March 17th 2012

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Two Melbourne academics want infanticide legalised

QUEENSLAND: Election outcome could derail same-sex marriage push

MEDIA: Journalists scandalised by family lobby's tactics

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Abbott's pre-election commitments come under scrutiny

EDITORIAL: Bob Carr's appointment will destabilise Labor

MEDIA INQUIRY: Finkelstein's Monster: a media horror story

POLITICS: Is GetUp! a democratic organisation?

POLITICS: Daniel Hannan: future prime minister of Britain?

IRAN: Iranian opposition pleas unheeded by Obama

INTERNATIONAL TRADE: The case against floating exchange rates

PARENTING: Caring for terminally-ill unborn babies

SCHOOLS: Gonski report penalises non-government schools

OPINION: Russia and the West reverse roles on Christianity


CINEMA: Marilyn's mystique mesmerises still: My Week with Marilyn (rated M)

BOOK REVIEW From Vinegar Hill to the mountains of Afghanistan

BOOK REVIEW Excommunicable heresies

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Journalists scandalised by family lobby's tactics

by Tempe Harvey

News Weekly, March 17, 2012

What do you really know about the Australian Family Association, a seemingly respectable organisation whose patrons include Dame Elisabeth Murdoch and Margaret Court?

Did you know that it sits in judgment on what makes up a genuine family, and uses holier-than-thou tactics to condemn those who think differently?

And what’s more, “If you don’t fit their white-picket-fence view of how things should operate in the suburbs, you’re not one of them”. These are just a few of the things penned by Madonna King in her opinion piece in the Brisbane Courier-Mail (March 3, 2012).

Ms King further warned that AFA operatives are “religious zealots” who don’t worry too much about facts and yet have cunningly managed to “exploit” the forthcoming Queensland election timetable to spread uneducated and bigoted messages. Such as? Her article denounced AFA attacks on “individual politicians — whatever party they belong to — for supporting gay or different partnerships”.

The AFA campaign in question — aimed at repealing Queensland’s new civil union law — was all but ignored
until a few weeks earlier when a journalist in the key seat of Ashgrove, contested by premier hopeful Campbell Newman, found an AFA flyer his letterbox.

Marriage-like civil unions were recognised by Queensland’s parliament late last year and extend to same-sex couples. These unions lack all three protective elements of marriage. They do not guarantee both mother and father, require zero commitment and are not required to be monogamous.

The Australian Family Association and others are urging voters at Queensland’s March 24 poll to repeal the new law, reminding them it has no voter mandate.

Labor Treasurer Andrew Fraser’s private member’s Civil Partnerships Bill passed on November 30, 2011, with the support of 46 (out of 51) Labor members and independent MP, Peter Wellington. The Liberal National Party (LNP) opposed it as a block, and the party leader Campbell Newman has indicated a high likelihood of repealing civil unions in line with LNP policy if his party is elected to government.

The AFA’s repeal campaign started when supporters approached those MPs who were considering supporting Andrew Fraser’s private member’s bill. MPs were urged to vote against the bill in the interests of children — or else have their vote highlighted to constituents via a letterbox campaign.

The AFA’s promised campaign is now well underway and has prompted various media reactions. A recent headline in The Australian newspaper declared, “Newman ‘panders to the Christians’ on repealing civil unions” (February 28). Next day the Brisbane Courier-Mail quipped of LNP parliamentary candidates, “Christian soldiers to slay civil unions”.

Months earlier, just two days before the Fraser bill was passed, one of the opening attacks was broadcast across Queensland courtesy of our very own taxpayer-funded ABC. Queensland AFA spokesman Luke McCormack was discussing his organisations’s leaflet campaign on ABC radio.

Radio host Kelly Higgins-Devine kicked off with an uninterrupted four-minute “tell us your talking points” introduction with Labor’s Andrew Fraser.

Then it was the AFA’s turn. Ms Higgins-Devine aggressively challenged Luke McCormack’s every argument, and fair enough. When this failed, she questioned the AFA’s degree of popular support (and failed) and finally cast aspersions on Mr McCormack’s integrity (and failed again).

During the 12-minute exchange Ms Higgins-Devine interrupted no fewer than 15 times. Here, for the benefit of News Weekly readers, are edited highlights of her three-part hostile interrogation.

* * * * *

First, she attempted to demolish the AFA’s arguments against same-sex civil unions:

ABC’s Kelly Higgins-Devine to AFA’s Luke McCormack: You were quoted as saying the civil unions register proposed would be a commitment-free hook-up register for same-sex couples. Do you stand by that statement?

AFA: I do. The reason for that is when you read the bill, there’s no provision there for any sort of long-term commitment, although that could be present.… [Civil unions make] no practical difference to the life of a same-sex partner in Queensland.… Andrew Fraser himself during the committee process admitted to that.

ABC: I would take it that you would support same-sex marriage given that that would be a stronger commitment?

AFA: I wouldn’t… [On the other hand]… there are some arguments why the government would recognise marriage and the biggest one is that it involves the potential for children to turn up and because the government has a duty of care for children if the parents [cannot manage].

ABC: Same-sex couples can have children be it via donors, surrogates, overseas adoptions.… Hasn’t that particular horse bolted?… And doesn’t your opposition to a commitment ceremony of any kind undermine the security of those children?

AFA: Every single child that’s being raised by a same-sex couple … has been removed from one or both of their biological parents for that to occur.

ABC: But no child gets any say in anything when they’re born. You can be born to an abusive parent. You get no say in that either!

AFA: Well, Kelly, you disagree with the UN Declaration on Human Rights which says a child should never, unless in the most extreme circumstances, be removed from their biological mother and father.… [M]odifying children through IVF and surrogacy laws [means] an adult interest or desire trumps the basic right of a child to be raised and to know their own biological parents, wherever possible.

ABC: But because somebody is conceived by IVF doesn’t mean that they don’t know their biological parents.

AFA: Well, in fact, [donor IVF] usually does. If you talk to the children themselves, usually they cannot access any information about their biological parents until they are 18.… Finding [a] parent can be very difficult.… Adoption is completely different. You never intended from the outset that the child be removed from their biological parents.…

ABC: Aren’t you further discriminating against children who find themselves in circumstances that exist?

AFA: There are plenty of legal instruments to protect the rights of a child…

* * * * *

Kelly Higgins-Devine then questioned the AFA’s claimed level of popular support:

ABC: Mr McCormack. Can I ask you how many members does the AFA have?

AFA That’s a good question. Ah…

ABC: It is? Do you know the answer?

AFA I do. We have around about over 2,000 in Queensland just receiving our news … financial membership beyond that across Australia … [and] over 21 groups that meet monthly in towns across Queensland. So we’ve got effectively a decentralised, grassroots, activist network that’s been around since 1980 and you can join by going to

* * * * *

When all else failed, the interviewer questioned the AFA spokesman’s integrity:

AFA: The only way of letting the voter know what their MP got up to is using a strategy like leaflets.

ABC: Okay, so you will be targeting the area of Campbell Newman’s electorate because he has said he supports gay marriage?

AFA: We’ll consider it if there were some donations to cover the cost. Would you consider donating to help us do it?

ABC: Leaflets! Are you telling me you don’t even have the money to make leaflets and yet you’re a grassroots organisation with thousands and thousands of members?

AFA That’s right. The only way we get our donations is from individual families and groups. No big business funding, Kelly.

ABC: You’re not going to put out leaflets at all, are you! You don’t have the money for it. This is an empty threat isn’t it!

AFA: Not at all. We’ve just dropped a leaflet in Capricornia with Kirsten Livermore MP, and that was thanks to a donation of someone up north who wanted to leaflet her because she’s in a marginal electorate.…

ABC: But yet you’re non-party political and you’re talking about marginal electorates!

AFA That’s right. Because that’s what MPs who are doing the wrong thing listen to when it comes to election time.

ABC: So you are attempting, this is intimidation, this is intimidation of Labor MPs then, is it?

AFA: You could call it intimidation, but to the typical Queenslander who isn’t aware what’s actually going on in Parliament, and the complicated nature of some of these bills, the only way to educate them, often, is through some sort of direct tactic that avoids the mass media where there’s usually a lot of bias.

* * * * *

Tempe Harvey is president of Kids First Parent Association of Australia

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