides an opportunity for a “conversation” on the kind of Senate we want, if we want one at all.

Changes to the system are likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime event but they are being rushed through Parliament with very little debate and public discussion.

Unfortunately, the voting public has not been invited to the table for this debate.

There is a fundamental question that has not been asked.

Do we need a Senate at all?


  Paul Keating was quite clear. He called the Senators “unrepresentative swill.

The fundamental idea underlying a bicameral system such as we have in Australia and in the US is that the upper house serves as a brake on the lower house. It is designed to slow the progress of change and protect people against the excesses and vagaries of elected governments.

 In both Australia and the US, senators are elected for six years in a series of staggered elections. In the US, members of the lower house Congress are elected every two years, in Australia it’s every three. So changing the lower house is much easier than changing the upper house.

This means that bringing about change in the upper house is a much slower process. It also means that the upper house may become out of touch with the political realities of the lower house.

So the question for Australians is whether we want an upper house that has the potential to frustrate the House of Representatives.  Before the rise of the Australian Democrats, the Greens, Palmer United and a host of independent Senators, this was not normally the case.

But as disillusion and dissatisfaction with the major parties grows in Australia, minority parties and independents are gaining increasing political traction and exercising increasing influence in the upper houses of state and federal parliament.

Part of the debate on the reform of the Senate voting should include an extensive and informed public debate on whether we want a Senate at all.

After that particular question is decided, then the debate on the nature of the Senate can begin.

When it comes to reforming the Senate, it’s worth remembering that there are what are called “frozen accidents” in the system. Frozen accidents are historical events and decisions that cannot be easily changed but which have consequences that were not intended originally.

The first problem is that the Founding Fathers meant the Senate to be the “States’ House.”  It was designed to protect the previously independent states from the power of the Federal Government.


The opening of the Parliament of Australia, 9 May 1901, ushered in a system that has probably outlived its usefulness.

It no longer fulfils that function and is elected purely along party lines.

The second problem is that the distribution of Senate seats by state is dramatically biased towards Tasmania, the ACT and the Northern Territory. Representation of the more populous main land states is biased in inverse order of population.

So the first question is: Do we want a system that is biased towards the smaller states given that the Senate’s function as the states’ house is no longer relevant?

Here of the voting figures by state for 2013 Senate election.

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If the fundamental principle underlying democracy is that there should be  equal representation, then this problem needs to be fixed

And then there is the question of party representation.

Here are the figures for the Senate  in the 2013 election.


On the basis of votes cast, some parties do better than others. The ALP got its fair share in the last election. The Coalition, the Greens, Palmer United, Family First Party and the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party all did better than their vote would justify.

The Liberal Democratic Party polled particularly well but its elected senator David Leyonhjelm admits that this is because he was first on the ballot paper and got the donkey vote and also that people thought they were voting for the Liberal party.

It is interesting that nearly 1.4 million voters (slightly over 10%) have no representation in the Senate. It is this large block of votes that the preference whisperer, Glenn Druery, is able to manipulate to elect members of minor parties.

These are the issues that are fundamental to reform of the Senate voting system. It is crucially important that the Australian electorate remains confident that its democratic system is serving the needs of the people.

The profound sense of disillusion with the political system in America, seen with the rise of the Tea Party and candidates like Donald Trump, represents a step towards political chaos that Australians need to guard against.

It is quite clear to most people that Malcolm Turnbull is rushing these changes through to improve his chances in a double dissolution election. Changes to the fundamental political structures in Australia are serious and have long-term consequences. They should be widely debated and discussed before they are implemented.

Currently, this is not happening and the Australian electorate deserves better.