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Saturday 10 October 2009

Relationship Equality: Australian Intransigence

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 14th August 2009

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has said no once again to repeal of discriminatory federal legislation against same sex marriage proper in his country. Why does the Australian Labor Party seem so backward to outside observers?
During the last decade or so, the Australian Labor Party was a highly factionalised and dysfunctional institution. As with New Zealand's Clark administration though, incumbency fatigue eventually set in, as the Liberal/National Coalition steadily lost its state and territorial party governments until the axe finally fell. When it did, the victors were the unity ticket of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, who represented a cross-factional alliance designed to resolve tensions within the party. Rudd is what some might call a liberal Christian, although conservative when it comes to decriminalisation of voluntary euthanasia or federal anti-SSM bans. Unfortunately, his rural Queensland social conservative background has caused some disquiet.
Not all of the ALP is that bad. In the Australian Capital Territory, Chief Minister Jon Stanhope tried to introduce Anglo-New Zealand style civil partnerships, but was waylaid by Rudd and the federal Attorney-General. In Victoria, the Brumby administration decriminalised abortion altogether. Mind you, unlike New Zealand, abortion law liberalisation is a safe bet, given the factionalism and extremism of the Australian anti-abortion movement.
New Zealand and Britain went through modernisation processes in the eighties and nineties, which expanded their Labour Party support base beyond working class core constituencies to include feminists, peace activists, lesbians and gays and other progressive new social movements that arose after the sixties.
In the case of Australia, that situation was complicated by the strength of conservative Catholics, who had split the ALP in the mid-fifties, and who then returned to the ALP fold after the demise of the Democratic Labor Party, a breakaway party that denied the ALP federal power until the Whitlam administration in 1972. They interfered with the expansion of the ALP's support base and contributed to the dysfunctional faction culture which arose in the seventies, and which was consolidated in the eighties. Whereas New Zealand Labour and British Labour centralised and achieved unity and party discipline in the late nineties, as a prelude to power, the ALP floundered, without direction, until the advent of Rudd in 2007. Today, New Zealand Labour has no hardcore social conservative MPs left. The same cannot be said for the ALP.
Thus, we have the current, incongrous situation where New Zealand's centre-right Prime Minister Key voted against New Zealand's abortive same-sex marriage ban in 2005, while Australia's centre-left federal Prime Minister Rudd supports his nation's corresponding ban. It says much about the emergent gap between our two societies that one of us is prepared to extend full substantive citizenship to its LGBT citizens while the other lags behind comparable western societies. One can only hope that when and if she succeeds her current leader, Julia Gillard proves to be Australia's Helen Clark when it comes to LGBT relationship and other outstanding equality issues

Craig Young - 14th August 2009

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