Category Archives: Uncategorized

of budgets and bastardry

I know I’m not the only one struggling to catch my breath in the week since Joe Hockey handed down the Abbott government’s first budget. I’m a single mother with a houseful of kids. After spending half a lifetime as a work-at home mum, I unexpectedly found myself single and ill-prepared for the job market. So I got a degree. Currently, I’m undertaking post-grad studies part time while I try and get a business off the ground. The business is not even close to feeding us yet but I’m hopeful. I’m getting some government support while I pull our lives together. That benefit shrunk considerably when the Labor government forced single parents on to Newstart, but we’ve been able to tighten our belts and survive so far.

So, anyway, even though my plan is that I’ll soon be earning and not relying on Newstart, right now, we’d be on the street without it. So memes that describe double standards like this one really get my goat.

 

10270544_474653262665732_9154994014198830521_n

 

What a despicable cheek it is to encourage people take notes about how poor people spend their money.

It reminds me that a pastor’s wife I once knew who told me she used to have to steel herself to face the inevitable criticism she’d receive from certain parishioners any time she turned up in church in a new dress.

And it reminded me of a time I laughed as I told a friend, the daughter of missionaries working in Albania, that I’d been visiting an older woman from the church and found her pegging used tea bags on the washing line. ‘For the missionaries,’ the woman had told me.

My missionary-kid friend didn’t laugh.

‘We got them,’ she said, ‘The dried out used tea bags. The sacks of 30-year-old clothing with the zips removed and the buttons cut off.’ She pursed her lips. ‘We grew up knowing that’s how much we mattered to our home church. Nice things weren’t for us. Not even zips were for us.’

To those cheapskates (whose behaviour was *not* representative of most of the Christians I knew when I was in the fold), missionaries were the Christian underclass. The only-ever-so-slightly-deserving-poor. Every gift to them was to be accounted for. Every indulgence resented.

I was shocked. Obviously, it’s wrong, plain and simple, to treat people that way. But I’m coming to realise that it’s more common than you might think.

 

Best-Practices-For-the-Job-Seeker

 

Today, at my job seeker service appointment, the job placement staffer griped to me that ‘the people who come in there are so entitled’. And, she sneered, ‘they can all afford cigarettes. And iPods.’

So, let me just speak directly to you for a moment, job placement staffer lady. First of all, addiction is a separate issue. You don’t know anything about these kids except that they are unemployed and therefore almost certainly poor. You don’t know what their childhood was like, or what their home life is like now. You don’t know their mental health status. You don’t know what they choose to go without in order to buy a pouch of tobacco. So you should consider shutting TFU.

And you don’t know how long they saved to buy that iPod. Maybe they bought it back when they had a job. Or maybe Grandma gave it to them for Christmas. iPods are ubiquitous and they’re not all that expensive. Not having one feels like a significant social disadvantage to a young person. I’ve known more than one suicidal kid for whom their music was, some days, all that kept them from hurting themselves. In any case, you’ve no right to quibble about what people are lucky enough to own. You are at least 60 kilos overweight. Should we suggest you stop griping about your low wage, as you did today, because we judge that you misuse your earnings by spending it on junk food? No, of course not, because that would be invasive and cruel.

You told me the Abbott government’s budget was fair and would put a stop to a culture of entitlement. I asked you whether you thought Australia would be a better place if those ‘entitled’ kids had less, or even no, money at their disposal. Whether you’d feel safer walking the street where the hungry and desperate lay in wait. I asked if you were OK with those kids selling drugs outside my kids’ schools to earn pocket money. Or breaking into your house and taking *your* iPod. I pointed out that in countries where welfare is particularly stigmatised and meagre it has the effect of breaking down people’s sense of belonging to the community. It reduces people’s inclination to join or rejoin the economy. It contributes to lowering health outcomes, and increasing mental health issues, homelessness, crime and incarceration rates…all of which are expensive to the community. I asked if government ‘savings’ looked so much like savings when you considered those long-term costs.

I told you that a lot of the single parents I knew were struggling to sleep, struggling even to concentrate on the work at hand. I mentioned that I’d seen this posted on a single parents’ group on Facebook last night.

 

single parents

You told me that people need to just get a grip and not be irrationally afraid about the budget. That we just need to put things in perspective, stop over-thinking and just try harder to find work soon. I reminded you that everyone who walks through your door has been a little bit damaged by life. That we are struggling in one way or another. That when we hear from the government that our Plan B, C or D safety net is under threat, that we might genuinely face homelessness with our kids some time in the future, it makes us feel afraid. I told you that seemed a perfectly normal response to me.

I told you that you and workers like you are in a privileged position. That you get to act as a frame to support people who need your services while we learn to stand. That you need to build relationships with us, respecting us as equals, then help us each reach for our potential, call us to high standards, encourage us to take risks, and be there to support us when we fail. I told you that if we suspect, even for a moment that you are judging us, you lose any power you had to influence us. I reminded you that some of us can’t survive another setback like that.

I also told you that I thought it was entirely inappropriate for your receptionist to deny that you have a toilet on the premises and send a young mother with a desperately hopping toddler to a public toilet about 10 minutes walk away. You told me that a couple of times someone had left needles in your toilet cubicle so your office had banned clients from using it. ‘A few spoiled it for the many,’ you said.

I said I would never treat a toddler like that.

I guess you would.

You know what? I’m betting Prime Minister Abbott would too. I’m betting he’d smirk as he sent them on their way. You know how I know?

 

 

 

 

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sacrifice of the innocents: when will we learn?

This week, Australia’s Royal Commission into Child Abuse is hearing testimony regarding appalling abuses against children in Salvation Army children’s homes. It reminded me of a piece I wrote on one of those homes which happened to be near where I grew up for a history writing unit at uni . In the course of writing the piece I read a good deal of the Forde Report, the result of the Commission of Inquiry into Child Abuse in Queensland Institutions. The extent and severity of the abuses in these places was truly horrific and the long-term effect on those incarcerated inside them devastating. Telling the victim’s stories is an important part of their healing, and of a cultural healing, a way of making sure systemic atrocities such as these never happen again.

So, here’s the piece I wrote last year. Looking at it again now, I feel a profound sorrow that so many children suffered so greatly and with so little adult protection or support. I hope the royal commission’s shining light on this dreadful history helps some of them in some way.

 

***

Alkira

I spent most of my childhood living in Kenmore, then a new and affluent suburb on Brisbane’s leafy western edge. About five minutes from our home was an establishment that always seemed fascinating and mysterious to me. A long driveway wound up a steep hill to a cluster of imposing, two-storey wooden structures. The sign by the gate read ‘The Salvation Army Alkira Village Home for Boys’. I remember asking my mother what that meant. I had no brothers but imagined that all boys lived in homes, didn’t they? My mother explained that it was an orphanage and that most of the boys who lived there had no parents, or had parents who could not look after them. Others, she said, had been very naughty and so were sent away as a punishment.

My mother’s answer piqued my childish curiosity. Each time we passed, I would scan the site hoping for a glimpse of an orphaned, unwanted or Very Naughty boy. I was always disappointed. Despite the obvious attention given the manicured grounds, in the decades I lived in the area I never saw a single human being in evidence. Alkira seemed an island quarantined from the rest of the world. Whatever went on inside those walls was invisible from without.

As it turns out, in fact, the term ‘orphanage’ was a misnomer. The majority of the 1500 boys housed at Alkira from its opening in 1941 until it closed in 1983 did, in fact, have parents. Some had been transported to Australia under the British child migrant scheme and most of these, like their Australian counterparts, had been placed in State homes ‘for reasons such as marital breakdown, illegitimacy and temporary economic hardship’ (Forde 32). In plain terms, parents considered undeserving of their children lost them to a system that promised to do a better job at raising them than they could.

The institutions failed utterly in this aim. While I was enjoying the comfortable existence afforded me in the embrace of a typical Australian middle-class, nuclear family, inside Alkira boys were subject to third-world conditions, suffering the effects cold, vermin infestation, disease and hunger.

In 1998, the Beatty government established the Commission of Inquiry into Abuse of Children in Queensland Institutions (Forde). At that time former Governor of Queensland Leneen Forde examined conditions inside 159 orphanages and child detention centres during the period from 1911 to 1999. Over 300 people – mostly former inmates – provided information to the Inquiry. Their testimonies revealed a culture where appalling conditions and systemic abuse were the rule rather than the exception. Children were often poorly clothed ­(menstruating girls were not offered any sanitary pads and were supplied with only one pair of cotton bloomers) and severely underfed (some former inmates say they were forced to steal food from the pigs or cows in order to stave off hunger). Sexual abuse was rife in almost all the institutions examined. This abuse was often perpetrated by staff or visitors but frequently young children were molested or raped by older inmates who had been kept on at the home as virtual slave labourers. Frequently, when victims reported the abuse, they were beaten for telling lies (Forde iv).

Corporal punishment was permitted in Queensland orphanages under Regulation 23 of the State Children Act 1911 ‘as a last resort’ in cases of ‘grave misconduct’. However, reports of cruel violence perpetrated or tolerated by staff go well beyond the bounds of normal institutional discipline. Not far from Alkira was the Salvation Army’s Riverview Training Farm for Boys which, along with Alkira, was singled out in the Report as a site where particularly brutal physical punishments were meted out. Former Riverview inmate Ray Carlile remembers being tied around the ankles with a rope and lowered into a well by staff who mistakenly believed he had stolen a handful of electrical fuses. As the ten-year-old’s fingers touched the water at the bottom of the well, he blacked out. When he woke he was lying on the grass surrounded by officers beating him with canes and screaming, ‘You filthy little pig!’ because he had wet his pants in terror. The year was 1956 (Dalton).

At Alkira, former residents report that staff would beat or humiliate children for ‘misdemeanours’ such as talking during meals, failing to close their eyes during prayer, speaking to girls in the school playground, or not sitting up straight while watching television. One former resident remembered children being lined up, stripped from the waist down, bent over a vaulting horse and beaten with a garden hose for stealing mangoes from a neighbouring property. Another described receiving a flogging with a razor strop at the hands of the Superintendent that left him so bruised he was unable to sit (Forde 72). Bed-wetters and left-handed children were singled out for special torture (Forde 76).

Although Section 37 of the Act required that children in State institutions between the ages of five and 14 years of age attend school, the Forde report found that often children were instead put to work cooking, cleaning, laundering clothes, and managing gardens and livestock. Consequently many left the institutions at 16 entirely illiterate (Forde 82–3). Similarly, sick ‘home children’ were generally treated with cheap remedies and rarely received medical attention unless dangerously ill (Forde 68).

The scant funding provided for the care of State wards may be key in understanding how such widespread abuse could have continued for so many decades without intervention from the Department.

A recognition of the relationship between the Department and the denominations which ran the licensed institutions is essential to an understanding of how institutional care could fail children in so many respects without intervention from the Department. The levels of funding on which almost all of the denominational institutions operated were patently insufficient to allow the provision of proper individual care. Yet the Department continued to place children in those institutions because they provided a cheap means of lodging children for whose care it was responsible, and it was able to use as justification the fact that the children were, after all, in Christian care. The churches, for their part, acquiesced in this undiscriminating placement of children because of their perceived obligation to provide refuge to homeless children, however inadequate their resources might be. By doing so, they acquired an ascendancy over the Department; it was most unlikely that the Department would jeopardise its access to those placements by subjecting the institutions to scrutiny of the kind necessary to ensure that children were being cared for properly. The  denominations were thus able to carry out what they considered to be their Christian mission without risk of interference from the Department. On its side, the Department maintained an irreplaceable, cheap resource, and could complacently point to the fact that the children were being raised in a Christian environment (Forde v)

While low levels of funding may speak to the cultural value attributed to children at the time and offer some rationale for Departmental overlooking of abuse it does nothing to explicate the motivations of staff who inflicted such brutal treatment on the children in their care. But perhaps there are clues.

Almost all of the institutions were run by churches – both Catholic and Protestant – and staffed by Christians who in all likelihood believed in ‘original sin’, a view that prevailed in churches at the time. Christian ‘carers’ may have felt a moral obligation to prevent children from following their base natures down a road that lead to a life of degradation and, ultimately, hell. Perhaps this was at the root of institutional policies of strict discipline. Then, perhaps, unsupervised and with unrestrained power over their charges, adults with a tendency to religious authoritarianism crossed the line into cruelty at some point. Could it be that this is how, over time, a full-blown culture of brutality ensued? Could it be that otherwise decent church-attending Christian workers look back now and wonder how the hell they could ever have thought such brutality was normal? Do they still wonder today why they failed to report such obviously criminal violence against minors in their care? Certainly the treatment the children received was not normative in the broader community. The Forde Report notes that even placing institutions in their historical contexts and taking into account prevailing social attitudes and economic circumstances, the endemic abuses went far beyond acceptable limits for the time (Forde ii).

I find it deeply painful to know that while I was safely learning at my school desk or lying tucked up in my bed, barely a stone’s throw away children – thousands of them over the years – were suffering what can only be described as torture. But even more disturbing is that we do not seem to have learned from our mistakes. The Forde Report found that an abuse-enabling culture that isolates and disempowers children and prevents them from registering complaints still existed in institutional childcare at the time of the Enquiry. And I can’t help but think that we continue to see similar misinformed attitudes to ‘respectability’ in the National School Chaplaincy Program that values chaplains because they are cheaper than psychologists, and again in State-sanctioned Religious Instruction classes conducted by untrained church volunteers. Of course, the majority of Christians would find the idea of abusing children abhorrent but surely if submissions to the current Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse tell us anything its that there are an unacceptably large number of predatory adults in respected positions of authority who will gratify themselves at the expense of the young and powerless given the opportunity. It is naive to imagine they are not still with us.

***

In 2008 the Salvation Army redeveloped the Alkira site as a retirement village but I doubt any of those who spent time there as children would willingly return. On the long list of emotional, psychological and social consequences for the victims of institutional child abuse listed in the Forde Report, to my mind one of the saddest is that many report feeling terrified at the idea of growing old and being forced to live as an inmate in an institution like the one where they spent their childhood. It is heartbreaking to think that the pain of their early torment will taint even their last days with fear. Their enduring suffering is our shame.

 

Works cited

 

Dalton, Trent. “Sorry to Forgotten Australians Won’t Heal a Tortured Life.” The Courier-Mail. 15 November, 2009. Print.

Forde, Leneen (Chair). “Forde Report: Commission of Inquiry into Abuse of Children in Queensland Institutions.” 1999. Print.

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. <www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au>

State Children’s Act 1911. < http://archive.aiatsis.gov.au/ removeprotect/54695.pdf>

dear pastor prater…

If you missed Pastor Matt Prater’s spooky performance on ABC’s Q&A on Monday night and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s response, you might just want to take a peek now.



Although applauded for his comments in support of marriage equality on the night, Prime Minister Rudd has been widely criticised since by Christian writers such as Sandy Grant at Matthias Media’s The Briefing for ‘grossly caricaturing’ and ‘misrepresenting the Holy Book of the faith he confesses’. I have to say, I think Grant has some right to gripe. It would be difficult to honestly argue that the New Testament, at least, actually advocates slavery although the Book in general does seem to look upon it with a decidedly friendly eye. Still, Mr Rudd should have perhaps stuck with the biblical prohibitions against eating prawns and wearing mixed cloth, the guidelines for selling your daughter to her rapist or some other more well-established scriptural values like those.

And even Prater fans would have to admit, I think, that the pastor also rather ‘grossly misrepresented’ the PM’s change of heart on marriage equality saying Mr Rudd (or ‘Kevin’ as Prater addressed him) seemed ‘to keep chopping and changing his beliefs’ on the matter. As Rudd pointed out, he did indeed publicly admit to reversing his former position on same-sex marriage. It’s a backflip to be sure but just the one. Hardly the tumbling routine Prater was suggesting.

Prater went further and claimed insider knowledge with regard to Rudd’s motivations for changing his beliefs saying it was ‘just to get a popular vote’. I’m not a Rudd fan and could easily imagine that might be true enough. However it’s not a provable statement and to accuse the Prime Minister of such on live television was more than a little cheeky, I think.

But Rudd didn’t return the insult. While making it clear he doesn’t hold the Bible in the same esteem that Prater does, he didn’t suggest that God was disinclined to rail against slavery in his Book because (Rudd happens to know) God is a despicable racist fuck. See? Manners.

Anyway, it turns out Pastor Prater’s talents extend beyond insulting public officials, quoting select snippets from ancient texts, and impersonating a rabbit about to be mown down by a combine harvester. Pastor Prater, I’ll have you know, is also an artiste. If you haven’t already, do yourself a favour and take a listen to his performance on the audio track here. It’s ranty, homophobic, lyric-bludgeoning gold. Although I found the performance hilarious, it is unquestionably nauseating. But do listen if you can stomach it…and then don’t tell me white guys don’t got no rhythm.


matt-prater--11720cda


Here’s my best effort to jot down the lyrics for you. There may be some mistakes but I’m totally not going back for another crack.

prater song copy

On the audio track, the first thing you might notice is that Pastor Prater uses the word ‘parody’ despite the fact that it does not mean what the thinks it means. Meh. An innocent mistake. He also seems to believe that media ratings battles are literally warlike and bloody. A misconception, perhaps. I suspect the homoerotic irony of suggesting that ‘bloggers ram it down your throat’ may have passed the good pastor by as well.

No matter. The real gist of this song is that it constitutes a laundry list of Everything Matt Likes and Everything Matt Doesn’t. American televangelists and Australian Christian hate groups? Yay! Labor politicians and two people with pokey-outy bits wanting to co-habit in legally-recognised monogamy? Boo!

It will seem almost unbelievable to sensible folk but Prater is not alone in popping these particular items neatly into Good Things/Bad Things baskets. Thousands of Australian Christians – in particular Pentecostal and other bible-believing fundamentalists – would share his views, even if most of them may have put it a little less hilariously. I once counted myself among them. With the fundies of Australia, I’d have been proud to see Prater ‘standing up for Jesus’ on Q & A, though I’d have acknowledged even back then that he made a bit of a tosser of himself.

But here’s the thing: Pastor Prater’s public airing of despicable bigotry didn’t happen in a vacuum. And I’d like to have a few words with him about that. So here goes:

***

Dear Pastor Prater,

If I were still a Bible-believing Christian, and I were going to get just one 30-second crack at speaking direct to the leader of our nation on live television, I may have used the opportunity a little more wisely than you did. I may have said something like…

‘Mr Rudd, as a Christian, how do you countenance forbidding entry to our country to some of our planet’s most vulnerable people? How can you justify sending refugees – men, women, children, the elderly – to a lawless, dangerous place like Papua New Guinea? And have you considered what effect that may have on PNG society? What about Christian compassion? What about Christian charity? What about upholding the rights of ‘the stranger within your gates’?’

or, perhaps…

‘Prime Minister, if re-elected, what will your government do to address the problem of child poverty in Australia? Will you reverse your decision to pitch thousands of single parents off the Single Parent Pension thereby driving them and their children into terrifying penury?’

or, even…

‘Mr Rudd, Australia is one of the richest, most generous nations in the world. How is it that in 2013 we still have people living on our streets, sleeping rough night after night? What will your government do to ensure these people can live their lives in dignity and safety?’

You had one chance, Pastor, and gay folk wanting to get hitched was your big Bible-honouring issue? You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

Most of us don’t give a rat’s eyebrow what you think your deity said 2000 years ago. We don’t either deny your right to construct yourself as Prater the Hater if you choose. But many of us have gay friends and family and so we do care that your publicly aired ‘opinions’ and ‘beliefs’ encourage homophobic hate to flourish. Real people in the real world are harmed by your views, Pastor Prater. Some of them die as a result. And some of those who die are children and young people. So with all the respect I can muster, and on behalf of the many gay people I know and love, I ask you to please shut the fuck up. Please keep your poisonous bigotry inside your church walls where fewer and fewer Australians choose to visit.

Very sincerely,

Jane

Browned off by bigotry: a campaigner’s insight into the Queensland Civil Partnerships Bill

Thanks to Chrys Stevenson and Phil Browne for allowing me to share this post here.

In late October 2011, Queensland Treasurer, Andrew Fraser announced his plan to introduce a Civil Partnerships Bill to the Queensland Parliament before Christmas. Since then, my friend Phil Browne and his colleagues have been actively involved in lobbying in support of the bill, and monitoring reaction to it.

It’s been an emotional experience for Phil and I hope you will be as moved (and incensed!) as I was by his very personal account from the ‘campaign trail’. What follows is a longer version of an article that will appear in the December edition of Queensland Pride.

If you are moved by the words of my guest blogger, please, take an extra moment to take some of the steps he suggests at the end of this post. Marriage equality is fast gaining momentum – the only thing that stands in our way is apathy.

Browned off by bigotry: a campaigner’s insight into the Queensland Civil Partnerships Bill

by guest blogger, Phil Browne

Queensland’s LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community has been buzzing since Queensland MP, Andrew Fraser, surprised us all by announcing his intention to introduce a Civil Partnerships Bill to the Queensland Parliament. Like many other Queenslanders, both gay and straight, I don’t care about the timing of the Bill or even if it’s a political stunt. Improving our rights late, is better than not at all.

I was among the dozens of marriage equality supporters who packed into the public gallery of Parliament House on 25 October 2011 to hear Andrew Fraser explain his proposal. I was both moved and elated when his presentation drew a spontaneous burst of applause from the public gallery. My optimism grew as the Premier spoke very strongly in support of civil unions. It was exciting to be amongst such positive energy at Parliament House.

I tweeted:

“Thank You @TheQldPremier @AndrewFraserMP for supporting#QldCivilUnions & @gracegracemp for calling “here here” in Parliament RT”

and:

Here’s the text of Queensland’s Civil Partnerships Bill 2011 introduced to Parliament 2 days ago http://www.legislation.qld.gov.au/Bills/53PDF/2011/CivilPartB11_P.pdf #lgbt #gay

Next, the Bill was referred to a Parliamentary Committee for their scrutiny. As part of this process, submissions were called for and public hearings scheduled. The committee is due to return their recommendations to Parliament by 21 November. Full content should be made available on here.

A return trip to Parliament the following week provided a sad reality check. LNP and independent MPs attacked the Bill with relentless vigour. It was very obvious they wanted to kill this Bill and keep us as second class citizens. With the Opposition and independents yelling their arguments and snide put downs (presumably based on homophobia and/or ignorance) coming thick and fast it was impossible not to take their opposition as a personal attack. These MPs didn’t even know me, yet here they were yelling out reasons to deny me justice. I wanted to respond to their pathetic reasoning, but we’d been warned that any calling out or even touching the gallery handrail could see us ejected. As a homosexual, you half expect this sort of abuse in the streets, but not in the place where laws are made – supposedly to protect people.

As Andrew Fraser explained, civil unions are inferior to marriage but it’s the best a state government can do. Only the Federal Government has the power to legalise same-sex marriage. So what are some MPs opposed to? Why not allow Queensland to follow Tasmania, Victoria, NSW and the ACT who already have civil unions? It certainly looks to me like they want to prevent treating queers as equal and will do anything to achieve this.

I tweeted:

@AndrewFraserMP Great responses to the LNP Kawana MP at Parl today “mate” Shameful LNP opposing equality. Thank you for doing right thing.”

(My reference to “mate” related to Andrew Fraser addressing a fellow MP as “mate”, rather than “the honourable member”, to indicate that the MP was being totally unreasonable in his objections to the Bill. Well done Mr Deputy Premier!)

Photo courtesy of Ricki Kronsteiner

A particularly nasty insinuation was that the Civil Partnerships Bill should be dismissed because it did not enjoy wide community support. We knew this was untrue, but Independent MP Chris Foley gloated that, on the day submissions were to close, of more than 300 submissions received, only nine supported the Bill. My fellow advocates and I were totally stunned to hear this. The four of us had each lodged a submission; could there really only be five other people in the entire state who had bothered to put their support for the Bill in writing? This was hard to believe, but it sent us into immediate action mode. I sent out a bulk e-mail and urged my social networks to get writing.

On Facebook and Twitter I wrote:

ONLY 9 SUBMISSIONS FOR #QldCivilUnions 292 AGAINST Say you want Civil Unions BEFORE 5PM TODAY e-mail to lapcsesc@parliament.qld.gov.au RT”

“URGENT ACTION CALL: MAKE A SUBMISSION TO QLD LEGAL AFFAIRS COMMITTEE BY 5PM TODAY http://fb.me/1jUUxu1tr “.

It was incredibly frustrating. We knew most Queenslanders were behind us, we just had to motivate the masses to make their feelings known.

As with the recent Rip & Roll debacle where the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) orchestrated a campaign to remove tasteful and discrete safe sex posters from bus shelters, our social media networks were invaluable for spreading the word and getting people to take action. We imagined how the ACL would now be lobbying their members and church groups to make submissions opposing civil unions. But each time they oppose us, we become better organized and our networks grow. Now, instead of contacting the company Adshel, we were rallying the troops to make last minute submissions. Interesting how the Australian Christian Lobby group has been involved in both these cases.

Our next task was to challenge LNP Leader Campbell Newman. Despite previously stating his support for same-sex marriage, Newman announced that, not only would he continue the LNP’s long-standing opposition to marriage equality, he would deny LNP MPs a conscience vote.

I tweeted:

Attending Campbell Newman “Listening post” TODAY 12:00-12:45 Seils Park Toomba Ave Ashgrove to ask why not allow Civil Union conscience vote”

and

“If you can get to Ashgrove at midday TODAY to challenge Newman, then join us – Map: http://www.whereis.com/qld/ashgrove/toomba-av?id=11EABE92390B32

Numerous equality advocates questioned Mr Newman in his Ashgrove electorate, but he was adamant his decision would stand. At least I heard it direct from his own mouth. When I vote I will remember how Newman set aside his personal convictions on justice and equality for no better reason than to score political points. It was a truly appalling display of political amorality.

The following week brought another return visit to Parliament House for a full day of public hearings by the Parliamentary Committee. Twenty-one different groups were invited to share their views about the Bill directly with the committee comprising six MPs (ALP, Independent and LNP).

I tweeted:

Program & witness list for public hearing day 10 Nov for #QldCivilUnions Bill http://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/documents/committees/LAPCSESC/ 2011/CivilPartnerships/hp-10Nov11.pdf

Will speakers speak of LOVE or HATE??”

The eleven groups invited to speak against civil unions were all church or “family” organisations. I’m a strong person, but I was fearful of what toxic hateful comments I might hear coming from these groups, and how I might react to them. Walking to Parliament House I saw a lesbian couple walking hand in hand, and I took this to be an omen that all would be okay. If there was any justice in the world, love would prevail.

Waiting for entry to the Parliamentary Annexe a crowd was gathering for the day’s proceedings. It was very haunting looking around the crowd at people you did not know. Were they friend or foe? It was hard to tell which side people were on. Who would soon stand up and spew filthy hate from their mouth, and who would speak of love and acceptance? All this was unknown. I acknowledged an elderly woman – could she be a grandparent here to support her gay grandchild, or someone with a narrow closed mind convinced that gays were inferior? I soon learnt she was the latter.

Upon entering the large room where the public hearing was being held, I saw rows of chairs with an aisle down the middle. For the first time it struck me, “Where does everyone sit?” Is there one side for supporters and one for opponents? It was hauntingly like attending a wedding and determining which side to sit on depending if you knew the bride or groom. I almost laughed out loud with the irony of the situation. Here I was fighting for the right of same sex couples (in addition to opposite sex couples) to have legal and social recognition of their love. I was here because I wanted, one day, to see rows of seats for bride and bride and groom and groom, and here I was deciding whether to sit on the bride’s side or the groom’s! To this day I find this rather hilarious. As people who live our whole lives with discrimination, we learn to make light of things that may otherwise upset us, though yes – it still hurts.

The public hearing began with those arguing against civil unions and Wendy Francis from the Australian Christian Lobby was first to speak. Speaker after speaker spoke of the “harm” granting civil unions would do, especially to the “children” and the “family”. It was getting very monotonous and I was wondering when they were going to say it would fade the curtains too! One “family” organisation representative compared us to nuts and bolts, saying a nut and a bolt “marry”, but two nuts or two bolts “are not biologically complementary”.

Another presented each committee member with a photo of a 2.25 metre high basalt sculpture from the 19th century BC – the Amorite dynasty. It contained the Code of Hammurabi which was 282 ancient “laws” written in cuneiform, the script of the Babylonians. Apart from thinking can someone tell this man it’s 2011 not the 19th Century BC, the statue was extremely phallic looking. Like many others, including the committee I suspect, I was left scratching my head and thinking, “When are you going to present your “real” argument?” If it wasn’t November, you could have thought it was April Fools’ Day.

Some speakers seemed not to comprehend the Bill would also allow heterosexual couples to enter civil unions. Instead they spoke only of the harm that would ensue if homosexual couples are granted this right. Even when MPs responded that civil unions will provide immediate legal protection to the children of heterosexual parents (who, otherwise, may have to wait for up to two years for recognition of their defacto status), the speakers remained opposed.

But there were some light moments. When the opponents were making their case, the committee’s raised eyebrows and shaking heads (and even laughter once when threesomes and foursomes were suggested) spoke volumes. It did occur to me (and perhaps to the committee) that these conservative Christians seem to have kinkier sex fantasies than us!

Attending the parliamentary hearing had an added bonus; by the end of the session I had composed a list of churches never to send a gay person to, for fear of them being cajoled into an ex-gay program!

Something that shocked me was that some of these opponents with such distorted views were younger people. Curiously, I was also surprised that some were so good looking – Wendy Francis, for example, is a surprisingly attractive woman, and a couple of the nice reverends would certainly turn heads in a gay bar. I guess I had this perception they would all be old and ugly, like their out-dated and ugly prejudices. Perhaps I was expecting a room full of Fred Niles and Jim Wallaces.

I was also shocked to hear representatives of so many supposedly “loving” churches make the wildly outrageous (and completely unsubstantiated) claim that civil unions will cause “social breakdown”, “family breakdown” and “breakdown the social fabric”. Silly me! I thought religion was about love, acceptance, and not judging others. It sure seems like a truck-load of judging going on here.

The tragic thing is that ignorant people with attitudes like this, many of whom are pastors and ministers, are spreading hate and using religion as an excuse. These attitudes inevitably contribute to LGBT youth suicide as people are told they are inferior and evil, and won’t get to heaven, leading many to feel they have no place in society. Sadly, they are also contributing to full waiting rooms at psychologists across the world. The human toll is immeasurable.

I was pleased to see MPs interject numerous times to correct speakers or challenge outlandish claims unsupported by evidence:

  • Numerous times MPs commented that speakers were arguing against same sex marriage, yet the Bill is not about marriage, and marriage is different to civil unions.
  • When a reverend raised threesomes and foursomes, ALP MP Grace Grace responded “Are you advocating that way?”
  • In response to a speaker saying that, granting civil unions was like changing the rules of a sport “for the sake of some who did not want to play the game in the particular way it was designed”, ALP MP Carolyn Male pointed out that the game of cricket and various football games have all undergone rule changes.
  • John-Paul Langbroek MP said, “Reverend Twinn, you say in your submission, ‘Other nations that have deviated from this bedrock definition have paid a heavy cost.’ Could you outline for the committee what cost they have paid?” “Do you have any empirical evidence?” It was great to see this being challenged, but my elation was quickly deflated by the realisation that, being from the LNP, Langbroek is bound to vote against this Bill – even if the reasons for doing so make no sense.

Everything said on the day can be read on the Hansard transcript here.
Some organisations seem to think that adding the word “family” to their name, gives them the authority to hate and judge others. As the opponents to the Bill concluded their arguments, I was left with the impression that the word ‘family’ had been hijacked. To these critics, a ‘family’ is an exclusive club owned by heterosexuals. As the self-appointed moral guardians of this club, they claim their right to determine who can join and what filthy riff-raff has to be kept out. We homosexuals, it seems, are the filthy riff-raff – and that’s on a good day!

I tweeted:

#QldCivilUnions Public Hearing: Christian haters shoot self in foot. MP’s raise eyebrows & shake heads in response to outrageous statements.”

Finally, we heard from the ten groups supporting the Bill. These included numerous church groups, PFLAG, Australian Marriage Equality, Healthy Communities, the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties, the Anti-Discrimination Commission and the Queensland Law Society.

I noticed that when real stories were told the committee concentrated and listened intently. As speaker after speaker stated the case for passing the Bill, I saw no negative facial expressions at all from the committee members. It was a refreshing change to finally hear the word ‘family’ connected with “love” – something curiously absent from the presentations of those who claimed to speak in support of traditional ‘Christian’ values. The word love was mentioned repeatedly in the afternoon session and I was revelling in it. Finally this is what it’s all about … LOVE. Why can’t everyone see that? It’s so logical.

Stories were told of awful discrimination against same sex couples without legal recognition and protection offered by civil unions. With my health care background I, too, had seen cases where a family who rejected a child decades ago for being being gay, suddenly appear at their child’s death bed, claiming next of kin rights, and legally ordering that the same sex partner of 30 years be excluded from seeing their partner in love and life. One such tragic story told to the committee gave me goosebumps. This evil discrimination must stop now.

By the end of the day I felt confident the committee could see through the false and unjustified arguments against civil unions and would recommend to Parliament that the Bill should proceed.

It’s been a roller-coaster ride and it’s impossible to remain emotionally detached. It’s demeaning to have perfect strangers brawling over whether you should have the same rights as other Australians. Seeing this in Parliament is challenging because you are not allowed to respond.

The battle will not be won until MPs debate and then vote on the Bill. This is likely to take place between 29 November and 1 December (with a high probability it will be the evening of Wed 30 Nov) and we have lots of work to do before then. Campaigners against the Bill, who sadly are much more militant lobbyists than us, are flooding MPs with demands they vote against it. It’s essential that our supporters – both gay and straight – make the effort to tell their MPs to vote for the Bill.

If this historic Bill is to pass, we really need to engage our real-life and online networks and encourage as many Queenslanders as possible to contact their local State MP in support of Andrew Fraser’s Civil Partnerships Bill. Please do this before 29 November.

We know some LNP MPs would like to vote for the Bill, but their Leader Campbell Newman will not allow them to vote for what is right and just – despite Mr Newman saying he supports same sex marriage – go figure! With enough pressure, some of these supportive LNP MPs may be “sick” on the day of the vote. This would mean they are not present and cannot vote against the Bill. Similarly some ALP MPs have said they will vote against the Bill, and with enough pressure, some of them may be persuaded, instead, to support the Bill.

So YES, your say can make a difference.

I’m so disappointed that I will be in Sydney when the bill is likely to be debated and voted on. For those of you present in the public gallery when it passes – PLEASE STAND UP AND SCREAM YOUR TITS OFF FOR ME. Scream for me, scream for you, scream for justice, scream for all Queenslanders who will benefit from this Bill.

Phil Browne

Take Action Now!

To Support Civil Partnerships in Queensland

All Queenslanders, please contact your local MP.

How do you do this?

STEP 1Click here.
Type in your address.
This will tell you the name of your electorate.

STEP 2Click here.
On the right, half way down, you will see “FIND A MEMBER”
Beneath that go to “Electorate name” and click the drop down menu.
When you see your electorate name, click it to see your MP’s contact details.

To support the legalisation of Same Sex Marriage by the Federal government:

All Australians, please take action here.

Get Informed – Stay Informed

Why is Fraser only asking for civil partnerships, not same-sex marriage?

Marriage equality advocates are generally opposed to the FEDERAL government
granting civil unions, as the FEDERAL government has the power to grant us full
marriage and anything less is second rate.

However, the STATE governments don’t have the power to introduce marriage at
STATE level, so this is the best the STATES can do – plus it puts more pressure on
the Federal government to act. Tasmania, Victoria, the ACT and NSW already have
civil unions.

The differences between marriage and civil unions are explained here.

Queensland Civil Partnership Bill:

Listen to Podcast – Great explanation by @GaySavvy & @GraceGraceMP listen from the 37:00 mark.

Australian Marriage Equality

You can remain informed by following the Australian Marriage Equality lobby group. Join their e-mail list here , friend them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter @AMEQUALITY

Queensland Pride

Queensland Pride will be keeping a close eye on the passage of this Bill. You can sign up for updates from Queensland Pride on their website. Phil’s article, above, is a longer version of an article to be published in Queensland Pride’s December edition.

being ‘really’ gay


I quite like this slogan. Hate is certainly voluntary. And although, as it happens, I’m straight so can’t speak from personal experience, I have no difficulty accepting that being gay is likely to stem from a genetic predisposition. When you consider what most LBGT young people suffer on their way to adulthood, it’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t choose to fit in if they could. I think most of my gay friends and family would say they are gay because they just are, that it isn’t a matter of choice.

But that’s not the way everyone would see it. One very dear friend of mine identifies herself as pan-sexual. She tells me that it is the person she falls in love with, not their gender, and that she is equally as likely to find herself falling in love with a woman as a man. She tells me she is sexually attracted to both. This makes sense to me when she explains it but there are those – even in the gay community – who think my friend is just kidding herself, that there’s no such thing as a genuine bi-sexual orientation. That a person is either heterosexual, homosexual, asexual or celibate. They would say that my friend is just in denial and that really, she’s a lesbian. Now they could be right for all I know, but I’d ask: why on earth should my friend feel obliged accept a label of someone else’s choosing? Is her sexual identity really anyone’s business but her own?

That’s what I find a little bit worrying. Any suggestion that there is a ‘real’ kind of gay is disturbing. I mean, do we really accept LGBTIQ people only because they are genetically bound to be same-sex attracted? If a person who considered themselves to be of heterosexual orientation did choose to have one, or multiple or even a lifetime of same-sex relationships, and even use the term gay to describe themselves, would that not be OK? I mean, whose business is it why anyone else is in any sort of relationship, same-sex or hetero, so long as the relationship is between consenting adults? Surely people can decide these private matters for themselves without others judging the validity of their motive.

It’s my view that we need to be accepting of diversity, of the idea that consenting adults can suit themselves about how to live and love. We love our LGBTIQ friends and family because of who they are, not because they fit neatly into some box so that we can easily understand them. If we base acceptance on some genetically predetermined orientation – even if genetics are the cause of same-sex orientation for most gay and lesbian people – aren’t we in danger of denying acceptance to people whose sexuality isn’t quite so clearly defined as it is for others? And perhaps then we force people – who are still figuring out where they will land, or may just enjoy a variety of relationships over their lifetime – to pick sides…or else.

I tend to think we’ll see the world taking a more flexible attitude to sexual identity as time goes by. I suspect we’ll find more and more people choosing short- and long-term relationships based on the capacity of those relationships to provide mutual enrichment, without regard to whether they happen to fit rigid gender guidelines. I think we’ll find we have to expand our definitions even beyond gay, lesbian, bi-, transgender, intersex and queer. Maybe the time to include ‘pan-sexual’ on that list is already here.

While I think the fact that being gay isn’t generally voluntary is an important point to make on the way to changing public attitudes, I would not like to see that in an effort to gain the community acceptance they deserve as human beings, LGBT people establish a sort of gay elitist class that excludes those who don’t neatly fit into one box or the other. We should stand against hatred, not because the haters are hating on something that can’t be helped, but because hating people – any sort of people, for any reason – is just plain wrong.

Just some thoughts anyway. I’d be interested to hear from LGBT people on the subject.


feeling silly

This morning I watched as Australian Christian Lobby spokesperson Jim Wallace looked the nation in the eye and stated that he’d only been using Twitter for a week. He used this near-virgin status to deceive viewers into believing that nasty mean lefty meanies were picking on a rank newbie. He was drawing a comparison between himself and an instance when ‘those people’ visited the same meanness on ‘national hero’ Stephanie Rice after she also said something silly on Twitter.

Trusting soul that I am, I assumed Wallace’s chronological assertions at least must be true and blogged what he’d said. More fool me.

Here is a screenshot of Wallace’s first post. You’ll notice the date is not one week ago as he claimed but February, 2010.


So, Jim, let me ask….Does this kind of lying fit in your innocent-as-doves-but-cunning-as-serpents basket? Or is it one of those less convenient porkies – the…um…all-liars-go-to-hell kind?

Frankly, Jim, you’re starting to annoy me.

Acknowledgement: Graphic reproduced with thanks from http://yfrog.com/h0uoylpkj. (But wasn’t it mean of him to post it?)

everybody has a story, lady

My 18-year-old daughter quit her job today. The vicious bullying attacks from her boss finally became more than she could bear.

Jackie* and her husband, Al, took over the business about 9 months ago. Although Al is always respectful, Jackie is the more forceful personality and has been nasty and dishonest from the start: She doesn’t allow staff to take the breaks to which they are legally entitled and forces them to work back late at night without paying them extra. She has K and others function in managers’ roles, but doesn’t give them the title or increase their pay. Indeed, until K pointed out her ‘error’, she was paying everyone significantly under the award. Even after she made the correction, she didn’t backpay the staff a penny. She’s been difficult for everyone to work with, but has provided a lot of entertainment for her mostly teenaged staff as they hate on her together when she’s not there.

However Jackie seems to have been carrying out a particular vendetta against K, continually and unreasonably finding fault and singling her out for abuse and personal criticism. She doesn’t like the way K makes sandwiches so chastises her for her incompetence and shows her a new way, only to lambast her again – and restore her to original settings – next shift. She doesn’t like K’s hair apparently (nothing unusual about it), or her earrings (just the four), her height (she’s tiny), or her clothing (it’s a uniform), or (hold me back) her face.

K is no wimp. She is a courageous survivor of anorexia nervosa – an insidious and evil disease. Three times we almost lost her. Only two years ago K spent 5 months fighting for her life in hospital on an NG tube. She continued the battle at home with me for many months and, finally, we beat the bastard dragon with the help and support of a Maudsley team. But it was one hell of a battle.

Then, because she wanted to make up for the year she had lost to the illness, last year K tackled Yrs 11 & 12 in one year, survived, got great marks and is now enjoying studying the course of her dreams at the university of her choice. I am so, so proud of her.

I knew about Jackie’s abuse and it made me angry. I offered to speak with her but K was determined she didn’t want me lobbing in and said she thought she’d be able to manage. Her strategy was to made it plain to Jackie that she wasn’t going to be bothered by her cruelties. But, typical of this kind of bully, Jackie kept looking for a barb that would really reach K in a deep place. So, for the past two weeks, at some point during every shift, Jackie has found a moment to tell K that she’s ‘really putting on the weight’. Any woman knows that comments like that are loaded with moral judgement and intended to wound, but for a recovering anorexic, they are particularly hard to take.

So, finally, K has decided that she can’t stand up under it any more. She has been brought so low by Jackie that she was literally trembling with fear as she phoned to resign. She spoke to Al and described what had been happening. She explained that she was not willing to be subject to that sort of abuse any longer. Poor Al, the abuser’s enabling husband, offered a bunch of excuses for his wife’s abominable behaviour including that she ‘would not have meant to hurt’ K. Sad, really.

Then K received an email from Jackie minimising her abuse and criticising K for not speaking to her in person yesterday. K wrote a calm reply making her position very clear and using the words ‘bully’ and ‘abuse’ and adding that her parents are now involved and are seeking advice about the options open to us.

K feels she made the right choice. Our family’s financial constraints meant that she’ll need to get another job straight away and she finds the prospect a little stressful. But she used her voice to call the abuse what it was, and used her feet to put herself in a place that feels safe. She says she feels relieved and empowered.

But I’ll be carrying out my own little one-woman boycott of Subway anyway. And writing a letter to Jackie, of course. Can hardly wait.

* Once again, names have been changed so as not to out the ratbags.

if men could menstruate

If Men Could Menstruate

by Gloria Steinem

Living in India made me understand that a white minority of the world has spent centuries conning us into thinking a white skin makes people superior, even though the only thing it really does is make them more subject to ultraviolet rays and wrinkles.

Reading Freud made me just as skeptical about penis envy. The power of giving birth makes “womb envy” more logical, and an organ as external and unprotected as the penis makes men very vulnerable indeed.

But listening recently to a woman describe the unexpected arrival of her menstrual period (a red stain had spread on her dress as she argued heatedly on the public stage) still made me cringe with embarrassment. That is, until she explained that, when finally informed in whispers of the obvious event, she said to the all-male audience, “and you should be proud to have a menstruating woman on your stage. It’s probably the first real thing that’s happened to this group in years.”

Laughter. Relief. She had turned a negative into a positive. Somehow her story merged with India and Freud to make me finally understand the power of positive thinking. Whatever a “superior” group has will be used to justify its superiority, and whatever and “inferior” group has will be used to justify its plight. Black me were given poorly paid jobs because they were said to be “stronger” than white men, while all women were relegated to poorly paid jobs because they were said to be “weaker.” As the little boy said when asked if he wanted to be a lawyer like his mother, “Oh no, that’s women’s work.” Logic has nothing to do with oppression.

So what would happen if suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and women could not?

Clearly, menstruation would become an enviable, worthy, masculine event:

Men would brag about how long and how much.

Young boys would talk about it as the envied beginning of manhood. Gifts, religious ceremonies, family dinners, and stag parties would mark the day.

To prevent monthly work loss among the powerful, Congress would fund a National Institute of Dysmenorrhea. Doctors would research little about heart attacks, from which men would be hormonally protected, but everything about cramps.

Sanitary supplies would be federally funded and free. Of course, some men would still pay for the prestige of such commercial brands as Paul Newman Tampons, Muhammad Ali’s Rope-a-Dope Pads, John Wayne Maxi Pads, and Joe Namath Jock Shields- “For Those Light Bachelor Days.”

Statistical surveys would show that men did better in sports and won more Olympic medals during their periods.

Generals, right-wing politicians, and religious fundamentalists would cite menstruation (“men-struation”) as proof that only men could serve God and country in combat (“You have to give blood to take blood”), occupy high political office (“Can women be properly fierce without a monthly cycle governed by the planet Mars?”), be priests, ministers, God Himself (“He gave this blood for our sins”), or rabbis (“Without a monthly purge of impurities, women are unclean”).

Male liberals and radicals, however, would insist that women are equal, just different; and that any woman could join their ranks if only she were willing to recognize the primacy of menstrual rights (“Everything else is a single issue”) or self-inflict a major wound every month (“You must give blood for the revolution”).

Street guys would invent slang (“He’s a three-pad man”) and “give fives” on the corner with some exchenge like, “Man you lookin’ good!

“Yeah, man, I’m on the rag!”

TV shows would treat the subject openly. (Happy Days: Richie and Potsie try to convince Fonzie that he is still “The Fonz,” though he has missed two periods in a row. Hill Street Blues:The whole precinct hits the same cycle.) So would newspapers. (Summer Shark Scare Threatens Menstruating Men. Judge Cites Monthlies In Pardoning Rapist.) And so would movies. (Newman and Redford in Blood Brothers!)

Men would convince women that sex was more pleasurable at “that time of the month.” Lesbians would be said to fear blood and therefore life itself, though all they needed was a good menstruating man.

Medical schools would limit women’s entry (“they might faint at the sight of blood”).

Of course, intellectuals would offer the most moral and logical arguements. Without the biological gift for measuring the cycles of the moon and planets, how could a woman master any discipline that demanded a sense of time, space, mathematics– or the ability to measure anything at all? In philosophy and religion, how could women compensate for being disconnected from the rhythm of the universe? Or for their lack of symbolic death and resurrection every month?

Menopause would be celebrated as a positive event, the symbol that men had accumulated enough years of cyclical wisdom to need no more.

Liberal males in every field would try to be kind. The fact that “these people” have no gift for measuring life, the liberals would explain, should be punishment enough.

And how would women be trained to react? One can imagine right-wing women agreeing to all these arguements with a staunch and smiling masochism. (“The ERA would force housewives to wound themselves every month”: Phyllis Schlafly)

In short, we would discover, as we should already, that logic is in the eye of the logician. (For instance, here’s an idea for theorists and logicians: if women are supposed to be less rational and more emotional at the beginning of our menstrual cycle when the female hormone is at its lowest level, then why isn’t it logical to say that, in those few days, women behave the most like the way men behave all month long? I leave further improvisation up to you.)

The truth is that, if men could menstruate, the power justifications would go on and on.

If we let them.

(c) Gloria Steinem, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. NY: NAL, 1986. Retrieved on 16 April, 2011 from http://www.haverford.edu/psych/ddavis/p109g/steinem.menstruate.html 

breaking up is hard to do

I would just like to announce that my love affair with Marketing is officially over. I know it was only days ago that I was proclaiming our love but I realise now it was mere infatuation.

He promised so much with his exciting glossy, hard-back cover! He seemed so deep, so knowledgeable. There were days when I could hardly wait to get the kids off to school so I could continue plumbing the depths of  his mysteries in the sanctum of my room. I came to know him so well; I really believed this was the beginning of something beautiful. But then, I woke up one morning and I knew – just knew – that I’d been fooling myself. That when you get down to it – he’s as dull as dog shit.

Oh, I’ll stick it out to the bitter end – we have an appointment with an invigilator in a few weeks’ time – but after that, it’s hasta la vista, baby. I’m going back to Cultural Studies. He knows how to treat a girl.

kudos in the twittersphere

I’m in the process of writing my second assignment on the subject of Twitter. Until I began researching, I had never been near the medium. Now I can’t tell enough people what an exciting, democratising innovation it is.

Through Twitter, I was able to get interviews with 2010 Australian Young Journalist of the Year Latika Bourke who, according to social media analysis done at Tribalytic was Australia’s most influential tweeter on the #ausvotes hashtag during the 2010 federal election. I sent her a quick tweet asking for an interview, she tweeted back in minutes having ‘followed’ me so that she could direct message me and we set up a time.

I followed the same process with the ABC’s chief online political reporter and Walkley Award winner, Annabel Crabb. She’s such a celebrity now that I just couldn’t get to her through the usual channels. Multiple emails to ABC got me nowhere. But one quick tweet and I had the kindly Annabel on the line assisting me with my assignment. As a big fan of Annabel’s writing, it was a pretty exciting moment for me.

My initial assignment on Twitter concerned the layering of tweets into on-screen content on television programs like the ABC’s Q & A. The first time I tried to follow a parallel tweet-stream while watching the on-screen debate I felt like I was being hit in the head with a radio tuned to talk-back. But I got the hang after a couple of times. In the end, it became fun, a real event, and something I would have liked to continue – but with NSW changing over the Summertime, alas, Q & A won’t be screening live to Queensland until March next year. I, along with other northern #qanda fans will be relegated to tweeting to each other as we catch up with the program…but will not enjoy the excitement of competing for on-screen kudos.

Anyway, Q & A generates so much Twitter conversation that it sometimes is still at the top of the Twitter world-wide trending chart 24 hours after it goes to air. And because Q & A actively encourages the twittisphere to engage with the program by selecting tweets to appear onscreen, #qanda tweeters strive to outdo each other for wittiness and publishability.

Which brings me to my point. This morning, I read this article by Jonathan Green in The Drum in which he discusses the king-like demeanour of former Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, which remained unruffled even when a disgruntled protester pitched his shoes at him during last week’s Q & A.  His point is that Howard still looks like a man in charge, still exudes a statesman-like presence. And then he reveals that indeed that is to be the theme of this weekend’s The Spectator Australia who will be running the headline, ‘Remember when Australia had a real PM?’

And there it is. That headline was one of the tweets that appeared on-screen during last week’s Q & A. Tweets have managed to move from obscurity, to an ABC on-screen presence, to influencing front page content of serious political media. There is going to be one happy tweeter out there. And 10,000 more who will redouble their efforts to better him.