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Yesterday, posters littered Melbourne spouting insane homophobic rhetoric. Today, the PM sees the same rhetoric as a normal part of the democratic process.
‘There are arguments against having a plebiscite, I understand that. but the weakest argument of all, which I think has no basis, is that the Australian people are not capable of having a respectful debate on this issue.’
Malcolm Turnbull said this two weeks ago, in response to a journalist asking him why LGBTI people deserved to be subjected to nearly two months of commentary and criticism in the lead-up to his castigated postal ballot.
Far be it from people in the LGBTI community – the people this very vote is about – to say what will and will not be offensive, or to point out the farcical nature of being subjected to a method of surveying that the PM himself once derided as ‘flying in the face of Australian democratic values,’ Turnbull has assured us that the big gay panic is over, and that the Australian people are ready to have a respectful debate.
Forgetting of course that members of his own party have been stoking the flames of division for much of their political lives and that his predecessor has taken to the streets decrying any push for marriage equality as political correctness on the run, replete with a 1950’s hysteria.
‘Yes,’ Mr Turnbull says, ‘I know my own backbenchers have decried you as an attack on families writ large, and I know they’ve used you as a scapegoat in their ‘religion under fire’ narratives, but what the LGBTI community needs to understand is that this is a respectful discussion.’
Okay, sure, maybe he hasn’t exactly said that, but sometimes it’s what you don’t say that is heard loudest of all.
Say, for example, the nothing you say in response to hate speech being openly distributed on your cities’ streets.
Fliers decrying homosexuality as the ‘curse of death,’ and citing long debunked studies about the harm gay parents cause to children in a bid to ‘stop the fags’ are not and will never be part of a respectful debate.
— ABC News Melbourne (@abcnewsMelb) August 21, 2017
Nor should they be dismissed as being some fringe belief, or the propaganda arm of some anti-gay extremists.
Worse still, they should not be considered, as Turnbull described them today, as a normal part of the democratic process.
‘People will often say in any democratic debate, they’ll often say things that are hurtful and unfair and sometimes cruel,’ he said to 2Day FM this morning.
‘That is part of a debate.’
His continued actions speak as if to say ‘I know what we’re doing is particularly nasty, I know vulnerable people are going to get hurt, but there’s nothing I can do about that’.
The duality is staggering. Imagine knowing that a policy you are considering will commit undue levels of harm onto a community already framed by disproportionate rates of mental illness and self-harm, but also knowing that you will refuse to legislate against hate speech, will choose not to condemn acts of discrimination, all while asking your fellow countrymen to ‘put an arm around’ each other.
Put your arms around them, the PM says, of your upset gay mates #auspol
— Katharine Murphy (@murpharoo) August 21, 2017
This from a man who recently spruiked himself as a ‘strong leader.’ Today you’ve exhibited anything but. This is a farce.
They are not the actions of a man who believes in pragmatic politics, more an act of job retention.
When Labor and the Greens blocked the original plebiscite on the grounds of the damage it would cause to the LGBTI community, the Coalition were quick to decry the opposition parties as hysterical, and of belittling the ability of the Australian people to have a frank and honest discussion.
But if anyone’s hysterical, it belongs to those who shake the finger. The Coalition is a party gripped by infighting, and struggling to know where it stands in the face of an embolden right-wing, seeking to shake itself of the legislative paralysis marriage equality has brought, but not wanting to be responsible for any (further) changes to the Marriage Act.
A party which, quite frankly, should be desperate for any kind of popular, dramatic change in policy: if only to stem its hemorrhaging in the polls. Make no mistake about it, this debate is going to cost lives. It is going to push young LGBTI people to the breaking point, and say that when the people who lead them had a chance to speak up and defend them, they chose not to.
Marriage equality represented exactly the kind of popular reform voters were looking for, yet the government has treated it like it was electoral poison.
We could at last move onto debating issues that actually affect the nation as a whole, and pass this law like it would any other. But it hasn’t, and now we see what the LGBTI community always knew was there: fear, hatred, and division.
Bill Shorten said that he holds Turnbull responsible for ‘every hurtful bit of filth that this debate will unleash,’ and I will too.
This debate may well be over soon, but its effects will linger for years to come.
Is keeping your job worth all this, Malcolm?