Malcolm Turnbull being awkwardly shepherded around at Mardi Gras 2016
Reports of the Prime Minister being banned from the 2017 Mardi Gras parade have been greatly exaggerated.
On Saturday, Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras held its annual general meeting, and four board members were up for election. The election had been a bitter and unusually high-profile contest, with candidates’ past comments dredged up, claims of racism, and a board member censured.
One of the lead candidates, James Brechney, was censured in October by the board over comments he made at a marriage equality rally, during which he floated the idea of “uninviting” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull from the parade.
This year Turnbull became the first sitting prime minister to attend the parade, in a time where he was still pushing ahead with holding a plebiscite on same-sex marriage. The parade goes through Turnbull’s electorate of Wentworth, and it was not the first time Turnbull had attended the parade.
Last year Mardi Gras invited the PM to attend the parade as a guest of the organisation, but Turnbull did not respond to the invitation, instead attending as a guest of SBS in the VIP area of the parade. Brechney proposed “uninviting” Turnbull from attending as a guest of the organisation, although Brechney himself admits it seems unlikely given the state of affairs that Turnbull would appear at the event next year. Brechney said he wanted to make a point about the LGBTI community’s position against the Turnbull government’s policy on the plebiscite and the Safe Schools program.
At the AGM, the two co-conveners of Community Action Against Homophobia, Cat Rose and Patrick Wright — who recently successfully fought for the right to say “Fuck Fred Nile” — said Turnbull had hijacked the last Mardi Gras parade and moved a motion to not welcome Turnbull as an official guest at the event.
The motion was as follows:
“The Annual General Meeting of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras does not believe that a Prime Minister who denies us equality should be welcome as an official guest at our parade. We ask the Board to act in accordance with this position and issue a public statement as it applies to the current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the 2017 Mardi Gras parade and does not invite him as an official guest to the parade.”
The motion, along with a second motion supporting a marriage equality rally, was passed, with the support of 48 proxy votes held by Brechney at the meeting (Brechney says he had 48 proxies, although a tweet account of the meeting said there had been 45).
Of all of the candidates running at the election, Brechney — the man behind the DIY Rainbow movement — and his team were the most organised, mailing out proxy forms to all Mardi Gras members with his name already filled in, giving them the option of giving him their vote at the AGM.
Crikey has heard some attendees were upset that the motion was not on the agenda before the meeting, meaning only those in the room at the time could vote on it. In any case, as with the plebiscite, the motion is non-binding and only asks the board to consider releasing a public statement against Turnbull.
The election of Brechney and his teammate Katrina Dopper will improve the chances for the motion to be followed, but the other two board members elected — Jesse Matheson and Brandon Bear — expressed more reservations about the proposal. There are eight board members in total, but only four up for election this time.
And despite media reports to the contrary, the Prime Minister isn’t “banned” from the public event. In the unlikely event the Prime Minister decides to face the LGBTI community at the next Mardi Gras while the issue of same-sex marriage is still unresolved, he could again go to the VIP area as a guest of SBS or any one of the other corporate sponsors or partners of the event.
Turnbull on Sky News on Sunday night said as much:
“Well, you know, I’ve had so many invitations from friends to go to their Mardi Gras parties that if Lucy and I do decide to go to the Mardi Gras next year, we’ll have no shortage of opportunities and cheerful company to enjoy it with.”
The fight appears to be between those who believe that Mardi Gras should return to its grassroots activism and protest movement and those who believe the best way to achieve equality is to bring those in the Coalition on side for a free vote in Parliament.
Liberal MP for Goldstein Tim Wilson tweeted his disappointment with the motion on Saturday. After the Senate voted down the plebiscite last Monday, the more conservative members of the Coalition have said that the issue should be off the agenda, but Turnbull has not yet ruled out deciding the issue before the next election. He said that the dust needed to settle on the plebiscite first.
He will face internal pressure within his own party for a free vote in this term, and those behind the pressure believe motions against the PM from LGBTI groups will not be the best way to get movement on the matter.
* Josh Taylor is a member of Mardi Gras but did not attend the AGM or vote in the motion.