I've been quite slack, and haven't written in thirteen days. In that time, the Governor-General's disallowance of the Civil Unions Act has been and gone, along with the failed override attempt by the Senate. Although they at least supported the override attempt, I personally blame Labor for part of its failure, as they got scared by the religious right and raced the motion through before Good Process or anyone else had had time to lobby the moderate Liberals to cross the floor, thus ensuring its failure. ACT Liberal Gary Humphries did cross the floor, but his rhetoric was shrouded in federalism issues, which makes it fairly clear that it was a pragmatic move designed to prevent the Greens from taking his seat in 2007, rather than a principled stance.So the question must now be asked – where to from here? There appears to be five options going around. 

The first option would be to pass the bill as is a second time, forcing another move to disallow, another override motion, and keeping the issue on the agenda. Such a move would allow plenty of time to lobby moderate Liberals, and would allow a rehearing of the issues without – as happened this time around – it getting drowned in other issues, namely the government's nasty refugee legislation. It would, however, be fairly pointless without some indication of Senate support.

The second option would be to remove the provision explicitly equating a civil union with marriage. This would be a rotten step to have to take, but would have some distinct advantages. It would severely hinder the attempts of Howard and Ruddock to make any sort of justification for disallowing it, as this was essentially what they relied on this time around. It would also force Family First to stop sitting on the fence and force them to come out and clarify in no uncertain terms that they support discrimination. It would most probably also win much more unequivocal support from federal Labor, thus reducing the likelihood of the party copping out a second time. As such, I think this is probably what will most likely happen in the second half of the year.

The third option would be to split up the original bill and pass it through in dribs and drabs, thus making the sort of move the feds took on this bill much harder to actually pull off. This would be a wonderfully obstinate move if the ACT government was willing (though it would have the added advantage for them of taking attention off the budget ramifications), but it may not be practicable.

The fourth option would be to take the Tasmanian option, with registered relationships. This would give couples necessary basic rights, but it comes at the cost of devaluing the relationship, in my opinion. Let me put it this way – under the Tasmanian system, a straight couple can get married, but a gay couple must "register their relationship" in such a way as to be legally not much different from a carer and a disabled adult. It may deliver the basics, but to me, it is a cop-out that falls short symbolically. Of all of these, this is the only step that I actually oppose.

The fifth and final option would be to file a human rights claim for discrimination with the United Nations. A positive result in such a claim would be damaging for the federal government, and would likely keep the issue in the news for some years. In the event that the government would simply block all of the above, something which seems all the more likely in the light of Rodney Croome's unnerving latest post, this would keep the issue in the news for some years, with a positive result able to embarrass them down the line. Maybe it is just the stirrer in me, but I'd like to see us go down this road.

As disappointing as this experience has been, it has resulted in an unprecedented united front among the queer community in the ACT, dealing specifically with civil unions. The Civil Union Defence Coalition (CUDC) now includes just about all the groups interested in queer rights, from Good Process through to the socialists, and held its first rally last week. Surveys are now going around asking for opinions on the above options so that the ACT government can be advised accordingly. While I'd like to see the ACT government split up the bill, removing the marriage clause is probably the more likely outcome. Even still, if Rodney Croome is right, it looks like all of the above legislative options may well be endangered within the next year. In that eventuality – and considering the conservative nature of the High Court at present (thus limiting local court action on federalism grounds), I think taking the issue before the United Nations will become our best and most effective option.


I'm really not one for soccer, football, or really any sport at all, but even I had to tune in last night to see the Socceroos face off against Japan in Kaiserslautern. And so it was that I ran down to my nearest cruddy bar in the sub-zero Canberra weather to see the first Australian World Cup game in 32 years on the big screen.

The first half was impressive, but after that disastrous Japanese goal, I thought we were utterly finished and headed home. Thankfully, though, I kept the television on, and managed to catch the last-minute reversal, with Tim Cahill's two sudden goals, and then a third from John Aloisi, putting Australia into a position where we may well be in with a chance of making the next round.

Yes, the legendary Johnny Warren would have been proud last night. It was tragic that he died last year before having the chance to see Australia finally once again qualify for the World Cup. So it was a nice touch when, after the victory, the scoreboard at the Fritz Walter Stadion said simply "I Told You So".

Good Process sent out a bulletin this afternoon bringing the bad news. In the wake of the ACT government's decision to bring forward the enactment of the civil union laws so that at least some people might be able to hold ceremonies before the disallowance of the law, the federal government brought forward the date of disallowance.

Howard and Ruddock met with Governor-General Michael Jeffery this morning, and unsurprisingly, Jeffery agreed to disallow the law. As of midnight tonight, the ACT's civil union laws will be dead in the water.

The press doesn't seem to have got hold of this story yet (I suspect Good Process heard straight from the ACT Government), so there isn't yet any word of a response from either Labor or the minor parties. I just hope this act of unmitigated bastardry isn't the very end of the line for the laws.

I’ve always found the exclusion of the conscience vote to be among the worst elements of the Australian political system, particularly in situations where the local member is forced into defying their own electorate in order to preserve their political career. And so we again saw this week in the Queensland parliament, when Noosa state MP Cate Molloy confronted Premier Peter Beattie over two proposed dams which were most unpopular within her electorate. Beattie simply expected Molloy to fall in line on his say so, but in a brave move, she led a protest march to the doors of the ALP state conference and, after applauding the rest of Beattie’s platform, staged a walkout in front of the television cameras, which garnered national coverage and made her point just nicely.

And for this, Beattie had Molloy’s previously-settled preselection for the 2007 election overturned by the end of the day. Molloy was doing exactly what an MP should be doing – actually representing the people she was elected to represent, rather than acting as would a computer and following orders without question. I’m not familiar enough with Molloy’s career to know how good an MP she is (although, considering that she’s the husband of Ivan Molloy, the federal Labor candidate who nearly brought down Labor’s chances in Queensland in 2004 with his bizarre remarks to the press, one does have to wonder), but regardless of this, this should not be the sort of incident that ends a political career. Beattie should be damned ashamed for being so intolerant of dissent.

I don’t think Molloy necessarily helped herself in the aftermath of Beattie’s announcement, though. Pledging to remain a Labor member until the election and recontest as an independent was a rather strange move – in my opinion, she’d have been better to jump now (as did Victorian MLC Dianne Hadden when found in a similar situation over a planned nuclear waste dump) and build up a support base. It will be interesting to see just what happens in Noosa in 2007 – had she left now I think Molloy would likely have held the seat as an independent, but now I’m not sure I could pick a result this far out.

It feels strange to be simultaneously applauding and condemning someone, but that’s the position I find myself in this morning.

Andrew Barr, the ACT’s only gay MP, has been relatively quiet in the civil unions debate up until now, preferring to leave the media handling to Attorney-General Simon Corbell, but he really let fly this morning, labelling its opponents “evil” and questioning what on earth about him and his long-term partner scared them so much. Barr makes a good poster boy for the bill, and his comments should have hit home hard.

Alas, his comments got swept off the front page by the disastrous effects of the ACT budget on his education portfolio – more specifically, a hurriedly-organised five hundred strong rally at Dickson College, one of the 39 schools set to be closed. The fact that nearly a quarter of the schools in the ACT are set to be cut is a disgrace in and of itself, but some of the schools targeted for closure make absolutely no sense. Dickson College, as the only one of the ACT’s colleges in the city’s inner north, was not a likely target for closure, and singling it out as such was downright bizarre. The students and staff who have just had this dropped on them out of the blue have very good reason to be very angry.

I also have to wonder what on earth the person who decided that the schools in the ACT’s two rural communities, Hall and Tharwa, were sensible targets for closure was smoking. If the ACT has to have school cuts, then surely they should come from suburban areas with a good coverage of schools – not rural schools, which would leave their students with no option but to commute all the way into Canberra. Not only does it unnecessarily inconvenience their residents, but it would likely threaten the future of two of the oldest communities in the territory – and for what purpose?

I think the Stanhope government seriously underestimated the public backlash against this budget. Two weeks ago, the government was utterly impregnable. Not only were they popular, but the opposition was badly divided and lacked anyone in the parliamentary party capable of challenging the charismatic Stanhope. They looked set to not only romp back in 2008, but were looking pretty good for 2012 too. In the aftermath of the budget, however, I think the possibility of a Liberal win in 2008 is not to be ruled out. These school closures are going to affect a great many people, and the great many angered community groups are likely to take the opportunity to strike back during the election campaign. Even if they manage to retain power, they haven’t got a hope in hell of retaining majority government at this rate – I can’t see any way Labor could retain the fourth seat in Ginninderra at this point, and suspect it will probably return to the Greens.

The civil unions debate has taken a twist for the strange since Tuesday's announcement.

It does seem now that the anti-disallowance motion will happen, courtesy of Bob Brown. Brown has a history of not being so keen about raising queer issues, so it's nice to see that this debate is compelling parliament's only gay member to speak out against it. Brown's motion will definitely be supported by the rest of the Greens and the Democrats, and presumably by Labor (although they're, as usual, jerking around on the subject). This means it would only take a couple of votes to override Cabinet and retain the law in its current form. And opposition from within the government ranks is coming from a very unlikely source.

A couple of months ago, ACT Senator (and former Chief Minister) Gary Humphries was the bill's leading opponent in federal parliament, and was threatening to personally move to override it. I distinctly remember attending rally outside his office protesting against his stance and homophobic rhetoric. The bill was amended to appease some of his concerns, but it wasn't a great stretch to assume that if Ruddock decided to kill the bill in its entirety, that Humphries, as chief opponent, would jump on board with them.

Instead, Humphries, until now the bill's chief opponent, has come out in the press today attacking Cabinet's decision on the basis of interfering with the sovereignty of the territory. Moreover, he's openly raised the prospect of crossing the floor to vote down the disallowance and keep the bill in its current form. I'll believe it when it happens, but it would seem tonight that there is a genuine possibility that pigs might fly in Canberra.

Okay, so maybe it doesn’t scale compard to the previous two announcements, but in this age of spin and counter-spin, a politician that tells you what he actually thinks is a rarity.

John Hargreaves, who served as the ACT’s Urban Services Minister until this morning, is one of those types. Hargreaves is kind of old-school in that if asked a question, he’ll generally give a straight answer without trying to put a positive spin on it. He tends to be brusque at times, but honest, and it has shown in his popularity – despite being a backbencher going into the last election, he polled enough votes to get himself a straight quota without preferences. He’s also fun to watch in parliament – he once mooed at Liberal MLA Jacqui Burke after she started pestering him about why he hadn’t been more mean in clamping down on alleged public housing abuses.

Alas, it appears that he got pulled over and breath-tested by the police last night and registered a blood alcohol reading of .09. As this will wind him in court on drink-driving charges, he’s resigned from the ACT ministry as of this morning. While the fact that Hargreaves would wind up drink-driving isn’t necessarily a surprise for those familiar with the political rumor mill in the ACT, it’s a damned shame nonetheless.

The resignation of Hargreaves also creates a gaping hole in the ministry, as the five ministers were already overworked, and Labor doesn’t really have any spectacular talent sitting on the backbenches. (It is for this reason that Andrew Barr, upon being elected to a casual vacancy in April, was immediately chosen to replace his predecessor in Cabinet). If Hargreaves is going to be on the backbench for any length of time, he is going to have to be replaced, and that leaves only four options: Wayne Berry and Mick Gentleman of the hard left, and Mary Porter and Karin McDonald of the Genghis Khan right.

Of these, Gentleman and McDonald are simply not ministerial material. Berry, while experienced (he’s the Father of the House and a former leader of the Labor Party), has become quite a maverick since being appointed Speaker, and I somewhat doubt is in Cabinet’s good books. This really leaves only Mary Porter. While she’s no Hargreaves and she’s a bit more conservative than I’d like (although I was impressed by her response to the civil unions bill), she works harder than just about any backbencher I’ve ever heard of. I’m not sure how she’d go as a minister, but hopefully she’ll be able to do a competent enough job for now. In any case, though, Hargreaves’ resignation is an undoubted blow that territory Labor really didn’t need.