Penny Wong: Australia's non-story of the week

 
Penny Wong is sworn in by the Governor-General on September 14, 2010 Penny Wong is Australia's first openly gay cabinet minister

Imagine the outcry in America if a senior cabinet member in the Obama administration had announced she was about to have a baby with her gay partner.

I'm thinking protests from the Christian Right outside the Treasury Department. Fiery on-screen denunciations from some leading television evangelists. Perhaps one or two preachers might even have blamed America's demotion from AAA to AA+ status on the moral impoverishment of its financial officials. The unborn baby would have quickly become the latest proxy in America's ongoing culture wars.

In Australia, however, the news that Finance Minister Penny Wong and her partner, Sophie Allouache, are expecting a child has generated a minimum of fuss. Indeed, I can report that it has been the non-story of the week.

They conceived using IVF with the help of an anonymous sperm donor. They underwent the procedure outside of their home state of South Australia because IVF for gay couples there is illegal.

Isolated criticism

Ms Wong decided to announce the news earlier this week because she acknowledged there would be interest from the public as a result of her high-ranking position within the government and because she wanted to protect her pregnant partner from any undue publicity.

Though a strong advocate of same-sex marriage - a stance that puts her at odds with Prime Minister Julia Gillard - Ms Wong said she was not making a political point.

''You have a child because you want a family and you want to have the opportunity of raising a child together," she told Phillip Coorey of the Sydney Morning Herald.

"You don't have a child to make a political statement."

Julia Gillard publicly congratulated her friend and trusted colleague, as did Julie Bishop, the acting opposition leader.

The only politician I have seen publicly criticise Ms Wong is the Reverend Fred Nile of the Christian Democratic Party, a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council and a self-styled protecter of public morals. In the upper house of the New South Wales parliament, for instance, he claims to hold what he calls "the balance of prayer".

"I'm totally against a baby being brought up by two mothers - the baby has human rights," said Rev Nile. "It's a very poor example for the rest of the Australian population."

He also criticised Penny Wong's decision to make public the news. "It just promotes their lesbian lifestyle and trying to make it natural where it's unnatural," he said.

But his has been a fairly isolated public voice.

A host of firsts

What can we draw from all this? The first point to make is that Australia's culture wars are very different from America's culture wars.

On the other side of the Pacific, the battles tend to focus on moral and faith-based issues, like abortion, creationism and same sex marriage. In Australia, the battleground is history, the related issue of indigenous rights, art and the environment. True, the question of same-sex marriage is starting to loom larger as an issue - the Labor Party national conference will debate it in December, and the emboldened Australian Greens are pressing for reform.

But it generates nowhere near the same passion as it does in the US.

When it comes to personal morality, Australia has moved away from the prudish censoriousness that was such a strong feature of national life until the early 1970s, and perhaps beyond. And though it remains a fairly socially conservative country - the continued influence of the Catholic Church is a key factor - it is also a socially tolerant country.

Again, this explains why Ms Wong's announcement has generated so little controversy.

Finally, Ms Wong is yet another reminder of the changing face of Australia. She is not only the first openly gay federal cabinet minister, but the first Asian-born minister. She came to Australia from Malaysia.

To these firsts, I dare say she would like another: that of being the first Australian politician to take part in a same-sex marriage.

 
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  • rate this
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    Comment number 84.

    LucyJ 79 There's a famous and openly gay man judging the contest shes in (and she knows hes there) and she comes out and basically says he's a second class citizen! She got what she asked for.....the word bimbo comes to mind.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 83.

    LucyJ78 Of course I don't respect your point of view, it imposes its beliefs and prejudices upon me, my POV has no ACTUAL impact upon anyone else. I respect the fact that you are entitled to a POV , that's as far as it goes.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 82.

    LucyJ77,

    Thanks for clearing up how babies are made, but can I tell you that gay people can sometimes and have done in the past had babies the "natural" way. I personally know gays who are grandparents, IVF was not available to them nor did they need it. The cycle of life goes on.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 81.

    @8. ‘If this had been the UK it would have produced pages and pages of the usual semiliterate, bigoted foaming at the mouth from editors and readers of our so called "press".’

    Typical! If they don’t agree with you they are bigots? This kind of rant can only alienate sane people.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 80.

    "What can we draw from all this? The first point to make is that Australia's culture wars are very different from America's culture wars"

    What does America have anything to do with this again? Enlighten me. Oh right, you can't have a BBC commentary without a little Yank bashing, no matter how obscure and irrelevant the subject matter. Good on you for sticking to the BBC standards of reporting!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 79.

    It makes me think of the Miss USA pageant when Miss Cali got first-runner up

    She was in the lead until the question segment, in which she answered she was against same sex marriage

    Perez Hilton, one of the judges who is openly gay, said he marked her down for her answer + said after the competition he would have torn the crown from her head if she had won

    also called her obscene names

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 78.

    scrap,
    If we respect your pov in support of same sex marriage, will you respect our pov against same sex marriage?

    If you want people like me to respect you, you have to respect me, as well

    Mutual respect

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 77.

    scrap: same sex coupling has been happening since humankind has been around

    In the past, the cycle of human life depended upon man and woman being together to produce offspring

    So no matter how long same sex couples have been around, what's changed is scientific or man-made reproduction

    Scientific reproduction does not naturally occur in nature

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 76.

    The "moral impoverishment of financial officials" was the cause of the financial collapse. The American conservatives want less government except in the areas they want control..like personal decisions..bed-room issues..intrusions into personal freedom because they know what is best for everyone...god told them so.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 75.

    scrap-the-jack said:"I wont shutup until I also get a shiny red ball. When I do get it...AND I WILL....you can feel bad or good about your balls...I don't care."

    Nicely put. It makes ALL the difference what it is called. The whole point is that homosexuals should be treated no differently to anyone else. Love is love. The union of 2 people in love should be marriage, no distinctions, no caveats

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 74.

    Congratulations to Penny Wong! She confidently and admirably demonstrates our greatest weakness - self-centredness... We do what we want, without consideration of anyone else. All for me. I pity the precious infant to be 'brought up' by this couple. How can I wish them well?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 73.

    So now I am supposed to be happy with the red ball thats not shiny....well I wont shutup until I also get a shiny red ball. When I do get it...AND I WILL....you can feel bad or good about your balls...I don't care. If you detect sarcasm, congratulations. If the way I live my life affects you negatively well.....bovered.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 72.

    It's not my fault you dont get it. How about this.....you all have a shiny red balls. I want a shiny red ball....you can't have a shiny red ball because the people with the shiny red balls want to be the only ones with shiny red balls. And the more you scream you want a shiny red ball of your own the tighter we hold on to our shiny red balls. Here, you can have a red ball but not a shiny one.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 71.

    scrap-the-jack wrote:

    "Under British law a civil union is ONLY available to same sex couples. It CANNOT involve any religious content"

    My comments were regarding the equality of marriages and unions *if they had the same rights.* You want a redefinition of the word marriage.

    On the religious side they can not be forced to perform same sex marriages. It's the civil side that matters anyway.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 70.

    scrap-the-jack wrote:

    "The act of registering a civil ceremony is kinda like registering your dog. Sort of required but not very meaningful."

    Same as court marriages.

    "Just sign a bit of paperwork down at the council chambers before picking up a civil ceremony cake... Is that what you would accept? Is that what you want for your partner?"

    No one is prevented from having a more formal ceremony

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 69.

    scrap-the-jack wrote:

    "I will try again. Would you sit down the back of the bus if that was law, I mean you still get a bus ride."

    Whether it is called a marriage or a civil union does not constitute any physical act. It is a name to describe something. In my example they would have the same exact rights. Being forced to sit in the back of a bus is a physical act. Certainly not the same thing.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 68.

    I will try again.

    Would you sit down the back of the bus if that was law, I mean you still get a bus ride. would you seek out the water fountain with a sign on it allowing you to use this one but none of the others. I promise you, I would march in the streets so you could sit wherever you want. Makes no difference where you sit , I just want to be able to sit there too.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 67.

    The act of registering a civil ceremony is kinda like registering your dog. Sort of required but not very meaningful. Just sign a bit of paperwork down at the council chambers before picking up a civil ceremony cake at the supermarket on your way home. Is that what you would accept? Is that what you want for your partner?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 66.

    Under British law a civil union is ONLY available to same sex couples. It CANNOT involve any religious content even if available (there are some all inclusive churches) It is limited to specific buildings in the UK. A ceremony is not included and must be applied for.

    You can have a wedding ceremony almost anywhere, gardens, airplanes, underwater etcetc. None of this is for gay couples.

  • Comment number 65.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

 

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