Under the gaze of Robert Menzies we were ushered into Kelly O’Dwyer’s office. Old Menzies is a bronze bust sitting on a pedestal with an Australian Flag draped next to him. His cold staring eyes look over Michael and I as we take a seat at the table with Kelly. I wonder what Menzies would have thought about marriage equality.
Kelly O’Dwyer is the member for Higgins, my local member. She’s the first sitting politician that I’ve had a formal meeting with since living in the Melbourne. I recall living in Hamilton and meeting Malcolm Fraser on many occasions. Fraser was much more aloof.
Our meeting follows on from the recent one we had with Anna Burke, Michael’s local member. Yes, we have do live together, but we maintain separate residences! We were keen to hear what Kelly had to say about marriage equality.
The defeat of the marriage equality bill happened recently. I’d set this meeting up well before that event, so the idea of trying to convince Kelly to vote against her party was no longer my objective. Instead I wanted to focus on the future and what that would mean.
I told Kelly about the death of my mother. How in my family of eleven each of the wives or husbands of my siblings was mentioned. Except for Michael. It was decided that that was too much for the sweet little country town to bear. So his name wasn’t tagged on the end of mine. That hurt. My relationship with Michael is every bit as real as the relationship that Daryl has with Lee, that Larry has with Diane, that David has with Robyn, that Michael has with Margie, that Shane has with Mary-Lou, that Helen(deceased) had with Rodney, that Bronwyn has with Derek, that Angela has with Chris, that Janine had with John and that Craig has with Cheryl. It stood out like dogs balls. My best mate Geoff, sitting next to Michael in the church quietly reassured Michael that he too was part of the family and equally as important. It just didn’t feel like it at the time.
Marriage would at least give some dignity to the situation, there would be no escaping the fact that the Storer family has a gay member.
Kelly talked about how any sort of social change needs community consensus. I’m not sure why we need a consensus when it comes to equality and rights, it seems to me that it’s pretty clear-cut. She describes the push for marriage equality as complex. Although I fail to see how it’s complex.
Kelly is also very keen on civil unions, she thinks that is a stepping stone and we spent some time talking about that concept. I don’t agree with her, I think civil unions is an appalling idea and I’d never be happy with that concept. I’m not about to accept that civil unions grants anything like equal rights.
We talked about family life, the importance of Michael’s family and how I fit into that, how Michael works with my family. We spoke about the families we know and gave Kelly photographs of a couple of mums and their children and a couple of dads and their children. Those families are every bit as functional as all other families and to deny them the right to marry is a travesty.
Kelly seemed pretty clear that she didn’t think a vote will get up again. She is convinced that with some internal lobbying that civil unions would be accepted. She indicated that she would be talking to her Liberal colleagues and trying to get their support.
When asked if marriage equality came before the parliament would she vote for it, she wouldn’t give an answer. In fact, let me cut and paste her response from a recent Q&A question as it’s very close to our discussion:
TONY JONES: So can I just interrupt you there. Does that mean if you had the free choice, you would have voted no?
KELLY O’DWYER: Well, look, on the issue of the conscience vote, I think Tanya makes a very interesting point because the Labor Party made much of the fact that they had a conscience vote on this issue. They only decided, though, to have a conscience vote on this issue when it was very apparent that the party platform would change. The Labor Party platform binds parliamentarians which would have meant that all of the Labor parliamentarians would have actually have to have…
TONY JONES: Okay, but what would your conscience have dictated to you personally?
KELLY O’DWYER: No. No. No. But this is an important point, though, Tony, because…
TONY JONES: If you had a conscience vote, what would you have voted?
KELLY O’DWYER: But, Tony, if you can just let me finish this one point because it is important. It would have meant, of course, that all of the Labor members of parliament would have actually voted for a change to the Marriage Act if they had been bound but the Prime Minister decided to be a little bit tricky and she decided to actually make a change and so she said that on this policy issue they would vote differently. Now, we made a commitment, as I said. Going into the next election, we will no doubt talk about this issue again. Civil unions may come up. I don’t know if that’s something that the Labor Party is going to be bringing forward. I suspect that across the…
TONY JONES: Okay, but just to bring you, because we haven’t got a lot of time – just to bring you to the point that I asked, if you had a conscience vote yourself, would you ever voted yes or no?
KELLY O’DWYER: Well, I mean, it’s a hypothetical question. I have been on the record…
TONY JONES: Your conscience is a hypothetical?
KELLY O’DWYER: No. No. No. It’s a hypothetical question as to how I would have voted. I mean we took a position as a party on this issue.
TONY JONES: Would you be prepared to reveal publicly what your position is?
KELLY O’DWYER: Well, I have publicly stated my support for civil unions and that’s my public position.
And that is indeed her public position.
Kelly makes all the right noises, she acknowledges our position but refuses to budge from hers. She appears to be supportive of marriage equality but won’t give her unqualified support. She is prepared to support the hypothetical notion of civil unions but not the hypothetical notion of marriage equality.
This is the political game. Keep the constituents happy, make it sound like you empathise and concur with them but give them nothing solid.
It wasn’t a bad meeting, Kelly is a professional politician. Good humoured, determined and respectful.
It’s a pity that her respect doesn’t extend to telling us exactly where she stands on marriage equality instead of taking the safe ground of civil unions.