Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

Tag: Barr

Happy News

Given I gave them a whack a little while ago for the rumor of cowardice, its pleasing to note that the ACT Labor party has found its spine and endorsed a new bill supporting ceremonies for civil unions in the ACT. While same-sex civil unions are currently allowed in the ACT, the Rudd government has threatened to veto any bill which allows legally binding public ceremonies. So you can tie your life to another, but not celebrate it in front of friends or family. Petty and illogical, but that’s what we’ve come to expect from social conservatives on such issues. Anyway, good on the ACT Labor party. I’m pretty confident that within 10 years we will have homosexual marriage in this country, but it will require more boldness like this if its to be achieved.

Meanwhile Simon Berger, a pre-selection candidate for Nelsons safe Liberal seat of Bradfield has again gone public with his homosexuality. The politics of this are tough to read. Berger certainly gains name recognition and status for his boldness (joining only Penny Wong in being openly gay). However this is the same seat where a young Nelson was questioned by 5 very stern older ladies if the earring in his ear meant he was gay. Even in the ACT where homosexuality is rather boringly normal, the openly gay Andrew Barr does not run on his sexuality, so its hard to imagine that this move will gain Berger any votes to compensate for the ones inevitably lost in the closed atmosphere of a Liberal Party branch. That said, it would be foolish to imagine that the hostility of the US republicans to gay marriage is replicated here at home. My own view has been that as soon as the Liberals have a leader who publicly endorses gay marriage that the rank and file will come to shift their support to the idea. After all, the Liberals were the first to have a female candidate, a migrant candidate and an aboriginal candidate. They may be a conservative party, but stand well apart from the Hanson-esq bigotry found on the far right.

The Labor party could help speed up this process should it so wish. Now whilst this wont happen, there is an interesting thought experiment to consider. Right now the Labor party leads 55/45 in 2pp, with the Liberals slipping back to 38% primary vote, Latham territory. Given such a lead, and the sure-fire dominance at the next election of the issues of the stimulus (a moderate plus) and the ETS (a strong plus), Labor is in an impregnable position. Thus, it could adopt almost any piece of progressive legislation to propose and be guaranteed a mandate for it, following the election. Going to the election on the issue would take some of the heat out of it (as a qusi-referendum), and yet because there are more fundamental issues in play, it would only play a small role in the outcome. Though gay marriage was voted down at the Labor party conference, Rudd should recognise the rare position history now affords him. Lest he wants to be tagged another Malcolm Fraser, too weak or hesitant to maximize the use of their position, Rudd ought to consider just how he will use this golden opportunity. Its clear that wont be homosexual marriage, but many other issues are on the table such as changes in Drug policy, Federal control of Health or Education, or Tax Reform are all viable. Sure its a lot for voters to deal with, but this is a once in a generation opportunity. Time to stand strong Mr Rudd.

Photo used under a Creative Commons licence by user Hammer51012

The slow death of ACT Labor ?

Whilst everyone’s atwitter about the sideshow named disaster that is the Rees NSW Labor government, there is another Labor Government, just across the border that is equally starting to show its age and developing a bad smell: The ACT Labor Government.

In power since November 2001, the ACT Labor government under Jon Stanhope has been a remarkably sucessfull government. Canberra has its share of problems, but it has continued to expand and most residents feel fairly happy about the city’s overall direction. But where there used to be energy and enthusiasm, the government has come to be protective, painfully slow, and precious in its reaction to criticism. Its current strength in the polls and recent re-election were largely due to the ineptness of the opposition, but that’s slowly changing and the government isn’t responding well.

* Several months ago came the news that the ACT Labor Party was going to sell its four Labor Clubs to the CFMEU netting it $20 million. Normally these clubs bring in $4m profit a year, donating hundreds of thousands to both ACT and Federal Labor. This has now been squashed by the Federal party, who suspect the deal should be worth up to $50million.

* In light of these changes the Federal Labor Party is taking over the ACT Branch calling it “Hopeless”.

* The Territories budget has sored and dipped without any sense of control. Great deficits are predicted (as in 2006-7 and again in 2009-10) only for it to be announced that the Government is suddenly back in the black with millions to spare. To its credit the Government used the former downturn to announce a controversial closure program reducing the number of schools based on clear census figures. This predictably caused a great storm of controversy, but seems to have been accepted by the community at large. Yet so much of the argument at the time was based around current costs, and many of the properties still sit idle, awaiting government action.

* On Civil Unions the Government has maintained the same policy of clear support, but it is obvious that the energy and wind has gone out of the government. Denied any scope while John Howard was Prime Minister, the election of a Federal Labor Party was seen as a golden opportunity to enact this important point of progressive legislation. While Rudd initially said he would accept the laws in 2007, and then turned around in 2008 to block them, it appears the Government isn’t even going to try again in 2009. This despite a clear minority developing within Federal Labor that is supporting not just Civil Unions but full equal marriage. Right now the Greens are about to put a bill before the Assembly allowing public ceremonies for the recognized civil partnerships, but ACT Labor is threatening to vote against it. It would almost assuredly be overturned by the federales, but right now the ACT is the only place in the country making noise in this direction, and if they go quiet then the battle will just be set back for another 5-10 years.

* Ask most Australians to describe Canberra and inevitably you hear three things ‘Politicians, Porn, Fireworks’. Well scratch that last one as the ACT government has now decided to ban fireworks. Without any community consultation or debate (despite the issue simmering up each Queens Birthday) The minister for stopping fun dragged out stories of his poor cat, to announce all fireworks would be banned with a limited (and largely ignored) amnesty period. Even the Chief Minister has announced he publicly regrets the decision. This was announced just days after essentially cancelling the much loved Fringe Festival because of a $30’000 cost, whilst splurging several times that on other sports and art.

* Which leads me to my final point: That Stanhope, despite a lot of successes is starting to feel like common furniture for the city and as such his rivals are beginning to make moves. His chief head kicker John Hargraves has said repeatedly that he gives Jon ‘as much loyalty as he gives me’. The rumors are beginning to swirl that Andrew Barr, rising young minister for Education, Planning, Tourism & Sport is planning his own assault towards the leadership. To get there however he will have to climb over the anointed one Katy Gallagher, who Costello like has done a decent job as the #2, seems sure of her deserving the leadership but has thus far done little to assure her success, or even great public support. To date these tensions have been kept from the public, but just as in NSW where bad polls saw the Party encourage the move on of Carr, the dumping of Iemma and now the (welcomed) execution of Rees, a rising challenge could see this break out very publicly.

Personally, I was proud to vote for the ACT Labor party in 2007, they have done well by the city and seem competent and progressive. But by the time of the next election, I, like many canberran’s will be seriously re-visiting that vote to wonder if there is any fuel left in this governments engine whilst it tackles the Sisyphean task of rising towards the light on the hill. Having likely gone as far as they can under current leadership, now should be the time to think of putting a new fresh tank in, or at least ensuring they know how to work the park break.