The handful of seats dictating the political agenda
It’s not entirely clear when the political momentum to consider allowing gay marriage in Australia suddenly became so noticeable. The Greens certainly helped pushed it along in Canberra with its Bill to compel MPs to consult their constituents on the topic over the summer break.
But for an issue that really doesn’t have the slightest impact on the vast majority of the population, the tide does seem to be heading in a direction that could leave the two major political parties stuck on a sandbar somewhere wondering how to get off. Maybe its a sign things are travelling better than we thought, what with everyone having time to think about a social issue beyond their hip pockets.
According to a huge poll reported on News.com.au this morning, two thirds of Australians have no problem with gay marriage. Of the 150,000 people who took part nationally, 46 per cent were in favour, 35 per cent were opposed and 19 per cent couldn’t care either way. This is good news for the gay marriage lobby, but there’s a big catch.
Remember just before the election when Julia Gillard took David Bradbury, the Member for Lindsay - a landlocked electorate in Western Sydney - to Darwin to play around on patrol boats?
For the purposes of that photo shoot those boats were doing their bit to keep the good people of Lindsay, 3000 kms away, safe from illegal immigrants arriving on rust buckets from Indonesia.
It was a bizarre political spectacle that signaled in no-uncertain terms exactly where the election was going to be fought - and the only reason the Gillard team was in a position to negotiate its way into minority government was because it won the trench war that took place in a belt of seats in Western Sydney, with First Officer Bradbury as the standard bearer.
Now back to gay marriage
Julia Gillard shocked quite a few lefties when one of the first things out of her mouth after she became Prime Minister was that she was of the view marriage was “between a man and a woman” and there was no likelihood of the ALP shifting from this position any time soon.
It seemed an odd thing for someone to say when virtually her first pronouncement on becoming PM was to declare her atheism. The “man and woman” marriage argument is most often rooted in religion.
One of her most senior Minister Penny Wong even felt compelled to stick to that line for quite some time, securing the defense at one stage of Graham Richardson, who pointed out on Q and A that as part of the Labor Caucus Wong had no choice but to toe the line.
But in recent weeks, after “faceless man” and NSW Right Senator Mark Arbib decided to speak out in favour of gay marriage, Wong too has said she would work in the Party to alter its policy.
Gillard maintains the policy decided at the last ALP National Conference was to oppose any change, but has agreed to bring the next conference forward to the end of next year so another vote can be held on the floor well before she has to fight another election campaign.
And when that happens the hard heads in the ALP will be looking beyond any national figures on the issue and will be more likely to take notice of findings such as this from this morning’s News.com.au survey report:
Out of a nationwide survey, 10 of the 15 federal seats with the highest opposition to gay marriage form a wall of resistance around Sydney, with more than 45 per cent saying they do not support same-sex marriages.
Anti-gay sentiment is most obvious in a band of neighbouring western and southern Sydney seats made up of Werriwa, Blaxland, Watson, Chifley, Greenway, Fowler, Lindsay, Mitchell, Macarthur, McMahon and Hughes.
Some of those seats are safe as houses for one side or the other, and you can imagine the Greens-ordered consultation on gay marriage, will be cursory at best.
But when Labor MPs such as Bradbury, and Michelle Rowland in Greenway, start reporting back you can bet the Gillard re-election team will be ready with the patrol boats, and there’ll be no rousing renditions of In the Navy.
Lindsay and Greenway were among the seats the Liberal Party considers it really should have won. Without them there’s no way Gillard could have formed government.
So those looking for an explanation for her somewhat contradictory or timid approach on gay marriage need look no further than these two seats. The rest of the country might be swinging towards liberalising the marriage act, but in this debate the rest of the country doesn’t really count.
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