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Pandora's Box, Political Process and the SSM Debate

By David Kernohan, WA AIDS Council CEO

I woke this morning, to the headline that SSM forms had been burnt in Arnhem Land. By this evening, those headlines had become “same sex marriage: Postal survey’s higher-than-expected turnout secures legitimacy”. But does it? What about the forms that have been burnt in Arnhem Land? What of the other postal survey forms I see, lying sodden in the street, limp, impotent in that the voice of their intended recipient will never be heard.

One of the principles of democracy is respect for and an acknowledgement of the importance of the voice of the people. The importance of this principle is usually taken so seriously that when the government seeks to know the views of the people, care is taken to ensure open and transparent processes are in place. People must have their names ticked off a register, their votes and views are confidential and have the dignity of a secure ballot process.

Although the current survey masquerades as an opportunity for people to have their say, it provides none of the safe guards that are usually associated with gauging the voice of the people. In a normal referendum, ballot papers would not be burned. This lack of safe guards affects both the “Yes” and the “No” campaigns. 

Whatever the outcome in November, it is open for either side to argue against the result because of the lack of proper processes to ensure the voice of the community is heard in a transparent process.

This survey was born of appeasement. Centrist politicians trying to appease their right flank. But if history teaches us anything, it is that appeasement does not work. People end up dissatisfied and results are often contested resulting in further discord and alienation.

Because the SSM survey is an attempt at appeasement and absent proper processes that are usually associated with hearing the voice of the people, there is a very real possibility the result in November will not bring the matter to a close. There is a very real possibility the results will be contested and High Court challenges mounted. 

What does this mean for members of the LGBTQI community? It means we must be prepared for a long journey. It means we must pace ourselves and maintain our resilience and reserves for the long haul. It means organisations like the WA AIDS Council, must be properly resourced to lead community with support and strength.

In Greek mythology there is the story of Pandora’s box. When the box was opened all sorts of evils and problems were let out and all that remained was hope. As individuals, we all need hope. Hope is the quality that builds resilience and an ability to keep persevering.

But hope alone, is not a quality upon which to build good government policy. I would call upon Government, having opened Pandora’s box with this survey and having unleashed the dogs of animosity, abuse and division against the LGBTQI community, to give serious consideration to rebuilding, engaging and healing our community post November 2017. 

If you are feeling affected by the postal survey, please click here.

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