A letter to Kelvin Thomson

Aug 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.


John Searle, a man whose words and actions walk different paths

Jun 7, 2011

Over the past month and a bit we’ve heard a number of messages from John Searle, President of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria.

One of the most emphatic of these messages it that we must never turn a blind eye to prejudice, and that prejudice will not be tolerated.1

Another of these messages is that he was the victim of racial taunts when he was at school.2a

Then there’s the message that because of “threats” against the Jewish community it’s unfortunate that there have to be security guards outside Jewish schools and synagogues yet these people are making us all very proud and safe.2b

And lastly there’s the message that the Amendments to the Equal Opportunity Act are going to be good for the Jewish community, to make sure the right people get employed for the job (or as I like to say, to make sure the wrong people aren’t employed for the job).3

In summary, the self-proclaimed “leader” of Victoria’s Jewish community, a person who is familiar with being taunted for his difference, is telling us that we must never allow prejudice, and that we need to protect ourselves against threats of violence, but that it’s ok to prevent certain people from being employed because of their difference, despite the fact that they may be the best person for the job.

In case it’s not yet clear what I’m talking about, we’ve got a heterosexual male Jew telling the Jewish community that they mustn’t discriminate against homosexuals, yet it’s more than acceptable to discriminate against homosexuals, to make sure that religious organisations aren’t burdened with homosexual employees whose personal characteristics conflict with the anti-homosexual teachings of these religious organisations.

As Sue Pennicuik from the Victorian Greens says: “There is no place for discrimination in employment on the basis of personal characteristics”.4

In Victoria there are few places where Jews can’t be openly Jewish.  In Elsternwick and Caulfield you’ll find Jews wearing highly visible garments that identify themselves as Jewish.  In Melbourne CBD and on public transport you’ll find Jews wearing kippot, a religious head cover that immediately identifies them as Jewish.  For the most part these people can get about without being taunted, harrassed, being the victims of bullying or being brutalised.  Most of the time, although not always, as Menachem Vorchheimer will remind us.

By contrast, gay and bisexual men cannot walk down most streets in Melbourne holding hands, hugging or kissing each other or showing other respectable forms of affection or intimacy without abuse being hurled at them, taunted, intimidated or bashed within an inch of their lives.  I recently observed a heterosexual couple kiss passionately on the promenade at Southgate and not a single person looked twice or intruded on their personal space.  Yet if that couple were two men, or perhaps two women, I suspect most would do a double-take, or at best, if they were feeling vocal, tell them to get a room.

In the extreme, I’ve read news (here and here) of gay men in Melbourne being actively hunted as if it were a sport, simply to poofter bash, with death or permanent incapacity sometimes resulting.  This is not uncommon.  It will pay to check out the Anti-Violence Project map of violence reports, showing the location of incidents of violence against GLBT people and a description of what occurred.

In the Jewish community we have a “leader” of a community endorsing media releases quoting rabbis who state that accepting homosexuals to the community council will cause a division in the community.  The same “leader” states that it’s acceptable for orthodox Judaism to discriminate against homosexuals.  And the same “leader” endorses an act of parliament that allows religious organisations to discriminate against homosexuals.

Yet this “leader” tells us that we must never allow prejudice against homosexuals.  But this “leader” offers no protections for homosexual members of his community.  He offers no safe place for homosexual Jews in Victoria.  He offers no message that homosexuals are people like everyone else, to be treated with unconditional respect and with dignity.  He offers no gesture of welcome to homosexual Jews, to be who they are without fear of being taunted, or fear of being discriminated against, or fear of being excluded, or fear of being marginalised.

In fact he offers nothing of benefit for the homosexual Jews in Victoria, nor for the bisexual Jews or the transgender Jews.

Instead what John Searle does offer is further discrimination, further prejudice, further intolerance, further marginalisation and further invisibility.  His words unequivocally don’t match his actions, and that is unacceptable.  It is not the first time I have said this, and at this rate, it certainly won’t be the last.

Yom Hashoa Commemoration Evening – Speech by John Searle  [May 1 2011]

We must educate our children; help them to understand that we cannot turn a blind eye, not to racism, not to stereotyping, not to suffering, not to prejudice of any form, not ever.  We must send the message, that racism and prejudice in all its evil forms will not be tolerated.

JCCV Welcomes Amendments to Equal Opportunity Act  [May 6 2011]

The Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) is delighted to see that the Victorian Government is proposing amendments to the Equal Opportunity Act as recently announced by the Attorney General, Robert Clark. In particular, the JCCV sees the amendments as rectifying anomalies in Victorian Equal Opportunity legislation as it relates to religious based schools and organisations.

JCCV president John Searle said that “the provisions that remove the inherent requirement test as it applies to faith based schools is a vast improvement for all Victorians and will ensure that all faith based schools will be able to hire staff who uphold the values and beliefs of the school and the school population. This is a very positive step for all those schools and organisations.”

Searle noted that “the amendments will ensure we have a fair balance between preventing discrimination and ensuring that schools and other organisations are able to employ people who conform with the value system and beliefs of the organisation. In this way, we will limit the possibilities for clashes, offence and tension in the workplace.”

Speech by J Searle at 2011 Yom Ha’atzmaut Cocktail Reception (and here)  [June 1 2011]

Of course, there are times when I am aware of being Jewish. I don’t remember when I first became aware of the fact that I was Jewish, but I do recall there were certain racial taunts at primary school and there were times I had to stand up for who I was or rather what I was; Jewish.

My kids have also had moments of discovery. I can recall the first time my they asked me with some bewilderment why there were no security guards at a non-Jewish school we were visiting. You see they had never seen a school without security guards. Unfortunately, as many in this room will realise, because of the threats against the Jewish community all our schools have guards.

All of our synagogues also have guards.

Imagine if every time you dropped your kids off at school, went to Church, Temple or your House of Worship you saw guards out the front. Often those guards or protectors come from the dedicated band of volunteers comprising the CSG and as I said earlier, in that way they are making us all very proud, and safe.

Media release: Greens MP stops Equal Opportunity Amendment Bill in the upper house  [June 3 2011]

This bill will allow faith-based organisations and schools to discriminate in employment matters on the basis of a person’s religious beliefs or activities, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status and gender identity, without the current qualifier that the attribute must be an inherent requirement of the job (introduced by the previous government in 2010 in attempt to balance religious freedom with freedom from discrimination).

“However, neither the current act, nor the proposed changes balance religious freedom with the fundamental human rights of everyone to equality and protection against discrimination,” Ms Pennicuik said.

“There is no place for discrimination in employment on the basis of personal characteristics”, she said. “Employers should not be asking employees or job applicants about their personal lives. The only questions should be about qualifications and experience that are genuine requirements of the job”.


WUPJ – The Jewish Superhero

Feb 25, 2011

[SOURCE]

It’s heartening to see the Progressive Jewish world working to reduce the isolation and marginalisation of same-sex attracted people.  Unconditional acceptance and inclusion is the only way this can be done effectively and it seems they are on track here.

Yes, there is the big elephant in the room about same-sex marriage, and there doesn’t appear to be a light at the end of that tunnel yet.  I am optimistic that when the federal government here in Australia removes the obstacles to marriage equality, the Progressive community will be open to discussing this issue in a sensible and respectful manner.  I would be happiest to hear them say they will fully support the evolution of the Marriage Act.

I have included below a communication from Philip Bliss, President of Progressive Judaism Victoria and the Chair of the World Union For Progressive Judaism Resolutions Committee.  It contains the relevant resolution passed at the recent WUPJ assembly in San Francisco.  Clearly this is a step in the right direction.  I have asked Philip Bliss to have his committee consider including mention of bisexuality and gender identity, and reminded them that same-sex attracted people generally find the term “sexual orientation” favourable over “sexual preference”.

A hearty Mazal Tov to the Progressive community.  They are great advocates of human rights and equality and set a high benchmark for others to follow.

Dear Michael
In response to your email
As chair of the WUPJ resolutions committee I was delighted that the resolution below was passed by a huge majority (only one vote against) at our recent WUPJ convention in San Francisco. I also gave on interview on the GLT radio station Swirl a few days after.
I would say that this resolution covers the attitude of the UPJ and PJV here in Victoria
Sincerely
Philip Bliss President PJV


2) WUPJ Resolution on Gender and Sexual Equality
Whereas this International body of the World Union for Progressive Judaism condemns all forms of bigotry and discrimination in our society as being  incompatible with the preservation of human dignity which is destructive of tzelem elohim.
And whereas the WUPJ upholds the principle of treating all people equally whether by gender, age, colour or sexual preference.
And whereas the WUPJ has long championed full equality of women in our movement and in society generally.
IT IS RESOLVED that this International Assembly of the World Union for Progressive Judaism  calls on all institutions, colleges, congregations and youth groups to give equal opportunity to gay and lesbian members,  especially in terms of leadership and learning and to be aware of gender issues when developing study curriculum
IT IS FURTHER RESOLVED that this International Assembly of the World Union for Progressive Judaism calls on all institutions associated with the WUPJ to treat gay and lesbian couples in the same manner as married heterosexual couples and families.  This call includes commitment ceremonies, and family membership fees.


A small success – the Victorian Jewish community calls for respect for GLBT people

May 14, 2010

Today I feel a little happier than I have been for a long time.  People are listening and are now acting.  It’s not for lack of trying on my part, I can assure you.

To see overwhelming support for the words (in the JCCV media release of 06 May 2010 – see below):

This council … calls for abstention from any public or private conduct that incites hatred against, serious contempt for, revulsion, vilification or severe ridicule of, another person or group on the ground of their identity (including race, religion, colour, disability, sexual orientation, gender and national origin) or views of that other person or group.”

is something I never imagined I would see.

Let this be an example for other communities around Victoria, Australia and the world.  There is no room for hate or intolerance in our society.

Homosexual, bisexual and transgender women and men are people like everyone else and have the same needs and desires as everyone else.  We need unconditional love and acceptance, not intolerance, hate and exclusion.

There is plenty more work that needs to be done in this area, but this is a good start.

Michael.

JCCV calls for respect for difference

06 May 2010

At the Jewish Community Council of Victoria plenum held on 3 May 2010, delegates overwhelmingly voted for the following amendment to the JCCV’s policy platform:

3.7          Respect

 

This Council:

 

3.7.1  ACKNOWLEDGES the distinctive character of the Victorian Jewish community as part of the Jewish people worldwide, with a shared history, culture and religious tradition.

 

3.7.2   RECOGNISES that irrespective of the common traits that bind us as a community, Victorian Jewry is also diverse and pluralistic and that this is reflected in different, often strongly held views, on a range of issues affecting the Jewish and larger communities.

 

3.7.3      CALLS FOR respect for any such differences, while affirming that disagreement is only permissible in ways that do not vilify other persons or their views.

 

3.7.4    CALLS FOR abstention from any public or private conduct that incites hatred against, serious contempt for, revulsion, vilification or severe ridicule of, another person or group on the ground of their identity (including race, religion, colour, disability, sexual orientation, gender and national origin) or views of that other person or group.

JCCV President John Searle noted that the JCCV’s policy platform was a living document, continually updated to reflect the views of its affiliates.  He observed that under his presidency the JCCV had demonstrated an ongoing and increasing opposition to vilification in all its manifestations.

He stated that “it is important to realise that this particular policy is not intended to prohibit robust debate or to demand acceptance of all opinions or lifestyles.  What it does do, however, is set parameters for the conduct of discussion of such matters, asking for respect for difference.  Quite simply it’s about playing the ball, not the person.”

Searle concluded, “While our policies are not binding, they are nonetheless a strong statement of principle and provide guidance to and educate those persons considering a range of issues that affect our community.”

Please address any queries to Geoffrey Zygier at 9272 5566

Click here to see JCCV Policy Platforms 2010 (amended):


%d bloggers like this: