CANBERRA OBSERVED: News Weekly
Gillard's line on same-sex marriage, euthanasia
, April 2, 2011
Julia Gillard has made a significant and decisive step toward the Australian mainstream — a move with far-reaching consequences for the Australian Labor Party and the national parliament.
The recent declaration by the Prime Minister that she was categorically rejecting both euthanasia and same-sex marriage and that she had deep roots as a “cultural conservative” as well as identifying herself as a “traditionalist” was greeted with surprise by many and scepticism by some.
But for whatever motivation the declaration was made, which is likely to range from genuine personal convictions through to political realism or a combination of both, the result is that Ms Gillard has drawn a line in the sand.
Ms Gillard is the first Labor Prime Minister from the left of the party, at least since World War II. In her younger days she played a pivotal role in the Socialist Forum in Victorian, and has declared herself an ardent feminist and an atheist.
Yet, in a precedent-setting interview with The Australian’s editor-at-large Paul Kelly on Sky News Australia’s Agenda program, Ms Gillard has expressed support for Biblical and cultural dimensions of the Judaeo-Christian tradition.
Perhaps the most politically significant position stated by Ms Gillard was on euthanasia.
Echoing the views of her old political foe, Lindsay Tanner, Ms Gillard said she had great sympathy for the views of people who wanted to have the choice to end a suffering person’s life, but she could not be persuaded that there would be “sufficient safeguards” to stop such laws being exploited.
In other words, state-sanctioned killing was a dangerous slippery slope, which would be used by some individuals on the most frail and vulnerable members of society.
Any push to introduce euthanasia or gay marriage in the federal parliament is now going to run into heavy weather. While some members of Labor’s New South Wales Right, notably Senator Mark Arbib, have urged a “rethink” on gay marriage, Ms Gillard has gone the other way.
It would now seem almost impossible for the Labor Party’s national conference, to be held in December this year, to go against the views of the federal leader. It would be tantamount to a political act of self-euthanasia. Labor MPs in the Parliament who are ambivalent on such issues are unlikely to want to humiliate the Prime Minister by voting against her.
Ms Gillard declared her “deep-held” belief that marriage was an institution between a man and a woman and should remain as such.
“I find myself on the conservative side because of the way our society is and how we got here. There are some important things from our past that need to continue to be part of our present and part of our future,” Ms Gillard said.
On the Bible, Ms Gillard offered even more surprising personal insights.
“I think it’s important for people to understand their Bible stories, not because I’m an advocate of religion — clearly, I’m not — but, once again, what comes from the Bible has formed such an important part of our culture,’’ she said.
“It’s impossible to understand Western literature without having that key of understanding the Bible stories and how Western literature builds on them and reflects them and deconstructs them and brings them back together.”
Subsequently, Mr Kelly wrote in his column in The Australian that her views put her in direct conflict with the social agenda pursued this term by the Greens and a large section of the Labor Party. Indeed, it is a perennial preoccupation of Greens leader Senator Bob Brown to expunge the Bible from the parliament and to remove the traditional Lord’s Prayer at the start of the parliament each day.
Ms Gillard said her belief in traditional values sprang from her Welsh immigrant family background, which had encouraged thrift, fortitude, duty, discipline and good manners.
Some might argue, as Senator Bob Brown has already, that Ms Gillard’s positioning is merely “product differentiation”.
But such differentiation is Ms Gillard’s only hope of survival. She has now realised the strategic blunder in forming an alliance with the Greens who have continued to steal Labor votes.
The consequences of Ms Gillard’s declarations are profound. While Ms Gillard remains Prime Minister, the radical social agenda being pursued by the Greens and sections of the ALP will remain on the back foot. If she wins the next election, her views must prevail.
If Tony Abbott were to win the next election, the Greens’ radical social agenda would also be stopped across an even greater spectrum of policy agendas.
Either way, this is a major setback for sections of the major political parties and the progressive class who want to radically alter the social fabric of Australia.
The first Newspoll after Ms Gillard’s move to unshackle herself from the Greens showed a surprising swing in her favour.
One poll is not conclusive, but it will reinforce her instincts that she has now put herself behind the mainstream thinking of everyday Australians.