Sunday, March 15, 2009

Queensland Elections and the Biggest Lies: LNP(National Party) campaigns and the Queer Communities

It's election time here in Qld; election day is next Saturday. Despite calling the election, the ALP's campaign could best be summed up "Election? What Election?" The LNP, a.k.a. the National Party wearing a bit of Liberal drag, on the other hand is running a campaign full of half truths, which, as the old adage says, are the biggest lies of all.

This fact was brought home to me most strikingly when I picked up the latest copy of QNews yesterday and perused its election coverage. On page 7, there's an election round-up featuring a large photo of the Borg and highlighting two quotes from his response to the QNews survey of political leaders' views on LGBTIQ issues. The first: "It was the current Labor government, in 2004, that regrettably ceased govenrment funding to QuAC (Qld AIDS Council)". The journalists writing the piece, Toby Longhurst and Miles Heffernan, even seem to think that QuAC was "set up by a Coalition Government." The other highlighted quote from the Borg refers to "our commitment to maintain existing funding levels for youth suicide programs." Then on pp 24 & 25, QNews has printed the responses to the survey of the two main candidates for my seat of Brisbane Central, Grace Grace, the sitting Labor member and Mark Wood, the LNP candidate. In his response, Wood outs himself as a gay man and goes on to claim credit for the "coalition" of both "first" funding QuAC "back in 1988" and to have "established the anti-discrimination commission in 1997."

In the online version here, we also find the Borg's own response, together with commentary on his statements from the rights group, Action Reform Change Queensland (ARCQ), and the successor organisation to QuAC, Qld Association for Healthy Communities (QAHC). I should add that neither Anna Bligh nor the Greens (& ex-Labor) MP, Ronan Lee, had replied to the QNews survey by the time the issue went to press and it's not stated online if they have subsequently replied. However, on reading the Borg's statement it becomes clear that, apart from outing himself, Mark Wood has basically quoted from his leader.

But these two claims about funding QuAC and establishing the anti-discrimination commission are perfect examples of the adage that the biggest lie is the half truth. I got so angry that I left a comment online which I will repeat below rather than re-write for this posting:

I can't believe the disingenuous nature of both Springborg's and Mark Wood's construction of the history of National Party/LNP relations with the LGBT communities of Qld. Firstly both state that the Qld AIDS Council "first received funding in 1988" from a Coalition/LNP Gov't. THere was no Coaliton gov't in Qld in 1988 only the National Party formed government. The Qld AIDS Council was established in 1984 and from the outset the National Party refused to have anything to do with it. No money would be given to QuAC, and the National Party did all it could to impede the activities of QuAC. QuAC first got funding from the Federal Labor government under Bob Hawke. In 1987, Mike Aherne took on the health portfolio in the Qld gov't. He was able to start funding the AIDS Council through a co-operative arrangement with the Sisters of Mercy at the Mater. As far as Health was concerned it was funding AIDS projects run by the nuns - but in actual fact the nuns passed most of the money on to QuAC. When Mike Aherne became Premier end of 1987, he was able to bring to an end the old National party ban on funding QuAC. And for that and other issues he was dumped by his colleagues in 1989. When the National Party was last in office in 1996-98, they continued a policy of obstruction and censorship of AIDS Council acitivities and projects. The same people are still there in Springborg's front bench. Labor did not defund the Qld AIDS Council in 2004, however its client services budget was reallocated to Spiritus under the competitive tendering process. I was very critical of that at the time, but the the fact is that QuAC reconfigured itself as QAHC and continues to be funded under the Labor government.

It was Labor who carried out law reform in 1990 and who introduced anti-discrimination laws in 1992. As ARCQ point out:

"In 1996, the newly elected Howard Coalition Federal Government moved to strip funds from the Human Rights Commission and signalled that the arrangement with the joint Commonwealth/Queensland Commissions was to be terminated.

Karen Walters, then working for the Queensland Justice Department, was tasked by the Borbidge Coalition Queensland Government with establishing the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commission and was subsequently appointed as its first Commissioner in September 1997."

Not many people know that the then Coalition government was looking at ways to remove the anti-discrimination provisions covering lawful sexual activity (together with trade union membership). It was only by intensive lobbying on the part of the Qld Association of Gay and Lesbian Rights (QAGLR) that these plans were circumvented.

I am myself very critical of many aspects of Labor's record on LGBT issues. But at least Labor does have a positive record of addressing our issues. The Nationals/LNP have no such record; theirs instead is one of virulent homophobia at worst and obstruction and denial at best. The record that Mark Wood and Lawrence Springborg present is a falsehood based on half truths, misrepresentations and distortion of the historical record

Michael Carden
fmr Male Convenor (1996-1999)
Qld Association of Gay and Lesbian Rights

The deliberate climate of homophobic pogrom whipped up by the National Party in the 1980s in lieu of a genuine HIV/AIDS policy together with their refusal to not only deal with or fund QuAC are the reasons I hold the National Party responsible for every HIV infection in the '80s and early '90s. (Former Health Minister and Premier, Mike Aherne, is the notable exception. I count him as an AIDS hero in a party of AIDS criminals. He is the only National Party Health Minister of the time that didn't go to prison following the Fitzgerald Inquiry) That's one reason I will never vote for them even if they rename themselves the LNP. I know too that on coming to office in 1996, albeit this time as a Coalition, the Nats were seriously planning to nobble the anti-dsicrimination laws when it came to sexuality. Shayne Wilde and I intensively lobbied a number of bodies, in particular the Churches, to put pressure on the Coalition to make sure that didn't happen. I should also add that as far as the National Party record is concerned, on any legal change that was put through state Parliament, from decriminalisation to anti-discrimination laws to recognising same-sex couples in a suite of state government legislation it was consistently spoken and voted against by the National Party and, with a handful of honorable exceptions, the Liberal Party. I still remember watching the Borg in Parliament in 1999 denying any homophobic motivation for his opposing Labor's including same sex couple recognition for new family leave provisions in state industrial relations legislation. But by their fruits shall you know them.

So if the statements of Mark Wood and the Borg are anything to go by, then I can only assume that the LNP continues to regard us queer folks with utter contempt and will tell the biggest lies, distorting and misrepresenting the historical record, in a cruelly cynical attempt to get our votes. I am very critical of Labor too but at least they have a record they can stand on proudly when it comes to us queer folks in Qld, unlike the National Party/LNP.

But I also have some brickbats for the QNews journalists who wrote up the election piece. Not only did they accept uncritically the LNP distortions but they compounded the lies by writing that "the Qld AIDS Council... was set up by a Coalition Government." Utterly, utterly untrue!!! The Qld AIDS Council was set up by us queer folks together with a lot of straight allies. It was all our own work and work we must acknowledge and be proud of . The National Party, the Coalition, the LNP had nothing to do with it and actively worked to frustrate it. By uncritically accepting and further distorting the Borg's lies, QNews has let down its own constituency, the queer communities of Qld. As journalists, it's the responsibility of Toby Longhurst and Miles Heffernan to hold lying and homophobic politicians to account and expose their lies at every opportunity. Instead they have failed their profession, their readership and their communities.

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