Meet the family

Meet the Family by Stuart Horrex published in Online Opinion

My fiancé and I have been together for over 20 years.

In the ultimate expression of modern romance we amended our Facebook status to ‘engaged’ one day about 5 years ago. Why? It was becoming increasingly awkward to explain our situation, and our relationship, in hetro-normative terms.

Today, when I say I’m engaged the first question people generally ask is, “When are you getting married?” “Oh” I say, “we’ve been together over 20 years, and we’ll get married as soon as it’s legal.”

Then I stand back, watch the double take blink, and wait for the cogwheels to slowly turn. It’s a small political act, challenging people’s assumptions and unconscious (sometimes conscious) biases.

More often than not I’ll get one of two reactions. There’s the standard ‘some of my best friends are gay.’

Isn’t it great to have allies?

Another common response, and a much more uncomfortable question for both of us is “why don’t you go overseas and get married there?”

I, like my fiancé, am an Australian citizen, so the natural question is, why should we be forced to leave our own country to get married? Would you? Especially when the certificate we carry home has no legal standing or recognition when we return?

There’s plenty of commentary available about the Marriage Equality debate. I was drawn to Hannah Gadsby’s posting late last week where she talked about her personal experiences growing up in the 90s and her quite justified fears the upcoming plebiscite will create an “open season for hate”

It will.

I grew up in the late 70s, early 80s. Mine was a meat and three veg, Sunblest white bread world (home delivered, just like the milk).

The only queers I ever saw were either objects of fun and ridicule like Benny Hill’s characters, John Inman’s Mr Humphries, and Dick Emery caricatures. There were also the arch queens like Kenneth Williams or Quentin Crisp; sharp, bleak, and sometimes bitter. Or there were the victims. To be pitied certainly, but it was made clear they did really bring it all upon themselves. Meek and afraid, bashed for having AIDS and destined to be saved by Johnny Depp on 21 Jump Street.

Laws criminalising who I was didn’t change till I was a teen. But by then the damage was done. I’d already learned about what it meant to be who I was. Like many (most?) I suppressed my nature and hid within myself. That’s what society taught me to do. That was what was expected from me. Don’t ask. Don’t tell. Keep your head down and your mouth shut or we’ll ruin you.

While I never had the courage as a young person to ACT UP or speak out, others did.

Before the internet I vividly recall reading about the radical actions of Queer Nation, and learning about Australia’s Gay Rights Movement by sneaking looks at gay magazines in newsagents, and hiding in the corners of public libraries.

With gratitude and respect to all those who came before us and upon whose shoulders we now stand, we can tell our young people today – It does get better…

I’ve seen the changes in attitudes and responses as society shifts.

We’re moving from tolerance to acceptance. For the most part. My fiancé and I recently traveled back to my hometown for my father’s 80th birthday. Family converged from around Australia. Most over the age of 70 showed us tolerance. Sometimes awkward and strained, but for a long time tolerance is what we queers craved. Don’t hurt us. Don’t reject us. We’ll keep our curtains firmly drawn.

As social research shows, the younger generations are far more accepting.

Normalising the deviants. That’s the claim now.

We see queer representation on our television screens growing. Causing a little stir recently the US family drama The Fosters gave us a chaste little kiss between two actors playing young gay teens even though much raunchier encounters between the straight teen characters on the show don’t seem to raise much of an eyebrow. Modern Family works to normalise same-sex marriage and relationships but still, as comedy must, tends towards caricature and stereotype. On Australian screens reality TV shows now include openly gay couples and contestants. And Please Like Me from Josh Thomas stands out well above the fray.

We’ve come so far, but still have so far to go.

That’s why the debate a plebiscite on marriage equality will be so hurtful and harmful. And never mind, even by it’s “same-sex” focus the very nature of the draft question excludes transgender, intersex, and people without a binary gender identity. The current Turnbull Government proposal seeks to create a segregated system of parallel marriages, one for the straights, and one for everyone else it seems. So much for marriage equality, let’s just further entrench difference in law.

Meanwhile it’s politics as usual for the ALP, the Liberals, and The Greens.

Labor Leader Bill Shorten is amping up the pressure on the shaky tenure of Prime Minister Turnbull. Copying the successful model of Abbott Opposition to block and destroy, rather than engage, (the model perfected by Tony Abbott), Shorten proposes to block the plebiscite. Then, with a nice twist of the screws, will further add to the pressure with a Private Members Bill.

We’ll see more of the same moral high ground attention seeking from The Greens with the same approach. Block the plebiscite. Add to the pressure with a Private Members Bill. More tears in the chamber for the poor unfortunates, no doubt. Tears but little real action.

While I reject current rhetoric about a plebiscite being the quickest or only way forward for marriage equality, clearly a vote in the Parliament is the way to go, that vote will never happen in the life of the 45th Parliament. Prime Minister Turnbull’s Faustian deal has seen to that.

The plebiscite will cause very real damage, pain, and harm. And let’s all ignore the clear affront to the LGBTIQ communities for needing to be given permission to be granted basic rights granted to all others. Not that the plebiscite is even binding on Parliament anyway.

People may bash us, hurl abuse from car windows, pour acid in our drinks, threaten our livelihoods and our jobs, or brand us deviants and pedophiles as they always have.

I’m not the frightened kid I once was. There’s a generation ahead of me who stood in pitched battles with police and fought prejudice and discrimination head on. And there’s a generation behind me who are out and proud much earlier and less willing to accept mere tolerance as the best they can ever hope for out of life.

If it is time for another fight. And it is. Then let’s bring it on.

Stuart Horrex in Online Opinion
16 January 2015


It’s time to review Australia’s gun control laws

It’s time to review Australia’s gun control laws by Stuart Horrex in Online Opinion

Stuart Horrex in Online Opinion

Over the last days and weeks we’ve seen and heard much angst from both ministers and back-benchers in the Abbott Government about terrorism, freedom of speech, and the freedom to cause offence.

We’re now seeing a concerted effort by the Abbott Government to use events including the Sydney siege, and the recent events in France as justifications for new and amended legislation.

Attorney General George Brandis is out again, disingenuously linking his mandatory data retention laws with recent events, as if somehow events would have been miraculously different had his proposed laws been in place.

We don’t need new laws for our police and security agencies to enforce, we need them to have more resources, support, and the proper training to enforce existing laws.

We’ve heard Abbott Government back-bench MP Cory ­Bernardi’s recent calls for changes to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

We don’t need laws to change for Australians to have their say openly and honestly about the issues they feel important.

We’ve also witnessed Peter Dutton MP, incoming Immigration Minister say Customs Officers will now be armed at airports in his new expanded “Australian Border Force” portfolio.

All these statements are further evidence the Abbott Government is totally wrong footed in its response to recent tragic events including those in Sydney and Paris, and critically, the Abbott Government is totally wrong footed by the wider ramifications of these tragic events.

Former Prime Minister John Howard bravely tackled the issue of guns and gun control during his term. It is now time to build on those reforms and further protect Australians from gun related crime and violence.

We need stronger gun control measures, not more people with guns.

Many Australians may be surprised to know that despite the former Prime Minister’s decisive action in 1996, there are now more guns in circulation than before the National Firearms and Handgun Agreements were put in place.

The first duty of any government is to provide for the “peace, order, and good government” of the peoples of this country. In recent months the Abbott Government has not met at least two of those three imperatives.

We must ensure the Abbott Government is properly supporting our law enforcement services with appropriate levels of resourcing and clear legislative backing so law enforcement agencies effectively enforce existing gun laws.

Criminals break laws. The need to protect the Australian people from crime, especially gun related crime and violence, is paramount and must be a priority for any government. The Abbott Government needs to recognise “security theatre”, and a “get tough” approach may play well in the marginals, and it may get you points with the Daily Tele, but it does not progress the long term interests of our nation.

It is time for the Abbott Government to step up in the same way John Howard’s Government stepped up. They promised to be a “grown up government” after all.

It’s time for our partisan politicians to give our law enforcers and security agencies the space they need, free of political interference and point scoring, so they may enforce the existing laws already put in place to respond to criminal activity, and detect and take out of circulation the illegal guns in this country.

Many Australians, particularly those working on the land, use firearms as tools of their trade and it is appropriate they continue to be able to do so.

It is also appropriate Australians living in our capital and regional cities and our towns – feel safe in the knowledge their Government is doing everything it can to protect them in their communities by permanently disqualifying unfit Australians from legally accessing firearms for any purpose.

It is time the Australian Government reviewed the National Firearms Agreement of 1996 and the National Handgun Agreement of 2002.

If people believe fewer guns on the streets make for a safer Australia they need to elect a Government who will advocate for the views of the Australian people in the Senate and in the House of Representatives.

At the next Federal Election the Australian people will judge Prime Minister Abbott and his Government on their actions now.

As a member of the Australian Democrats I know there is a political party who will always advocate for stronger gun control measures.

Stuart Horrex in Online Opinion
16 January 2015

A flawed budget out of balance

A flawed budget out of balance by Stuart Horrex in Online Opinion

I believe the Abbott Government has, in its first budget, made a pedestrian and uninspired start to getting the financial well-being of our nation back on track. On any reading it seems those most in need will be forced to bear the greatest burden of the spending cuts delivered by the Treasurer.

Yes, one should welcome this budget statement as t it does start the conversation about how we as a nation will refocus our efforts towards a more sustainable economy over the longer term. It does however remain to be seen if the Abbott Government can deliver on the promise of improving the efficiency of government service delivery.

I would argue that for the Abbott Government to be credible in their attempts to return the budget to surplus it must do more to address the fundamental imbalance on the revenue side of the budget equation – moving away from the populist and short term political focus it currently exhibits.

Disappointingly, this budget contains little for small business, and shows no insight into the opportunities investment into the sciences, innovation, and the creative industries will bring our nation and the Australian economy. The budget also fails to address important issues for primary producers around Australia, who form in large part the backbone of the Australian economy.

Also forgotten in this budget are rural and regional communities who will see the full effects of the Abbott Government’s decision to tighten the screws on the states. The health of every Australian matters, regardless of where they live in our great nation. We need to create a system that assures quality healthcare is as viable in the bush as it is in our capital cities.

Building a healthier Australia is not merely a matter of treating illness, it is about the prevention of illness in the first place. So, while welcoming the establishment of the new medical research future fund, it is difficult to approve of the Abbott Government funding this program off the backs of those least able to afford Medicare co-payments.

With short term “levies”, and cuts to health, education, community broadcasting the ABC & SBS, and the public service, this budget appears to be yet another example of short-term gain rather than long-term solution. We will see many Australians let down by these ad hoc measures.

In congratulating the attempt by the Abbott Government to continue the conversation about the critical steps needed to address the long-term challenges Australia faces, such as from an ageing population, we really do need a serious national conversation, based on the national interest and policy, rather than short term political point scoring.

Further, it must be a concern that the substantial surplus projected is largely reliant on cutting health and education funding to the states. Health and education are important to all Australians, where ever we may live. While responsibility for the delivery of these services currently resides with the states, it is irresponsible of the Federal Government to use the national funding of these services to push state governments towards radical changes to GST arrangements.

Ultimately, health and education must be recognised as continuing national priorities, and not merely left to the states. With this budget, the Abbott Government is setting the scene for a new round of cost shifting and disputes about future funding levels. It is not too difficult to predict that these short term political measures to put financial pressure on the states will only cause further operational shortcomings and will herald a new low for the delivery of these services to taxpayers, who pay for these services with their tax dollars and care little about which government logo appears on the name badge of the under paid and under resourced doctors, nurses, and administrators delivering the medical care.

It is relevant to note that many in this country, such as the Australian Democrats, have long advocated for the abolition of the states and the development of national, regional, and local governments instead. Australia is one of the most over governed countries in the world. We have hundreds of Federal MPs, nearly three times that amount of State and Territory MPs as well as hundreds and hundreds of local government entities – all engaged in governing a country with small population not much greater than the state of New York.

If the Abbott government was truly serious about balancing the books of the nation, then they would undertake to extinguish the huge waste inherent in this un-necessary government overlap and eliminate all the red tape these redundant bureaucracies generate.

Sadly, it was not really expected that the Abbott Government would alter course on the inhumane and ineffective approach to asylum seekers first initiated by the various Labor Governments. All Australians who value the notion of the ‘Fair Go’ and who have compassion in their hearts continue to look forward to an Australian Government whose asylum seeker policies are reasonable and humane.

I believe we need to be committed to building a better world and a stronger humanity; protecting those persecuted across the world, and supporting those who by no fault of their own live in deep poverty. In this regard, I am disappointed by the Abbott Government’s lack of commitment to what are reasonable obligations, including our international obligations.

The budget is about how our Government places value, by spending money, on people and programs on behalf of the nation. In this budget tonight we see a clear indication of the focus and ideological bent of this Abbott Government.

In particular, it is difficult to see how the Abbott Government can continue to justify the extraordinarily expensive offshore processing and “Border Protection” schemes. These schemes continue to receive obscene funding increases in this unbalanced budget. One has to ask why the Abbott Government continues to place hard line ideology before genuine fiscal responsibility and basic human decency. It is further distressing that these illogical decisions will be affirmed silently by the ineffectual and acquiescent opposition led by Bill Shorten.

Clearly what is needed for responsible government is a sense of balance and fairness. Sadly, we see little of this balance and fairness in this budget.

Stuart Horrex in Online Opinion
15 May 2014