Labor heavyweight Jack Egerton (front middle) flanked by Clem Jones (Brisbane mayor 1961-1975)  and Bob Hawke  (Prime Minister of Australia and the Leader of the Labor Party from 1983 to 1991).
Labor heavyweight Jack Egerton (front middle) flanked by Clem Jones (Brisbane mayor 1961-1975) and Bob Hawke (Prime Minister of Australia and the Leader of the Labor Party from 1983 to 1991). Contributed

ALP vote 1970s: 'Those opposed to my left, poofters to my right'

A FEW years ago at the state ALP conference former gun shearer Australian Workers Union State Secretary and Federal President and ex State ALP President Bill Ludwig (not Livingstone mayor) got the call in the debate on whether Labor should support same sex marriage.

Amid muttering from the left delegates the old hero of the so called right faction said "it's about time they (LGTBI people) had to put up with what we have to! I support the motion". Amid cheering and laughter Big Bill won the day.

It was not always the way.

At the Surfers Paradise conference around the early 1970s the tyrannical state president and chair of the conference Jack Egerton, who served his time as a boilermaker at the Rocky Railway workshops, when calling the vote on decriminalisation of homosexual acts between consenting adults shouted "those opposed to my left, poofters to my right!".

The metal workers union which Egerton headed up then is now a left union affiliate with the Party, strongly in support of same sex marriage.

It just shows how issues evolve and that education and tolerance of differences is an ongoing process in policy development.

I don't know anyone who hasn't made up their mind or thinks that this issue is worthy of a survey costing a couple of brand new high schools and a down payment on four lanes from Rocky to Gladstone.

That is aside from the rusted-on antis. If the polls are right then they are in for some teeth gnashing and a lot of recrimination about flushing down enough gold coins to block every poker machine in Queensland.

Personally I do not agree with conscience votes despite having participated in a couple. Despite some pub talk that there's a greater likelihood of finding elephants dancing with the Royal Ballet than a politician with a conscience.

 

Long-serving former Member Robert Schwarten pictured in 1996.
Long-serving former Member Robert Schwarten pictured in 1996. The Morning Bulletin Archives

In my experience the latter are no less burdened by conscience than everyone else. The point is do voters put people there to follow their conscience or to do what is right by the community?

I voted for stem cell research laws because the science guided me as did the fact that I could never look someone in the eye whose kid was, say, cured of diabetes if I didn't.

It was quite a sight in Parliament to see Jeff Seeney (then leading the LNP) sitting with Anna Bligh in the division while half her cabinet including the Health Minister sat opposite voting against.

I have no doubt those who voted against did so guidance from their churches, which begs the dilemma about who or what owns a conscience.

Same sex marriage is not about conscience any more than stem cell research was and it is heartening that the Labor Party policy means every member will be obliged to vote for it.

Australia is one of a handful of countries that forces citizens to vote. But it seems the government is not game to try that on this time.

A referendum just might lift the old sheet of corrugated iron on too many taipans there!

 

So we are stuck with this sham hundred million dollar survey.

The no side is banking on only those who hate the idea having enough energy to vote.

The yes supporters are doing their best to counteract it with people like Ian Thorpe introducing young people to 19th century technology via the post box in the hope they will see the novelty in the new experience of posting a letter.

In 2015 nearly 114,000 presumed heterosexual couples tied the knot and nearly 50,000 cut it with 75% of those opting for civil celebrants instead of the walk down the church aisle.

It could be said with confidence that citizens no longer see churches as the custodians of marriage anyway.

Also with the failure rate of marriages greater than that of household appliances (and that is saying something), it could be argued that same sex couples might improve that statistic.

Marriage rates fell by 7,602 or 6.3% in 2015 and they are trending downwards at a rare higher than inflation.

So if anything the enthusiasm for same sex marriage counteracts the waning interest in making and keeping the vows among heterosexual partners.

In most cases there are children involved being raised by single females and it is not illegal for same sex couples to have kids, so the arguments about kids welfare is not valid.

In truth there are many kids which the state has to take away from heterosexual married parents because they are at risk of harm.

Marriage does not necessarily mean the kids get the best deal.

 

It is worth noting that my great-grandparents only married when there son, my grandfather, was 11-years-old so this new trend is actually quite old fashioned.

Thankfully, gone are the days of the busybody neighbours marking the calendar in the hope that the newly-weds down the road would bring a bundle of joy into the world before their nine-month trial was up.

Rocky vote: Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?

This poll ended on 22 September 2017.

Current Results

Yes

54%

No

43%

Undecided

1%

This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

The terms "had to get married" and "got herself into trouble" are no longer on the mouths of gossips and a good thing too.

Any reasonable analysis of marriage as an institution shows it is not the sacred institution some argue.

It does however provide legal certainty and is still an option for those who wish to express their love and commitment to each other.

This brings me to my final point.

With many people opting out of marriage in one way or another and not bothering with church weddings anyway, what is all the fuss about?

It should never have got to this if the Prime Minister let his conscience overrule the spoilers in his party.

But what is so wrong with same sex couples wanting to express their love and commitment in the same way others do?

I get the religious argument and respect those who push it, but I do not agree.

Big Bill was right. Why not allow same sex couples the trials, thrills and spills?

With a divorce rate of nil in the same sex cohort surely that will not remain constant they figure out that it is no bed of roses. Then we can start debating same sex divorce - another popular cause with the masses.

Robert Schwarten is a well-known Central Queensland personality, having previously represented the region as Member for Rockhampton for nearly 17 years as well as serving a a Minister in various Labor Governments.


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