Senator Dean Smith and MP Trent Zimmerman

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is set to face a party room revolt from both conservative and moderate factions within the Liberal Party alike over the issue of same-sex marriage this coming week, as video has emerged of senior moderate Liberals publicly stating that they are going to be unrelenting in their push for a conscience vote before the end of the current term of Parliament.

The video, which was filmed on February 17 at a fundraiser for the Liberal party’s float at this year’s Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade, heavily features the former president of the Liberals NSW branch and current member for North Sydney Trent Zimmerman, with senior Liberal powerbrokers such as Michael Photios and Senator Dean Smith attending as well.

“This will be the last Mardi Gras where not all Australians are free to be able to marry,” stated Zimmerman, before a crowd of over 120 Liberal Party and marriage equality supporters. “We’re taking things step by step, but may I say that the resolve of some of us to see change is unwavering.”

“We are determined to see change happen, and for some it’s an aesthetic issue as to whether it’s now, whether it happens in two years time, or, as some would like, happens in 20 years time.”

“It’s easy to think, what’s the matter if we wait an extra couple of years? And someone brought it home to me in my own electorate recently. We had this seniors expo, and this very old gentleman came up and grabbed me by the arm, and said ‘I’m ninety-four, Trent. What are you doing about marriage equality?’. I wasn’t immediately sure if it was going to be a hostile or friendly question, so I said that we were still pushing hard for it.”

“He then said that ‘I’ve been with my partner for thirty years, I’m ninety-four and I’m not too sure how much I’ve got to go, so just get in and fucking do it’. So that brought home how important it is to do something.”

The emergence of this video also highlights the competing social ideologies that are currently present within the Liberals and the extent that both the conservative and moderate factions within the party are willing to go in order to achieve ideological dominance. While the moderates within the Liberal Party may have gone along with the demands of the hard Christian right for the sake of party unity previously, the content of this video suggests that many of them are no longer willing to compromise on LGBTI-related issues, particularly in the face of sustained public and private homophobia. As evidenced by the remarks that were publicly made by the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton over the weekend in relation to how business leaders like Qantas’ openly gay CEO Alan Joyce should “stick to their knitting”, an explosive level of animosity will continue to build within the Coalition the longer this debate draws on.

However, Zimmerman stated that these attitudes are likely to subside once marriage equality has passed the Parliament.

“In Britain they had the same debate, they had the same angst within the Conservatives, and after the bill finally went through the House of Lords, and they woke up the next morning & found that the world hadn’t changed, the issue had completely gone away. It’s barely been mentioned since, and now you’ve got Tory MPs who voted against it trying to pretend they didn’t, as they’re going off to their constituents’ and friends’ gay weddings.”

But while marriage equality may be the most prominent social issue on the political horizon for the Turnbull government, it’s not the only sexuality- and gender-related bombshell that parliament will ultimately be forced to face over the coming weeks.

After having found that “non-heterosexual and transgender” children are at significantly higher risk of being targeted for grooming by sexual predators than many of their heterosexual peers during a joint research project with Griffith University, the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses To Child Sexual Abuse has commissioned a further case study and round of public hearings into appropriately identifying and addressing instances of grooming when they arise. Released on the February 28, the study by Professor Patrick O’Leary, Emma Koh and Andrew Dare, explicitly states that there are serious deficiencies, nationwide, in relation to how both schools and teachers are trained to appropriately deal with and engage with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex identifying students, as well as students with serious mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression and bipolar-related disorders.

With the royal commission set to begin the public hearings for this case study on March 27, both the Prime Minister and the Minister for Education Senator Simon Birmingham, are highly likely to face renewed criticism over the federal government’s decision to dismantle the Safe Schools Coalition Australia anti-LGBTI harassment program last year, given both the results of “The Louden Review” at that time and the royal commission’s latest findings. While making such a decision may have appeared to have been politically expedient at the time, it’s now left both the Prime Minister and the Coalition in a position where they’ve either got to either reverse their decision on the program in accordance with guidance from the royal commission, or publicly state that some children are more deserving of child protection measures than others.

For a party that espouses strong family values and a Prime Minister who regularly proposes that all Australians should be equal before the law, no greater test of character could be offered before them at this time.

Peter Fray

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