EXCLUSIVE: Albanese says he’s committed to LGBTIQ equality

EXCLUSIVE

In the wake a shock election loss, new Labor leader Anthony Albanese has been travelling the country on a ‘listening tour’ to try and gauge what are the issues Australian people are really concerned about.

As the party’s new leader he’s beginning a long journey, one which he hopes will lead to a Labor victory at the next election in 2022.

The first few steps of that journey have undeniably caused concern to people within LGBTIQ+ communities across the country, as people questioned if the party’s commitment to a range of issues relating to queer Australians.

As Labor began analysing why it had suffered a spectacular failure, frontbencher Chris Bowen, who was also touted as a possible leader following the resignation of Bill Shorten, declared that the party needed to reassure people of faith that the party was one that was inclusive of their beliefs. The comment fueled speculation that the party would make a policy shift to the right.

When newly anointed leader Anthony Albanese announced his shadow cabinet lineup, the position of Minister for Equality, which had been held by WA senator Louise Pratt, was quietly dropped.

As the new parliament convened, reports emerged claiming Albanese had told the Shadow Cabinet meeting that the LGBTI content in the party’s policy needed to be ‘gutted’. The new leader was quick to deny he’d ever made the comment, standing in the house to declare it “never happened”, but the news of his denial didn’t get the same column inches as the original accusation.

In the two months that have passed since the election two issues have dominated political discussion, tax cuts and religious freedom. With the government’s tax cuts now passed, the plan to introduce a religious anti-discrimination bill is now moving forward.

Labor have indicated they will work with the government and consider the legislation, but as calls for a wide ranging religious freedom bill are heard from the government’s backbenches, the LGBTI community nervously waits to see what Labor is willing to compromise on.

Anthony Albanese sat down with OUTinPerth’s Managing Editor Graeme Watson to address those concerns, and discuss his vision for the next three years and beyond.

What’s the next three years in Australia going to be about?

It’s going to be about holding the government to account. I think that the government has been elected with a clear majority in the lower house, but they don’t have a clear agenda. We’ll wait and see where they go. They had tax cuts, and opposition to us, as their main agenda. So I think they’ll be searching for one.

So our task is to; one – hold them to account, and secondly to develop an agenda for 2022.

I think part of the lesson of the last three years is – don’t worry about what a poll says a year out, or even two months out, worry about the end game.

We need to put ourselves in a position whereby we have a very clear, articulated position on a whole range of issues – across economic, social and environmental issues, and to be clearer about what we stand for, to remove some of the noise, and be really clear about our values and the sort of alternative government we’ll be offering.”

Do you think we are entering a new world where political discussion won’t be dominated by poll results? 

Well I hope so. That would be a good thing, because you have to not worry about everything from day to day.

There’s a few things I’ve tried to put out to define my leadership of the Labor party. One is that I’m the Labor Leader not the Opposition Leader – so to be defined by not we’re for, not just what we’re against.

Also to be inclusive in terms of my engagement within the Labor Party and outside, and thirdly to try to put a position which isn’t focused on what happens over the next 24-hours or  the next NewsPoll, but is focused on three  years time, and then what we would do in government, so it will be much more longer term.

It’s much easier with a 24-hour media cycle, which is now really a 24-second media cycle, because you can give an interview and it can be online in the next hour. That means that dynamic has changed, so you have to not be spooked by that.

The current climate is I think one whereby Labor supporters are really disappointed by the outcome of the election, and they’re surprised. They expected, and the community expected, that we would win. I think the government is surprised as well.

That’s leading to a period of grief from many in the Labor party, and outside, but I think there is also increasingly a determination to do better next time.

It’s determination rather than despair that’s what’s required.

Rex Patrick over the weekend made some comments suggesting that the challenge in the religious freedom debate is maybe that we’re becoming “too sensitive”, and referenced that 24-hour media cycle, and that social media desire to find the next thing to be outraged at. 

As the editor of a news website, I understand that need to feed that monster, find enough stories each day to draw traffic. How do we get decent conversations about important things in that space.   

It’s a really good point. I think one of the concerns that I have about the state of politics – if you look at what’s happening with the polarisation of politics; the rise of Donald Trump in the US, the Brexit vote, the ferocious nature of some of the debates.

One of the things that’s happening, in part because of social media, is that when people are directed towards perspectives that reinforce their existing view, so their suggested followers on Twitter or on Instagram or Facebook are people putting forward essentially the same arguments that they are. It’s really easy for people to think over a period of time that everyone thinks like them. Whether on the left or the right.

The challenge, if you’re about progressive change, in a scenario where people’s existing views are being reinforced, not just reinforced – but in a way that indicated there aren’t other options, by definition you’ve got to change people’s views from where they are today to where they are tomorrow.

Over a period of time, as someone on the left, I think the left can sometimes can have a romantic view of history. People say the Labor Party is not what it used to be, and I’ll say “Yes, we no longer support the White Australia Policy, we now support gender equality, we now support equality based upon people’s sexuality, we don’t support discrimination on a whole range of issues where we used to. One of the founding platforms of the Labor party was the White Australia Policy.

That’s a good thing. Over a period of time I think society does become more tolerant and more inclusive, but it’s not ten steps forward, it’s two steps forward, couple back, forward again. It’s not a continuum.

In order to do that you need to be engaged in the debate. One of the concerns I have about modern politics is that  reinforcement of existing views. In practical terms that’s meant I’ve been prepared to talk to – I was the only minister in the Rudd government who went on The Bolt Report for example – because I felt it’s about talking to people who are watching him.

You mention sometimes you have to take a step back. When you announced your shadow cabinet, people in LGBTIQ+ communities were concerned that the position of a Shadow Minister for Equality disappeared. Why have that step backwards?  

I saw that as a step forward, because everyone’s job is equality.

I mentioned equality on the basis of gender, class, race and sexuality in my first speech in 1996. That was a time when people weren’t doing that. The first private member’s bill I introduced into the parliament was about same-sex superannuation, and I introduced that four times and campaigned strongly for it.

I’m the leader of the Labor party, my chief of staff was the leader of the marriage equality campaign – Tim Gartrell, Penny Wong is the Labor party leader in the senate – we’re for equality.

What we don’t do is marginalise that in terms of one person, whose is not a senior person. That’s my job. It’s Penny Wong’s job. It’s Richard Marles’ job. It’s the Labor Party’s job, and that’s why I think in terms of substance as well, I want part of what the Health spokesperson has to do is look at equality. Not just on the basis of sexuality or gender identity, but across the board. I want them to ask – Is that happening? Is it happening in education? Is it happening in migration?

We fought really hard for the last Labor government to change the last 86 pieces of legislation, and that was something I campaigned for from my first day in parliament. So I stand very much on my record.

When we constructed the shadow ministry, it reflected what the ministry was like as well, You need someone to shadow. With equality because there was no one to shadow, but we didn’t have a Shadow Minister for Home Affairs – so Peter Dutton had no one shadowing him on those issues. The job of opposition is to do that.

Now in government, we get to shape what the portfolios are, and we might give consideration to that, but the shadow ministry reflects the ministry. That has historically been what has happened, in recent times there has been a trend to breakaway from that  a little bit.

It’s a bit like the trend to give bills odd names, the tax bill was named something ridiculous. That stuff I think is… (looks to the skies).

When we set up the shadow ministry it was to reflect the ministry, but it certainly was not a downgrade. I think if you look at myself and Penny Wong being the two leaders of the Labor party in the respective houses, I put up my substantial record over a long period of time. I have consistently been a supporter of the community and I will continue to be so.

As you say, the government doesn’t appear to have much on the agenda, the religious discrimination – or religious freedom bill is dominating political discussion- what won’t Labor accept in a religious discrimination bill?.

We won’t accept any discrimination on the basis of – for example – people’s sexuality or gender identity. We won’t support a view that says it’s okay to discriminate against people.

We don’t think it’s okay to discriminate against people on the basis of faith either, but it’s not okay to discriminate of the basis of sexuality or anything else.

I’m not quite sure where all this has come from.

You’re currently on a listening tour across the country, how many people are bringing up the issue?

No one’s bringing it up, no one is bringing it up! It can be an issue. In my electorate it has been an issue with some of the Islamic community.

I think one of the issues for the government, and the government is sure what it’s doing either I don’t think, but some of the strongest advocates early on on this issue, some of the advocates on on the hard right of the Liberal party have realised if you have laws about religious freedom, they apply to, not just Christians, but Muslims and other religions as well, and they’re not as comfortable with that.

They’re not really talking about religious freedom, some of them are quite narrow.

We’ve had no access to the legislation, apparently there’s been fifty drafts. We have had no contact with it at all. So we’ll wait and see. We’re not for discrimination full stop, but any legislation should be judged on the basis of whether it’s trying to remove discrimination on the basis of discriminating against another group.

Is it frustrating that this discussion seems to put people of faith, and people who do not have faith, at odds, and also people of different religions at odds. My experience of being an Australian is I’m an atheist but have great love for the Mosque down the street. Can we do this without being divisive?    

One of the things I’m searching for, part of the debate that we have to have as a nation, as a complex multicultural diverse nation that we are – is respect. That’s where it starts from, respect for people – full stop – regardless of your values. Respecting everyone.

Regardless of your gender, and who you are, and your lifestyle. I think in terms of the debate, one of the things about the hard right of the Liberal Party and that they do seek division, and I hope that this debate is not divisive. I think that would be a very bad thing.

That’s why we’ve said to the government ‘yes we’re happy to talk about any issues’, but it can’t be one that promotes division, it must promote cohesion.

I’ve argued on issues relating to equality, on marriage equality, a whole range of issues that we legislated on, and I’ll continue to do that, but I respect also that some people of faith regard marriage for example as not being a civil institution, they consider it to be an institution ordained by God, therefore they regard it as a religious thing. I understand that, I disagree with it, but I respect that that’s their right to do that.

Catholic priests have a right to not conduct marriage ceremonies if they want, but that’s very different to the the idea of discrimination on the ridiculous debate about baking cakes, and all this nonsense – which is all about bloody discrimination.

There are places where this balance is challenging, conversion therapy is one. If you’re a religion that believes that you can ‘pray away’ your sexuality – is that a religious belief that should be protected?

No. Because that is seeking to impose their views on people. It also sends such a harmful message to young people coming to terms with who they are, to have people in society suggest that it’s optional.

It’s like on Israel Folau question, all the reasons why most of us are going to hell, many of them are optional. It’s optional on whether you engage in adultery or those sins. It’s not optional what your sexuality is, who you are, and that’s why it’s bigoted, and it needs to be called out as such.

You had your first caucus meeting and there were reports in The New Daily that suggested you talked about removing parts of Labor’s platform relating to LGBTIQ+ rights.

I know you denied that straight away, but you also talked about not leaking to the media in that meeting – and it was immediately leaked to the media – how do you get a party on the same page and heading in the same direction? 

I see that as being part of the trauma, post-election loss. People who expected to be in government – aren’t, and that’s difficult for people. It wasn’t raised in the caucus at all. One of the things I said in the shadow ministry meeting is that at the moment the ALP platform is about 340 pages long. Nobody is reading 340 pages. You’ve got to go online to find it.

It happened after the ’96 election, it happened after the 04 election – it happens every 10 years, people add things in, nothing gets taken out, it gets bigger and bigger.

All I’ve said is that just like we’ve done before, it’s time to start again to make sure that everything isn’t added on and that we don’t need to repeat things over and over. It’s not about weakening anything, any issues, any policy, any platform.

I use the example that someone from Newcastle, wanted Newcastle added in. There’s a lot of references to ‘including Newcastle”, we don’t need that.

In the British Labour Party the platform is published and it is handed out as an election document, it’s a manifesto, it’s what Labour stands for, and it’s about 40-50 pages, and it’s a small A5 booklet. So all I’ve said, which then got misreported, is that we should look at it and look at condensing it. Not weakening it.

I wrote a story about nine years ago, about the lack of Medicare support for people who are transgender. It’s a story that is constantly read online, week in, week out. Yet in almost a decade, this issue has not moved forward at all.

Labor’s policy document had some reference to supporting people who are transgender with medical costs relating to affirming their gender, but it’s fairly vague in what that might mean. What should we be doing for people who are transgender?    

What we should be doing is providing appropriate health care for those who need it, and that should not be on the basis of some health care is more legitimate than others.

Clearly people who are going through transition, it’s a very difficult thing. I don’t think anyone does that because it’s easy, I’ve know people, friends who’ve been through that process, and it’s an incredibly difficult time. I think we need to look at the level of support, there shouldn’t be a financial restriction on people. That should be a principle of our health system.

Graeme Watson


 

 

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Posted by OUTinPerth on Wednesday, June 26, 2019

 


 

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