Scott Morrison’s first budget proposes to spend $160 million on a marriage equality plebiscite. With polls consistently showing that the majority of Australians already support marriage equality, most people will ask why this money is being wasted while the government wants to cut funding for the life-saving Safe Schools program.
The Liberals see a plebiscite as an opportunity to sow divisions and to try and win back some ground in the debate. At the same time it would provide them with a useful distraction from the rest of the budget measures which aim to make ordinary people pay for an economic crisis they didn’t create.
While proposing to waste $160 million dollars on a glorified poll, the budget also rips $115 million from homelessness services and $240 million from emergency relief and financial support to women and children fleeing family violence. This type of violence disproportionately affects LGBTIQ people.
While the Liberals are bad, Labor are no friends of LGBTIQ people either. Labor voted to support Howard’s original move to specifically outlaw gay and lesbian marriage and since then they have failed to unequivocally support marriage equality. While they have tabled a bill in parliament recently, as things stand it has no hope of passing before the election. And while pledging to introduce another bill into parliament if they win the election, disgracefully they will not bind their MPs to vote for it.
Instead of backing one or another of the inadequate major parties, LGBTIQ activists should be utilising their own potential strength to effect change. A positive example is that of the campaign which stopped the East-West tunnel in Victoria during the last state election.
During that period the Socialist Party helped lead a campaign of pickets and protests against the project. This forced Labor to move from a position of fake opposition to the project to actually committing to rip up the contracts.
At the same time the campaign put the issue of public transport on the political agenda and forced both of the major parties to commit to significantly more public transport funding. Not only were reforms won but the struggle showed that real change happens when people mobilise.
Taking inspiration from this struggle, LGBTIQ activists should use the election campaign to organise mass protests and direct action demanding not only marriage equality but also the reversal of all cuts that affect LGBTIQ people.
Such a campaign could also bring other issues of importance to the fore, such as the need to defend and extend the Safe Schools program and the need to push for policies that could end LGBTIQ youth homelessness. Instead of allowing the government to cut big business taxes they should be increased to fund these services and more.
Ultimately, ordinary people of all colours and stripes must acknowledge that no major party represents our interests. Rather than continuing to let them set the agenda, we must build a new party of the 99% to not only stand in elections but to fight for system change and genuine equality for all people.
By Ben Convey