February saw two separate large-scale public demonstrations called on mere day’s notice in major cities all across Australia calling on federal legislators to ‘kill the bill’. Which is to say, bring a definitive end to the reactionary, right-wing, ‘Religious Discrimination Bill’ that has been Scott Morrison and his LNP government’s signature proposal since the last election.
This legislation aims to use the rhetoric of “relieving religious bodies of discrimination acting in accordance with their faith” to hand private employers – including (publicly-funded) schools and hospitals – a completely legal way to discriminate in areas such as employment or students’ enrolment based on whether or not they comport to an institution’s own God-fearing principles – such as being heterosexual or entirely gender-conforming.
The steady advancement of this legislation and its precursor bills through the halls of legislative power has been the most telling piece of work to come out of Morrison’s government. With this attempt to legalise flagrant bigotry evidently being the reactionary right’s frothing-mad response to the legalisation of gay marriage and the expansion of abortion rights in this country.
The news coming to public light just this very month of Citipointe Christian College’s abhorrent ‘enrolment contract’ – requiring students and their families denounce “homosexual acts, fornication, and destructive gender rolls” lest they face immediate expulsion – shows how eager right-wing zealots currently are to demonise vulnerable groups like LGBTQ youth.
Thankfully the reaction to Citipointe's proposed contract, and the religious discrimination bill in general, has shown that just as in 2017 with the campaign for equal marriage, an overwhelming majority of people in this country support the extension of basic human rights, dignities, and protections to Australia’s LGBTQ people. Just as the majority of Australians five years ago mailed-in their resounding support for the amendment of the legal definition of marriage to include same-sex couples the majority of Australian’s now oppose the Religious Discrimination Bill.
The fact that Morrison’s government and its latest piece of legislative fanaticism is so firmly disliked by so much of the country and yet is still barrelling through the legislature, now on its third draft, reminds us again of the unrepresentative nature of “representative democracy”.
Not only is this highly unpopular sitting Liberals-Nationals Government capable of carrying out their reactionary agenda in Parliament regardless of how disliked both them and their legislation is, the past two weeks have shown that the federal opposition Labor Party under Anthony Albanese has inexplicably been all too eager to align themselves with the Prime Minister's own party on the issue. Labor cites their inexplicable support of the Liberals' religious bill as a tactical manoeuvre designed not to let a divisive "wedge issue" rile up ScoMo's reactionary base ahead of the federal election that must be held in, or before, May this year.
Rather than producing a debate in the halls of power reflective of the majority of the population’s desire to see actual protections for demographics like women and LGBTQ youth, in particular, expanded – our so-called “representative democracy” has fulfilled its actual goal of producing a horrendous double-act wherein elected officials on both sides of the aisle concern themselves more with upholding party interests and donor-friendly optics.
In countries all over the ‘Free World’, the undemocratic nature of liberal democracies has become the de facto political expectation. Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada, Great Britain – we’re all suffering the exact same parade of non-choices served up by our elected leadership. The bipartisan railroading of the Religious Discrimination Bill through the Lower House remind us once again that the only hope for progress lies in the hands of everyday people, not in the ballot box.
An answer isn’t going to come if we all merely sit back and hope for something good to eventually come along. It isn’t going to come from praying for milquetoast reformism or hitching all our collective hope onto something as cowed to the whims of the system as a minor party becoming a major factor in the balance of power. First and foremost, we need to acknowledge the inherent inability of the electoral system to provide a solution to the issues it relies on perpetuating to keep itself – and therefore its capitalist-class overlords – in power.
The long-term solution to the problem would be an eventual, revolutionary overhaul of how we think about centralised leadership’s very necessity to society – but, until then, we’ve seen that the mobilisation of enough people under a unified banner for a progressive cause can be enough to change the course of even a right-wing government in this country. Consider, how the widespread push all over Australia for LGBTQ rights lead to the capitulation of a Liberal-Nationals Government in allowing for a national plebiscite and subsequent conscience vote which finally legalised same-sex marriage here.
As we prepare to hear a lot of news about how this Religious Bill is now stalling indefinitely in the Senate ahead of the upcoming Federal Election and the next Budget Address, think about all the things our elected officials have been spending their time and effort on doing – and what they could have been doing instead. All this electoral posturing over whether or not a school should be able to expel a student whose pronouns they don’t recognise has cost us the time to hear any discussion about how to handle real issues. Like the government’s failure to import or manufacture enough rapid Covid-19 antigen testing kits to monitor the fallout of its own “let her rip'' pandemic strategy, or giving the Australian people a say in whether or not we really need to be buying two-hundred-billion dollars’ worth of nuclear submarines just because Washington DC told us to, for example.
Anarchist-Communists Meanjin urges readers to consider that permanent solutions will require a radical reapproach to our idea of politics and a departure from the dead-end of electoralism. No matter how galling the political outlook feels right now or after the upcoming election, just remember that the potential for change lies squarely with everyday, working-class people who care about these sorts of issues.
In the short term, we can make sure that the Religious Discrimination Bill remains dead and buried by hitting the streets and showing our strength. Public demonstrations are planned against the stalled bill across the country over the next month. In Brisbane, the next rally is scheduled for March 12th, at 1pm, in King George Square. We’ll see you there.