Apr 262013
Till Oz can tick the racial, ethnic & religious tolerance boxes, I suspect Maurice Williamson's rainbow won't be spanning the Tasman too soon. Illustration  Rod Emmerson

Why can’t the Aussies get their rainbow up? Our Australian-born cartoonist, Rod Emmerson, peers across the ditch to see why they are still languishing over equality.

Before New Zealand’s Parliament had even finished the last line of Pokarekare Ana, after passing the Marriage Equality Bill, my email inbox started to blink with missives from friends back in Australia.

As humorous as they were, the reality of it was a great day for this country and a not-so-great day for Australia. After all, it removed the cruel stigma of exclusion that disenfranchised the gay community and championed their basic right of equality. It was never really about marriage as such.

It also brought home to 23 million Australians that they still can’t quite get their head around gay equality.

This is the country that imported the 1970s Campaign Against Moral Persecution, or Camp, movement but more importantly, established Sydney’s Gay Mardi Gras and the Oxford St-Darlinghurst community, as a beacon of hope for New Zealand.

The New Zealand decision – and now the volatile French decision – has become a very uncomfortable political wedge for Julia Gillard’s Government. Australia’s Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, has called for the matter to be dealt with ahead of the September election.

Highly unlikely, given the dogged stance taken by both Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. They know it’s not an election-winner. According to the Australian Marriage Equality advocacy group, community support in both Australia and New Zealand runs almost equal at 60 per cent to 65 per cent.

The response from the churches here to the Bill’s passing reflects the stance Australian churches are just as likely to take. The problem, the advocacy group says, is their political leaders. But I suspect the problem may run deeper.

In my mind, you need good foundations of racial, ethnic and religious tolerance for such a liberal move to gain traction. New Zealand has put much of this to bed long ago – no doubt because of Maori influence.

For most part, we, in New Zealand, live in a very liberal, tolerant society and have long been recognised internationally as a vanguard for social and moral equality. Australians, by and large, still struggle to live together. As close as we are neighbours and kindred spirits, the ideological differences can on occasions be cavernous.

Australia has had some very confronting issues to deal with in recent times. The Stolen Generation, where aboriginal children were removed from their parents for God-knows-what rationale. Revelations of the Home Children, where thousands of British boys and girls were dispatched to church and state-run orphanages around Australia, and subjected to widescale abuse. The Port Arthur Massacre and the subsequent Gun Debate, Pauline Hanson, 9/11, former Prime Minister John Howard’s handling of the refugee ship Tampa and the children overboard fiasco, the 2005 Cronulla sectarian riots and the Asylum Seeker conundrum. Add to this, the ambassador and icon Rolf Harris being reportedly charged at the periphery of the Jimmy Savile investigations. All big hurdles to collectively get your head around.

In comparison, you would think Gay Equality would be a cakewalk.

The main reason why the bill sailed through here is because of its sponsor, Louisa Wall. Respected the length of the country and on both sides of the house, she’s Waikato Maori, a former Silver Fern and Black Fern, openly gay and proud of it. Her case was strong, valid and hard to ignore.

The Australian Parliament doesn’t have the likes of her in its ranks at the moment. Fortunately, high-profile, straight Australians are now getting to their feet and publicly advocating equality. If there was ever anyone to hear their call and have the means and the purpose to submit a conscience vote on behalf of a gay relative, it’s the Opposition’s Abbott. But until Australia can tick the racial, ethnic and religious tolerance boxes, I suspect Maurice Williamson’s rainbow won’t be spanning the Tasman too soon.




Rod Emmerson (including illustration)

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