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Coalition tactics on marriage and climate change risk self-destruction

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Coloured speech bubblesLast week Prime Minsiter Tony Abbott announced two decisions: one endorsed by the Coalition members to refuse a free vote on gay marriage, and the other, endorsed by the Cabinet, to set a target to cut carbon emissions.

Both decisions have received a good deal of comment. Some blamed or praised the content of the decisions and the arguments made for them. Others reflected on the politics of the decisions.

In their comments they discussed the effectiveness of the denial of a free vote as a response to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten's promise of a free vote, the consequences for the unity of Cabinet and the Liberal Party of the decision to have the matter decided by all Coalition MPs rather than Liberal Party members, and its electoral implications.

They also considered whether the higher than expected emissions reduction would neutralise Labor advocacy of strong action to address climate change, and the popular support for such action. Some queried whether the proposed cut could be achieved without damaging the coal interests on which the Prime Minister is betting Australia's future.

These aspects are being adequately canvassed. But another aspect that has not been explored is the longer-term effect of adopting such short-term political fixes both to resolve ethical and social issues and to draw the teeth of the political opposition.

This question is raised sharply by notable shifts in Australian public opinion. An increasing number of people, particularly younger Australians, want gay marriage to be made legal. They see the refusal to allow gay people to marry as discrimination. Australians are also increasingly recognising the crisis that climate change presents to the world, and are expecting government to take strong action to address it.

The popular sentiment on both issues is likely to grow, regardless of the merits of the arguments.

The Pope's insistence that action to save the environment is an urgent moral and religious imperative, and the Paris meeting on curbing emissions, are focusing attention on climate change. So are the popular protests against coal mining and the withdrawal of support for mining projects by banks on financial and reputational grounds.

As long as legislation to allow gay marriage continues to be seen predominantly as a proper response to discrimination, too, support for it will continue to grow.

The growing support calls into question the effectiveness of the political strategies designed to blunt them. The question is like that facing authorities which build levees and other defences against rising sea and river levels. The strategy may be effective as long as the water level does not rise above a critical level. But if the rise is inexorable, the overwhelmed defences may increase the severity of flooding.

It is reasonable to assume that the denial of a free vote to Liberal Party members of Parliament will ensure that no legislation to legalise gay marriage will be passed during this parliamentary term. But if the Coalition is not returned to power, it seems certain that gay marriage will be legalised. A plebiscite or a constitutional referendum might well be lost, but either way could have incalculable consequences.

In either case the consequences of the present Coalition manipulation will be that the hostility between opponents and proponents of legalisation is likely to be intensified, and the proper way to resolve the issues involved seen to lie in the untrammelled exercise of power and not in reasoned conversation.

In such a climate, any appeal to other values at stake in legislation, such as religious freedom, will be regarded simply as self-interest, and will be overridden by the principle of non-discrimination.

The final result of these tactical decisions would then be the growth of intolerance and consequent resentment. This would certainly be the likely result of a plebiscite or referendum, with all its opportunity for manipulation and for abusive rhetoric. This will not serve the common good.

The fixing of the climate target risks becoming a mine that will blow up its makers. It is a concession to the public opinion and international consensus on climate change, which will press for more concessions. But it is also designed to protect a policy that relies heavily on coal to bring prosperity.

If even this modest policy is to be implemented, emissions, especially those from fossil fuels, will come under pressure from community and corporate moves to disinvestment. As the contradictions become increasingly evident the next government will be free to pursue a radically different policy.


Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is a consulting editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Tony Abbott, same sex marriage, marriage equality

 

 

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Existing comments

'If the Coalition is not returned to power, it seems certain that gay marriage will be legalised'. I'm not convinced. The power of the extreme right in the so-called 'Liberal' party is so strong that a coalition in opposition could still deny its members a free vote.
Ginger Meggs | 14 August 2015


Frankly Fr Hamilton SJ, your litany of gratuitous predictions and hypotheses re Gay marriage legislation can be gratuitously rejected.
Father John George | 15 August 2015


Ginger: "The power of the extreme right in the so-called 'Liberal' party is so strong that a coalition in opposition could still deny its members a free vote." True,but if Labor wins the Reps and the Greens and/or independents hold the balance of power in the Senate, it doesn't matter what the Liberal party thinks or does. The concept of marriage equality doesn't need a plebiscite or a referendum for Parliament to pass it into law.
Stuart | 15 August 2015


The real, anthropogenic climate danger is from some gay marriage friendly ES hot air
Father John George | 16 August 2015


I totally agree with you Stuart that legislating for marriage equality doesn't need a plebiscite or referendum. It needs only Parliament, in both Houses, to pass the requisite legislation. Abbott's proposal to 'let the people decide' is nothing more than attempt to bypass the already clearly demonstrated will of the people. That said, the ability of Labor to pass the bill in both houses is not a sure thing even if Labor wins the Reps and Labor and the Greens hold the majority in the Senate. There is no guarantee that ALL Labor Reps or Senators will support the bill - don't forget the power of 'shoppies' and the rest of the religious right in Labor, especially those in the Senate, to thwart to will of the majority of the Labor caucus. They've done it before and they could do it again, even at the cost of putting the party out of office.
Ginger Meggs | 16 August 2015


Good article, thank you. And a good case to vote for Labor. Nothing is going to happen under the Coalition on either issue.
Jeff | 17 August 2015


Dear Fr Andy, Thanks for your astute insight. Regarding the effect of evil/ hysteria upon our most sensitive of atmospheres: the 'democratic' one. Recalling McCarthyism and Miller's Salem witch trial analogy. To read your article chastens one's use of habitual emotional crutches. For it is true of a classroom or family situation too. I must be free to orient my responsibilities according to the life of the Holy Spirit who draws my to the dance of relationship and away from yhe superficial safety of prisons.
Louise O'Brien-Jeffree | 17 August 2015


Very welcome remarks, especially about gay marriage, coming from such an impeccably catholic source.
Jim Jones | 17 August 2015


A hopeful column. Thanks.
Peter Goers | 17 August 2015


This is a bit beside the point of Fr Andy's article, but in all the discussion about gay marriage, everyone is concentrating on the status of the union that is entered into. But homosexual unions sometimes break down, just as do heterosexual ones. Property and children are sometimes involved. It is, in my view, for the common good that those events should also be governed by the Australia wide provisions of the Family Law Act, with the specialist resources of the Family Court. Any legislation allowing same sex marriage, which, I agree, seems inevitable and desirable for the common good, should also provide for same sex divorce, property settlement and welfare of children. Alan Hogan Kirribilli
Alan Hogan | 17 August 2015


Re the environment. Coal burning energy has lifted millions from poverty compared with the era of wood burning energy - both generate carbon dioxide. In those third world countries where peoples are still dependent on wood burning energy, the cutting down of trees to provide this need deprives the planet of carbon dioxide absorption and conversion to environmentally harmless and essential oxygen necessary for life in most animals and plants. Environmentalists and social justice gurus need to get the balance right and leave the hysteria behind. Re legalisation of homosexual marriage. Why not legalise rape and bank robbery also. Think of the societal benefits. No need to jail rapists, no more poverty, great liberation from policing, no more lifelong psychological malaise for the raped, freedom for rapists to exercise their "own individual spirituality" - rapists would no longer be discriminated against nor would bank robbers in a truly Christian acceptance that God created them in his own image. An ideal world !!! Let's get on with it and abandon the law altogether. I suppose there is no need for us to abandon the law when the Law itself is doing a splendid job of doing that.
john frawley | 17 August 2015


Ginger Meggs paints a depressing picture regarding Labor's right wing rump but its power base is diminishing as was evident at the last conference. What is interesting is how extremists, in both major parties, are holding back the entire country: socially, economically and environmentally. I don't believe anything can save Abbott given the inept way he has handled both issues referred to in Andrew's article. Add to that all the other blunders he's made (e.g. Prince Phillip's Knighthood, the first Coalition budget, his many disastrous 'captains pick' etc.,). Abbott is now completely out of touch with a majority of Australians and increasingly questioned within his own party. Shorten, on the other hand, has shown a willingness to at least listen; a worry for the 'shoppies'? Internal polling has shown Labor that by differentiating itself from the Coalition (Abbott really) on Climate Change and Marriage Equality is a win win situation, possibly an election winning position. It will require courage on the part of Shorten of course (did I mention courage?!) to stare down Labor's extremists, but indications are somewhat promising following the Labor Conference and his appearance at the Royal Commission. The cold hard reality is the Coalition, under Abbott, will not progress either issue, that is now clear. Poll after poll is showing the government is on a downward spiral. Its only hope (in my humble opinion) is to turn to Malcolm Turnbull. He has credibility with voters across the board. But will he have the courage (that word again!) to draw the sword?
Jeff | 17 August 2015


"Impeccably catholic source"? Come off it Mr Jones. ES material has dissented from Vatican decrees on gay marriage!
Father John George | 17 August 2015


Does anyone on Capital Hill reads Eureka Street? And if there are a few, would they see what Andrew was getting at? And if they see what he is getting at, would it influence the way they approach these two particular issues of climate change (which seems to have been reduced to 'controlling carbon emissions') and gay marriage (which seems to have become 'marriage equality')? The PM and his supporters appear to put their faith in the tactics of the Roman general Fabius Cunctator, who 'by delaying saved the state for us' (Annals of Ennius, 2nd century AD). Those who take a longer view will say the Roman Empire finally did fall but will they admit that corruption from within played a large part in that fall?
Uncle Pat | 17 August 2015


The only reason the Coalition is playing silly buggers on gay marriage is because it doesn't want to let the cat out of the bag (Catholic teaching) and face the embarrassment of defending views similar to some ES article comments likening same sex issues with mental illness, bestiality and chewing gum.
AURELIUS | 17 August 2015


I would invite John Frawley to reflect that since more trees grow to replace those harvested for fuel, wood-burning adds little carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Coal-burning, however, directly adds previously geosequestered carbon to the atmosphere, disrupting climate and sea levels, and making the world’s oceans more acidic to the great detriment of people whose livelihoods depend on the seafood they harvest. Mr Frawley could also reflect that, while it is undoubtedly true that coal has lifted millions from poverty, it is possible to have too much of a Good Thing. In the case of coal, every tonne of coal mined and burnt since 1988, when atmospheric CO2 exceeded 350 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in over three million years, has only added to the future misery of those driven from their homes and farms by encroaching seas - it is now certain that sea levels will rise by an average of at least 5 metres over the next few centuries, for example, let alone those driven from their livelihoods by drought and storms, by famine and pestilence. Regarding Mr Frawley’s other remarks, I daresay there are political Parties that might want to hear from him.
David Arthur | 17 August 2015


Oh, dissension! Shock, horror! Mustn't have any of that Fr John George. Call out the temple police. Close ES down, quickly, lest the truth get out and the sheep begin to think for themselves.
Ginger Meggs | 17 August 2015


Mr Meggs how thou abhoreth dissent from thy well known infullabull Magisterium. Necessitating calling in the fire brigade to hose down thy conflagrated fury!
For Heaven saketh! 'DISSENT'-ry is endemic on ES versus "fides quarens intellectum"["faith seeking understanding"] IMHO.
Father John George | 18 August 2015


I look forward to a plebiscite on changes to the Marriage Act. A democratic vote will send a powerful message to Canberra. It will promote the common good. The opportunity of a plebiscite will help us accept the majority decision and find our various ways of living with it. Seems very "pastoral" to me under the circumstances.
Dennis Carroll | 18 August 2015


What a leader we have, he would have to be one of the very best in such difficult times. The homosexual lobby groups and Al gore groups are screaming real loud but thank goodness its falling on deaf ears. Millions of Australians are supporting Tony's stance against the destruction of Australia. The pope encyclical is based on a bunch of left wing loons that he choose has his advisers. Climate change is a hoax that will cripple Australia's economic, we already pay enough taxes and as for homosexuals, when they divorce and by gee they will the tax payer is going to have to folk out the court bill for them as well. Yes indeed Australians will suffer both morally and financially. It is not a wonder Tony Abbott is leading in the polls.
kate | 18 August 2015


Dear Andrew With so many affairs emerging, eg Bronny, Climate Change targets and Laudato Si, Equality of Marriage, now Dyson Heydon affair.... I can only refer you to Macbeth Act 4 Sc I, "Double Double toil and struggle: fire, burn and cauldron bubble"
Brian K ennedy | 18 August 2015


Kate talking tax! Gay divorce is 167% higher than hetero divorce in long time gay friendly Scandinavia. http://www.marriagedebate.com/pdf/ssdivorcerisk.pdf
Father John George | 18 August 2015


The difference between knowledge and opinion has been known for centuries; but many people today, especially the young, have not been taught it. The aims of marriage for centuries have not changed, and Catholics should mention them in reflections on this vitally important matter. The aims are procreative (how to raise children soundly), not simply unitive (love, love, love).
Dr Susan Reibel Moore | 18 August 2015


Ah, Kate is pulling your leg, Father JG?
Ginger Meggs | 18 August 2015


I know this comment isn't going to make one bit of difference to anyone who reads this website but people need to wake up and see that the world has passed the brink of insanity. The emperor has no clothes but everyone is too busy feeding their addictions so they can avoid the hard work that needs to be done. Some turn to sex addiction, alcohol and drug addiction, sport addiction, shopping addiction, anger addiction, wealth acquisition addiction, the Left fight the Right, the Right fight the Left. Some are even addicted to Social Justice, trying to be "the voice of change" to a more equal society. All of it is nonsense. Especially this non-stop talk of power and equality. There is no utopia to be found heading down this road. It is a house built on sand and the more people move into the house, the greater the collapse. There is only one thing to be done, the hard work, and that is to turn to the heart of Jesus for mercy. You must have heard of Him even if you don't speak of Him. Jesus the Messiah: the one who has the words of Eternal Life? Him!
Andrew | 21 August 2015


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