A letter to John Alexander

August 24, 2013

Dear Mr Alexander,

Almost three years ago you gave your first speech to the Parliament and people of Australia as the Member for Bennelong.  Allow me to reflect on a few sections of your address.

Fittingly, you gave thanks to the people of your electorate and promised to serve them fairly:

It is an honour to be in this position, and I am truly grateful to the people of Bennelong for the trust and faith that they have placed in me. However, that honour is immediately replaced with a deep sense of responsibility to do my best, with integrity, honesty and fairness.

Later, in relating your tennis travels through Europe you reflected on a particularly poignant moment:

We played in Poland and were taken to Auschwitz by Harry’s friend from before the war. He cried and we cried.

and in Africa, you tell of discrimination:

I learnt of discrimination travelling to South Africa with Arthur Ashe. He had been granted a visa declaring him an ‘honorary white’. In Arthur’s home town I practised on the adjoining court at the Richmond Country Club; he was the first African-American allowed to play there.

You paint a picture of how your travels around the world as a sportsman have guided you to understand diversity and how this dovetails with the vibrant diversity of Bennelong:

It is these experiences that have provided me with the opportunity for a real life education and has served as preparation for my role as a representative of one of Australia’s most diverse and multicultural electorates. Bennelong boasts nearly every language and culture, attained through a strong history of migration dating back to the English settlers. People have come from every part of the world to make Australia their home. In many ways, Bennelong is modern Australia.

Bennelong perfectly reflects the diversity and harmony we are so proud of in this country. Why do people leave all that is familiar to go half way around the world to start over again? They bring their dreams for a better life for themselves and their families. They bring their courage to ‘have a go’, with the odds stacked against them, playing so far from home.  Our new Australians bring energy, effort, innovation and, most of all, their hopes. Every soul who comes to our country enriches us and continues the constant redefining of what it is to be Australian.

You share the wisdom of your mentor Harry Hopman and of your friend Alan Jones and how this relates not only to how you play in tennis but also in politics:

Playing safe may achieve a short-term goal against inferior opposition, but the ultimate goal would be lost. As Alan Jones says, ‘To win without risk is victory without glory.’

You spoke of opportunities and of being our best:

To realise our country’s full potential, every Australian must have the opportunity to compete and earn just reward for their effort and success.

and you spoke of having visions:

Let us debate in this chamber a contest of ideas, a contest of visions. As with any endeavour in life, true and honest competition unfettered by political bias will produce, in this case, the best plan and the best result for our nation’s future. We need the courage to attack this challenge. It has been ignored for too long. To shirk this responsibility, to say it is too tough, would be an affront to those who fought to make Australia what it is today—our forefathers, who had a plan, an optimistic vision, and who made the most of their opportunity to have a go.

In summing up, you spoke of your children, and of the children of Australia, of their dreams, of opportunities and of wanting the best for them:

What do I want for my children? What I want for every Australian: opportunity—the opportunity to pursue their dreams, whatever they are, and not be restrained by their age, their sex or their colour. Opportunity is to be able to have a go. Opportunity without discrimination is to be given a fair go. We here have much work to do.

Thank you for an ace of a speech Mr Alexander.

I grew up and live in Melbourne, the first Australian-born in my family, of immigrant parents.  My mum and dad settled in Australia in 1973 for a better life, with hopes and aspirations for themselves and their children.  They came via Rhodesia, a country that had an unstable political horizon and felt it was not the place to raise a family.  My Australian birth some four years earlier helped them make the decision to return here.

In my household sport was a life-blood.  My parents adopted North Melbourne as their football team and of many sports at their disposal to support they adopted tennis with an amazing passion.  I was not a sporting child, that was my brother, but I grew up knowing the names of many tennis greats, watching with them many tennis tournaments and sharing with them many highs, and lows, of the game.  It was one of the more enjoyable parts of my teen years, a troubled part of my life.

Mr Alexander, your speech, your visions, your hopes and your aspirations are great.  You have learned much through your life’s journey, and you bring that with you to public office.  Yet you leave me confused, as the great sportsman that you are, where you learned to play fair and where fairness features in your values, why you do not feel compelled to want to treat all Australians equally.

I talk of the right for any Australian to be able to legally marry the one person of their choice, without regard to gender, under civil law.

It would seem you have tried to avoid this issue at best, at worst you’ve joined the ranks of those who don’t speak out for equality, rather, preferring to call for an inferior form of relationship recognition for non-heterosexual relationships.

In 2010, News Ltd surveyed the people of Bennelong and found 39% were in favour of same-sex marriage and 21% were indifferent to it.  That’s a whopping 60% of your electorate you won’t be disappointing if you support same-sex marriage.  Clearly a majority.

What of your lessons from touring Auschwitz and South Africa Mr Alexander?  Members of my extended family burned in the ovens of Auschwitz.  I don’t need to tell you of the reality of that particular time of persecution in human history but it might help spark a moment of reflection and compassion if I do.

You write of honorary whites.  Not only did the buses in South Africa have a back, but they also had a slightly back, mostly back, nearly at the back, and a “so far back you could think you were in the bus when you weren’t actually in it at all” back as well, depending on just how much your skin wasn’t shiny white.  You may have even heard of how the government decided at one point it wasn’t going to persecute citizens on whether their skin was white or not, so it labelled everyone green, then decided some were dark green and others light green.

Mr Alexander, what of vision, of hopes, of a fairer Australia where personal attributes are not a limiting factor, where children can have dreams and one day realise them?  What of the dreams for your children and for theirs?

What of the dream my parents had, and still have, that one day I might meet someone I want to marry.  At 44 I now have that special person in my life, his name is Gregory, and I want the right to be able to ask him to marry me.  But I can’t.  I don’t have that freedom, that opportunity, that right, because apparently I’m not worthy of it, for some inexplicable reason.  I am not looking to have children or start a family and Gregory has two grown-up children he parented mostly as a single dad.

Mr Alexander, you are playing a safe game in not supporting marriage equality.  You are not taking a risk and chancing a greater victory for all Australians.  Federal Politics is now your tennis court and sadly you are not scoring the points that will bring a win for, in your words, opportunity without discrimination, to the people of Bennelong and to our nation.

You are sitting on a 3.1% margin in your seat.  You are far from guaranteed a return.  With 39% of your electorate in support of marriage equality and with marriage equality being increasingly shown to be a vote winner around the nation, it would bode you well to show unreserved support for a change to the federal Marriage Act that removes all forms of discrimination.

I will finish up by mentioning that in the darkest of moments during my teenage years, the one candle of brightness for me, my role model of greatness, was tennis champion Martina Navratilova.  I could identify with her, as I struggled to come to terms with my sexual orientation.  It wasn’t her sporting prowess that inspired me the most though, it was her honesty and integrity.  I would like to add the name John Alexander alongside Martina Navratilova.  Please, show me your honesty and your integrity.

Sincerely,

Michael Barnett.
Ashwood, VIC.


A letter to Shayne Neumann

August 14, 2013

August 14 2013

Dear Mr Neumann,

Some five and a half years ago you gave your first speech to Parliament.  It started with your thanks to the people of Blair for placing their trust in you, a representative of the Labor party:

Mr Speaker, it is an honour to stand here today and speak in this chamber as the first ever Labor member for Blair. I am keenly aware of the trust, duty and obligation bestowed upon me by the people of Blair. They voted decisively for change on 24 November, delivering a 10.2 per cent swing to Labor. With emphatic purpose they chose a better way. They voted not for fear and pessimism but for hope and optimism. They voted not for the past but for the future.

You spoke to fresh beginnings, and looking forward, not backward.  You also spoke of your Christian identity, but to maintaining a secular government:

I respect those who hold views which may differ from my own, and I hold firmly—in a good Baptist tradition—to the separation of church and state.

You told us what you believe, of equality and civil liberties:

What do I believe? I believe in reconciliation with our Indigenous peoples. I believe in a republic with an Australian head of state. I believe in multiculturalism. I believe in equal rights for women. I believe in civil liberties. I believe that the rights of the Australian people should be protected by a bill of rights. I believe the law must be utilitarian. I believe the law must help, not hurt.

You spoke of doing more to help people:

I believe in a pragmatic, progressive Labor Party dedicated to practical policies to help people …

and you spoke of working hard, doing more, serving the people and being an upstanding Labor politician:

I have come here to work. I have come here to make a difference. I have come here to make change. I have come here to advocate for the causes in which I believe. I have come here to represent my local community. I have come here to deliver for the people of Blair. I have come here to serve and honour the greatest political institution in this land: the Australian Labor Party.

Mr Neumann, your words impress.  More should share these values.  However I am troubled because as good as it is to hear what you said to the people in 2008, your subsequent actions disappoint.  You see, in 2012 you were one of the 98 against marriage equality and yesterday you reiterated your opposition.

In 2012 the News Ltd Poll on Same-Sex Marriage reported a 44% level of support in Blair, 37% against and 19% indifferent.  That’s 63% not opposed.  Yet you claim your polling on same-sex marriage found 84% against and 16% in favour.  Your polling is in stark contrast to the New Ltd Poll and various polls by Galaxy.

Mr Neumann, where is the hope and optimism, the better future, for the 44% of your electorate who want equal marriage laws for themselves, their children, their friends and their families?  Where is the equality, respect and the civil liberties in voting against marriage equality?  How are you helping people by taking a stance that is rooted in the past, not the future?  And please, tell me, how is this stance supporting a secular perspective, where the church is kept out of government?

Lastly, I ask you, how is upholding a law that hurts people, consistent with your values of supporting laws that help, not hurt?

Mr Neumann, sadly you have not kept your promise to the people of Blair and the people of Australia.  You have also betrayed yourself, and that must be a hard pill to swallow.  I ask you to reflect on your values, look to the promises you made and the values you claim to uphold, and ask yourself how voting against marriage equality is a consistent position to take, most especially when it is not a value of the Labor Party.

Sincerely,

Michael Barnett.
Ashwood, VIC.


A letter to Kelvin Thomson

August 13, 2013

August 13, 2013

Dear Mr Thomson,

A little over 17 years ago you addressed the Parliament and people of Australia for the first time.  Kindly allow me to reflect on a few concepts in your first speech.

Appropriately you thanked those who helped elect you, the people your purpose is to serve.  You noted it’s the everyday things that can make the difference:

First, I would like to thank the people of the electorate of Wills for the confidence that they have shown in me by electing me.

The people of Wills have had the opportunity to see me in action as a member of the state parliament for the past seven years and before that as a Coburg councillor. Many have told me that they voted for me because they liked my attention to local work and to ordinary constituent problems, no matter how trivial they may seem. That places on me a responsibility to continue that work, and I place on record here my intention to continue doing just that.

You spoke on the past sufferings of those who chose Australia for their new home, a land where they could be live happier than their forebears and have greater freedoms:

Thirdly, I want to say something about why we are all here—not in this parliament but in this continent. Although Australia is an old continent it is in fact a very young nation. I think the reasons why we are all here tell us something about what our public policy objectives ought to be. So why are we here on this island? We came here because we, our parents or a previous generation came to escape features of our former societies which were intolerable and came here in search of new opportunity.

You spoke of equality and generosity:

Some of us have come in search of social equality, from countries with stifling class systems, countries in which power, wealth and opportunity were concentrated in the hands of a few. So we owe to ourselves a spirit of generosity and compassion towards those who are less well off and a spirit of cooperation between employer and employee. We do not need the dog-eat-dog mentality of America, or Britain’s underclass.

You spoke of freedoms:

Some of us have come in search of democracy and freedom of expression, fleeing totalitarian regimes, military dictatorships and countries in which rigid conformism was the order of the day. So we owe to ourselves freedom of expression, freedom of association and the right to join trade unions, and we also owe to ourselves respect for differing points of view.

You spoke of repression and also of tolerance and respect:

Some of us have come in search of racial and religious tolerance, escaping ethnic conflict and brutal tribal repression. So, finally, and perhaps in the present age of atrocities in Yugoslavia and other parts of Europe, Asia and Africa most importantly, we owe to ourselves the creation of a community based on mutual tolerance, respect and understanding.

Mr Thomson, your first speech is commendable as it shows you have a strong social conscience and that you care about the people of Australia.  However it perturbs me that given your values, you do not support equal rights for all Australians.  Nearly one year ago, on September 19 2012, you were one of the 98 who voted against marriage equality.  Why?

You told us that you care for what your electorate wants.  Overwhelmingly they want marriage equality.  The 2010 New Ltd Same-Sex Marriage Poll shows 57% of voters in Wills want marriage equality.  Together with the 18% of voters who are indifferent, 75% of voters in Wills are not against marriage equality.

You said you care about the ordinary things that matter.  For many people, being able to live a dignified existence, in a relationship with the person they love, is very very ordinary.  It’s not about winning the Nobel Prize or climbing Mt Everest.  It’s about being a person in society, the same as everyone else.  Getting married and sharing that experience with your friends and family is pretty darn ordinary if you ask me.  Putting a ring on it and having a few photos, that’s ordinary stuff Mr Thomson.

What happened to your concern for equality, for generosity, freedoms, escaping repression, showing tolerance, respect and understanding?  I trust you still hold true to those values.  But I don’t see you showing them, because Mr Thomson, on September 19 2012 you voted against equality.  On that day you showed an absence of generosity, you were unprepared to revoke the repressive legislation restricting the freedoms of all Australians on who they can choose to marry, and you showed an unfortunate lack of tolerance, respect and understanding.

Mr Thomson, my partner Gregory has a sister who lives in your electorate of Wills.  She passionately wants to be able to see us get married.  I would be surprised if she entertained the very thought of voting for a person who actively denied us the right to get married.  57% of your electorate also want to see people like us be able to get married.  Are you so comfortable in your seat that you can afford to casually dismiss the views of the majority of the people you are elected to represent?

September 7 2013 is Judgement Day Mr Thomson.  Wouldn’t you rather you were returned to office, especially because you supported equality and freedoms?  It’s an easy decision to make and doing so will put you on the right side of history.  It’s never too late to say sorry and make amends.

Sincerely,

Michael Barnett.
Ashwood, VIC.


A letter to Teresa Gambaro

August 8, 2013

August 8, 2013

Dear Ms Gambaro,

Some 17 years ago, in your first speech to Parliament and the people of Australia you made the following statement:

I was delighted to achieve a swing of 12.59 per cent in Petrie. Su Mon Wong, your words stay with me always: marketing is giving people what they want. The reason the coalition won by such an overwhelming majority is that we listened to people and their needs and we gave Australians what they wanted. As social analyst Hugh Mackay has said, people are more likely to listen to us if we listen to them.

You went on to say:

We must not forget our youth, their dreams, their ambitions and their self-esteem. Bert Weir, a personal friend and teacher of mental strength to the staff of businesses and government organisations all over Australia, in his book What happened?, said:

Kindness, generosity, ability to cooperate, inquisitiveness, confidence, sense of humour, creativity and calmness are only some of the . . . important qualities of human worth. How often are these praised? For a child to have a strong, balanced sense of self-esteem, it must be anchored in many different aspects of human beauty and worth.

Reflecting on these statements, and the 56% support for marriage equality in your seat of Brisbane (News Ltd Poll – Same-Sex Marrige 2010) along with the other 19% not opposed to marriage equality, how can genuinely say you are listening to the people in your electorate and giving them what they want?  It sounds more like a case of you not listening to your electorate and not giving them what they want.

As for the youth in Brisbane, these fragile and beautiful people who all to easily fall by the wayside as collateral damage of political expediency and the ego of the self-absorbed politician, what are you doing to further their dreams, their ambition and their self-esteem?  The alarming rates of youth suicide in this country, especially amongst same-sex attracted youth, tell me that you are actually doing nothing.

Dear Ms Gambaro, I am thoroughly disappointed, nay, I am disgusted, that you are taking your electorate for fools.  You are sitting on 1.1% margin and honestly, you do not deserve to be re-elected.  Give your voters the representation you promised them.  Give them marriage equality, and you may redeem yourself.

Sincerely,

Michael Barnett.
Ashwood, VIC.


A letter to Greg Hunt

August 3, 2013

August 3, 2013

Dear Mr Hunt,

A decade and a bit ago, on a Monday probably just after lunch, you gave your first speech to the Parliament and people of Australia.

It opened with fond words of people who had made a significant impact on you, people important to you in your community, your friends.

It is where I was born, it is where I was raised and it is where I have returned. What I have rediscovered is that Flinders is not the story of geography, beautiful as it is; it is the story of people, great people, many of whom have touched my life and have taught me the true meaning of community spirit—people whom I call friends.

 You expressed a concern for youth:

… all about providing opportunities for our young.

And spoke of meeting common challenges:

One of our guiding values must be compassion, and the heart of compassion is the expansion of people’s liberty

You drew on the wisdom of Menzies and his vision for the betterment of society:

There is absolutely no compassion in a system which, as Menzies described it, `discourages ambition, envies success and distrusts independent thought’.

You spoke of freedom, opportunity, dreams, liberty and love:

So the expansion of people’s liberty is about creating both opportunity and the capacity to exercise that opportunity. With that liberty comes aspiration: the capacity to dream and to hope. And hope is arguably the greatest of all freedoms. That is why William Hazlitt said, `The love of liberty is the love of others.’

You told us what you stand for:

I am for liberalism—clearly, simply, unequivocally.

and its benefits:

liberalism leads to greater fairness …

You continued to explain about how to build a fairer society, about not clinging to the past, about having an open mind:

… we have to have an open society. We have to believe in our capacity to reform, to adapt and to embrace the future, not to cling to outmoded ideas and structures.

With pride you told us again about the value of community to you and about representing the whole community:

I have been granted the opportunity to serve in this chamber by the grace of the electors of Flinders. I thank them for their trust and I pledge to serve as a representative for the whole community.

Then you brought together your ideals and aspirations powerfully and eloquently:

In weaving their stories together, the goal is hope, the vision is an open society and the path is along policies that encourage liberty. If I can assist my constituents and the wider community towards those ends then that will be enough.

Mr Hunt, I admire your words.  And like you, I care about the people of Flinders, the people of Victoria and the people of Australia.  I care about the welfare of our youth, deeply.  I care about the happiness of our community, their ability to succeed in their hopes and aspirations and about their liberty.  Like you, I care.

And yet, I am confused.  I am confused because in all of the care you have for the welfare of your community, for their hopes and aspirations, for their liberty and for fairness, you have told us that you don’t believe all the people in Flinders and wider should enjoy the same freedoms and liberties.  In short, you told us not quite a year ago that you believe some people should be treated differently:

My view, and I have said this before so it’s not a new position it’s what I’ve held for a long while, is that the right step at some stage will be civil unions.  I think that will deal with the concerns of those who have a belief that within the church they have a deep commitment to the notion of marriage and with equality in real terms in terms of rights. So my view is that the likely course of action, and one which I would support, is civil unions.

You told us that some people in Flinders shouldn’t be able to enjoy the same liberties as the rest.  I don’t quite see the fairness here.  Nor do I see how these people can share in the same hopes and dreams as everyone else.  And with a lesser liberty, they have a lesser ability to express their love.

In 2010 the News Ltd Same-Sex Marriage Poll told us 45% of your constituents supported same-sex marriage and that 16% didn’t care about the issue.  What that means is 61% of voters in your electorate are not opposed to same-sex marriage.

Mr Hunt, your words of 2002 are good.  Your words a decade later, not so much.  Have you forgotten about your friends in Flinders, the community and its youth that was so important to you that day, a bit after lunch, when you entered Parliament?

Just yesterday you hosted a Youth Mental Health Forum at Dromana Secondary College with Professor Patrick McGorry.  You said:

“youth suicide is way too high in Australia and we want to help young people understand there is help available when dealing with personal issues.”

Greg Hunt hosting a Youth Mental Health Forum at Dromana Secondary College with Professor Patrick McGorry

Mr Hunt, some of these youth you talk about who are killing themselves are doing so in part because society tells them they are not equal, that they are not the same, that they are not able to celebrate their love the same as their siblings, their friends and their family.

Mr Hunt, your views on marriage equality, the views that tell young gay boys and girls, transgender and intersex youth, that they should be satisfied with civil unions and should not be allowed to get married, are the very views that lower their self-esteem, increase their rates of mental-health issues and ultimately drive them to take their lives.  If you don’t believe me, ask the experts.

Please Mr Hunt, show the people of Flinders, the people of Victoria and the people of Australia that all yours words are genuine and that you do care.  The simplest and most effective way you can do this is by supporting marriage equality.

Sincerely,

Michael Barnett
Ashwood, Victoria


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