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.


John Searle, Keshet, Maccabi Victoria, Daniel Kowalski and Olympic Dreams

Aug 3, 2012
Daniel Kowalski, Mikey & Gregory at Goldman Sachs; August 2 2012

Daniel Kowalski, Mikey & Gregory at Goldman Sachs; August 2 2012

Last night I attended the offices of Goldman Sachs in Melbourne for a diversity event hosted by their Gays, Lesbians and Mates (GLaM) network.  Guest speaker was Olympic medalist Daniel Kowalski.

Daniel described his journey from being a somewhat chubby kid in South Australia, a place not known for its swimming heroes, to becoming a silver and bronze medallist in the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games in swimming.

Part of Daniel’s story revolved around how he found he lacked a degree of confidence and that something was holding him back from reaching his full potential.  He said that at the time he wasn’t fully certain what it was.  As the years went by he realised he was hiding his sexuality and this was having an impact on him.

Daniel Kowalski said he felt that if he had been comfortable with his sexuality he would have been able to stand up proud on the starting block, with a sense of confidence, and put in a far better effort.  He believes it may have helped him win gold instead of silver or bronze.

This leads me to a Keshet Australia panel discussion this Sunday evening, August 5 here in Melbourne.  The evening is entitled “The need for educating our Jewish community on GLBTI issues” and is moderated by John Searle.  John is the immediate past president of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria and currently the chairman (and only member) of board of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission. From the advertising it appears he will be appearing on the night in a private capacity.

What’s especially exciting about Keshet bringing on board John Searle is that through his strong connections in the Jewish community and his involvement in the VEOHRC it places him in a unique position of being able to access and influence a significant number of organisations and people in the Jewish community about the need for a greater understanding of why discrimination against homosexuality is harmful.

On May 17 2012 the VEOHRC issued a media release in which it stated:

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission unequivocally stands against homophobia in all its forms and today reaffirmed its support for International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO).

As the agency responsible for promoting and protecting human rights in Victoria, the Commission sees the harmful effects that discrimination and inequality have on people and the hurt and damage caused by prejudice, vilification and damaging stereotypes.

Almost a year and a half earlier, in January 2011, the VEOHRC issued another media release on the Fair Go, Sport! initiative in which it said:

At its best, sport is a great way of keeping fit, healthy and socially connected. However, recent research highlights that sport can also be very unhealthy for gay, lesbian, bi‐sexual, transgender, intersex and queer (GLBTIQ) people, many of whom have experienced discrimination and abuse in sports club environments.

Come Out To Play (2010), a survey of 307 lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender Victorians, showed that 42 per cent of respondents had experienced verbal abuse because of their sexuality while playing sport.

It’s evident that the VEOHRC is taking discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in sport seriously and is building bridges in the sporting community to help raise awareness of the harms of this discrimination.

The logical progression here, and perhaps the pink elephant on the sporting field, is to get the Jewish community’s sporting association, Maccabi Victoria, involved.  That’s where John Searle fits in perfectly, because as a person who is passionate about human rights, equal opportunities, removing discrimination and “educating our Jewish community on GLBTI issues”, all he needs to do is reach out to the team at Maccabi and show them how the VEOHRC, through Fair Go, Sport!, is benefiting the Victorian sporting community.

Maccabi Victoria itself is well placed to take adopt this sort of education, as it lists amongst its values: tolerance, healthy & positive lifestyles, strong community connections, achievement in sport and participation by all.  My earlier message about Daniel Kowalski exemplifies how a sporting community supportive of diverse sexual orientations would have assisted him in all of the same areas that Maccabi takes seriously.

I urge John Searle, together with Keshet Australia, to reach out to Maccabi Victoria and help them fly their rainbow colours for a stronger and healthier sporting community.  Who knows, it may just help someone achieve their Olympic dreams.


%d bloggers like this: