Love is in the Air – has John Howard changed his tune?

It has been interesting to see the large amount of media coverage in Australia about the start up of a law in the United Kingdom recognising civil unions of same sex couples. It is a good thing that somewhere such as the UK, with such strong links to Australia, is formally recognising same sex relationships in some way.

However, I noted this comment on the blog of Rodney Croome, who is probably Australia’s foremost gay advocate and well versed in the facts of issues like this.

But the fact that the Tasmanian Relationships Act is far more comprehensive and progressive than its UK equivalent and received only 1 /1000th of the media coverage leaves me wondering whether the LGBT community’s most trumpeted victories are really the ones that matter most.

Another comment which really leapt out at me was one by Prime Minister John Howard when he was asked about the development in the UK. Not surprisingly he maintained his opposition to recognition of civil unions for same sex couples, but he also said

“I am strongly in favour … of removing any property and other discrimination that exists against people who have same-sex relationships.”

This shocks me so much I really will need to check it isn’t a misquote before believing it, as I and many other Democrats have spent years in the Senate trying to remove discrimination against people in same sex relationships from all manner of different federal laws. During the time when I was leader of the party, we had one significant win in the area of superannuation rights, which I was sufficiently pleased about that I agreed to a joint media appearance with the Prime Minister for the only time in my life. There have also been some partial advances in defence force entitlements quite recently. But just last sitting week the government twice rejected straightforward Democrat amendments in the Senate to Medicare and superannuation laws which would have removed some discrimination against same sex couples.

This will definitely be one issue to try to pursue in the New Year to see if the Prime Minister was genuine in his comments, or whether all the media coverage of so many happy loving couples getting ‘civilly recognised’ just made him come over all romantic and warm hearted temporarily.

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  1. Andrew, do you think it’s the Prime Minister or other more socially conservative members of the Coalition who are the problem in getting further advances in removing legislative discrimination against same sex couples?

  2. Hi Polly

    The PM is very socially (and electorally) conservative, and his opposition has been sufficient in itself. Certainly, when this has come up as part of various negotiations on different issues over the years he has regularly been mentioned as an immovable obstacle by other Liberal Ministers, but that may just have been a way of shifting blame.

    When it got to a stage where I met specifically with the PM to tell him we would find it hard to support any more superannuation laws unless there was some movement, we got some movement not long afterwards, so who knows.

    However, there are at least half a dozen (probably more – I don’t know the House of Reps people well enough) other Liberals MPs and quite a few Nationals who get absolutely rabid about this stuff, and he’d have no reason to want to upset them unnecessarily.

    The sight of both Labor and Liberal guillotining the anti-marriage Bill through the Senate last year was enough to show where they think the politics of this issue points.

  3. I don’t know why any gay person would vote Liberal or Labor. Unfortunately some do. In Melbourne there are a few labor hacks in the gay movement that try and blunt any criticism of Labor. I remember at the last election there was a push by them along the lines of “gays have to vote for Labor because once they get in they can fix it all, even though now they have to `play along'”. It was terrible and kind of insulting to the Dems.

    One article in MCV(?) (gay newspaper) in particular was very disappointing – it was about who was the best party to vote for. The little section on the Dems went along the lines of “This is a party that has supported the gay community through thick and thin for over twenty years. They have worked tirelessly to help advance gay rights. Now they are they are in trouble and need more support, so there’s no point voting for them. Vote Labor.”

  4. Dodgyville, I think it’s wrong to presume people’s political support should be determined solely by their sexuality (or gender or ethnicity for that matter). I know plenty of glbti people who vote for the ALP or the Liberal party, and they are certainly entitled to do so. I would love to see them vote for the the dems, but if we don’t make a compelling enough case for them on a range of issues, and not just on sexuality issues to change their vote, then it’s fair enough that they don’t vote for us.

  5. The anti-green brochure the libs mailed to most Australian homes last election listed equivalent Medicare entitlements for same-sex couples as a bad, scary thing. (This was the same brochure that was pretty much reprinted on the front page of the Herald-Sun as news). It seems Mr Howard is either steering the party in a direction that they thought was deeply unpopular with the electorate just 15 months ago, or is preparing to cross the floor.

  6. Yes, the Australian Coalition for Equality picked up on this comment by the PM. Essentially, he would have said anything to appear reasonable, as the ELton John wedding at Windsor and the laws int he UK are gradually shifting public opinion. I understand Rodney’s complaint about the greater media attention, but I think it is understandable given that Elton John is such a celebrity and popular amongst baby boomers et. al. – gay marriage has been lacking a symbol for the media to latch on to, and what a symbol it is, a wedding at Windsor! Hence Howard’s impotent rage at the event.

    One another note, I was also impressed by his article in the Guardian remembering all that there is a long way to go for the world in fighting homophobia. It’s good to remember that not everyone can go West.

  7. The reason Howards backing off a little is simple. Gays are usually both working and more often than not in profeshional jobs. The pink money is now getting quite strong.With money comes power. He does not want any more Political Parties being formed. Howards basically an old school straight guy who beleives in traditional husband wife kids.The Australian public are on a whole the same. When i was at the polling booths for Andrew B i was actually abused by people who thought that we were pushing for gay marraiges etc. I dont know where that came from but it certainly did not go down well with the average voter. I was not in a position to comment but listened to a few of these people who were clearly annoyed .Many things they pointed out were 100 percent right as far as i could judge..Guess it is a hard call at times but my morals would never allow me to treat them as the same as Mr and Mrs average.I can compare it with the fuss over the Australian Flag Being flown or not being flown on Australia day or [any other day] for that matter. Some things are right and somethings are wrong. People will get votes from wherever they can i guess . There is no dought the 6 out of eleven councilers that voted against flying the flag should be saked . Its not that hard to sack a council and appoint a committee to run it. After all it is the tax payers funds. As for gays well as i said some people will get votes from wherever they can.The feeling against gays couples is getting stronger especially in these uncertain times as the Church re gains it members and then some. Supporting gays costs this party big time at the last election but that is a matter for the party.From our point of view we get quite upset at this issue causing this party to loose its power because we need you up there at the top bench.There is no question that the Australian public dont want gay marraiges etc. We feel that there are real issues to be solved and nobody much cares about what they want. In the old days if people were in a same sex arrangment it was kept in the cuboard at least. Our kids are confused enough.No dought this is what they mean by coming out!. Who cares. Keep Australia as it should be. Mother Dad kids and lets get some other issues dealt with that are a bit more important because you will get zilch from the public in the way of votes if we keep going on about gays having rights.

  8. Unfortunately, the win Andrew refers to above regarding superannuation rights did not extend to Commonwealth public servants’ super funds. Is there any reason this was omitted from the amending legislation? I hope the Democrats are still on this case.

  9. Geoff

    The reason Commonwealth public servants weren’t able to be included in the enhancement of superannuation rights is basically because they come under a completely different piece of legislation.

    The legislation we were negotiating on, over a long period, was the superannuation choice laws. It basically reached a stage where enough changes were made that we could support it, but we had been knocked back so many times on the issue of equal rights for people with a same sex partner that we decided we would not pass any more superannuation laws until there was at least some progress. This piece of legislation had been around so long and had already been subject to so much negotiation that the government finally agreed so they could get it through (although they had to extend it to interdependent relationships to placate the hardline conservatives – or perhaps so they just wouldn’t notice that this would include same sex couples).

    We couldn’t stretch this change to also include the public sector superannuation law, as there wasn’t amending legislation on the table. We were also hampered by the fact that we only had negotiating strength for legislation which Labor opposed – otherwise it passed regardless of what we did, and Labor would not insist on amendments for same sex couples in the Senate. However, at least it does leave an inconsistency/anomaly, which do tend to create their own momentum to be fixed over time.

    We’re still pushing the issue/principle. Indeed I wrote to the PM about it just last week, based on his comment I highlighted in this post. (there’s a media release too, which I’ll link to once it’s on line)

    Of course our direct leverage has diminshed dramatically, which does make it harder, but I’m sure the change will come. I’ll just keep working to try to make it sooner rather than later (it’s already ‘later’ as far as I’m concerned, but I trust you know what I mean.)

  10. Hi Andrew

    Thanks for the clarification. It’s a further blight on the government’s position on gays, families and associated issues that, despite Mr Howard’s apparent recent softening of position, some of his backbenchers continue to put forward irrational arguments against gay civil unions. Recent comments by South Australian MP Mr Fawcett evidence the unsophisticated arguments raised against such unions. I responded to his comments on my own blog at

    I’d be interested in comments from readers of this forum too.

  11. Geoff. There is and always has been protection for gay couples leagally. That is a fact. Lawyers have drawn up docs and agreements for some famous same sex couples since before our time. It has been done quitley and tasefully without any problems. The very root of OUR culture is not same sex partners. This subject along with other issues >[ such as to lower the age for females] to consent to sex and issues like the question of our falg in Waverly council is in fact driven by those with a desire to break down our culture.Same sex couples to put it nicley are very much a part of other cultures and nations where it is totally excpeted. All you have to do is to figure out if you are a traditional Australian or prefer to live in a country that excepts less standards. However remember gays have been around since Christ so kept the way it was without trying to DEMAND that WE except the ways of other counties and cultures its not a problem.Its a death trap for a political party to support however. Take a look at Family First. The public were read very well by these people. It was a clever move. The fact is 90 percent of Australians dont care what gays do just so long as they are NOT in our faces demanding the same rights as us. Why > Because apart from anything else its an insult to our Christian background. The other thing is that this party must get back on top and it IS this issue that caused them to loose so many votes and race to family first. The kids dont need anymore to handle. We have experienced the disaster these so called gay couples make.. We have three kids come and stay with us on a regular basis. There worlds have been totally destroyed. All the sercurity and everything they have known is gone now. The 14 year old boy cries and is very angry. The 12 year old girl is just angry.[very angry]
    All because mummy and daddy have split up and Daddy is now with another ………. Wait for it MAN. The damage done is criminal. This is NOT just a one off either it happens all the time. WHAT ABOUT KIDS RIGHTS? Why did DADDY HAVE to TELL them?

    Its the same as your gay movement. We DONT WANT IT IN OUR FACES FOR OUR KIDS AND OUR KIDS, KIDS’; sake.Tell me Geoff do you follow any other of Andrews causes? I wonder.Did you offer to help this party at the polling booths? We did. we went and watched them getting slaughtered because somehow Howards lot must have spread the word that they were possibly going to support gay marriages. The thing is we were actally abused. One guy spat on my girlfriend who was passing out vote for Andrew forms . We are pashionate about Animal Welfare and of course its very easy for the goverment to put this party in the extream list with the small minded attitude of some or most animal campanigers getting around telling people not to eat meat. Between that lot and the gay lot the Animals dont stand a chance. Do you have ANY idea what these poor creatures suffer Geoff. Dont talk to me about rights. Ok than our right is to protest LOUDLY to Andrew to STOP this Extream lot running this party > I mean the unfriendly vegan vegetain lot and listen to the 96 percent of Australians that Do eat meat BUT want improved animal welfare. Did u hear that. 96 percent of Australians actually WANT a party to get stuck into tne animal welfare issue WITHOUT going on about Vegans and vegs and the ,likes.Another 96 percent DONT WANT gays treated with eaqual rights. Add that up and you will find that gays have cost this party big time. Go back to your cuboards and give this party a chance!

  12. Wendy
    Much as I’d like to think the Democrats’ terrible vote at the last election was because of our position on marriage equality, I suspect it was for a few other less noble reasons.

    I wasn’t aware a friend of yours was spat on on election day and I’m sorry about that. However, the fact that some people react with in such objectionable ways to the notion of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, having equality before the law, really just motivates me more to keep pursuing the matter. I’ve written a few times before that, for whatever reason, the most abusive feedback I get from the public is on so-called gay issues. The 2nd most abusive has been on refugees, and I didn’t stop pushing for equal rights for them either. Despite this, I don’t beliebe “96% of Australian don’t want gays treated with equal rights”. Depending on how you framed the question, I doubt there would even be a majority with that view (especially if you excluded things like marriage and adoption, in which case perhaps not even the Prime Minister)

    As for the family break-up you describe, it sounds very sad. Sadly, families break up quite often and sometimes this involves other people. I can’t see how the gender of the ‘other person’ is relevant, but if it I imagine the vast majority involve another heterosexual relationship, and I don’t imagine people will accept suggestions to stop having heterosexuality shoved in our faces.

    As for Family First being “clever” in opposing gay rights – they may have got a Senator elected, but their total vote was even worse than the Democrats, so I dn’t think that proves much.

    Finally, the Democrats are not run by vegetarians and vegans – much as I might wish they were. There’s be no other vegetarian Democrat Senator that I know of and very few amongst the national office holders. There are of course very good environmental and ethical reasons for not eating meat (and a reasonable health argument too for most people), but even I haven’t told people “not to eat meat”. Given I have campaigned against live sheep exports for years on the basis of replacing the trade with animals slaughtered in Australia, it would look rather inconsistent if I did.

  13. Hi Wendy

    I’m sorry you have misinterpreted my post so drastically. Your arguments are quite regressive. Taken to their logical extension, you seem to support an exclusively Christian state (no mosques or synagogues) and the retention of slavery (because, after all, that was the ROOT of the British culture at a given time). I look forward to the examples of ‘quiet and tasteful’ protection or recognition for gay couples you claim have been arranged in the past.

    Unfortunately, the growth of the ‘rights’ culture probably has had some deleterious affects. Nevertheless, it’s here to stay. As such, and in the interests of equality, all I’m suggesting is that the state provide a regime for gay people to have their relationships ‘officially’ recognised. I’m not asking you to accept homosexuality; I’m not suggesting you should allow me to marry in a Christian church; I’m not suggesting you should rally around a rainbow flag and march in the Mardi Gras (heck, even I wouldn’t do that).

    For the record, I supported the Democrats in the 1998 & 2001 elections. Unfortunately, in the 2004 election, I chose to support Labor because I thought the best choice was to try to get rid of the Liberal government. But, hey, they must be doing something right because they romped it in. And, I’m surprised you find yourself a Democrats supporter, given your views are so right wing!

  14. I recently posted a thread on an Australian website asking if people supported gay marriages…out of the 56 replys 3 were comments with no vote, 5 were “no” votes and a staggering 48…(86%), thought it was a good idea. Besides this, very few people that I have spoken to on this matter have expressed a negative view on this matter. I think our federal government should actually ask Australians what they think…

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