Originally published in FUSE, January 2010
In November, the ACT Legislative Assembly passed Greens legislation providing legal ceremonies for same-sex couples entering a civil union. Two weeks later, the federal ALP decided that unless changes were made, they would veto the law.
Apparently, ‘legally binding ceremonies’ made them uncomfortable. As Kevin Rudd made this decision, one became thing increasingly clear; the ALP is a conservative, anti-queer party and looks likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future. The only way we can create a progressive future therefore, is through active opposition of the ALP.
When the Coalition was voted out of office in 2007, hopes of sweeping changes ran throughout the country. It seemed as though it was the end of Howardesque policies. Yet, after two years of ALP rule, it has become clear that these changes are not going to occur. Policies on climate change, refugees, workplace relations, and indigenous issues just to name a few, have all shifted very little as our Government has changed.
On queer rights the story is similar. Whilst the ‘same-sex omnibus bill’ provided often unrecognised gains for same-sex couples in Australia, in other areas the ALP continues to fail.
Whilst one may point out the continued failure to support same-sex marriage, the biggest issue here is the continued anti-queer rhetoric coming from ALP members. This has come in the form of Julia Gillard spouting homophobic comments in the House of Representatives, Senate ALP members voting against motions of condemnation against international anti-queer moves and the continued support of the anti-queer religious right by many in the ALP.
For many the answer to this problem is to change the ALP from the inside. This means voting for ‘progressive’ politicians such as Andrew Barr of Kate Lundy, who will then work from the inside to make the ALP more progressive. Such a strategy however, is fatally flawed.
First, it covers up the lack of principles from progressive ALP members. Key principles of the progressive movement, such as social and economic justice, environmental sustainability etc. should be considered non-negotiable by progressive parliamentarians. Yet, when Barr and Lundy join the ALP and vote against progressive policies, they say to the public that these principles are something that they are willing to compromise over. This is unacceptable.
Secondly, the fight for progressive principles needs to take place out in the open; not behind closed doors. When it moves into the dark the conservative movement is allowed to dominate public space, giving them more power and legitimacy. This creates an impression of Australia as an inherently conservative country where progressive goals are unrealistic. This impression is only valid because, by staying silent about progressive issues, ALP politicians and their supporters (including those in social movements) allow it to occur. In the end, this perception becomes the reality.
If we want to make Australia a progressive nation we need a movement that is willing to take the fight out in the open. This involves, amongst other things, both holding our government to account and supporting politicians who principally fight for progressive policies. You will not find these politicians however in the ALP. We therefore must not only voice our anger at ALP positions, but also support a party, such as the Greens, who are principally progressive. As the ACT experiences shows, a strong Green Party can make positive changes in society and this is possible throughout the country. In the end, when given the choice, ALP politicians will always pick their party over their principles, whilst Greens’ politicians will never be given that choice.