We the people…don’t always get it right

Two political posts in a row…


In the aftermath of Brexit, I am still reeling. As a dual Australian-British citizen, I can no longer dream about or plan an extended working stay or a semi-retirement in 27 European countries. There are dozens of political, economic and social implications still to be revealed. And most seem like they’ll have the power to adversely affect my young nephew, who lives in the town of Rugby, Warwickshire with his parents.

Watching Brexit from the sidelines of Australia, I wondered at the tactic to leave this critical and vastly-complex decision to the public. I keep asking myself, ‘What was Cameron thinking?’ The Stay and Leave campaigns both seemed to target emotion rather than providing information, with misinformation combated with fear-mongering.

So, how do you let an emotional public, or even worse, an ill-informed or indifferent public to make such an important decision, particularly when you’re not even compelling them to participate? Isn’t that the job – the complex and critical job – of elected officials? Are there some things that should not be left to the public to decide? Is this the ultimate SNAFU in the pursuit of democracy?

This isn’t ‘should we have Daylight Savings or not?’ This is the future of a country, of its people and its geographical neighbours. This was too important a decision to leave to the layperson.

And in the aftermath, we’ve seen a wave of ‘Bregret’ – people who voted Leave, but didn’t really understand the implications. Or even worse, we are seeing people publicly shamed for gross stupidity of the ‘extra sunlight from Daylight Savings will fade my curtains’ magnitude.

What did David Cameron do when he decided to ask the British people to vote???

On Saturday July 2, Australia goes to the polls for a federal election. Unlike our American cousins across the pond, our dominant political parties don’t stray too far from the middle. We have slightly left of centre (Labor), slightly left of that (the Greens), slightly right of centre (the oddly-named Liberals) and slight right of that (the Nationals, who form a Coalition with the Liberals). It’s essentially Shorten (Labor) vs Turnbull (Liberals) and politically speaking, they’re much of a muchness when compared with the Trump/Clinton dichotomy.

The biggest divides between the (slightly) left and (slightly) right are around Education – both parties believe it is important and will continue to throw buckets of money at it, but they have different ideas of how to spend the money and how many buckets full to throw – and Marriage Equality.

Both candidates believe that we should have Marriage Equality in Australia. In fact, when Turnbull ousted (idiot) Abbott, many Australians watched with bated breath to see him make history and call for a parliamentary vote on the matter. We knew that given the chance, parliament was very likely to pass a law allowing men and women to marry their same-sex partners. You know, a basic human right.

But he didn’t. He said he would, but he didn’t. His party didn’t want a parliamentary solution. And, I have to say, as much as I was relieved to see Turnbull take over from (idiot) Abbott, he wants to be PM more than he wants to do what he knows what is right, what he believes is right.

Instead, if elected, the Coalition will hold a plebiscite. I had to look up what a plebiscite is. Essentially, it is a non-compulsory ‘vote’ at the end of a lengthy (and often ugly) public debate, and the result does not compel the government to act on it – even if it is in favour of Marriage Equality, which is ultimately what the Prime Minster supports. Ridiculous.

So, why? Why are we going to the expense ($160m) so we can debate if a group of people can have a basic human right? Again, this isn’t whether or not we should have daylight savings – something that has gone to referendum in this country – a referendum being compulsory with a legally-binding result. Why are we treating a right with less importance than a preference?

I read this incredibly articulate article today by Brian Tobin called, “Australia doesn’t need a plebiscite on same-sex marriage – Ireland’s experience shows why.” Tobin makes this point:

“Placing the rights of a minority group in the hands of the majority seems almost ludicrous. A sizeable number of the electorate could simply vote against same-sex marriage without being properly informed in the way elected politicians would usually be when legislating.”

Penny Wong, a prominent Australian politician who has a daughter with her long-term same-sex partner, has spoken out repeatedly about the planned plebiscite. Ms Wong says, “A plebiscite designed to deny me and many other Australians a marriage certificate will instead license hate speech to those who need little encouragement…Mr Turnbull, and many commentators on this subject, don’t understand that for gay and lesbian Australians, hate speech is not abstract. It’s real. It’s part of our everyday life.”

I don’t always agree with political and social commentator Alan Jones, but I agree with his response to the question, ‘why should Australian be wary of a plebiscite?’ “Parliament. We select 150 in the House of Representatives to represent those 22 million people on critical issues such as this.”

And this  is a critical issue. This is a human rights issue and subjecting same-sex couples and their families to the type of scrutiny and bigotry that a plebiscite will most definitely bring, is a human rights violation – particularly when polls have told us that the majority of Australians either support Marriage Equality or are indifferent.

We elect representatives to parliament to represent us and to make decisions on our behalf. It’s their job. And that is why I cannot vote for the Liberals on Election Day. In the matter of ensuring a basic human right for all Australians, they simply will not do their job.