Given Australia’s deputy PM seems to have been a New Zealander all along, he should join his compatriots in embracing marriage equality and allowing a free vote, writes Kerry McBride.
On 17 April, 2013, I stood in Scotty & Mal’s on Cuba Street singing ‘Pokarekare Ana’ as New Zealand celebrated the legalisation of same-sex marriage. Four years later, as a bisexual Australian resident, I can’t even vote in the postal plebiscite that may determine whether LGBTQ+ Australians will ever get to experience that same feeling.
So when it became clear that one of the key men barring the door to marriage equality in Australia has potentially been a New Zealand citizen all along, it felt almost like karma had knocked on deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce’s door, with a rainbow flag in one hand and a New Zealand flag in the other.
As leader of the Australian Nationals, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s key coalition partner, Joyce has been pushing for a marriage equality plebiscite consistently over the last couple of years, and made it a lynchpin of the Liberal-National coalition agreement in the aftermath of last year’s Australian election.
In a country where prime ministers have been playing musical chairs for years, keeping a hold of a majority is crucial, making that coalition agreement essential. Because everyone, especially Malcolm Turnbull, knows just how much Australia loves a #spill.
For Joyce and his party, marriage equality is a distraction sought after by the latte sippers of Melbourne and Sydney – for those on George St and Oxford St, as he once described it – while his loyal voters in the regions toil away at being the backbone of Australia.
That distraction is one that has been proven in polls again and again to be supported by a significant majority of Australians. Further to that, it’s been found to violate international human rights law, as same-sex couples married overseas can’t even access the right to a divorce in their home country.
Yet with a razor-thin margin in the House of just one vote, a potential by-election for Joyce’s seat throws even further uncertainty on a costly and vitriolic same-sex marriage postal plebiscite that is not only non-binding in the House, it is also completely voluntary to vote in.
In essence, Turnbull and Joyce are spending $122 million to hold a Twitter poll on paper. But in this instance, the trolls can access political funding for television ads.
I must, at this juncture, clarify my own position. I live in Melbourne, one of the more left-leaning cities in Australia, and while identifying as bisexual I live with my male partner, and am therefore afforded the privilege of outwardly appearing as heterosexual. It is a privileged position, and I cannot speak for the millions of Australians and Australian residents who are unable to marry the person they love.
But I feel the pain of marriage equality being used as a football for political gain. It hurts to have your desire for equality under the law dismissed as a distraction by MPs more concerned with holding on to their pay cheque than enacting social change.
On top of that, knowing that my views, and those of all the other New Zealand-born LGBTQ+ residents of Australia, won’t be recorded in this national ballot is devastating. We’ll take your taxes, they tell us, but we won’t let you vote.
In comparison, Aussies who choose to uproot their lives and move to New Zealand are quickly able to take part in their new country’s political landscape, voting in local elections as residents and becoming eligible for various benefits such as welfare and student loans after two or three years of living in Aotearoa.
Kiwis in Australia get caught in a bizarre visa purgatory where voting, student loans and some healthcare benefits are out of reach until the day you renounce your Kiwi roots forever, which can take more than five years to even scratch the surface on.
Yet here we have a man – the same one who once made Johnny Depp apologise on camera for sneaking dogs into the country – potentially breaking the Australian constitution by serving as a member of parliament while holding dual citizenship.
I covered the New Zealand marriage equality debate while working as a journalist for Fairfax. At a time when I was coming to terms with my own identity, it was one of the most empowering experiences of my life.
To now find myself in a country that seems so outwardly similar in outlook to our own, and to watch as same-sex marriage is kicked around and vilified, makes me question my choice to settle in Australia. And relocating a cat is expensive.
Barnaby Joyce insists the plebiscite is simply the wish of his constituents. Yet, if it’s proven he’s been a New Zealander all along, perhaps Joyce should join his fellow Kiwis in embracing marriage equality by standing aside to allow a free vote.
After all, if New Zealand can pull marriage equality out of a biscuit tin, surely Joyce could just keep a lid on it.
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