Well done, Tassie. Well done!

Tasmania could become the first Australian state to legalise same-sex marriage. Is this just a smokescreen for its economic problems?
Michael Cook | 4 September 2012
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The results of grafting two heads onto one government body became painfully clear in the Australian state of Tasmania last week. Labor Premier Lara Giddings and her coalition partner, Greens leader Nick McKim, jointly guided a same-sex marriage bill through the lower house on Thursday. It was the first time that an Australian house of parliament had passed such a bill.

This, said Ms Giddings, would erase Tasmania’s reputation as the “laughing-stock” of Australia. Mr McKim praised the bill even more rapturously: “Romans chapter 13, verse 10 says, 'Love does no harm to its neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilment of the law'. We are here today to give full expression to love in the laws of our state.”

Even though Tasmania is an island state with only half a million people, this is a significant event. The bill’s fate in the upper house is far from certain. However, if it does become law, it will strengthen the case for same-sex marriage throughout Australia – and elsewhere.

But all the hugging and kissing in State Parliament was a cynical distraction from Lara Giddings’ dismal economic management.

On July 23, the Commonwealth Bank released its State of the States report. It found that Tasmania scored lowest in the country on five key indicators: employment, retail trade, population growth, construction work and housing finance. “Tasmania is underperforming other state and territory economies” said the bank’s chief economist, Craig James, “and arguably is the number one candidate of any regional income redistribution as the Federal Government seeks to share the benefits of the mining boom across the broader Australian economy”.

Translation: Tasmania will be using Western Australia as an ATM.

Meanwhile, Ms Giddings is living on the other side of the looking glass. At the annual Labor Party conference a fortnight later, she fantasised about making Tasmania “one of the most dynamic small economies in the world, producing high quality niche products and services that are recognised and valued across the globe”. Her nominations for model investments? A museum, a golf course, and a luxury resort.

Somehow, in the mind of the leader of what was once a workers’ party, Tasmanian prosperity is coming a distant second to same-sex marriage. “Labor has had the courage to tackle difficult, complex and challenging areas where progressive action was needed,” Ms Giddings told conference delegates. “There's no better example than our determination to end all discrimination… on the issue of marriage equality.”

With her party languishing at 23 percent in the polls, she announced five priority areas for social reform over the next two years: legalising surrogacy for same-sex couples, legalising gay marriage, legalising brothels, legalising euthanasia, and liberalising Tasmania’s already liberal abortion law.

This is an ambitious and radical agenda for which she has no electoral mandate. A vigorous media is needed to query and probe the glib claims of lobby groups and a struggling government. It ought to be a golden time for sharp commentary and investigative journalism.

But in Tasmania the media is as sclerotic as the economy. The Mercury, a Murdoch tabloid, has a near monopoly on news in Hobart, the state’s capital.

None of the claims made by supporters of same-sex marriage has been scrutinised as they would certainly be in Mainland states. Instead, The Mercury has scathingly ridiculed opponents as bigots. The Polly cartoon (above) says it all: Ma and Pa Kettle, pot-bellied, jowly, snarling and bewildered. In most cities, insulting its readers’ intelligence this way would have created a fearsome backlash – but The Mercury has monopoly power.  

The most damning example of journalistic complacency is the plausibility of Tasmania legislating for same-sex marriage. Under Section 51 of the Australian constitution, marriage is a Commonwealth responsibility. So the State law will immediately head for the High Court – costing Tasmanian taxpayers millions of dollars. Even the Premier acknowledges this.

True, there is one lonely constitutional law professor who asserts that Tasmania’s bold move will survive. But other experts are sceptical. Professor Anne Twomey, of the University of Sydney, for example, writes:

“A Tasmanian law permitting same-sex marriage, even if operative, would do little more than facilitate holding a ceremony, drinking champagne and taking photos. It might confer on the parties to a same-sex marriage the status of ‘married’ for the purposes of Tasmanian laws, but it is most unlikely that they would be regarded as legally ‘married’ for the purposes of Commonwealth law or under the law of any other state…”

Instead of being a beacon of progressive intelligence, Tasmania will be a legal laughing-stock.

Another extraordinary claim made for same-sex marriage is that it will bring $100 million into the state if it becomes the first jurisdiction to allow same-sex couples to wed. Gay couples will flood into Tasmania, gay activists have claimed over and over again in The Mercury.

What is the basis for this extraordinary attempt to bribe struggle street Tasmanians?

A back-of-the envelope report by a Massachusetts academic, Lee Badgett. She estimated in February that the economic benefits of same-sex marriage in Australia would range between $161 million (“conservative”) and $742 million (“plausible”). Tasmania’s share would be $96 million. Did The Mercury analyse this key figure? Nope.

Tasmania’s incompetent government and amateurish leadership are often blamed on the Realpolitik of life in a coalition. Labor can only cling to power by snuggling up to Greens who think that Tasmanians can support their families by working as wedding planners or sherpas for overweight eco-tourists.

But Tasmanians have also been betrayed by their media. It’s bad enough living in a state with the highest unemployment rate and the highest suicide rate of any state. When journalists bask in Lara Giddings’ silken smiles and toss back her absurd rationalisations like shots of scotch, they are betraying their responsibility to the democratic process.

Where were the hard questions about denying children the civil right to have both a father and a mother, about whether same-sex parenting harms children, about the rights of people who object to schools teaching children about gay sex, about genuine community support for gay marriage, about social engineering, about whether gays actually want same-sex marriage, about an electoral mandate for radical reforms?

The depth of The Mercury’s misgivings was revealed on Saturday. It ran a front page photo of local-girl-made-good Rachael Taylor, now a underwear model and Hollywood starlet. She gave the bill a ringing endorsement. "Well done Tassie! Well done!" she said.

Still, in the end, it is the politicians who make the laws.

An exchange in Parliament last Thursday between Labor Deputy Premier Bryan Green and Greens MP Cassy O’Connor tells you all you need to know about the depth of their insight. “It is not a big issue really, when it all boils down, is it?” he said. “No, it's not,” she replied. “It's just love.”

No wonder these guys can’t pull the Apple Isle out of its economic hole. They’re just too dumb.

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet. 

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