The Dissemination of Thought

Just because it's in print doesn't mean it's intelligent…

Posts Tagged ‘Australian Greens

When should free speech and personal beliefs take a back seat to the greater good?

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In 2012 Australia, you can affirm anything you like, even if it’s unjust, narrow-minded or based on a belief that may be less than sound. Unfortunately, there’s no rule that dictates free speech needs to be well thought out and factual. When this is considered in the context of the free speech of a private citizen versus that of an elected official, it raises a pertinent question: should the personal beliefs of politicians take a back seat in order to champion the causes of the people who elected them, even if the causes don’t align with their individual faith or opinions? Should free speech apply to politicians while they are acting on behalf of the greater population?

A great many words have been, and will be, written about tennis champion Margaret Court’s views on homosexuality, especially in the lead-up to the Australian Open. Gay rights activists are planning on using the arena that bears her name as a quasi protest site during the event, and have called for it to be renamed because of her outspoken opinion. I’m sorry ladies and gentlemen of the protesting persuasion, but she’s entitled to express her views, however ludicrous and bigoted they may be.

I’m an advocate for equality and same-sex marriage. I’ve written numerous pieces centering on the subjects, but I think Margaret Court should be allowed to speak. I believe her opinions are that of a narrowed-minded zealot and based on irrational religious beliefs, but I also assert that she is entitled to have and air them. Does hearing her purport that same-sex marriage would “legitimise what God calls abominable sexual practices” anger me and make me want to smack my head against a wall? Absolutely, but it’s her individual point of view. I’ve got mine. You’ve got yours. While I’d relish the opportunity to debate our differences of opinion, I learnt a long time ago that arguing with any sort of fanatic is futile: trying to have a rational, intellectual discussion with someone who isn’t flexible in their beliefs or accepting of facts and new ideas is never going to work. That said, providing we don’t incite hatred or endanger public safety with our opinions, we should be free to express them, whether privately or publicly, without fear of condemnation or reprisal.

There has been limited media coverage about the annual neo-Nazi Hammered Music Festival, most of which has focused on why this hate-filled, disgusting celebration of white pride is allowed to take place. As abhorrent as this event may be, it’s being held on private property, presumably out of sight and earshot of those who don’t want to hear it. Whether you wish you acknowledge the fact or not, attendees and performers are just as entitled as the rest of us to think and believe what they want. They aren’t spewing propaganda or spouting their preposterous views to the masses, and they aren’t airing their personal opinions publicly, unlike many who use the spotlight to constantly reiterate their beliefs.

Margaret Court has used her celebrity to broadcast her beliefs and faith, as well as raise the profile of her church, but is there really a problem with this? While some of her statements, including the affirmation that homosexuality is a choice, may be insensitive and not based on fact, she is free to say it. She’s not provoking violence or abuse against the gay community, and she is not acting on behalf of a group, nor is she an elected official.

What if Margaret Court was in a public position of power? What if she was a Member of Parliament? What about Premier of Western Australia? If she was Prime Minister, should she be free to express her deepest and most closely held beliefs while in that position? In my opinion, no. Someone who has been entrusted to act on behalf of a large, diverse group needs to be able to forgo their personal agenda and take their narrow-minded views, be they religious or not, out of the equation when making decisions that impact the community as a whole.

Source: tracker.org.au

In Australian politics, there are currently several high-profile elected individuals with very strong religious views who have no qualms about letting these beliefs guide them while acting in their official capacities on behalf of the Australian people. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, a practising Catholic, was quoted in December 2009 in the Herald Sun as saying, “I think it would be impossible to have a good general education without at least some serious familiarity with the Bible and with the teachings of Christianity.” While he has, on several occasions, suggested that politicians should not rely on religion to justify decisions or a specific point of view, his comments make it clear that his faith plays a very strong part in his thought process and rationale. Independent MP Bob Katter is on the record as stating that marriage equality is a stupid idea that “deserves to be laughed at and ridiculed”. I’m not disputing that they have the right to harbour these beliefs, where’s the line at which the personal views of politicians are required to take a back seat to a more broad-minded, progressive and socially acceptable perspective that’s representative of the views of their constituents?

Tony Abbott and Bob Katter are not alone in expressing their dogmatic views while acting on behalf of the people. In 2011, John Murphy, Labor MP for the seat of Reid in western Sydney, kicked the political hornet’s nest when he advised members of the Australian Labor Party who support same-sex marriage to ”join the Greens”. Is this petulant “my way or the highway” approach reflective of the attitude of his electorate? I think not. One person’s obstinate, black or white view should not be allowed to take precedence over the collective view of the almost 90,000 constituents in the electorate of Reid.

It may sound ridiculous and incredibly hypocritical to promote free speech in one paragraph and then suggest in the next that elected officials need to look past their own personal views in order to take a stance that, while not aligning with their own beliefs, fairly reflects what the community stands for and wishes to see achieved. Perhaps there is an element of hypocrisy to it, but politicians need to recognise that we have entrusted them to be our collective voice, and for this voice to be clearly heard, they have to look at the big picture, which often falls outside the line of sight that their bigoted or conservative blinkers allow.

For Australia to transform into a genuinely modern and forward-thinking society, we need to be led by free thinkers who can accept that personal religious views have don’t have a place in 21st century politics. We need strong leaders who make decisions based on fact and community sentiment, and who don’t feel compelled to constantly promulgate their individual beliefs and agendas; they need to remember that as a politician, they are the mouthpiece for twenty-two million voices, not just one. If our current politicians are unable to separate state from the church, mosque or synagogue, they need to step aside and make room for people who can.

When it comes to a group of individuals who have been empowered to represent the people and make untainted, logical choices based on fact for benefit of the collective group, there are occasions where free speech and faith are going to have to ride shotgun.

They say any sex is good sex, so why doesn’t it apply to marriage?

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There are several reasons that I’m pro-gay marriage. Most of the reasons are based on common sense, and the belief that the free choice and the option to make important life decisions shouldn’t be restricted by the fact that you are a boy who likes other boys, or a girl who likes girls. One of the other reasons is that this is the twenty-first century, and we tend not to burn people at the stake for appearing to be different anymore. If you believe what you read in the media, it would appear that I’m not alone, and that the public voice in support of marriage equality is gradually getting louder. One would hope that those whom we have elected to act on our behalf would genuinely hear this voice, but it seems that a lot of them only hear what they want to hear. Exhibit A in support of this argument is John Murphy, the Labor MP who doesn’t believe that there is a strong public backing for change, and whom suggested last week that ALP members who advocate same-sex marriage should “join the Greens”. Really, John? Perhaps you should take a look at the ALP’s values, which include fairness, as well as democracy and freedom.

Labor believes that all people are created equal in their entitlement to dignity and respect.

Labor values the freedom of all people to hold whatever beliefs they choose while respecting those of others, and the freedom to express those beliefs without fear or favour.

I’m lucky to be surrounded by a lot of amazing people in my life. Some of them are straight, and some of them aren’t. Some of them are married, and some of them are aren’t legally able to be. A few of my close friends are in long-term, committed same-sex relationships, but the option to take the next step in their commitment isn’t afforded to them. There’s every chance that they may not want to get married, but it’s a moot point – shouldn’t they have the right to choose for themselves? They work. They pay taxes. They contribute to society as much as anyone else, yet on the face of it, our elected law makers seem to believe that they shouldn’t have the same rights as other Australians bestowed upon them. When you remove all of the emotion and bullshit excuses from the equation, all the current laws do are prohibit people in same-sex couples an option that is unchallenged and freely available to heterosexual Australians.

Australia purports itself to be one of the most developed, culturally forward-thinking countries on the planet. If this is to truly be the case, we can’t continue to deprive individuals of the free choice to make the same life decisions as everyone else, based purely on that individual’s sexual orientation.

If it looks like a duck and swims like a duck…

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There was a report published in the Medical Journal of Australia today with a finding which will come as no surprise to anyone, but will hopefully force those responsible to admit there is a problem. The topic of this report: lead pollution in the city of Mount Isa and the associated health impacts, especially for children.

According to the report, co-authored by Associate Professor Mark Taylor from Macquarie University, there is no doubt that the major source of environmental lead pollution in the city is from “the historic and ongoing mining and smelting activity” – activities which have formed a main focus in the community for over 80 years. The report then goes on to say that the “purported lack of knowledge of the lead source is no longer a tenable response” from stakeholders.

Can Xstrata and the State Government honestly affirm that they didn’t think the pollution – and resulting health problems – was primarily being caused lead production in Mount Isa? Is it just me, or is the smelting stack that rises over a quarter of a kilometre into the sky over the city a somewhat obvious clue? Not according to Xstrata, who have been fervently suggesting that the main cause of the problem lay with the high natural mineralisation of lead in the Mount Isa area. Plausible deniability seems to be a good angle, especially given the current legal action taking place against the mining giant.

In the lead screening program run by Queensland Health in Mount Isa during 2006-7, it was found that:

Results of the study show that the average blood lead level for the children tested was 5.0 μg/dL, the lowest with 1.3 μg/dL and the highest with 31.5 μg/dL. Forty-five children (11.3% of those in the study group) had blood lead levels greater than or equal to 10 μg/dL. Of these, two children (0.5% of the study group) had blood lead levels greater than 20 μg/dL.

To make sense of this, consider that μg/dL is a unit of measurement which equates to the micrograms of lead per 100 millilitres of blood, and that similar testing of children in uncontaminated, urban areas returned a result of around 2 μg/dL. That’s right, the children tested in Mount Isa as part of the study had lead levels, on average, twice that of those in other areas, with the highest result being over fifteen times the norm. There is undoubtedly a major problem in Mount Isa with lead pollution, and it would now seemingly be confirmed that the primary cause of the pollution is the mining operation taking place in the city. Given that there hasn’t been any testing on older children in Mount Isa, it is impossible to ascertain the full impact the lead levels will have, but Associate Professor Taylor states in the report that “”…there’s an effect on their behavioural patterns, ADHD, school scores and lifetime outcomes.”

One can only hope that the release of this glaring report in such a well-respected publication prompts an authentic reaction from both the State Government and Xstrata, instead of the specious response to date. I am surprised Bob Katter, the Federal Member for Kennedy, hasn’t made more of a noise about this issue. One of the qualities I admire most about him is his predilection to call a spade a spade. He generally doesn’t seem too fussed with who he upsets in trying to be heard, but I am at a loss as to why the man under the ten gallon hat has been so quiet about an issue which is having a direct impact on his constituents.

NB: I have sent Bob Katter an email with a copy of/link to this post in the hope that he will respond with his thoughts – we will see what happens.

God: Liberal candidate for Chifley

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I didn’t realise that elected members had the ability to bestow their votes, let alone to a fictitious, omnipotent being. If that’s the case, why doesn’t someone run in the next election and then give their votes to Batman – at least then things will get done, albeit in an unconventional, vigilante manner. As far as I can ascertain, the only person aware of this apparent loophole was David Barker, the dumped Liberal candidate for Chiefly, who – according to his now defunct Facebook account – believes that the Almighty would be an excellent candidate for Federal Parliament.

Religion has no place in politics. It never has and never will, because religion at its core promotes (even if inadvertently) the notion that only the values and beliefs that it is based on are correct, and that any non-believers or those of differing religious affiliation are wrong and misguided. David’s bigoted attitude certainly backs this observation up, as he has stated that non-Christians are “worshipping a false god” and that if elected, would give his votes to God. He has openly asserted that he believes there is no place in Australian politics for either an atheist or someone of Islamic faith, but that he, as someone of strong Christian faith, can push our country in the right direction.

The individuals we need in Parliament to develop and administer policy for the collective population as a whole need to be able to transcend their personal religious ideologies for the greater good. They need to work alongside those who are of a similar religious persuasion and those who are not – some will even be non-religious. People have a predisposition to distrust and cynicism when it comes to politicians, and we need more voters to take a genuine interest in politics. Having someone like David Barker using the political forum as his own personal pulpit does nothing to aid the cause of politics in Australia, especially when he comes out with nuggets of wisdom like “Voting should only be voluntary for Liberal and National voters the rest can not bother since with every vote they bring the nation closer to the brink of disaster and closer to the hands of a [sic] muslim country.” If I understand this correctly, he assumes that all Liberal and National Party voters are Christians? So by his reasoning, if one were to vote for Labor or (heaven forbid, the Greens) we would be dooming Australia to certain disaster? Where the fuck did the Liberals find this moron?

I am a big advocate of free speech and free choice. The concepts are part of what make Australia a great place to live. You can essentially believe and say whatever you wish – this of course includes religious choice. My biggest gripe is when people choose to push their thoughts and beliefs on the rest of the population without any regard for whether the masses want to hear their message, or whether they agree with the beliefs. The only thing that pisses me off more than this is when some clown uses religion as the base for their political platform and sees fit to subtlety attack anyone who doesn’t align themselves with the beliefs of the aforementioned clown. While I do agree that Julia Gillard isn’t our best option as Prime Minister, it’s not because she’s an atheist. Actually, the fact she doesn’t reference everything she does to God is one of her most endearing qualities – I just don’t agree with the ALP policies or her as a leader. That’s the difference Mr Barker – some of us base our votes and decisions on more than what religious figure a candidate does or doesn’t believe in. Did you actually have a strategy to win votes David, or were you just running for selection because God had told you to? I guess God neglected to mention that coming across as an unintelligent, bigoted, religious nut case with your constituents was never going to wash.

For some obscure reason, I’ve got an inclination to watch Star Wars. Damn, I nearly got through the whole post without a Jabba the Hutt reference. Oh well, I guess I’m going to be condemned to the depths of hell. What’s new?