Title: Comment: Australia - A worrying new leader for Labor Credit: Craig Young Comment Thursday 18th January 2007 - 12:00pm1169074800 Article: 1553 Rights
The Australian Labor Party has selected a new leader, who looks finally set to perhaps finally win the next federal general election. So, why are Aussie LGBTs so concerned about Kevin Rudd? Part of the problem is that the ALP is a peculiar beast. The Blair and Clark administrations have excellent records of support for LGBT rights, whatever one might think of the former's ill-advised Iraqi War intervention, and the latter's over-cautious approach to social spending. Over time, both parties have rooted out their remaining social conservatives, and adoption reform is the only item left for action in New Zealand. So, why is Australia so different? Australian Catholicism is to blame for this, as is the general backwardness of Australian Anglicanism compared to its New Zealand counterparts. Australian Catholics had the economies of scale to create its own schools, hospital system and effective pressure groups. In the fifties, right-wing Catholic layperson B.A. Santamaria rallied similar Catholic anticommunists to split the Australian trade union movement and form a breakaway Democratic Labor Party, which interfered with New South Wales, Victorian and Queensland state election results and federal election results for the next fifteen years. When it all ended in the early sixties, there was an influx of Catholic social conservatives back into the ALP, which interfered with its ability to interface with the new feminist, green and LGBT social movements that appeared at the same time. There were some quirks. Happily for Australian women, the anti-abortion movement fragmented quite early on, and the Women's Electoral Lobby proved to be an effective national feminist lobbying organisation. The Greens benefited from a fairly democratic Tasmanian electoral system from the eighties onward, although the LGBT movement experienced a considerable time lag in advancing its decriminalisation and anti-discrimination agendas in Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania. And then the mid-nineties happened, and the current Coalition federal social conservative government finally won a general election, after which John Howard wasted no time in trying to hold the line on issues where there might have been some prospect of progress under the earlier ALP federal Hawke and Keating administrations. This meant a decade-long ban on Australian RU486 importation, stem cell research limitations, the repeal of Northern Territory voluntary euthanasia legislation and prohibitions on 'promoting' assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia and a same-sex marriage ban. Even worse, Howard has sought to take advantage of the growth of Australian Pentecostal churches, like Western Australia's Hillsong. Where was the Australian Labor Party during all this time? At the state and territory level, it steadily advanced until it had won all six states and two territories back for the centre-left, but federal success has eluded it for over a decade. Unlike British and New Zealand Labour, the ALP suffers from an infuriating factional system, and the last two leaders have been social conservatives, from Western Australian and now Queensland. Kevin Rudd might not have voted against finally introducing RU486 to Australia, but did vote against liberalising stem cell research regulation, and has tacked to the right on some environmental issues, industrial relations and welfare policy, much to the pleasure of the Christian Right, but not to that of the Australian Greens or LGBT communities. For Australian LGBT groups, there is some concern about whether or not federal civil union legislation might eventuate under Rudd, or whether his relative social conservative would prefer a more onerous incremental approach to relationship recognition. This is a risky electoral strategy. Alienating the Greens is not wise, given the prominence of their core global warming issue before the general public at present, and the ALP might find that LGBT groups and social liberals prefer the Greens, at the cost of federal House of Representatives or Senate seats. Out-Howarding Howard means that his divisive policies will be set in concrete, due primarily to factionalism and disunity within the federal Opposition, and illusions about the extent and compatability of social conservative voters to become constructive citizens within a pluralistic and democratic society. Will the ALP have to lose another federal election to find this out? How long will Howard continue his malevolent influence over one of our nearest neighbours politics and society? Recommended: Ross Fitzgerald: The Popes Battalions: Saint Lucia: University of Queensland Press: 2003. Marion Maddox: God Under Howard: Sydney: Allen and Unwin: 2005. Craig Young - 18th January 2007    
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