Abbott’s political footballing of marriage equality has left us with the only option we haven’t tried – it really is time for Labor to bind, writes Caleb Gardner.
I’m not sure why ALP National Conference and activists assumed that Abbott was an idiot, but that assumption has led to yet another delay in the fight for marriage equality in Australia. The vast majority of the National Left went in to National Conference with the desire to see the ALP toss away the last rusting chunks of prejudice and discrimination and establish a binding vote for marriage equality as part of a broader policy platform for LGBTQI Australians.
Instead, on the final day of National Conference the leaders of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party stood on the stage and pretended that a conscience vote until 2019 was a victory. The 2019 policy assumed too much. We assumed that the social moderates and progressives would win inside the Liberal caucus room, we assumed that Abbott would lay down on the issue, we assumed that Abbott would keep the Nationals out of the discussion and we assumed that our own generous curtailing to the conservatives in our party would be met by the Liberals with a generous curtailing to the desires of their socially moderate and progressive wing. All of those assumptions were incorrect. Abbott played the oldest political trick there is – go hard and go fast. He brought the issue to a head, stacked the floor and walked away winning.
I belong to a very old fashioned school of thought that believes that Labor should bind on all votes. We don’t believe in conscience pickets, we don’t believe in conscience unionism, we don’t believe in conscience environmentalism, we don’t believe in conscience taxpaying – so why on earth do we persist with conscience equality? Why do we persist with enabling and protecting the views of a handful of conservatives in our parliament? The answer I suppose is somewhere in between our love for the unity of our party and the broad assumption that the Liberals would repay our good will. That plan has failed.
Now is the time for Labor to be uncompromising on the issues affecting LGBTQI Australians – we must push for marriage equality and the rights of the whole queer community as a broad, united and bound party. We must make it clear that there is no room for homophobia and queer discrimination in our Party and that the only people preventing the great leap forward on queer rights in this country are the couple score ultra-conservative Liberal MPs. I don’t care if some MPs choose to leave the Labor Party – they are not put in that place to represent themselves. They are placed in parliament to represent the platform of the ALP, the discriminated, the oppressed, the working and the destitute and all those who rely upon good Labor governments to get ahead and to dream of a positive future. We owe it to all those who have fought and suffered because of discriminatory laws and leaders to bind and place every last pound of pressure on the conservatives in the Liberal party.
Marriage equality and the next stages in the fight for LGBTQI rights won’t come from goodwill and assumptions. That should be abundantly clear by now. It will only come from Labor values in practice and will only come from the mentality of the picket line applied to the Parliament. Throw away the 2019 rule and bind until we win.