An exceedingly good experience at Volkspower

September 28, 2012

I had the best experience yesterday.

I was out driving when my car started making some concerning noises.  I pulled over, checked under the bonnet and quickly saw where the issue was.  However not knowing enough about the intricacies of the engine I felt an urgent trip to the trusty team of mechanics at Volkspower in Burwood was necessary.


A slipping clutch was making the noise.

I’d been a customer of theirs for a few years but I hadn’t taken my car to them for it’s most recent service.  I arrived there, parked and was walking to reception when one of the mechanics ran out of the garage at top speed and yelled in my direction “Maaate! Maaate! Congratulations! I saw you on TV!

I was a little taken aback, not expecting quite this level of fanfare on arrival.  It quickly dawned on me though that he was referring to my appearance on Adam Hills in Gordon St earlier in March.  I said “You’re talking about Adam Hills?”  He nodded affirmatively and said “I was watching and realised I knew the guy on the screen and wanted to tell you but hadn’t seen you in ages.

I was chuffed.  That made my day, despite having a problematic car to deal with.  Brett then disappeared back to the garage.


A fuse turned out to be the culprit.

The annoying noise turned out to be a slipping clutch on the air-conditioning.  Between Brett and (the very hunky) Ricky they found the underlying problem was due to a fuse in the battery controller block that dirty contacts.  This was preventing sufficient power delivery to the car.  Ricky replaced the fuse, plugged the car into his computer and found that everything was now working ok.  This very simple fix averted a potentially expensive repair.

Thanks to the great team at Volkspower for an exceedingly good experience.

Queer Jewish Crisis | The Stirrer

September 27, 2012

Check out “Queer Jewish Crisis“, my first contribution on The Stirrer.

Queer Jewish Crisis

by: Michael Barnett

September 25, 2012 – Family, Religion – Tagged: , , 3 comments

I recently attended a talk by Keshet Australia aimed at getting its message out to the Jewish community.  The local Keshet, based on its USA counterpart, advertises itself as “a Jewish GLBTIGQ (Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Transgender, Intersex and Gender Queer) movement to better educate Australian Schools on how to educate a Jewish child on GLBTIGQ.”

At this talk a flyer was distributed, the opening paragraphs of which described a crisis of Queer[1] departure from the Jewish community and how Keshet is placed to address it.  As a seasoned activist this crisis was news to me, with my priorities centring on reduction of isolation, self-harm and suicide.

Legitimate crises in the local Jewish community include the state of aged care and the entrenched and chronic covering up of child sex-abuse.

Other community crises surround alcohol abuse, domestic violence, poverty, private school fees and intermarriage.  The cost of keeping kosher is even of concern to some.

Another almost ignored real crisis is the rate of self-harm and suicide in the Melbourne Jewish community.  Rough figures were published in 2011 claiming approximately two people a month attempt suicide or self-harm.  Taken together with the alarming rate of suicide amongst same-sex attracted people and this issue should be given elevated priority.

My experience of coming out as gay in the Jewish community was one of compassion at best and indifference at worst.  I was not strongly religiously observant, but I continued to attend an Orthodox synagogue for some years and my friends and family accepted me and continued to include me and connect with me as they had always done.  In fact, for a number of years after coming out my Jewish “identity” actually strengthened.

Individual experiences will no doubt differ to mine, depending on the attitudes of the person’s family, friends and religious community.

I have made a number of observations about what happens when people self-identify as other than heterosexual.  If their religious context is accepting, they will open up to their peers and live a full life merging their sexuality and their cultural context.  If their religious context is intolerant they will more than likely find a context to express their sexuality at a safe distance from their cultural community, keeping both alive but separate.  I have not yet experienced many who give up their entire religious community simply to allow unhindered sexual self-expression.

And so I challenge this perceived “crisis”.  I feel it is a phenomenon that is alarmist, unfounded and exaggerated.

If a person departs their Jewish identity due to peer intolerance when they “come out”, it may potentially induce a situational crisis for their friends and family due to a sense of confusion, bewilderment, loss and even grief.  But keeping a sense of perspective, these situations are not ubiquitous or universal.

There may be legitimate grounds for concern over people leaving the Jewish community but the reasons for this are potentially varied and complex.  One mid-20’s community-minded gay woman recently told me that her university and career choices took her away from much of the Jewish surrounds that she was immersed in during her secondary school years.

Disengagement from the Jewish community may occur for ideological reasons, lack of need for a connection, or prioritising a connection with a different community.  All reasons are legitimate.

People leaving the Jewish community is not a crisis or even a problem if they make these choices voluntarily, free from duress.

If a situation arises that drives many away from a community, the crisis should be identified as the underlying reason why people are leaving rather than the fact that people are leaving.  We invariably seek the path of least conflict.

As to Keshet’s claim on their flyer “We need to keep Jews, Jewish”, I disagree.  We need to keep people in the Jewish community happy and alive.

 [1] GLBTIQ / same-sex attracted / gender diverse, etc


You’re the best, Charlie Gleason.

September 24, 2012

Charlie Gleason is well dressed, frustrated and a cool champion for marriage equality.

Check out his web sites:



Colin Rubenstein, setting his Zionist agenda for the ABC

September 21, 2012

In this week’s Australian Jewish News the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council executive director Colin Rubenstein said the ABC should not have invited Ilan Pappe to appear on Q&A:

“The decision by Q&A to frame a program around an individual whose single claim to notoriety is his defamation and demonisation of Israel – a longstanding advocate for Israel’s demise and a man repeatedly caught misusing historical sources to push his openly declared ideological vendetta – is an extraordinary example of contempt for the intelligence of viewers,” Rubenstein said.

I’d like to put it to Colin Rubenstein, and those who concur with his point of view, that the viewers of the ABC, myself included, are intelligent enough to make our own minds up as to whether the ABC should have invited Ilan Pappe to appear on their show and that we don’t need pro-Zionist moral guardians to make our minds up for us.

If Colin Rubenstein wishes to censor the ABC he can take himself off to somewhere like China, North Korea or Iran and open his own state media outlet and not invite Ilan Pappe, over there.  In the meantime, in Australia, he should respect the independence of the ABC and the intelligence of its viewers.

Michael Danby, supporting Jews over Gays

September 21, 2012

Michael Danby is the Federal MP for Melbourne Ports, an electorate that has sizeable Jewish and gay populations.  He has taken a swing at ABC’s Q&A for hosting a show with Israeli content on the Jewish New Year, at a time when many in the Jewish community chose not to watch television due to religious observance.

Tony Jones, the host of Q&A, explained to that segment of Australia’s population that Q&A focusing half of its program on Monday night on Israel was because he could not get his guest Mr Pappe other than that night. Irving Wallach did a brave job on the program. But I question Mr Jones; the ABC managing director, Mark Scott; and indeed the new chairman, Jim Spigelman. This was a studied insult. Having an academically undistinguished extremist on Rosh Hashana is like having someone from Hizb ut-Tahrir advocate the abolition of Christianity and Australia on Christmas Eve.

At the same time Danby is a member of a political party that is led by the Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, who believes gay people should not have equal rights before the law.  He also has colleagues, including the leader, who actively voted against the rights of gay people this week.  Conveniently, Danby was absent during the vote.

I have yet to see a single word of support from Michael Danby for marriage equality, despite him being apparently supportive of it.  Further, I have yet to see a statement showing Michael Danby’s outrage at the lack of support from his political colleagues for voting against their party platform.

20120921 Michael Danby on Marriage Equality

Australian Marriage Equality – Where Your MP Stands: Michael Danby

Michael Danby.  Put up or shut up, but don’t have it both ways.

Blow Up The Homophobes

September 20, 2012

Two days ago I wrote a letter to Senator Nick Xenophon asking him to vote in support of the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012.  Yesterday Senator Xenophon announced his support for the bill and today he voted in support of it.

In a rather bleak two days where two Federal Marriage Equality bills were voted down, Senator Xenophon’s support of marriage equality was one glimmer of hope and sunshine.  Thank you Nick Xenophon.

A letter to Nick Xenophon

September 18, 2012

From: Michael Barnett <>
Date: 18 September 2012 01:20
Subject: A letter about helping families
To: Senator Nick Xenophon <>

Dear Senator Xenophon,

It was in the late 1990’s that I discovered an Australian band called the Whitlams.  It didn’t take very long before I was hooked on their music.

In many ways I found something special in each of their songs.  They all had a different story to tell.  A different part of someone’s life.  Sometimes happy, sometimes not.

And so it was that Tim Freedman wrote “Blow up the pokies”.  Yes, you probably know it well.  “There was the stage, two red lights and a dodgy P.A.”  And so the tune goes.

That song moved a nation.  It’s sad, it’s poignant, and it laments the loss of a friend, someone dear, at a time in their life when they were out of control.  Without knowing Tim’s friend Andy I can’t say why he took his life, but we do know it was because of his gambling.

And so I come to you, a passionate advocate for poker machine reform.  You know that this form of gambling ruins peoples lives, destroys families, drives people to the depths of despair, and sometimes even as far as suicide.  I sense there is a deep compassion within you that wants to turn around the hurt, turn around the disease and put the victims back on a better path, where they can live happier and healthier lives.

It’s because of this care for the community and your personal integrity that I am writing to you, Senator Xenophon.

There’s another sickness in society that is similarly taking people’s lives.  I don’t have the figures to show you this minute but the problem is significant.  Youth suicide is a serious problem around the country, especially in rural and regional areas.  One of the more vulnerable or at-risk groups are same-sex attracted youth.  Recent research has shown that these young kids attempt suicide at rates of 3.5 to 14 times higher than their heterosexual peers.

Marginalisation of same-sex attracted youth – kids who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual – especially when they are in small communities, and when exacerbated by strong and intolerant religious ideology, is a recipe for disaster.  The rates of mental health issues, self harm and suicide that these vulnerable youth experience is alarming.

It’s when society sends a message that the relationships these people get into are taboo, sinful or simply inferior that it can drive home feelings of worthlessness or self-loathing.  These feelings contribute to poorer mental health outcomes and possibly self-harm.

I come to you asking you to draw from the concern you have for the victims and families of poker machine addition and carry that over to the victims of attitudes intolerant of diverse sexual orientation and/or gender identity.  I ask you to think about the devastatingly high rates of suicide that these misunderstood people experience.

The difference you can make to these people’s lives, a positive and powerful difference, is by endorsing their relationships, endorsing the love and commitment they want to share with that someone special and affirm to the rest of the nation that they are equal in every way to those people who are attracted to the opposite sex.

In particular, the most expedient and effective way you can help turn around this devastation and destruction is by putting your name to marriage equality.  You will be telling every young person who is struggling with their sexuality or their gender identity that they can love another person, and be in a relationship with them and not need to be concerned about the gender of their partner.

There is a wealth of credible evidence on the harmful outcomes of this intolerance.  You can view the Doctors 4 Equality web site if you want to research this any further.

The power to help make this difference for our community lies in your hands.  It’s a big responsibility and if used properly has the potential to save many lives and restore happiness to many families.

Please contact me if you wish to discuss this any further.  I would also appreciate a personal reply to this letter.

Most sincerely,
Michael Barnett.

What really goes on in heaven

September 17, 2012

The Onion shows us what really goes on in heaven.  Sadly Mohummad misses out on a piece of the action.

No One Murdered Because Of This Image | The Onion

No One Murdered Because Of This Image | The Onion

A letter to Joe Hockey

September 14, 2012

From: Michael Barnett <>
Date: 14 September 2012 01:18
Subject: A letter on an important issue, for your consideration
To: Joe Hockey MP <>

Dear Mr Hockey,

Please find attached a letter for your consideration.

I hope you have the time to afford a frank, personal and most importantly considered response.

Michael Barnett.

September 14, 2012

Dear Mr Hockey,

Sixteen years ago this week, on a Tuesday afternoon in Canberra you delivered your first speech to the house.  Please allow me to take you back to that day.

You spoke of wanting to make a difference:

I am in Canberra today because I want to make a contribution to the future of Australia.

You told us about your connection to the ANZACs who fought in Beersheba.  You spoke of a country with a proud heritage and a strong connection to this past, and of leadership:

Our leader, General Harry Chauvel … had no choice but to infuse these young men with the belief that the future of the free world lay in their hands.

You told us why they were fighting, what it was they were putting their lives at risk for:

Their charge was more than courage. It was more than defiance against oppression. It was an act of pure faith in the future—and perhaps our finest illustration of that quality that we call the Australian spirit.

You quoted former Australian Prime Minister, George Reid on respect and vision:

There is no country in the world where the people are less paralysed by reverence to the past. There are no people in the world who have fewer fears for the future.

You pondered the connection between the ANZACs and those yet to be born Australian, and told us of the eternal nature of the spirit these brave men upheld:

One might ask what relevance that charge on Beersheba has on the Australians of today. I feel proud to be able to stand here and tell you that its spirit can still be touched by every Australian. I feel proud to think that future generations can have that same defiant spirit surging through their veins.

We heard you tell us never to give up, never to accept second best:

In many ways, Beersheba defines what it is like to be an Australian. To believe in yourself, to believe in the seemingly insurmountable, and to challenge the future.

You spoke of the uncertainty of the future, of changing attitudes and changing values:

Mr Acting Speaker, that future is all around us. The new millennium is approaching at a blinding pace and change is occurring exponentially. I suppose it is understandable for many that this change might be accompanied by growing uncertainty and angst. After all, family life is under increasing social pressure. Long accepted practices and traditions are constantly being questioned.

And then you spoke of the ideology you brought to public office, the ideology you believed would offer a way forward:

Perhaps many of us have forgotten the lesson of Beersheba. That is why I come to this parliament with the inherent belief that the answers to the challenges of the future lie in modern liberalism.

And told us of the values most important to you:

In an age where closely held beliefs and political ideology are frequently scoffed at, I wish to place on record the principles of modern liberalism that I hold dear. These include, firstly, the recognition of the inalienable rights of the individual; secondly, a belief in parliamentary democracy; thirdly, a commitment to improve our society through reform; and, finally, equality of opportunity for all of our citizens.

We heard about the formalisation of individual rights and the government’s place in securing this:

The first principle which recognises the rights of the individual was expressed in 1689 by the father of liberalism, John Locke. He wrote that the very substance of government should be the protection of individual rights, including specifically the rights of life, liberty and property.

And about social justice, liberty, disadvantage and giving a voice to those who were without one:

Despite the work of liberal and social philosophers such as Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill and Jean Jacques Rousseau, it was not until the end of the 19th century that the concept of social justice was introduced by John Dewey. He wrote that liberty is that secure release and fulfilment of personal potentialities which take place only in wide and manifold association with others. As part of the privilege of enjoying our individual rights, we have an obligation to protect and enhance our community. That includes helping the disadvantaged, caring for the sick, speaking for the voiceless and protecting the weak.

Then you told us about “new and improved”:

The third principle of modern liberalism is our belief in reform. Liberalism has traditionally steered a course between the extremism of the far Left and the reactionary conservatism of the far Right. Liberalism is most comfortable when it is developing new ideas and setting new goals.

And how important equality was to you:

The final finger on the hand of modern liberalism is the classic doctrine of equality of opportunity.

You spoke of your disdain for discrimination, of wanting to ensure future generations were free from it and of how this is a fundamental principle of the Liberal Party:

We cannot afford in our modern and complicated world to tie the hands of our children before they are born, because discrimination from the cradle will lead to discrimination until the grave. Equality of opportunity is a part of modern liberalism that will be most aggressively defended by my Liberal Party. It is the reason why so many of my colleagues in the class of 1996 are here from all parts of Australia. That is what I believe in; that is modern liberalism.

We heard of opportunity, human dignity and how important it was for you to involve your electorate in your journey:

A true Liberal was described by Sir John Carrick in 1967 as someone who was always concerned about the welfare of the individual, for the creation of opportunities, for the preservation of human dignity and the development of human personality. I have no doubt that these modern Liberal principles will benefit all Australians in the days ahead. Most particularly, I want to ensure that the electorate of North Sydney has a prominent role in defining that future.

You spoke of impediments to equality by way of the struggle for women’s rights:

One of these challenges is in the way our community continues to treat women. We should abandon the politically correct platitudes about equality, and honestly acknowledge that there remain entrenched societal and institutional impediments to women’s equal and active participation in either or both the home or work communities.

You spoke of generosity:

The Jesuits have taught me the value of community service and the spirit of giving.

And intellectual rigour:

And my friends and legal colleagues at Corrs Chambers Westgarth have taught me the lessons of professionalism, intellectual discipline and sheer hard work.

You spoke from the heart about your values, and those of Australians past, and their sacrifices, and their spirit:

Over the days of my career I am sure that the principles I hold dear—such as integrity, honesty and loyalty—will at times be sorely tested. But, at those times, I will recall the deeds of the men of Beersheba. I will recall their courage and their fortitude. I will recall the sacrifices that they made for our nation. And I will recall that great Australian fighting spirit.

And in closing you told us of your desire to do the best for all Australians:

Together with the support and encouragement of my colleagues and the inspiration and direction of modern liberalism, we will all begin our journey. We will charge our Beershebas and we will rebuild them—and this we will do for our children and for the generations of Australians ahead.

Mr Hockey, the values and vision you brought to office on September 10, 1996 were exemplary.

In having just relived your afternoon 16 years ago I now ask you to consider your position on marriage equality.  Please keep reading.

Last December you said:

JOURNALIST: Do you support same sex marriage?


JOURNALIST: So if there was a conscience vote you would be voting against it?


JOURNALIST: What are the reasons behind your thinking on that?

JOE HOCKEY: I believe a marriage is between a man and a woman.

You are entitled to your beliefs, but Mr Hockey, in light of what you said in your maiden speech, about your grandfather who fought in Beersheeba alongside the other ANZACs, fighting for a free Australia, how can you justify this position?

You told us about Australia being a place of opportunity for all citizens, of having new ideas, of vision, of equality, of human dignity and of fighting oppression.

You spoke of the need for a defiant spirit, of reform, an opportunity for all of our citizens, for protection of individual rights and challenging the future.

You invoked the sacred legend of the ANZAC.  You related their sacrifices and spoke of their spirit.

You spoke of questioning long accepted practices and traditions.

You spoke of the obligation to protect the community.  Denying those who are not attracted to the opposite sex the same rights as everyone else further entrenches the belief that we are less worthy.  This attitude has been proven to contribute to worse mental health and welfare outcomes for us.  How is your position on marriage protecting the community in light of this?

Mr Hockey, I ask you how you can stand up before the people of North Sydney, of whom in 2010 69% were not opposed to marriage equality (49% “in favour”, 31% “against”, 20% “don’t care”) and say that you are representing their interests.

How can you honour the ANZAC legend when you uphold the removal of individual rights, liberty and equality?

Mr Hockey, I implore you to rethink your position on marriage equality.  When you stand up as a representative before the people of North Sydney, and the people of Australia, and in the absence of intellectual rigour you subscribe to a position that is against the majority of your electorate and against every value you hold dear, you are not only just betraying yourself but you are betraying the values of the Liberal Party and the values of the entire nation, and in the worst possible way.

Mr Hockey, be generous.  Support marriage equality.

Michael Barnett.

AJAX Football Club must say “No to Homophobia”

September 9, 2012

From: Michael Barnett <>
Date: 9 September 2012 10:09
Subject: Asking for AJAX Football Club to support AFL’s “No to Homophobia” campaign
To: Ian Fayman <>, Ronnie Lewis <>, Mark Feldy <>, Peter Kagan <>, Michael Sojka <>, Bernie Sheehy <>, Darren Seidl <>, Gary Blusztein <>, Gary Blieden <>, John Rochman <>, Adam Slade-Jacobson <>
Cc: Jason Ball <>, Rob Mitchell <>

Dear AJAX Football Club,

I am writing to ask for your club to support “No to Homophobia”.  Please read this story in The Age and consider distributing it, along with the associated petition, to the members of your club.

Story: ‘I didn’t know any footballers who were gay’
Petition: I’ve experienced homophobia in Aussie Rules Football first hand — now it’s time to end it.

In addition, please consider issuing a statement of support from the AJAX Football Club.  It would send a strong message and support your clubs aims:

Ajax will assist in the development and improvement of its members, not only by requiring and facilitating the highest standard of physical fitness and skills associated with Australian Rules Football-but also general aspects of life and community to further their careers.

AJAX shall strive to achieve the most successful onfield team performances at all levels whilst maintaining its unique Jewish identity.

I have copied Jason Ball on this email.  He would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.  Additionally I have included Rob Mitchell, who has a close connection to the AFL and takes a keen interest in these matters.

Lastly, I’d like you to read this blog I wrote after meeting Olympian Daniel Kowaslki:

I urge you to bring this matter up with Maccabi Victoria at your earliest convenience, as it is in the best interests of the welfare of all members of AJAX FC and Maccabi Victoria.

Michael Barnett.

Breaking: Christian lobby says gays should wear burkas

September 6, 2012

(Kudos to BG for bringing this story to my attention)

Christian lobby calls for gays in plain packaging

September 6, 2012 – 8:50PM

Paul Oisborne And Lisa Martian


The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) says that homosexuals should cover themselves up in plain clothing to discourage young people from taking up same-sex behaviour.

ACL spokesman, Mr Jim Wallace, has defended his comments from earlier this week in which he said homosexuality was more dangerous than smoking, adding that “plain packaging should now apply to same-sex couples just as it does to cigarettes”.

“Many homosexuals wear alluring, bright and attractive clothes which some impressionable young people might be attracted to,” Mr Wallace said.

“Under the circumstances, I think a sensible health approach is for gays to cover themselves up in plain ways so as not to be a temptation.”

When asked if gays should simply wear burkas, Mr Wallace said he did not approve of full Islamic dress for homosexuals, unless they were in fact Muslim, but which he admitted would be unlikely.

“Look, all I’m saying is that cigarettes kill people and so do homosexuals. But I am not homophobic.”

Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Thursday withdrew from speaking at the ACL conference in Canberra on October 5 and 6, citing “offensive” comments about homosexuality made by Jim Wallace.

Ms Gillard had originally said that attending the conference did not mean that she endorsed all of the views being presented.

“I speak to many organisations around Australia and sometimes I support their views and sometimes I don’t, but I can never know which views I support and which I don’t until I am informed by Mr Joe de Bruyn,” she said.

Rainbow Labor, the GLBT support group within the ALP, immediately rushed to issue a media release congratulating Ms Gillard on withdrawing from the conference organised by the Religious Right.

When asked why the group did not condemn Ms Gillard for giving legitimacy to the ACL and its conference by agreeing to attend in the first place, Rainbow Labor spokesperson, Mr Con Distraction, said “oh look, there’s an aeroplane!”

George Christensen, Marriage Equality, Mental Health and Mackay

September 5, 2012

A response from George Christensen to my letter from yesterday arrived first thing this morning.  He kindly suggested I check out his speeches, which I did, and found two that were relevant:

On the latter I found this comment:

# Jennifer Emmett
Friday, 21 October 2011 3:25 PM

George, I am a person in your electorate (you personally know me) and I am a real person who supported the GetUP campaign for Same Sex Marriage and I personally know many other people who are in your electorate who also supported the GetUp campaign and who support same sex marriage.
I believe your argument is nothing but discrimination and it breaks my heart that my country continues to treat me like a second class citizen because of my sexuality.
You want to help reduce suicide? Stop sending the message to gay people that they are second class Australians it’s killing us.

Fortuitously Jennifer has an interest in mental health welfare of the people in Mackay:

2009 – 2011 Chairperson

I joined the network in 2008 and became the chairperson in 2009.
Meeting Facilitation and leadership
Media Representation
Establishment of positions description
Development of online information and discussion site
Produced logo and flyers

I’ve reached out to Jennifer and hope she’s interested in continuing the dialog.

Thank you for your assistance George.


From: Christensen, George (MP) <>
Date: 5 September 2012 09:52
To: “” <>

Dear Mr Barnett

Thanks for your email.

I am hoping that you will be able to understand my support for marriage between one man and one woman by reading some of my other speeches to Parliament on this topic.  They can be found on my website;

While I do not agree with your views on this, thanks for taking the time to send them through.  I would suggest that you contact your local federal member so that he/she can represent your views in Parliament.

Yours faithfully,

George Christensen MP

Federal Member for Dawson

A letter to George Christensen

September 5, 2012

From: Michael Barnett <>
Date: 5 September 2012 02:32
Subject: A matter of importance, for your consideration
To: George Christensen MP <>

Dear Minister Christensen,

Please find attached a letter for your consideration.

I hope you have the time to afford a frank, personal and most importantly considered response.

Michael Barnett.

September 5 2012

Dear Minister Christensen,

Almost two years ago, on a Wednesday afternoon late in October 2010, you gave your first speech to the Parliament and people of Australia.  I can imagine it was a humbling experience.

Kindly allow me to take you back to that day and reflect on a few moments from your speech.

In introduction you spoke proudly of your duty to electorate and country:

“I stand here in this chamber today in the knowledge that I am but one man among many who have been elected by their peers to serve their community and their nation.

I stand here as but one man who feels the enormous responsibility of representing the 94,533 electors in the seat of Dawson.”

Then you spoke in desperation of a tragedy affecting all too many youth and uttered an impassioned cry for help:

“There is a gaping whole in Mackay’s health network which must be mentioned.  I refer to the desperate need for a Headspace youth mental health facility in Mackay.  Two years ago, we had a spate of youth suicides in Mackay.  In one six-week period, five children committed suicide and several others attempted suicide.  That problem has not gone away.  I am told by front-line social workers and GPs in Mackay that every week there is a suicide attempt that someone has to be talked out of.  It was a commitment of this Liberal-National coalition to deliver a Headspace centre for Mackay.  But I say to the government that they need to put politics aside on this issue.  We need a Headspace centre urgently.”

We heard you talk of the values that your parents instilled in you – a sense of duty to serve the best interests of the nation and a sense of social justice:

“I am well aware that it is also my duty to serve in the national interest.  That duty will be aided by the values that I bring to this House, values that were formed by the 32 years of my life thus far.  My mother was an immigrant to this country.  Her family came to this country with nothing but hope.  Both my parents were disability pensioners during my childhood life and we lived very humbly compared to many others.  All of that gave me a social justice conscience …”

You spoke of individual freedoms, individual rights and individual choice:

“It is the conservative principles of those in the Liberal-National coalition that are needed to rectify this situation.  It is the conservatism of those who sit on this side of the House—for now—that is the true philosophy in defence of individual rights.  Conservatism, like libertarianism, seeks to defend individual choice and freedoms but it also points to the consequences of that choice and freedom, be it success or failure.  One of my political heroes, former US President Ronald Reagan, declared as much when he said:

If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism … The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom …”

On a slight tangent from the intent of this letter, I note you invoked the memory of John Lennon and his iconic Imagine:

“To paraphrase Lennon—John Lennon, John Lennon that is—I know I may be a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”

Lennon paralleled socialist and communist ideals in his Imagine.  He also meant it to convey his desire for a world not without religion but without religious denomination.  I suspect Lennon might have a wry smirk for you knowing a Conservative was broad-minded enough to borrow from his repertoire.

Then you spoke of freedoms:

“… liberty of choice and liberty from regulation are important …”

and of relationships:

“… when we allow and encourage the removal of compassion from relationships that by their nature should be the most compassionate, then we are all the poorer for it.”

You may have been referring here, in a broader sense, to matters of life and death, but these principles do stand up on their own.

Then as you approached the end of your speech you reiterated the need for the rights of the individual:

“I stand here as but one man, a conservative who is prepared to fight for the rights of the individual.  I stand here as but one man ready to do his duty for his electorate.”

And lastly you thanked those who entrusted you to look after their collective interests:

“In closing, I would like to dedicate my speech to … most of all the people of Dawson who have put their faith in me.”

Minister Christensen, you impress me with your vision, your ideals, your hopes and your concern.  And yet simultaneously you perplex me.  In all the good you aspire to, there exists a vast disconnect between this and your attitudes to one section of your electorate and of Australian society.

I refer to your stance on marriage and “traditional family values”.  I refer to your opposition to “marriage equality” or “same-sex marriage”, whichever term you feel most at home with.

I understand your position, one not held in isolation, is based on your personal religious beliefs.  I ask you to momentarily look beyond those beliefs and with impartiality, consider what I have distilled here from your maiden speech.

The spate of suicides and chilling rate of attempted suicide you refer to have obviously rung alarm bells in your head.  Yet what you may not appreciate is the proven connection between attitudes that are intolerant of homosexuality, particularly in religious communities, and rates of self-harm and suicide.

Current Australian research (*) has identified the harrowing fact that gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals attempt suicide at rates between 3.5 and 14 times those of their heterosexual peers.

Quoting researcher Lynne Hillier:

“… those belonging to religious faiths that promulgate negative discourses about homosexuality are particularly vulnerable to suicide and self-harm.  Conflicts between spiritual or religious beliefs and sexuality can result in significant psychological dissonance as well as division and exclusion from family, friends and community.

For many, these experiences manifest in deep feelings of self-loathing and hatred that, in turn, severely elevate the risk of suicide and self-harm.”

When politicians and communities demonise same-sex attracted people and compel them to a second-class existence, when religious leaders tell their flock that homosexuality is sinful, when parents and peers reinforce those values, it should come as no surprise that the plague of suicide that you articulate here exists.  All the while you are vehemently outspoken against abortion and voluntary euthanasia because you belief in every attempt to preserve life, but it seems you are not as nearly as concerned when those lives belong to young people who are gay, lesbian or bisexual.  I say that because your opposition to marriage equality is premised by your beliefs that homosexuality is wrong.

If you are genuinely concerned about this spate of suicide in Mackay, you must understand that it is necessary to turn your attitude toward homosexuality on its head and revise your beliefs.

You call for individual freedoms, individual choice and rights of the individual.  You tell us of your sense of duty to your electorate and nation and of your sense of social justice.  You cry out for help to stop the suicides and how important preserving life is to you.  You tell us how poorer society is when we remove compassion from our most deserving relationships.  You call for less government interference.  And in the same breath you tell us how the government should restrict marriage to relationships between men and women and how it should actively deny this right to loving and committed couples who are not “a man and a woman”.

Same-sex couples currently raise happy and healthy children, who may be biologically related to either partner.  Allowing these couples to get married is not going to change whether they raise children.  What it will do is provide a more stable environment for raising their children.  It will also increase the self-esteem of the parents and that of their children.  It will also increase the self-esteem and self-worth of many of those young kids who are contemplating suicide or self-harm, and instead of taking their lives, there’s every chance they’ll be writing you letters of thanks for saving their lives.

If you need further evidence about what I’m saying, please review the research at the web site that over a thousand Australian medical professionals have staked their reputations on.

I ask you to value and embrace all couples in loving relationships and show this by voting in support of marriage equality.  You will then be truly doing the right thing for the people of Dawson and for all Australians.

Yours Sincerely,

Michael Barnett.

* Position Statement: Suicide and self-harm among Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender communities, Suicide Prevention Australia Aug 2009 (PDF)

Note: I incorrectly addressed George Christensen as ‘Minister’. In a subsequent email to him I apologised for and corrected this error.

A letter to Senator Fiona Nash

September 3, 2012

From: Michael Barnett <>
Date: 3 September 2012 23:34
Subject: A matter of importance, for your consideration
To: Senator Fiona Nash <>

Dear Senator Nash,

Please find attached a letter for your consideration.

I hope you have the time to afford a frank, personal and most importantly considered response.

Michael Barnett.

September 3 2012

Dear Senator Nash,

I understand you have not yet declared support for the issue of “marriage equality” or “same-sex marriage”.

I am writing to ask for your support on this important issue.  I say important, not because it is about the right for those currently denied the right to marriage under the law to be treated equally, but because of the ramifications equal treatment under the law has for the self-esteem and welfare of young people, and most especially those in rural and regional areas.

Please indulge me as I take you back to an afternoon in August 2005, just gone seven years ago, as you delivered your first speech as a Senator, where you said:

I am advocating policies that ensure that there is fair and equitable opportunity for all Australians regardless of where we live. As legislators, we must always be aware of the consequences of our actions, of how the decisions we make affect the 20 million people who live in this nation. As Atticus says in To Kill a Mockingbird:

If you can learn a simple trick Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.

We must be able to ‘put ourselves in another man’s skin’ to ensure we make decisions in the best interests of those we represent.

Your words are sage and commendable.  I implore you to reflect on this wisdom and put yourself in the shoes of current and future citizens of Australia who may want the right to get married before the law, but are currently denied this right.

Fair and equitable opportunity for all Australians includes the same rights for all before the law.  I ask you to put yourself in the shoes of every person you represent in country towns like Young and elsewhere throughout NSW, who may be same-sex attracted are told they are not equal to their ‘straight’ friends and family members.  Think about this in conjunction with the higher rate of self-harm and suicide in rural and regional areas and also amongst same-sex attracted people.  Think about how you have the power to make the lives of these people better, simply by voting in favour of equality.

As a married woman, as a wife, you understand what it means to use a word that tells society you have a spouse, a significant and long-term married partner in your life.  Same-sex attracted people currently cannot attain, or aspire to attain this status.  Yet we are no different.  We have families, some with our own children.  We love and we hurt.  We dream and we achieve.  We cry and we bleed.  We live and we die.  We are no different to you and your husband, no better and no worse.

Please think about what you said that afternoon in 2005 and about how you can make Australia a better place for all Australians.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Barnett.

A letter to Wayne Swan

September 3, 2012

September 1 2012

Dear Minister Swan,

Nearly 20 years ago you entered Australian politics.  It was on a Monday evening in May 1993 that you delivered your first speech as the elected member of Lilley to the parliament and the people of Australia.

In your opening paragraph you stated:

“… my most important task today is to thank the people of Lilley for their support and trust. My commitment to them is to work hard, to listen to their views and to strongly represent their interests in this place.”

In 2010 News Ltd asked the people of Lilley what they thought of “Same-sex Marriage”.  According to the poll 52% were in favour, 32% against and 17% didn’t care.  All up a majority were in favour and 69% were not opposed to it.

You claim you will oppose marriage equality when it comes to a vote.  In what way are you “strongly representing [the] interests” of the people of Lilley in taking this unrepresentative stance?

In your opening speech you paid fond tribute to your parents and spoke of how they taught you:

“… to have respect for their fellow citizens, and to always help those in need.”

You also spoke of how:

“… they believed in an Australia where every person had the right to a fair go, where ordinary people would be able to fulfil their dreams, regardless of where they came from or the social group they were born into.”

I ask you to consider how you are respecting your fellow citizens when you actively plan to deny an entire section of the Australian population the right to the same level of relationship status as everyone else.

How are people who do not choose an opposite-sex relationship getting a “fair go” when they cannot get married to the person of their choice?

How are we able to fulfil our dreams when we cannot plan and have a beautiful wedding, to which we can invite our friends and family, to declare to the world our love for each other, when you plan to deny us that right, just because of the social group we were born into?  Where is the love, Minister Swan?

You spoke of your admiration for the heritage of the Labor movement and of issues important to you:

“In 1978 I went to work for two of the great warriors of the Labor movement—Mick Young and Bill Hayden. With them I received much of my early schooling in politics. They taught me the traditions of the Labor movement, and they taught me the fundamental importance of social justice.”

Tell me Minister Swan how the fundamental important of social justice is playing through when you oppose equality in our society?  How is that upholding the principles of the Labor movement?

You spoke extensively on fiscal matters and employment, and said:

“This Parliament must have a decisive role in reshaping Australia, in recharging the economy and in restoring employment.”

As the treasurer of Australia you should understand the benefit $161 million dollars over three years will bring to the economy and to employment by legislating in favour of marriage equality.  By upholding the status quo your actions will bleed the economy and the job market of this benefit when New Zealand legislates for marriage equality before Australia.  One would not expect the Treasurer of Australia to be financially irresponsible.

Then you spoke of the welfare of children:

“Whatever we do in this place must be aimed at the long term future—the long term future of the nation and the long term future of our children. Policies to achieve that, however, will change over time.

There is increasing evidence that the welfare of same-sex attracted children suffers when they are told they are not equal in society simply due to the gender of the person they love.  Similarly there is growing evidence that children of same-sex couples suffer when the relationships of their parents are deemed to be unequal to those children with married parents.

How does your stance on denying those in loving and committed relationships the right to get married, knowing the negative consequences it has on impressionable children, fit with looking to the future of our children?

Again, you spoke of the proud tradition of the Labor Party, and of its vision:

“The hallmark of the Keating Government is its vision for the future, a vision of Australia as a sophisticated independent trading nation. The hallmark of the Labor tradition is our capacity to think, to develop ideas, and to put them into action in uniquely Australian ways.”

And I ask you, Minister Swan, how is clutching to an out-dated 20th Century value the way to dignify this vision when we are well into the 21st Century?  Supporting a value of a by-gone era is not thinking to the future.  In fact it’s not thinking at all.  In a world where places like our trans-Tasman neighbour, along with the rest of the democratic world, are moving on and adopting marriage equality, you are complicit in holding Australia in a visionless existence.

And lastly, you concluded your first address by declaring:

“The great strength of the Labor Party is its commitment to justice, fairness and dignity. I hope to represent those principles in this House.”

I put it to you, Minister Swan, that by opposing marriage equality, you are not only letting the people of Lilley and the people of Australia down, but sadly, you are letting yourself down, because there is no justice, no fairness and no dignity in denying people equality.

Your sincerely,

Michael Barnett.


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