I have been following Australian politics for a while now, fascinated with how blatantly the media take sides and the effect it’s had on their political landscape.
After four terms of a conservative Howard government, the tide turned significantly in 2007 to give the Australian Labour Party a clear majority with Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister. Then, leading up to the 2010 election, polling showed the Liberal party making gains and – as is the nature of politics – Rudd was toppled by his deputy Julia Gillard. From there the shenanigans began.
The 2010 election was tight and the media were calling a Liberal victory, but Gillard held on and was able to form a minority government with the help of three independents, the sole Green member in the lower house and with a small majority in the Senate.
After 2010 the Liberals had a bit of blood-letting around leadership, with a messy time culminating in Tony Abbot (the foot-in-mouth ‘Mad Monk’) surviving to become the leader of the opposition.
Meanwhile the media hounded Gillard, not on policy but personally. She had a hard time getting traction for any of the ALP policies, almost always overshadowed with media speculation about Rudd getting his old job back. No matter which way she turned, she got nothing but the backhand of the press.
The GLBTI community were delighted to have out lesbian Penny Wong as a Minister but still the ALP maintained a negative stance on marriage equality, which always seemed incongruous to me, as Gillard is an atheist who hasn’t gone the marriage route herself.
To try and quell the media preoccupation with her gender and the constant threat of a challenge from Rudd, Gillard announced an election date seven months out. This didn’t work. The media started attacking even more and the Rudd threat never abated.
While most of the major media outlets appered to lend their considerable influence to the battle, Abbot put his head down, said very little and garnered a lot of positive press. Any of his malapropisms or other gaffes were played down or given a once over lightly, while Gillard battled sexism rather than policy. One small similarity between the parties was their opposition to marriage equality or ‘gay marriage’ as the media coins it.
Rudd finally had his day in June, toppling Gillard, and one of his early policy changes was a U-turn on marriage equality. Abbot had received a bit of stick for his stance as he has a lesbian sister, but it wasn’t an election game changer – and as we all now know, he and his Liberal party won, although not quite the landslide predicted.
So Australia now has three years with a leader who can’t open his mouth without saying the exact wrong thing, is terrible on policy, can’t think on his feet and dodges responsibility. For any minority they now face those same three years in the wilderness.
And what does it really mean to GLBTI Australia?
Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and Pride will continue as they receive state funding unaffected by federal policy. My hope is that the Mardi Gras Parade returns to its previously delivered subversiveness, which would be welcome after the last few years of bland corporate messages.
I have always enjoyed the humour Australians are capable of around diversity and with Abbot as PM there should be heaps of opportunity for send ups.
So here’s to the left’s complacency and laziness receding; to the emergence of a new wave of activism and working together.
Speaking of new ways of working, we at home have just witnessed it with the election of David Cunliffe as the new Labour leader.
For the first time the rank and file have had a say alongside the unions and caucus. The media have been disarmed somewhat and even attempts of classic dirty politics re: the gay issue for Grant Robertson didn’t get traction as they would have in years past – all in all, it was a transparent process that’s shown us how groups voted and where Cunliffe’s support lies, leaving no room for rumour..
And hopefully this means some stability for Labour.
Meanwhile we can sit smugly with how relatively sophisticated we are in New Zealand between our government and GLBTI community. I mean, getting marriage equality passed with nary a skirmish and some fairly enlivened debate deserves a huge pat on the back.
An outlaw, activist and sometime satirist, Anne has been involved in New Zealand media and community organisations for much of her life, with stints on the GABA board, HERO foundation and many others. She’s currently involved with various filming projects while keeping with the political dramas that affect us all.