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View from the Street: Government enthusiastically celebrates, denies gay rights

And how's that offshore detention house of cards trembling? Your news of the weekend, reduced to a snarky rant.

Happy Mardi Gras Hangover Day, nation!

Sydney turned out in force for the annual celebration of LGBTI pride, possibly because it's one of the few events that locals can attend without being gently patted on their head and told to run along home by the state government's lockout laws. 

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and wife Lucy greet revellers on Oxford Street at for Mardi Gras, ahead of not doing ...
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and wife Lucy greet revellers on Oxford Street at for Mardi Gras, ahead of not doing anything serious about marriage equality. 

It was a historic event in that it was the first time a sitting PM attended: Malcolm Turnbull popped along, as he often does since the event is held in his electorate, despite reportedly being warned that attending would be "dangerous" by conservative members of his party. You know, because gay people… um, spit venom? Exude a poisonous mist? 

However, he was uncharacteristically upstaged by Labor leader Bill Shorten, who became the first leader of a either of the two major political party to actually march. 

He didn't miss the opportunity to call out the PM over his government's deliberate foot-dragging on same-sex marriage. "Marriage quality is a simple, overdue change to Australian law that could be made a reality today if Malcolm Turnbull would just grant his MPs a free vote," he said, adding that Labor would bring the matter to a vote within 100 days of winning power.

The government, however, are still determined to hold their expensive, socially divisive and legislatively non-binding plebiscite on the matter, despite their own MPs and senators making clear they have no intention of respecting the result if they don't like it. George Brandis reiterated that we could be spending $160 million on the national opinion poll as soon as this year, if the Coalition are returned to power. So… yay?

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And while last week featured the sight of the out and proud new Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman delivering his maiden speech in Parliament and declaring his support for marriage equality (pointedly adding that "too many are prepared to peddle prejudice… Coming out remains hard for many people - and believe me, I know what that's like") his party is still perfectly prepared to deny him equal civil rights. 

As The Weekly accurately pointed out, the debate over Safe Schools has demonstrated that our elected representatives struggle to talk about gay people with the slightest respect - with Cory Bernardi even blithely declaring on Sky News that the Safe Schools programme for bullied LGBTI kids should be scrapped because, among other things, kids could always rely on teachers and chaplains, just in time for Cardinal George Pell to explain how he wasn't very interested in the "sad story" being told to him about children being abused by paedophile members of his clergy working in Catholic schools. Timing truly is everything, Cozza.

Meanwhile there's another issue about which the government and Labor aren't even bothering to pay lip service, despite being related to the rights of gay people: where we're choosing to imprison them. 

Going offshore

There's a genuinely strong reason why we prefer setting up detention centres in places that aren't Australian soil: they offer plausible deniability regarding the treatment of prisoners therein. 

Australia has all these inconvenient "rights" and "laws" and "authorities that are both legally permitted and indeed obliged to investigate" and stuff - which is why the damning findings of The Forgotten Children report on children in detention prepared by the Australian Human Rights Commission only covered children being abused, neglected and attempting to end their own lives on the Australian mainland and Christmas Island. 

The government were so determined to prove that the AHRC and its head Commissioner, Professor Gillian Triggs, was horribly biased and unreliable so it commissioned the Moss Review in an attempt to discredit the findings - except that it rather inconveniently confirmed everything in the previous report, plus revealed what was happening in Nauru and Manus Island was more horrific than assumed. Whoops!

However, the government (and previous governments) have loved Manus and Nauru because it offers a degree of blame-shifting. After all, the government says, the camps are under the jurisdiction of Nauru and Papua New Guinea, respectively. Sure, Australia does fund the camps, staff them, and also stump up for a number of perfectly reasonable and-definitely-not-kickback payments like Nauru's mysteriously skyrocketing visa fees for each detainee - but that doesn't mean they're somehow Australia's responsibility, right? 

Which is why, as Turnbull and Shorten were celebrating Mardi Gras, two Nauru detainees were living in terror since homosexuality is illegal on the island

Fighting persecution with persecution!

It's particularly galling since fleeing one's country for fear of being persecuted for one's sexuality is a perfectly legitimate reason to be granted asylum. And both men are from Iran, where they risk being executed for being gay. 

So instead of recognising their genuine grounds for being granted asylum, Australia sent them to a prison camp in a country where they'd continue to be persecuted by authorities. That seems somewhat counter-productive. 

The men have reportedly been beaten to be the point of one being hospitalised and spend much of their time hiding in their accommodation. The Department of Immigration, meanwhile, have made clear that this is an issue for Nauru law enforcement - where, as lucky would have it, they could be jailed for up to 14 years for being gay - and that if they're so worried about it, they can be resettled in Cambodia which doesn't have anti-gay laws, but does suffer from crippling poverty and corruption. So… yay? 

Luckily everything's fine on Manus Island, aside from a few tiny issue like that being gay there is also illegal and punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment.

Oh, also that the PNG government wants out of being Australia's offshore detention dump.

B-b-but everything was going so well!

PNG's Prime Minister Peter O'Neill spoke at the National Press Club on Friday, declaring that Manus Island's camp "a problem [that] should end" and that it has "done a lot more damage for PNG than anything else". High praise! 

The reason is largely financial: while the Australian government stumps up the costs of incarcerating men on the island, some of which have just passed their three year detainaversary, O'Neill doesn't want to pay to resettle them in his country. "We have issues about cost of the resettlement, who is going to pay for it," he said. "Certainly [the] Papua New Guinea government does not have the resources to resettle the refugees as required." 

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton responded with the erudite and urbane wit for which he is widely known, pinning the blame on the media. Obviously.

"PNG and Nauru have been unfairly vilified by advocates, including by some parts of the media, because of their opposition to our secure borders policy," he declared in reference to the camp in which a riot ended in the alleged murder of Reza Berati by guards, and which is still wracked with regular violence. "It is unfair and the targeting of our regional partners should stop."

Oh, Duffer. You're so gosh-darn adorable when you're avoiding responsibility for your policies!

The cocktail hour: pride

For those still kicking on after Mardi Gras, turn up the Pet Shop Boys' version of the Village People's mighty gay anthem Go West - hopefully this time next year all Australians will be celebrating equality, like a grown up nation, and not still having this pointless debate over whether a person's sexuality is a great basis for denying them civil rights, wherever they might be.

We'll be closer to that point tomorrow, friends - so let's meet back here then, and cheers!

The top stories on smh.com.au on Sunday were:

  1. Confessions of a Sydney surgeon why your operation may not work 
  2. Sergeant Geoffrey Richardson killed on way to emergency in Hunter Valley 
  3. Get fit or get fat: the moment in a man's life when the penny drops 
  4. Cardinal George Pell is finished whatever way you look at it 
  5. Riot squad called to birthday party after gatecrashing ends in stabbing

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