Marriage equality – have you got the energy for this? South East locals hope you do.

'Love Makes a Family' as seen at the 2016 Sydney Mardi Gras
‘Love Makes a Family’ as seen at the 2017 Sydney Mardi Gras. Source: C and N

The disappointment around the postal plebiscite on marriage equality is real and bitter for many, but it seems it is the only course of action available to bury this boring issue once and for all.

Boring because for so long the vast majority of Australian’s have understood that ‘Love is Love’ yet the months/years of political scratching around has disillusioned and disengaged the community.

There are those challenging this process in the High Court of Australia, describing it as unlawful; the full bench of the court will decide  on September 5 and 6.

The wheels of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, who will run this show, will continue to spin regradless – getting ready for the survey which is due to start just a week after the High Court decision.

While those in our community at the sharp end of this cheer on the High Court challenge, in the back of their mind they are also laying the ground work for the campaign ahead – mobilising as many people as possible to vote ‘yes’ in this non-compulsory process.

Bega Valley LGBTIQ advocate, Tas Fitzer says it took him a couple of days of reflection to work out the way ahead.

“I really understand the temptation for supporters of marriage equality to say ‘I am not voting, I am boycotting this process’, because it’s not a process we’d like to legitimise,” Tas says.

“We are giving a platform to debate that is going to be harmful to children of same sex couples, for young LGBTIQ people, and for people struggling with their identity.

“We don’t want to be here but we are here, this is something we have to deal with and the best way to deal with it is to take it head on,” he reasons.

Tas Fitzer. Source: Facebook
Tas Fitzer. Source: Facebook

Tas says he’ll be voting ‘yes’ and will be actively campaigning for others to do the same.

“Disagree with the process – absolutely, disagree with how it’s being done – absolutely, but let’s accept the fact we are here and make the most of it,” Tas says.

C and N are women who live on the Sapphire Coast and have been together for over two decades, they have a teenage son and are active members of a range of community and sporting organisations.

They have asked me not to use their names, mindful of the impact any publicity might have on their boy.

“For the first time in a very long time, I feel different and vulnerable, and that I have to somehow show evidence of how healthy, normal, and loving my relationship is with both my partner and son,” C says.

“How I live my life day to day and how I parent our child is under the microscope for those who don’t know us.

“And, I’m embarrassed for Australia – friends, colleagues, clients, people I know, across the age span, those with faith and those without, really don’t understand what the problem is, there is this sense of – really, we are still talking about marriage equality?,” C says.

Reflecting on the weeks ahead C and N believe there will be a relatively small but vocal group of people who will feel the postie poll gives them permission to voice their bigotry, to judge, attack, and say dreadful, hurtful, untrue and damaging things about the LGBTIQ community.

If it goes ahead, the result of the poll will be known on November 15 but it will be parliamentarians that ultimately decide if the Mariage Act can include same sex couples.

Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull has said he’ll be encouraging a ‘yes’ vote and if ‘yes’ wins his Liberal MP’s will be free to vote according to their conscience.

ABC South East reported this week that Anne Sudmalis, the Liberal Member for Gilmore which covers the northern end of the Eurobodalla, won’t reveal her personal view on same sex marriage.

The ABC said that Ms Sudmalis would stand up for what her electorate decides.

A survey on the issue conducted by Ms Sudmalis in October 2015 pointed to 62 percent approval for marriage equality in Gilmore, 36 percent were opposed, while the rest undecided – the ABC reported.

Colourful tutus with a clear message
Colourful Bega Valley tutus with a clear message at the 2017 Sydney Mardi Gras. Source: C and N

Labor’s Mike Kelly, the Federal Member for the neighbouring seat of Eden – Monaro told About Regional, “The fastest and cheapest way to deliver marriage equality is through a free vote in the Parliament, not a $122 million survey.”

“If we are going to be forced to take part in this farce then I think the best thing we can do is send the Turnbull Government a message they can’t ignore – vote yes for marriage equality,” Dr Kelly says.

Dr Kelly is urging eligible voters to enroll or update their details with the Australian Electoral Commission before August 24 so that they can take part in the marriage law survey.

The former Army colonel is hopeful the campaign ahead will be respectful and tolerant.

“I plead with everyone in our community to exercise the utmost civility and join with me in urging that we all refrain from engaging in misinformation or hurtful comments,” Dr Kelly says.

Twenty-one-year old Tas Fitzer is of a similar mindset.

“The mental health of some of our young LGBTIQ people is of real concern to me,” he says.

“That’s why I have decided to get out there and campaign for a ‘yes’ vote so that they can see there are people out there to support them.”

Click play to hear more from Tas…

 

Speaking with C and N in fading light this afternoon, both fear some in the community who would vote ‘yes’ are now unmotivated to take part given the level of discussion the issue has had over an extended period of time.

“Many people honestly don’t understand what the fuss is about and are exhausted by this debate,” N says.

“Because same sex marriage seems a no brainer to them, I’d implore people to realise that unfortunately for some Australians the idea is frightening and abhorrent.

“Giving free reign to people to say whatever they like, to judge us simply for not living our lives like them is scary, scary for us now and for the next generations,” N explains.

Both are hopeful people will push past the grubby, lengthy politics of the issue and find the energy and motivation to say ‘yes’.

Writing for About Regional almost 12 months ago on this issue, Iain Dawson the convener of Bega Valley for Marriage Equality asked people to walk in his shoes…

“John Howard’s change [to the Marriage Act] in 2004 defined marriage as ‘a union between a man and woman only’.

“I am incredulous that Australia still judges my relationship with the man I love, ‘to the exclusion of all others’ as less than equal to my peers, friends, and family.

“For those not yet convinced; put yourself in that equitation and see how it feels, what it says to your soul.

“80% of Australians want our leaders to change the Marriage Act.

“The majority of my countrymen see my relationship as equal; that gives me and the LGBTIQ community strength and hope,” Iain wrote.

Whatever happens in the High Court on September 5 and 6 this issue will remain unresolved, work still needs to be done to finish this, energy needs to be mustered.

As a heterosexual father of three, with friends and family seeking equality that I take for granted, I will find that energy, despite the shit sandwich we are being served, I ask you to do the same.

Thanks to About Regional members – Tim HoltAmanda StroudDeborah Dixon, and Nastasia Campanella for supporting local story telling.

Declaration: Tas Fitzer is a part-time Electorate Officer for Mike Kelly and former Country Labor candidate.

 

South East NSW makes its pitch for jobs from Canberra

Barnaby Joyce, pic from Sportsbet
Barnaby Joyce, pic from Sportsbet

South East NSW is pitching itself as a new home for a range of Federal Government departments.

Following the political and media stink around the relocation of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) from Canberra to Armidale, a Senate inquiry was established to investigate elements of the decision by Agriculture Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, and local member for Armidale, the National’s Barnaby Joyce.

However, the work of the committee has been seen as bigger than just the issue of the APVMA as regional leaders look to fertilise a deeper discussion around moving public service jobs out of Canberra, all looking for a greater share of the $16.7 billion annual wages bill for their local economies.

Headed by Labor Senator Jenny McAllister, the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration held hearings in Townsville last week. Bega Valley Mayor Kristy McBain was one of five local government officials from around New South Wales invited to phone in and take part in the discussion.

The invitation to speak came after the committee had considered written submissions.

Apart from Bega Valley Shire Council, Snowy Monaro and Eurobodalla councils also provided written advice to the committee, along with the Canberra Region Joint Organisation.

All of the local submissions declared the region as an ideal location for Commonwealth investment and backed the idea of decentralisation.

Kristy McBain, pic from Bega Valley Shire Council
Kristy McBain, pic from Bega Valley Shire Council

In his submission, Snowy Monaro Administrator Dean Lynch spoke of the boost such a move would be for the local economy and pointed to an available workforce.

Andrew Greenway, from Eurobodalla Shire, highlighted lifestyle advantages and the benefits that had for staff retention.

Bega Valley Mayor, Kristy McBain pointed to the region’s proximity to Canberra, Sydney, and Melbourne and the private investment that would follow.

Senator McAllister says the terms of reference of her committee are narrow and focused on the APVMA decision, none the less local government and regional business organisations from around the country have seized on the opportunity to put a stake in the ground.

Among the 200 written submissions were councils from the Mallee, Longreach, Manning Valley, Colac, and the Spencer Gulf along with groups like Australian Wool Growers, NSW Business Chamber, the Winemakers Federation and the Country Women’s Association.

Listening to the live stream on Friday morning as Cr McBain spoke, Senator McAllister and fellow committee member Senator Bridget McKenzie seemed to encourage that wider discussion, moving beyond the APVMA.

All those on the call were asked if their region had been considered along with Armidale as a new base from the APVMA, all answered, “Not as far as I know” and the conversation quickly moved on.

Both senators went on to point to the separate but related process underway within the Turnbull Cabinet, where the Minster for Regional Development, Senator Fiona Nash is developing the Government’s broader decentralisation policy which will be released later this year.

Speaking at the National Press Club in April, Senator Nash said regional Australians deserved the jobs and opportunities that come with government agencies.

“When government invests in community it breeds confidence,” Senator Nash said.

Fiona Nash, pic from ABC
Fiona Nash, pic from ABC

She went on to explain the process all Federal ministers are currently involved in, which asks them to detail the departments, entities or functions that might be suitable for relocation to a regional area.

“We are not going to leave any stone unturned in looking for those agencies that could be relocated to the regions for the benefit of the regions,” Senator Nash told the Press Club.

Danielle Mulholland, President of the Northern Rivers Regional Organisation of Councils and Mayor of Kyogle, told Senator McAllister that she is keen for the government to better definition ‘the regions’.

At the moment a regional community is seen as being one that lives at least 150km from a capital city.

“That’s a really loose definition,” Cr Mulholland said.

She fears authentic regional communities might miss out with a 150km starting line.

It’s a point echoed in the written submission from Snowy Monaro Regional Council and the Canberra Region Joint Organisation in regards to Cooma, which is just 116km from Canberra.

Dean Lynch from Snowy Monaro, in fact contends that regional areas around the ACT should be “initial priorities” and that Cooma’s proximity would “facilitate an easier transition from existing to new workplaces” for Commonwealth staff.

Cooma to Canberra, 116km.
Cooma to Canberra, 116km.

As the phone panel’s assessment of decentralisation evolved on Friday, Bega Valley Mayor, Kristy McBain said there also needed to be a synergy between the agency being relocated and the new host town for the process to be a win-win.

“From our point of view, it would have to be an agency or a department that had a natural fit with our area,” Cr McBain told the Senate committee.

From a Eurobodalla perspective, Business Development boss, Andrew Greenway believes that includes agencies responsible for regional communications, marine services, sciences and safety, regional development, regional transport, aged care, tourism, and education.

Both Snowy Monaro and Bega Valley also point to agriculture and environmental management services.

“We are going to have a big conversation around this over the next six months,” Senator McKenzie said.

All those on the call encouraged the two Senators in their suggestion that there should be a parliamentary committee formed with broader terms of reference than their own to fully develop a transparent and fair criteria and assessment process around decentralisation – the suggestion being, to avoid the allegation of political pork barrelling that has been leveled at Barnaby Joyce in the APVMA decision.

The findings of Senator McAllister’s committee will be delivered in June, it’s understood Turnbull Cabinet ministers have until August to complete their departmental reviews and report back to Senator Nash.

With 83% of Commonwealth employment located in Canberra or the five largest Australian cities, the potential of shifting some of that into regional areas is huge, hence the level of interest. In the Bega Valley’s submission, Cr McBain points to NSW Government data that estimates for each public sector job in a regional area, two jobs are created in the private sector.

However, “Government can’t fix everything,” warned Senator Nash at the Press Club, signaling that the Turnbull Government would be looking to partnerships with local government and the community more broadly as decentralisation rolls out.

It would appear that regional Australia is interested to know more and ready to play its part.

Disclaimer: Author is part time media officer for Bega Valley Shire Council