Last year, Coalition ministers were banned temporarily from appearing on the ABC’sQ&A program by then prime minister Tony Abbott.
After the treatment received by Regional Development Minister Fiona Nash on Q&Alast Monday, it remains to be seen if some Coalition ministers will implement a private boycott and avoid appearing before presenter Tony Jones and the program’s invariably left-stacked baying audiences.
In recent years, many ABC programs have been obsessed with the issue of what some call same-sex marriage and others term marriage equality. So there was no surprise on Monday evening when Jones called the first question on this topic, which occupied about a third of the program.
Comedian and actress Magda Szubanski was asked to respond to the first question from the audience about the plebiscite and all that. She declared that “a lot of us in the LGBTQI community” did not want a plebiscite and argued that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex rights were a matter of “equality before the law”. After 172 words, Szubanski paused briefly and received rapturous applause, followed by a soft question from Jones. She then proceeded for 123 words to attack Malcolm Turnbull and Nationals MP George Christensen.
At this stage, rock ’n’ roll singer Jimmy Barnes added his voice to the comedian’s opposition to a plebiscite and criticism of the Prime Minister. By now the tone of the program had been set.
Then Jones said, “Let’s hear from Fiona.” But he didn’t mean it. The deputy leader of the Nationals had uttered only 62 words in defence of the Turnbull government when Jones interrupted her with what he termed “just a quick question”. The interjection was quick but not deep and simply prevented Nash from the opportunity to set out her position on the plebiscite in a considered manner.
There followed Szubanski’s attempt to verbal Nash by suggesting that she regarded same-sex marriage as a “threat”, along with Barnes’s verbal aggression. Both interrupted the minister, who was not protected by the presenter. It was at this stage that Jones commented that “this has got off to such a flying start that we’ve left two of our panellists out of action”.
Enter Labor frontbencher Tony Burke, who indicated that he supported same-sex marriage but disagreed with the proposed plebiscite. Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie said she supported a plebiscite on a range of issues, including same-sex marriage.
The next segment turned on a report that same-sex attracted Australians had up to 14 times higher rates of suicide than their heterosexual peers. Once again, Szubanski and Barnes weighed into Nash, supported by feigned laughter from the audience.
Q&A is presented as the taxpayer-funded public broadcaster’s major contribution to public debate and discussion in Australia. Yet it has become a case study of the deleterious effects of Left-dominated social media on public discourse. Abuse is equated with argument and persons with unfashionable views are ridiculed or howled down by noise or, in Q&A’s case, mock laughter.
In the 1970s, when Robert Moore presented Monday Conference on the ABC, all panel members got a fair go. This is no longer the case.
In view of the fact the Q&A panel and audience were against the deputy leader of the Nationals, she did very well. Nash held to her considered view that marriage was a union between a man and woman, to the exclusion of others.
Until a decade ago, this was a widely understood interpretation of the term. At this time even Labor frontbencher Penny Wong did not call on Australians to regard same-sex partnerships as the equivalent of traditional marriage. Back then the likes of Szubanski and Barnes did not attack Wong for her views.
Early in the program, Jones suggested to Nash that Turnbull’s support for a plebiscite on same-sex marriage turned on the fact “with his wafer-thin majority (he) can’t afford to alienate backbenchers like George Christensen”. In fact, Turnbull’s leadership is not dependent on Christensen, who sits with the Nationals when in Parliament House, not with the Liberal Party.
The Prime Minister is the leader of the Liberal Party, quite a few of whose members oppose any change to the Marriage Act. Turnbull also heads a Coalition government dependent on the support of the Nationals, most of whom support the traditional interpretation of marriage.
Turnbull went to, and won, this year’s election on a policy platform that included a promise to hold a plebiscite on same-sex marriage. There do not seem to be any options available to Turnbull other than to hold the plebiscite or drop the issue for three years if he cannot obtain Labor’s support in the Senate for a poll on February 11 next year.
There are three known gay MPs within the Coalition in Canberra. Dean Smith opposes the concept of plebiscites since he believes that decisions of this kind should be made by politicians, not by electors. However, Tim Wilson and Trent Zimmerman regard the plebiscite as the only chance of changing marriage laws in the immediate to medium future. This is a realistic position.
The suggestion that the plebiscite will get out of hand and the LGBTQI community will be ridiculed overlooks the fact a debate on marriage has been going for years and will continue if change is implemented by politicians without a plebiscite.
Perhaps Turnbull could compromise over the decision to fund the yes and no cases with $7.5 million each, as some members of the LGBTQI community do not want a publicly funded campaign. However, for an election, this is not a lot of money.
Moreover, as Attorney-General George Brandis commented on Sky News’Australian Agenda last Sunday, “almost without exception the media is barracking for a yes outcome”. He added that there was also substantial support for the cause within the “political establishment” and “corporate Australia”.
Brandis supports same-sex marriage. It’s just that he recognises that, without public funding, the no case may be shouted down. Like it was on Q&A last Monday.