Good news from Oz

by John Quiggin on December 7, 2017

The Australian Parliament has just passed legislation establishing equal marriage. This was the outcome of a Byzantine process in which the bigots tried every possible trick to delay the inevitable, culminating in a non-binding postal ballot, which produced a 60 per cent majority for equality, following a nasty and bitter campaign. Having rolled the dice and lost, the religious right tried to negate the result with special protections for bigotry, but got nowhere. As a result, they have suddenly discovered a previously unobserved love for UN conventions on human rights.

At the same time, an election in my home state of Queensland has produced a win for the Labor party, which campaigned in support of public investment in renewable energy and belatedly announced its opposition to funding for a massive coal mine-rail-port project, proposed by the Indian Adani group. The opposition consisted of an alliance between the main conservative party, the LNP ,and the racist/Trumpist One Nation party. The LNP not only supported the Adani proposal but wanted to put public money into a new coal-fired power station. One Nation is hostile to greenies but also opposed Adani on xenophobic grounds. THe outcome supports my view that the right will face bigger problems than the left from the emerging three party system.



Matt 12.07.17 at 11:16 am

Good stuff to hear, in an otherwise fairly depressing political scene. I’ll be interested to see if the on-going and incredibly stupid “citizenship scandal” can be fixed at any point.

(for the uninitiated, the Australian Constitution requires that members of parliament have only Australian citizenship. Given that so many Australians are immigrants or children of immigrants, and that many countries grant automatic citizenship to the children of their citizens, typically for good reason , this results in a large number of members of parliament having dual citizenship, often without even knowing it, making them legally unable to hold office and so being forced out. Of course, this is stupid, even if pretty clearly legally required.) Being able to fix this would seem to be a good test of being a reasonably functioning political system.


Dipper 12.07.17 at 2:23 pm

In the UK same-sex civil partnerships came into being thirteen years ago in 2004, and same-sex marriage nearly five years ago in early 2013 by the coalition government of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. So here are the views of a hetereosexually married fifty-something on these social changes in the UK.

Same sex marriage is the biggest single social change in my adult life (abortion being prior to my adulthood). It is probably unique amongst legislative changes to society in having only good consequences and no bad ones.

It is now absolutely normal at work and socially to know not only that your colleagues and acquaintances are in a single sex marriage, but to have met their spouses at social events, and to discuss openly the major issues and ups and downs in their and their spouse’s lives just as people have done with their heterosexual colleagues for years. People who for years felt part of their lives had to be hidden away are now full members of society in every aspect and that is an unequivocal good thing.

One consequence of same-sex marriage is that the institution of marriage has been strengthened. It is hard to say that marriage is no longer relevant when a large section of society is clamouring to be allowed to marry. Here in my commuter-belt village there has been some tutting about a friend’s son; not because he is gay, or openly has a partner whom we have met at social events, but because he is alleged to have been the cause of his partner’s same-sex marriage breaking up. That kind of behavior is still the source of local gossip and scandal.

Meaningful opposition didn’t last much beyond the first footage of beaming gay couples celebrating getting married in the presence of their families and friends. Some people have complained but given there are some clear winners and no losers anywhere, complaining about single-sex marriage just makes people look like curmudgeons who think others should suffer so they can remain in their ideological comfort zones.

An unexpected benefit is that British society is now more tolerant of difference, a general view that celebration of difference strengthens our society and makes us more cohesive. Consequently the main political winner from this has been the Conservative Party which is now almost the natural home of gay people and fast becoming the natural home of professional and economically successful people of colour. The days when the Conservative Party was a social force based round the morality and ethics of The Church of England and the provincial Golf Club have gone to be replaced with a party for whom diversity is strength.

So I think this is a great day for Australia. Congratulations.


Wayne McMillan 12.07.17 at 8:03 pm

Well said John.


Kurt Schuler 12.08.17 at 3:00 am

Good to know that in Australia it is just as common as here in the United States for left-wing professors to call those who disagree with them bigots and xenophobes. That is how we got Donald Trump.


John Quiggin 12.08.17 at 4:43 am

And, as usual, the same people who complain about “political correctness”, “snowflakes” and “trigger warnings” shriek with horror when they are accurately described as bigots.

Maybe in the US, those people are so numerous, and the electoral system so corrupt, that it is impolitic to speak the truth about them, though I haven’t seen any evidence that pandering to them changes their voting behavior.

In Australia, at least for the moment. we have outnumbered them and can speak freely.


Alan White 12.08.17 at 5:18 am


Amen and amen. Enough of calling for toleration of those whose views are exponentially repugnant–even if the latter marshaled, with Russian help elicited by Trump’s minions, the 100k or so to swing the electoral votes to elect Putin’s Agent Orange. Softening language is not the answer–only the harsh truth can call out a McCarthy–or the soullessness of a party that can support a Trump and a Moore.


Mario 12.08.17 at 9:07 am

I suppose asking for preferential treatment of heterosexual marriage on the grounds that it is, in fact, fertile, is bigotted? Because then – so be it.

So be it. Please don’t comment on my threads in the future.


Z 12.08.17 at 2:46 pm

The outcome supports my view that the right will face bigger problems than the left from the emerging three party system.

Hum, I wish that were true, but first of all it doesn’t seem to square so well with the facts: since you have proposed your brilliantly simple three party system analysis, we have seen great wins by the Trumpist camp (Trump, Brexit, Kurz in Austria, AfD in Germany, Le Pen in the second round in France…) and significant wins by the neo-liberal camp (Macron, Merkel to some extent) but the best we have seen from the equality/ecology camp are encouraging but ultimately unsuccessful signs (Saunders, Corbyn, Mélenchon…) with at least as many instances of a political disappearance of this group (Israel, Poland, Germany to some extent…).

At the moment, I would like to believe you but I consider as at least as likely the emergence of a hegemonic neoliberal “serious” central bloc which will rule for its social base and whose power will be cemented by the cancelling effects of opposition from the two other groups.


Whirrlaway 12.08.17 at 3:42 pm

#6 “Enough of calling for toleration”

Just leaving this here


JanieM 12.08.17 at 5:48 pm

JQ — having told Mario not to come back, you may not want to pass this comment through moderation. But in case you’ll allow it through —

Mario’s is a zombie idea that won’t seem to die. The stupidity is almost more annoying than the bigotry. In reply:

1. Heterosexual marriage is not, as such, “fertile.” Many heterosexual couples get married who can’t or don’t intend to have children. Why should they get “preferential treatment” linked in some mystical BS way to “fertility”? (Don’t cite Catholic Church doctrine in reply; Catholic mystical BS doesn’t get preferential treatment over any other mystical BS as far as I’m concerned.)

2. WTF does “preferential treatment” mean anyhow? If you want to do something for families with children (the practical outcome of “fertility”), then do something for families with children. How hard is that?

3. Finally, gay couples as such may not be “fertile,” but gay individuals certainly are, and many of us have children, or want children, or take on the care of children for one reason or another. See #2.


mpowell 12.08.17 at 5:55 pm

Did you outline somewhere why you expect this to benefit the left? So far it seems like the result has been your so-called neoliberals running against tribalists. Winning sometimes, losing others.


John Quiggin 12.08.17 at 8:38 pm

@Z (also responding to @mpowell) Certainly, the picture so far has been as you say. But, as I said in the OP, the most recent news from our end of the planet has been good. Not just the wins I mentioned in this post, but the likelihood of a relatively left Labor government after the next election and the surprise Labor-Green win in NZ.

This doesn’t mean a radical shift to the left, but these parties have largely broken with the neoliberal consensus, oppose privatisation and are willing to support higher and more progressive taxes.


J-D 12.08.17 at 8:56 pm

Kurt Schuler
An insistence that it is always objectionable to use the word ‘bigot’ is equivalent to an insistence that bigotry does not exist, which is an impudent falsehood.


Lynne 12.08.17 at 9:39 pm

JanieM: yes: especially your #2.

Congratulations to the Australians here: it’s a proud day for you.


Alan White 12.08.17 at 10:20 pm


Thanks for the excellent example of the accent fallacy.


John Quiggin 12.08.17 at 10:34 pm

@14 I’d never seen this important fallacy named. Thanks for that.

@9 and @4 To be boringly clear, the point isn’t legal toleration of repugant views, but the claim that Trump or Hanson voters should be treated with the respect they don’t offer to others.


Matt 12.08.17 at 10:40 pm

the surprise Labor-Green win in NZ.

I’m pretty sure it was Labor – NZ First that formed a government (I made the same mistake recently), and given that NZ First is an anti-immigration populist party, it’s at least a little less positive than we might have hoped for.


Gabriel 12.09.17 at 2:30 am

Labour, NZ First, and Greens formed our government, and Green ministers were appointed to virtually every position important to them: climate change, environment, conservation, and women’s issues being the foremost.

NZ First is indeed populist and xenophobic, but often downright anti-capitalist. If it’s of a breed with Trump, and I think it probably is, it’s a much milder strain of the virus, and has been around for decades.


Dipper 12.09.17 at 8:16 am

@ Matt “an anti-immigration populist party, it’s at least a little less positive than we might have hoped for”

People on here refer to Anti-Immigration Populism as though its obviously a bad thing. Can one of the enlightened please explain to me what the opposite of Anti-Immigration Populism is and why that is a good thing?

Is it a belief that absolutely anyone from anywhere can go and live anywhere they choose? Once they are in their place of choice do they have the vote? Are they entitled to full state benefits and housing from the moment they arrive? If everyone on the planet is equal in every place who decides the particular laws that apply in a particular place? Or do we all have the same laws?

Feel free to use the EU as an example. Both in having only partial freedoms within the whole of the EU (i.e. national voting, access to state benefits) and in terms of the EU only extending those freedoms to people from countries with similar ethnic and religious backgrounds.


Matt 12.09.17 at 12:48 pm

Dipper – the problem with anti-immigration populists is that they are inevitably xenophobic and present bad answers to even real problems (as well as making up problems that don’t exist.) There’s no one “opposite” to this, but not being xenophobic is a good start. And no, holding this view doesn’t at all imply a belief that absolutely anyone from anywhere an go and live anywhere they choose. You’re welcome go to read some of my published work on the limits of discretion states ought to have in setting their own immigration policies if you are in fact interested.


ph 12.09.17 at 1:17 pm

@19 and @20

The opposite of an anti-immigration populist exists and self-identify. Indeed, a wide spectrum exist, ranging from elitist unlimited immigration advocates of the Rand Paul/Koch brother variety to lefty border-free Europe advocates. Moreover, the exponents of this spectrum hold power, such as Martin Schmidt in the EU, happy to be a bit of both – informing EU members unwilling to sign on to a ‘United States of Europe’ model that they best get out – of Europe that is, which is liable to be seen as an unhelpful and unwelcome suggestion by a great many. Wanting borders does not mean people are xenophobic, it means people prize some measure of predictability and control over the values, size, and well-being of the polity.

Walk into a shop near where you live and demand to be served in the second language of your choice, and you’ll likely receive an object lesson in the above.


Whirrlaway 12.09.17 at 5:04 pm

Alan White @15

The irony is in your soul, not my comment. Of course I understand that that isn’t what he thinks he said. The left generally might even be defined by the desire to tolerate and accommodate diversity, isn’t it? Lack of willingness to do so would seem at the root of the thoroughly stupid cake-baking impasse. So to the degree you have buried in your program the desire to disaccommodate whatever others, that makes a problem. “If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?” Or how can he ever be got rid of. (I wrote exactly the same thing to a church interlocutor yesterday.)


J-D 12.09.17 at 9:21 pm


Of course I understand that that isn’t what he thinks he said.

But obviously you fail to understand how what Alan White meant is different from what you think Alan White meant.

The left generally might even be defined by the desire to tolerate and accommodate diversity, isn’t it?

No, or at least that’s not how I define it.

Lack of willingness to do so would seem at the root of the thoroughly stupid cake-baking impasse.

No, that’s not how it seems, at least to me.

So to the degree you have buried in your program the desire to disaccommodate whatever others, that makes a problem.

The proverbial wisdom is that you can’t please everybody.


Alan White 12.10.17 at 12:04 am

J. D.–thank you.


So now you’ve piled false dichotomy on top of accent. One can easily be tolerant of a lot with having to tolerate everything. In fact it would be morally intolerable to be morally tolerant of everything.

And while I’m at it, I know there are legitimate reasons for pseudonymous posts, but I have to say that I strongly suspect that many simply prefer to cast stones from an anonymous crowd.


Alan White 12.10.17 at 12:06 am

The “with” of course should have been “without” in “One can easily be tolerant of a lot with having to tolerate everything. “


peter 12.10.17 at 9:49 am

Dipper @2:

On the consequences of same-sex marriage, you have ignored the considerable torment and anguish suffered by some heterosexual married people when they hear other people using a word with a meaning different to what they are used to hearing.


Dipper 12.10.17 at 1:15 pm

@ peter 26 I assume you are being rhetorical here. In which case I agree with your sentiment.

@ Matt “the problem with anti-immigration populists is that they are inevitably xenophobic …” and this is the point at which I depart the discussion as we are getting into “X is like Y and Y is bad so X is bad” type arguments “…present bad answers to even real problems”. For some bad answers see here here and here. There has to be a way of raising these kind of issues without it descending into name-calling.


J-D 12.10.17 at 9:14 pm

If name-calling is something you want avoided, why did you resort to it?

Perhaps you’re wondering ‘Where did I, Dipper, resort to name-calling?’? Here:

… Can one of the enlightened please explain to me …


mds 12.11.17 at 4:32 am

If it’s of a breed with Trump

If NZ First is genuinely anti-capitalist, it’s not even remotely of a breed with Trump, who is dismantling all regulatory checks on the capitalist system, while cheering on the passage of a tax plan that will massively reward capital at the expense of wage-earners. What they have in common is the xenophobia; for Trump, the phony populism pretty much boiled down to hating “The Other,” which in practice has turned out to be insufficiently-grateful African-Americans, undocumented immigrants, Muslim refugees, and the like, rather than the rentier class with which he has staffed his government.

Now, it’s possible that NZ First is as dishonest about its claim to the mantle of populism as Trump is. But if not, well, I could see how there might indeed be an uneasy alliance of convenience with Labour / Green.

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