2 Years On From 'YES', Progressive Wins Can Happen No Matter Who's In Charge
Two years ago today Australians voted overwhelmingly for marriage equality.
Many who voted YES also voted to re-elect the Morrison government. Just under two months ago abortion was decriminalised in New South Wales and it was the National Party that delivered the numbers needed for it to pass.
Although progressive politics faces challenges in Australia, focussing on outcomes rather than outrage is the best way to ensure future victories, and there is no outcome more critical than addressing climate change.
The postal survey was an offensive process imposed on the LGBTI community. While some activists chose to use the campaign to attack the government of the day, others, along with myself and my colleagues and co-chairs of the YES campaign decided winning was more important.
On the back of 10 years of tireless campaigning we faced one of the biggest threats to LGBTI equality in Australia: an untested process imposed by a prime minister trying to save his job, with influential opponents in the Catholic and Anglican churches cashed up and ready for a nasty campaign.
To win we had to make sure our campaign was not about us, but about all Australians. We had to make sure the vote was about more than just individual LGBTI people, but also about shaping Australia as a fairer and more equal place. Our campaign materials and messages were positive, future focussed, and we resourced supporters to talk about it with everyone they knew, no matter how hard those conversations were. While the protests in the cities got headlines, the honest conversations in country pubs and bowling clubs changed minds and votes.
Let me be clear: no part of that campaign was easy for those most intimately involved. Scars still exist for many -- myself included -- but we won. In fact, we achieved the greatest electoral victory in Australia’s history with 133 out of 150 federal electorates voting ‘Yes’. At the start of the campaign, Bob Brown told me social change is never easy, but it’s worth it, and he continues to be right.
As hard as the attacks during the marriage equality campaign were, they pale in comparison to what women campaigning to decriminalise abortion in New South Wales have had to deal with for decades. I got a small sample of this after introducing legislation to decriminalise abortion: an odd and chilling combination of threats to my safety and being called a murderer on a daily basis. My colleagues and I had weeks of this treatment, women have faced decades. But this didn’t deter the strategic brilliance of the NSW Pro-Choice Alliance that formed to win.
The alliance got all peak health and stakeholders on board, resourced MPs, kept the media narrative evidence based, and made sure the focus was always about women, not politicians, having control over their bodies. Importantly they reached out and empowered people across party lines. They knew they always had the support of inner city MPs, but it was the National MPs that would be critical.
There was no stronger narrative in our parliamentary debate than the importance of access to reproductive healthcare for women in rural and regional communities, which the criminal code had helped significantly limit. This would ultimately secure success, with the upper house Nationals voting and negotiating as a block to get the bill through the parliament.
Just as it was wrong to say progress couldn’t happen with marriage equality or abortion in a conservative government, many make the same false claim about action on climate change. It’s my hope, and will be my focus in 2020, to ensure long overdue progress occurs in New South Wales.
We have already started the work with an inquiry into the economic opportunities of the renewable sector and how to support coal-dependent communities with new jobs and economic support. Protecting people’s jobs has always been a core focus of the coalition, and rightly so. Jobs give people dignity and purpose and any threat of losing them as a result of changes in energy supply can scare a lot of people, stymieing much-needed action to transition from coal to renewables. Any effective campaign to see real action in New South Wales must support the communities most affected, and they are coal producing conservative seats.
There is no doubt the fires are occurring because of accelerated global warming, but to win over those communities most impacted by a transfer to a low carbon economy, and their conservative elected representatives, we must first rush to help and offer support.
Saying “I told you so” will get us nowhere.
Before we achieved marriage equality, we introduced more than 20 bills into Parliament that got either defeated or deferred for over a decade. Women campaigning for the decriminalisation of abortion faced decades of disappointment from politicians. Climate action will continue to be difficult, but let’s make sure we listen to and address the concerns of the workers and voters most impacted.
Let’s move away from the left versus right paradigm that tabloid papers and shock jocks rely on for their profits, and let’s focus on working with our fellow Australians for our future environment and economic prosperity.