Scott Ludlam resignation: Senate loses marriage equality supporter

Friend to the environment, refugees and the gays, former Western Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, who resigned from the Australian Senate on Friday, was a refreshing voice in the Australian federal parliament. He spoke with Jesse Archer through marriage politics, Taliban policies and the plan to stop people from drowning, in DNA #170.

DNA: Australia essentially has marriage equality with its de-facto laws. Why do we need gay marriage?
Senator Scott Ludlam:

I’m afraid I have to disagree. The de facto laws are not marriage and effectively create a class of people who are second-class citizens which is still a form of legal and legislative discrimination. It’s long past time we removed that.

According to every single poll, marriage equality is a favorite among Australian voters. This indicates it is not a political risk and yet the government won’t go there. What gives?
It’s one of the most clear-cut and interesting examples of where opinion in parliament is different to public opinion and a democracy is meant to smooth out those differences. Ideally, if the system is functioning and well.

Has parliament signed some kind of pact with religious leaders?
There is an over-representation in the parliament of conservative Christian views. Another part of it is generational. Those things take a while to wash through. Even that doesn’t explain it. We’ve now seen people from faith-based groups come out and say it’s time to change.

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard wasn’t for marriage equality and nobody understood that because she’s an atheist.
It came down to much more prosaic political concerns. She served at the pleasure of key, arch-conservative factions which allowed her to stay in place. That accounts for her rather peculiar opposition to marriage equality.

[South Australian Senator] Cory Bernardi recently told [Communications Minister] Malcolm Turnbull to stop vocalising his support of marriage equality or resign from the cabinet. What does that say about the Liberal Party trying to silence individual members from their own points of view?
It says more about Cory Bernardi than it does about the Liberal Party. The Liberals pride themselves on occasionally having a free vote. Occasionally members have crossed the floor – on climate bills and other matters in ways the Labor Party never will and haven’t for decades.

Asylum-seekers fleeing persecution for being gay in their home countries are now being sent by the Australian government to detention centres rife with abuse and violence in Papau New Guinea (PNG) – a country where being gay is punishable by up to 14 years in jail. How far out of line is the current government in its obligation to uphold the universal declaration it signed on human rights as it relates to these refugees?
It’s so far out of line on so many grounds. There are more than a thousand children locked up. Australia has been accused by Amnesty International of conditions that equate to torture. Effectively, the policy has been “you need to be scarier than the Taliban” – and we appear to be succeeding. Our regime is so brutal and punishing that it now rivals war and torture.

In the last election, the Labor Party’s Kevin Rudd was almost stronger for the PNG deportation policies than the conservative Tony Abbott.
It’s an old political tactic and it failed spectacularly. People abandoned the Labor Party.

Do you think this said more about Kevin Rudd than about the Labor Party?
To me, it felt like a desperate move by a political party that had lost its reason for existing – apart from staying in power.

How do you solve a problem by shipping it off to another country?
It’s an absolute disaster that is costing people their lives, health and mental health. We’re setting up a situation in which a future Prime Minister will need to issue a formal apology to these people who are being deliberately damaged. If you add on top of that the risk of persecution over sexuality, it’s hard to imagine.

What is the Greens’ policy on the refugee situation?
Effectively, a safe pathways policy. Get people moving through the camps, still with the health and security checks and legitimacy as to refugee status. We want to stop people from drowning, so we need to start in areas where people are being courted by people-smugglers and told they can buy their way into the country. If we want to stop them getting on boats, we need to persuade them there is a safer way; that we can’t take everyone at the same time but that they will eventually be settled and given refuge, as is their international right.

What percentage of votes are the Greens getting?
In the last federal election it was 8.5 per cent. The long-term trend, over the last decade, is around ten per cent.

When will people stop thinking, I can’t waste my vote on the Greens because then the Labor Party won’t get into power?
This thinking demonstrates the fact that a lot of Australians don’t understand their own electoral system. In the USA, if you vote Greens you cost the Democrats votes. In Australia, you have a preferential system. If you vote for the Greens and a Greens candidate doesn’t get elected, as long as you put Labor as number two, that candidate will get your vote.

When the Australian Capitol Territory (ACT) passed a marriage equality bill, it was challenged by Tony Abbott and then overturned by the High Court. What was the political motivation to take away those rights?
It’s absolutely tragic. We just have a deeply conservative administration. I think it’s an abuse of the territories and their legislatures. The best opportunity in the short term is for the Liberals and Labor to be given a free vote and you can start to look at a possible change to the marriage act.

We all see the writing on the wall. What’s your best guess as to when we’re going to see marriage equality in Australia?
I take my guidance from classrooms full of young people who want to know why we’re even having this argument. I’m an optimist. There’s a chance it will happen in this parliament but only if the Liberals are given that free vote.

© DNA 170

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