A letter to Ann Sudmalis, MP for Gilmore

Jul 14, 2015

From: Michael Barnett
Date: 14 July 2015 at 03:45
Subject: An urgent message about the mental health of youth in Gilmore
To: “Ann Sudmalis (MP for Gilmore)” <ann.sudmalis@nsw.liberal.org.au>

Dear Mrs Sudmalis,

Not quite two years ago you gave your opening address to Parliament, December 10 2013.  I’d like to take you back to that day, to reflect on some of the important messages you delivered, if I may.

Starting big you invoked two modern giants.  You quoted JFK:

‘Ask not what your country can do for you but, rather, what you can do for your country’

and said of Nelson Mandela:

[he] not only did something for his country but is iconic for developing community self-belief.

Indeed, two visionaries who left an indelible mark on society.

You suggested that rather than look to change the whole country at once we focus on a more manageable challenge:

For some of us the idea of doing something for our country is too broad, a little too big, a concept meant for others, something grand perhaps only for heroes, perhaps something to do with pilots, sailors or soldiers. But humans live in groups each best described as a community, so for us as Australians our question is to ask not what we can do for our country but rather what can we do for our community.

Looking at possible generational change in attitude you suggested we could be more effective as a society if we worked together rather than for our own individual causes:

I am tired of this ‘I, me and mine’ dominating the media and seeping into the mindset of our children and our youth. It is overdone and overdue. We need a change back to the Aussie way. We are famous for a ‘we, ours and us’ way of looking at the world.

You called for collective contribution for the greater good and your desire to see this in action:

So if each one of us does something for our community we will make life just a little better and our whole country will benefit. It is this ideal of making things better, of giving back to the community, that has brought me here as a member of parliament.

Of your grandmother you spoke fondly about all people being equal and of reaping what you sow:

My much-loved gran … taught me generosity of spirit, that we are all equal in God’s eyes, that your actions will always come back to you like a boomerang…

In a not so dissimilar experience to mine, we attended a number of schools.  You made many friends and learnt something valuable from each:

My education, like many Australian children, was not completed in a single primary school nor followed by a single high school. I was in fact blessed, although I did not see it that way at the time, by moving frequently and having to make new friends along the way, and learning to accept all the different experiences.

You reminded us about the important of personal contribution to society:

Giving back to the community has always been important to me.

In the spirit of the Liberal Party ethos of individual freedoms you spoke:

Everyone in this chamber is here to represent their community to the best of their ability, … l am proud to be part of the team that works to reward individual endeavour, to help people to their feet and allow them the independence of their own choices.

You thanked the people of Gilmore, and told us that together with all of them you want to achieve success:

I deeply honour those in Gilmore who decided to put their faith in me to help change the government for Australia. I also respect those who did not, for we have a robust democracy in this nation. Now we must work together to achieve great things. I am determined to make sure the trust and honour granted to me is not misplaced.

Your spoke with praise of the collective ability of your electorate, your desire to not leave anyone stranded and to make Gilmore a better place:

Gilmore has extraordinary human capacity and amazing potential. It is time that we in our region believe this, to lift our community, and its self-respect, to begin the process of achievement and hope, rather than denial of individual merit. We who are leaders—whether community leaders, elected leaders or opinion makers—have a responsibility to increase the social value in our community’s own eyes, despite our own political bias. It is time to go beyond the facade of perception and look at the true worth of our community.

Again you called on JFK:

There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?

and in summation aspired to making Gilmore a better place:

Yes, indeed, it seriously is time to ask: what can we do for our community? From the innocence of childhood to the cynicism of adulthood, it is time for a change for the better. It is time for ‘we will’. The responsibility is ours. It is absolutely up to us to make things better and make a difference. Thank you.

Last month you issued a statement, presenting facts on anxiety and how it can be so harmful to young people:

In Australia, one in six people aged between 16 – 24 years are currently experiencing an anxiety condition. This means that affected young people are constantly worrying, unable to relax, and have trouble sleeping and difficulty concentrating on things like work and study.

You went on to say:

Anything that helps our youth to defeat anxiety and stress is a great social improver.

Beyond Blue make the following statement about depression and anxiety:

While depression and anxiety are different conditions, it is not uncommon for them to occur at the same time. Over half of those who experience depression also experience symptoms of anxiety. In some cases, one can lead to the onset of the other.

The inescapable reality is that a percentage of youth in Gilmore will be same-sex attracted and/or gender-diverse.  There is an understood link between poor mental health outcomes for these people and any discrimination they face:

Same-sex attracted Australians are more likely to experience below-average health outcomes including higher levels of depression, due to this prejudice and discrimination. The statistics are particularly alarming for younger and newly-identifying LGBTI people who have consistently higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, early school leaving, conflict with peers and parents and suicide ideation, all directly related to the discrimination and prejudice they experience.[v]

http://www.glhv.org.au/files/writing_themselves_in_again.pdf

In September 2013 you made the following statement on marriage equality:

“For goodness sakes, this electorate does not want marriage equality. And where on earth did that become a priority issue in this seat where we’re looking at infrastructure and unemployment? Those are the issues that count in this seat,” she said.

and earlier in June you made the following statement:

“We have a very conservative seat and from the huge number of emails and letters I have received, people don’t want to see a change,” she said.

“So I will be saying no.

In recent days you spoke of the poll you are conducting on marriage equality in Gilmore and how you want to hear from the people and not be influenced by your personal beliefs:

Mrs Sudmalis said it was irrelevant how she felt about the issue because it was her job to collect comments from the community.

Sometimes listening to your community and not having a conversation with them is taking the easy way out.  You’re sending out 65,000 surveys.  I expect you plan inform your views on marriage equality from the results of this survey.  I hope you do not do this in a vacuum.

I say this because of what you believe in and what you stand for.  What are you doing for your country, or your community?  What are you doing to develop community self-belief?  If you simply accept those wishes to uphold the status quo are you giving anything back to the community, for it’s greater good, or are you just taking the easy way out?

You spoke of the amazing potential of the people of Gilmore.  Do you believe a survey will draw on this potential?  I’d be surprised if you genuinely felt it did.

What about the self-respect of the community, and the possibility of achievement and hope?  Can a community whose same-sex attracted and gender diverse youth who experience anxiety, and who cannot aspire to enjoy the same celebrations of life as their heterosexual gender binary counterparts, share in that self-respect and hope for a wonderful future?

How is denying individuals the right to marry the person they love not “denial of individual merit”?  Surely we are all equal and worth the same, going by the understanding your grandmother instilled in you.  By removing the hope and aspiration of young people you are contributing to their poorer mental health outcomes, which lead to anxiety and depression.

Yet you support any initiative to “defeat anxiety and stress”, of which marriage equality is demonstrated to be one.  But if the majority of your electorate tells you they don’t want to support marriage equal how are you standing by this claim of yours?

Please remember the words of JFK, that you quoted in your opening speech:

There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?

Mrs Sudmalis, are you that person who looks at marriage as the crumbling and exclusive institution that it is in an “I, me and mine” way or are you that person who dreams of an improved marriage that brings together the people of Gilmore in a “we, ours and us” way; in a way that paves a change for the better; in a way that helps people to their feet and allows them the independence of their own choices; in a way that allows you to respect the different experiences of your friends in same-sex relationships or who are children with gay mums or dads?

If you are true to your word, and I believe you are, you must stand up for equality, you must treat the people of Gilmore with respect and you must improve its social value despite your political bias.  When do you, you’ll throw that boomerang and it will deliver you a healthier, happier and more productive community.  You can then look up and thank your gran for her wisdom and reflect on the what you did for your community, for the people of Gilmore.

Sincerely,

Michael Barnett.
Ashwood, VIC.


A letter to Nola Marino, MP for Forrest

Jul 13, 2015

From: Michael Barnett
Date: 13 July 2015 at 03:20
Subject: An urgent message about the mental health of youth in Forrest
To: “Nola Marino (MP for Forrest)” <nola.marino.mp@aph.gov.au>

Dear Ms Marino,

In February 2008 you addressed the Parliament of Australia and spoke proudly of how you would represent the people of Forrest to the best of your ability:

I rise to make my first speech with a mixture of pride and honour, because I have been chosen by the people of Forrest to be their voice in federal parliament. I acknowledge and thank them for their vote of confidence in my ability to represent them…

You said that members of the community must look out for each other’s best interests and in doing so this will strengthen the community:

As in most small towns, it is necessary for local people and families to work together to make sure that the community functions effectively. It does not happen on its own.

In speaking of your parents you fondly reminisced how they instilled in you a commitment to your community and the importance of family:

But they both instilled in me a hard work ethic, strong family values and an absolute commitment to the broader community.

With wisdom you told of what and who politics is really about for you:

Politics is about people. I entered politics to be of further service to the people of Forrest.

and you reminded Australians that you will do your utmost for the people of Forrest:

I will provide them with emphatic and strong representation here in Canberra.

In summation, you reiterated these values, because they are so very important to you:

Finally, I need once again to acknowledge and thank the people of Forrest for their support. To them, I say this: you can be assured that I will be ‘focused on Forrest’ and that I will continue to work tirelessly on your behalf as your voice in this parliament.

In October 2012, some four and a half years later, you issued a statement on mental health.  In it you revealed some alarming facts linking mental health to suicide:

This is because of the awful truth that mental illness is a major contributor to suicide. Research shows us that people with mental illness like depression, bipolar or schizophrenia are seven times more likely to end their life than people who do not suffer from mental illness.

You spoke of how so many young people experience depression and that you welcome initiatives to help them:

Depression is the most common disorder which affects four per cent of the general population. More tragic, however, is that about 160,000 young people aged between 16 and 24 live with depression each year, which is why I welcome headspace in my electorate.

Clearly this is an important issue to you:

It is something I campaigned strongly for in the run to the election and have ever since.

I note that you acknowledge that family problems exist alongside these young people who experience depression:

Young people who suffer depression are also usually suffering from other problems in their lives such as drugs, alcohol and family problems.

You relate the profound effect of suicide in small communities:

Everyone is impacted when suicide occurs—family, friends and the wider community, particularly in small regional communities.

The inescapable reality is that a percentage of youth in Forrest will be same-sex attracted and/or gender-diverse.  There is an understood link between poor mental health outcomes for these people and any discrimination they face:

Same-sex attracted Australians are more likely to experience below-average health outcomes including higher levels of depression, due to this prejudice and discrimination. The statistics are particularly alarming for younger and newly-identifying LGBTI people who have consistently higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, early school leaving, conflict with peers and parents and suicide ideation, all directly related to the discrimination and prejudice they experience.[v]

http://www.glhv.org.au/files/writing_themselves_in_again.pdf

Only a week ago you reiterated your strong opposition to changing the law in favour of marriage equality.  Hearing this leaves me confused by the disconnect in your messages.

On the one hand you speak of how important representing the best interests of the people in Forrest is to you, how family and community mean so much to you, how committed you are to your job and your people, how serious the issue of youth mental health is and how mental health and depression is so strongly linked to suicide.

Yet on the other hand you say that young same-sex attracted and gender diverse people can’t aspire to get married like their heterosexual gender binary siblings and friends can, you say the families of these people can’t share in the joy of seeing their children get married and can’t invite their friends, family and colleagues to their weddings, and how you wish to deny the children of same-sex couples living in Forrest the right to have married parents, just like the parents of their school mates and friends.

With the clear link between discrimination against same-sex attracted & gender diverse people and mental health issues, and with your understanding of how mental health issues can rip apart families and communities, especially in places like Forrest, it makes no sense to me why you are opposed to a reform that has the potential to benefit the best interests of the people of Forrest, the very people you promised your utmost to.

If you care about the people of Forrest as much as you claim, and I believe you genuinely do, then I urge you to reevaluate your stance on marriage equality, understand that it will not force people of faith to do anything they oppose, that it will help reduce risk factors leading to depression and suicide, and that ultimately it will contribute to a healthier, happier and more productive community.

Those people in Forrest who urge you to oppose marriage equality also urge you to look after the well-being of their children.  The reality is that by upholding the status quo in the law you are not looking after the best interests of the young people in Forrest, and that is sad.  Your job is to educate the people of Forrest why their support for marriage equality is so crucial to them and their community.  Not doing so will only see you fail your community and ultimately all Australians.

Sincerely,

Michael Barnett
Ashwood, Victoria.


A letter to Ken O’Dowd, MP for Flynn

Jul 10, 2015

From: Michael Barnett
Date: 10 July 2015 at 14:04
Subject: An urgent message about the mental health of youth in Flynn
To: Ken O’Dowd <ken.o’dowd.mp@aph.gov.au>

Dear Mr O’Dowd,

In your opening address to Parliament in October 2010 you thanked the people of Flynn for putting their faith in your ability to represent their best interests and assured them you would do your best to look after their well-being:

Mr O’DOWD (6:23 PM) —Mr Speaker, I am extremely proud to rise for the first time in this chamber. In doing so, I would like to acknowledge the people of Flynn, who have chosen to put their faith in me to represent their interests. So far it has been a sharp learning curve. I am excited by the prospect of being able to contribute to the wellbeing of my electorate and by the thought that my work in this place will be meaningful and will enable the residents of Flynn to enjoy the quality of life that they richly deserve.

Not once but twice you stressed you would not let anything get in your way when there was an urgent matter than needed addressing in your electorate:

Some people refer to me as ‘the bulldog at the gate’. Some people have unkindly said that I look like a bulldog! I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that when I have an issue that needs to be followed though on for my electorate, I will be an absolute ‘bulldog at the gate’ with sharp teeth and a loud bark, making sure that the Prime Minister honours the promises made to Flynn in the days immediately prior to the election.

I promise the people of Flynn that I will be the ‘bulldog at the gate’ and I will work in this place for the restoration of our regional towns and cities.

Lastly, you reminded your electorate you were there for them:

I thank the people of Flynn for their vote of confidence and, Mr Speaker, I thank you.

Four years later you issued a media release advising a new Headspace centre would be opened in Gladstone.  You wrote:

Mr O’Dowd said “It is our youth that have greatest prevalence of mental illness – more than any other age group – with three quarters of all mental illness presenting in people aged under 25 years,” Mr O’Dowd said.

There is an understood link between poor mental health outcomes for same-sex attracted and gender diverse youth and the discrimination they face:

Same-sex attracted Australians are more likely to experience below-average health outcomes including higher levels of depression, due to this prejudice and discrimination. The statistics are particularly alarming for younger and newly-identifying LGBTI people who have consistently higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, early school leaving, conflict with peers and parents and suicide ideation, all directly related to the discrimination and prejudice they experience.[v]

http://www.glhv.org.au/files/writing_themselves_in_again.pdf

In particular, the inability to get married to the person of their choice is a contributing factor to this problem.  By denying these people the dignity and inclusion in society, they are marginalised, treated as second-class citizens and are not able to participate in the richness of the community like everyone else.

I urge you to reflect on your promise to the people of Flynn to look after their best interests and think about what standing up for equality will do to increase the hope and aspiration of the young people who are an over-represented demographic in mental health issues.  Be that angry growly “bulldog at the gate”.  Take a stance on this issue.  You may be unpopular with some, but remind those people it’s the welfare of their children you’re acting in the best interests of, and then ask them if they’d rather you didn’t take that interest.

By supporting marriage equality you’ll be saving lives.

Thank you Mr O’Dowd.

Michael Barnett.
Ashwood, VIC.


Message to Federal MP for Murray Sharman Stone on Marriage Equality & Youth Suicide

Jul 2, 2015


Sharman Stone - Federal MP For Murray“Our rural youth, descendants of the pioneers who overcame the harshest conditions, now take their own lives at rates which are amongst the highest in the Western world.”

“I want to assure the electorate of Murray that I … willingly take up the challenge of helping to deliver to them … the standards of human services that are essential if our region is ever to reach its full potential.”

Sharman Stone – First Speech – May 6 1996.


Same-sex attracted Australians are more likely to experience below-average health outcomes including higher levels of depression, due to this prejudice and discrimination. The statistics are particularly alarming for younger and newly-identifying LGBTI people who have consistently higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, early school leaving, conflict with peers and parents and suicide ideation, all directly related to the discrimination and prejudice they experience.[v]

http://www.glhv.org.au/files/writing_themselves_in_again.pdf


Sharman Stone voted very strongly against same-sex marriage equality


8 year old Abbey writes a letter to Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Marriage Equality

Aug 5, 2014

It really doesn’t get more heart-felt or political than this letter written by our 8 year-old niece Abbey today.

Tony, listen to the kids!

Michael.

To Tony Abbott
my name is Abbey and I am 8 years old.
My unkls are gaye and we had to go to
New Zeland to have ther wedding it is going
To be on TV it’s called Living with the Enemy they
wont to get marred in Astralea but thats eligle
I will write to you once a day for a week.
P.S. I wold like the law changed.

20140805 Abbey's Letter


A letter to Dr Dennis Jensen, MP for Tangney

Apr 27, 2014

April 27 2014

Dear Dr Jensen,

I wish to convey a concern of mine that affects the residents of Tangney.

First, allow me to reflect on some themes from your first speech to Parliament, nearly a decade ago, in November 2004.

You spoke of your past, growing up in a harsh Apartheid South Africa, and how it influenced your perspectives:

Having spent my youth in an authoritarian nation, I have long cherished the notion of the rights of the individual, freedom of choice and expression, and the right of people to succeed in their business, unencumbered by government red tape and restrictions.

I hear the utter despair in your voice as you relate the neglect that erodes the happiness and welfare of so many children of failed marriages.  You point the finger at those parents whose relationships, married or otherwise, crumble:

There are many issues that, on a family by family basis, completely overshadow policies relating to global geopolitics. One of these issues relates to family breakdown. The particularly high rate of breakdown in marriages today means that one out of two marriages will end in divorce. This is painful enough for the adult parties concerned but it is worse for the children of these adults. Where the break-up is acrimonious, things are far worse. Far too frequently the children are used as weapons. Custodial parents all too often blatantly ignore access provisions to punish the non-custodial parent, ignoring the pain that this causes the children. We must not allow these acrimonious break-ups to cause any more pain than is absolutely necessary for children and non-custodial parents.

As a fellow science graduate from RMIT, I am rewarded to see your displeasure at those who challenge our long-standing institutions yet fail to substantiate their claims with hard, reproducible evidence:

Being an analytical person, I tend to take a dim view of sacred cows that are not backed up by verifiable facts.

I note your appreciation for those who put their faith in your ability to represent them fairly and further, your strong desire to increase their well-being:

This leads me to conclude that during this term of the Howard government we should be focusing on positive solutions to the many challenges which we face. I wish to sincerely thank the people of Tangney for voting for me and thereby bestowing this significant honour upon me. I do not take this honour lightly and I assure the people of Tangney that I will do my utmost to see to their best interests.

I trust that the sincerity of your message to Parliament, to the people of Tangney and to all Australians that day in 2004 has not only persisted, but has increased year on year.

With this background on the table I wish to address my concern about a number of claims I’ve seen in the media, attributed to you, that bother me deeply.  Essentially they are about marriage, but also about families.

In 2011 you authorised a letter from your office indicating your opposition to supporting marriage equality on the basis of “overwhelming” opposition from voters in Tangney.

Whilst there may be some opposition to marriage equality in your electorate, I challenge you to substantiate the degree that “overwhelming” actually reflects any form of majority.

The basis of my challenge is the hard evidence that in 2010 News Ltd conducted a poll of voters in Tangney on “same-sex marriage” and found that 41% were in favour, 39% were against and 20% didn’t care.

What this means is that 61% are not opposed to “same-sex marriage”.  Conversely it also means that 59% are not in favour of it.  Whichever way you look at the numbers, there is no simple way to interpret the 39% against as being an “overwhelming” opposition, when on the day of the poll it was closer to a minority view.

Anecdotally I understand, via your then staffer Anna Ogilvie, that you had not actually polled the voters in Tangney on this matter and so you have no actual scientific evidence for the level of support or otherwise for marriage equality in your electorate.

In this letter from your office you state of the amended legal definition of marriage that it “simply recognises marriage as one of the bedrock institutions of society, which is the basis for forming families and which is underpinned by tradition.”

To me that sounds very much like a person talking about a sacred cow.  You refer to marriage as a “bedrock institution”.  As of 2007, using figures from the ABS, about one-third of Australian children were born outside traditional marriage and at that time around one-third of marriages ended in divorce.  To a lay person who does not have your substantial expertise as a PhD materials scientist this “bedrock” looks more to me like “quicksand” if not “clay”.

It would be helpful to understand exactly which verifiable facts helped you form this assertion about marriage.

Last year the media reported you as having said gay marriage was a “social experiment” and would lead to the “dismantling of society as we know it.”

You proudly claim you have “the highest scientific qualifications of all MPs and Senators”.  Indeed, a notable fact.  I therefore ask of you, Dr Jensen, to explain in detail this “social experiment” to me, and supply those verifiable facts you demand that lead you to claim so forcefully that “gay marriage” will be just so calamitous.

I return to your concern about those crumbling marriages that harm so many children.  At present if a person is to get married in Australia, the only option they have is to marry a person of a sex that is a biological binary (male/female) opposite.  Intersex people are not even able to marry a person not of their choice.

Now, you’ll appreciate that in many cultures marriage is valued very highly, which means that for a multitude of reasons, including the happiness of their parents and any subsequent inheritance, people will get married, more so if they plan or are expected to have children.  Can you see where I’m going here?

Because a same-sex option or a non-biological binary option is unavailable, people who need to get married for the aforementioned factors will marry irrespective of whether it is what they would do if they had other options open to them.  Let’s call this “for reasons of convenience”.

So to your concern that you wish to reduce the harm to children who find themselves at the fractious end of a marriage (or other type of expected relationship), allow me to suggest that if the parents are married for convenience due to a lack of alternative and socially acceptable marriage coupling options, perhaps offering the parents a gender-neutral Marriage Act might go a long way to mitigating this harm that deeply troubles you.  It’s a no brainer.

A standard line against marriage equality is that non-heterosexual marriages don’t produce children, or that those that do don’t offer their children double biological parentage and all associated happinesses, etc (“all things being equal”).   Increasingly there is evidence that not only do the children, biological or otherwise, of these same-sex parents not suffer because of the gender of their parents (although they may suffer due to intolerance from others due to it…) but that sometimes these children actually do better.  I know this because I have read the research (and met the children).  I talk of credible, respected research.  Unlike that heavily discredited Regnerus “study” that others who share your views rely on.

In May last year you addressed Parliament on the topic of marriage equality.  You were not kind to the topic to say the least.  You spoke of outcomes and even of “all things being equal”.  In an ideal world, where all things are equal, perhaps we will have perfect outcomes.  But as a scientist and a person reasonably well versed on human conflict, you will know that we don’t live in a perfect world where all things are equal.  In fact, we live in a world that is far from it.

I ask of you, Dr Jensen, how you can ask the people of Tangney to take you seriously, when you repeatedly say one thing on one hand, and something opposite on the other hand.

Things like wanting to reduce the harm to children in broken marriages, but wish to deny those who need to marry the right to marry the person of their genuine choice; or as a scientist asking for verifiable facts, yet peddling tired bigotry solely designed to fear-monger.

You are a scientist who stakes your professional reputation on your academic credentials.  Yet you lower yourself to the level of the ignorant and uneducated when you make those ill-informed assertions about same-sex marriages, same-sex parents, children of same-sex parents and anything that challenges this “sacred cow” “bedrock institution” you romanticise about as if it were a reality.

I implore you Dr Jensen to undertake a rigorous unbiased scientific poll of your electorate on the topic of marriage equality, and publish these results transparently.  Do this in the name of science and of “freedom of choice”.  Do this for the welfare of the families and children of Tangney.  Do this for your children.  Do this for yourself, your career and even for your reputation.

Lastly, I ask you do it for me, so I can marry my husband Gregory, here in Australia.  We married in New Zealand in January because he asked me last September to marry him and he was impatient, mostly because he loves me so much.  All that, plus my parents want to celebrate our marriage (again), this time on home turf.

I should add that Gregory has two adult children, both financially and residentially dependent on him (and emotionally dependent on him and their mother).  I should also add that his children were victims of a marriage breakdown that was a result of a marriage that occurred due in part to family and cultural expectations, and a lack of options.

Gregory and I are not going to be starting a family, so please bear this in mind when you consider telling me that the children of our marriage will suffer because of the gender of their parents.

Most sincerely,
Michael Barnett.
Ashwood, Victoria.


A letter to John Alexander

Aug 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.


%d bloggers like this: