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The PM Must Realise That Christensen And Co Are The Real Bullies When It Comes To Safe Schools

18/03/2016 3:38 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull appointed former Chief of Army and champion of anti-discrimination David Morrison as Australian of the Year just a few months ago. But he has clearly not taken note of Mr Morrison's famous words from his 2013 viral video on sexism in the Army -- "The standard you walk past is the standard you accept".

Since becoming Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull has presided over one of the most significant outbreaks of hateful, ugly anti-LGBTI rhetoric coming from our politicians in recent memory in Australia. Not from external sources, but from inside his own party.

George Christensen and Cory Bernardi have been free to roam the corridors of Parliament House spouting misinformation and bile about the Safe Schools anti-bullying program. Make no mistake, they are making the barely-hidden assertion that talking to kids about homosexuality is wrong, because being a homosexual is wrong. That is the clear, underlying message.

That won't change after the government's announced changes to the program.

They labelled the program a "gateway drug" to homosexuality, called it "social engineering" and accused it of having a "Marxist agenda". All of this when it is merely designed to help kids feel accepted and stop them committing suicide for the imagined wrong of being different. And, as Christensen admitted this week, they hadn't even bothered to read the entire program.

Australia is an open, tolerant and liberal country. We have long ago accepted that there is nothing shameful about homosexuality. It's our duty and responsibility to teach this to our kids too. This is what Christensen and Co. find so reprehensible. But in truth, they are the real bullies here.

Mr Turnbull has let all this proceed on his watch, with no hint of condemnation or disapproval. The closest he has got to stern words was in Question Time on Thursday, when he urged "every Member of this House" to "choose their words carefully".

It's not enough, Prime Minister.

Every day that goes by where Christensen and Co. make homophobic and hateful remarks unchallenged by the Prime Minister is another day that someone in the vulnerable LGBTI community hurts even more, feels even more excluded. Mr Turnbull sought to blame Labor for politicising the issue -- well, we are simply challenging the disgraceful behaviour of his own right-wing, because he has failed to do so.

The Prime Minister is the leader of his party. He has the right and, more importantly, the responsibility to pull his fellow party members into line. By not doing so publicly, he might as well be endorsing what they say. It is as simple as that.

Is he happy to preside over this vicious turn in Australian public debate on LGBTI issues? Is he proud that the pronouncements made by Christensen and Co. are in the name of the party he leads? Or will he find the courage to stand up to them, and show the leadership the Australian community expects of him?

I'm not saying all of this is Mr Turnbull's fault. Safe Schools was used as a Trojan horse by the right of his party, including Tony Abbott, to attack his Prime Ministership and make him look soft. But that doesn't mean he can't do anything about it.

The most worrying aspect of all of this is that the anti-LGBTI rhetoric will not be stopped, but be given license to intensify thanks to Mr Turnbull's plans to hold a wasteful, harmful plebiscite on marriage equality. We are yet to know the details or timing of this plebiscite thanks to internal divisions in Mr Turnbull's party. We also don't know whether the "no" campaign, led by groups such as the Australian Christian Lobby, will be given taxpayer money to argue their case.

What we do know is that it will ignite a divisive and destructive debate in Australia that will give a platform to hateful and bigoted views against marriage equality. If you think that's unlikely, just have a look back at the ACL's ludicrous request to suspend anti-discrimination law so that they can say whatever they want in the lead up to a vote.

This plebiscite is just not necessary. There is a bill in Parliament right now that, were it voted on, could make marriage equality a reality any day of the week. There are enough MPs in support of it that it would likely pass. This would be both the right and democratic way to handle the issue.

The USA, Ireland and New Zealand have all managed to take a mature and progressive approach to marriage equality, and have left Australia behind. Mr Turnbull can right this wrong and act in line with his conscience rather than political self-interest, and do all Australians proud.

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