This week on the Political Spot, ACL Managing Director Lyle Shelton's appearance on the ABC's Q&A program gave air to some important questions in the marriage debate. Rob Ward, formerly of Access Ministries Victoria, was present in the audience and asked a question about freedom of speech in the upcoming plebiscite debate, Lyle catches up with him to find out more.
ROB WARD ON THE POLITICAL SPOT
WEDNESDAY 2ND MARCH 2016
Lyle Shelton: Hello and welcome to another edition of the Political Spot. I’m Lyle Shelton from the Australian Christian Lobby. It’s great to have your company again. Well it’s been a pretty amazing week for all of us at ACL. If you saw Monday night’s Q&A, I had the opportunity to be a panellist on that and we’d like to have a chat about that and a bit of a debrief with a bit of an old friend Rob Ward who used to work for ACL, now an independent media consultant working for not-for-profit organisations, non-government organisations. Rob was in the studio audience and asked what I thought was one of the most important questions of the night. I think he really articulated what many of us are feeling. Rob is on the line from Melbourne right now. Rob welcome to the Political Spot.
Rob Ward: Thanks Lyle, good to talk to you.
Lyle Shelton: It’s really great to have you here today Rob. You and I go back a long way. You used to work for ACL back in 2011 and other things since then but I think we need to just clarify for people who might be wondering that you and I had nothing to do with the way the questioners were selected for Monday night.
Rob Ward: Well no. Indeed I’ve been on the list, if you like, as a potential audience member for Q&A whenever they come to Melbourne for a number of years. It’s only the second time I’ve ever actually got in to the audience and I submitted a question. I understand there were several hundred questions submitted. The Q&A people narrowed it down to about fourteen. They told me that not every question would get asked and in fact I think only six or seven were asked so I was fortunate enough to get a question. One presumes they do background checks on people so they knew who I was, where I come from, leave it up to them, completely their decision.
Lyle Shelton: Yeah that’s right, it was their decision. I thought the questions that were asked on Monday night were very balanced from both sides and I thought that was a good thing. So before we get into our discussion Rob, why don’t we just play the question again for listeners who missed Monday night and then you and I can have a bit of a chat about some of the issues that arose from your question, what was behind it and also a bit of a debrief on the program itself. So standby, here’s Rob Ward’s question.
Rob Ward: [replay from Q&A program] My question Tony, goes to the very same issue and that is, given the treatment given to Archbishop Porteous in Tasmania where, for the crime of stating Catholic orthodox position and in fact supporting current law with a very benign and mild brochure, he’s been dragged before the Anti-Discrimination Commission. How can we possibly have a free and honest debate? We’ve got a snowflake’s chance in hell. In fact the bigotry shown towards Lyle in this place tonight, the laughter shown towards him, shows we haven’t got a chance. So what’s the alternative? Those who support same-sex marriage and the rest of us are bigots?
Lyle Shelton: Wow, you made a point very powerfully there, Rob. Now for those who might not know who Archbishop Porteous is in Tasmania and may not be aware of the case that you referenced, why don’t you just give us a bit of a outline of that Rob and why you referenced that and why you asked the question that way and of course this is in the context of the same-sex marriage debate.
Rob Ward: Sure. Archbishop Porteous is the Archbishop, the Catholic Archbishop, in Tasmania and he put together a brochure, flyer if you like, ‘Don’t Mess With Marriage’, and it was issued to Catholic parishes and schools within Tasmania. As I’ve mentioned in the question, it’s very benign, it’s quite respectful for people with different views but it basically supports the current law which I think is fair enough and states the standard Catholic position that a marriage is between a man and woman, and at the behest and encouragement of some activists in Tasmania somebody decided to take offence to that. That was taken to the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner who then decided yes, there was a case to answer, you know, a charge to answer and now Archbishop Porteous is to present to the Commission and justify his statements and I think as was the case I think in the The Australian last weekend there was an article by John Howard where he suggests there’s a sense now in which people are afraid to speak up and that’s my concern. If we are going to have this plebiscite, then how can we possibly have a free and frank and open debate if you dare speak out on a particular point of view, if you have a view other than, as we’ve discovered in recent days, the standard politically correct view, even espoused by the Labor party now, I mean you dare have a different view then you’re basically kicked out of the Labor party. If you dare have a different view, you’re silenced. The atmosphere on Monday night, you can see so much on TV, can I just say, having been in the room on Monday night Lyle, you showed, and I’m not sucking up to you cause I don’t need to be nice to you anymore [laughter], you showed tremendous grace in not responding with harsh words. You treated very badly on Monday night, you were interrupted more times, you know, the language was intemperate by some of the other panellists and it would have been really easy for you to respond quite angrily but you didn’t so well done for that. But if that’s the way it’s going to be for the next twelve, eighteen months while this discussion continues, then I don’t think we can have an open debate. I think the ACL has asked for some sort of pause or relief or some sort of arrangement whereby we can have an open debate for the purposes of a plebiscite and that’s been laughed down but what other way is there going to be.
Lyle Shelton: Yeah no you raise a really important point Rob and I think both you and I were disappointed that the point you made wasn’t taken up by the panellists and I wasn’t given the opportunity respond in that situation and I must say, I did feel that whilst you’re quite right that the room was very much against the point of view that I had on marriage and on the very controversial Safe Schools program, and of course the other panellists weren’t on side, I did feel the host Tony Jones was reasonably fair to me, no he was fair to me because he’s obviously got to balance five panellists and give everyone a say but it was disappointing though that there wasn’t the opportunity to take up the very valid point that you raised and this is a big national issue, this Archbishop Julian Porteous in front of the Anti-Discrimination Commission right now, as we speak, in Tasmania, this issue unresolved, dragging on for some six months. Lawyers have been involved, great expense tied up all because of this booklet ‘Don’t Mess With Marriage’ which in effect is a pastoral letter, it’s beautifully and sensibly written and the point you made, Rob is so right. How can we have a fair debate during the plebiscite if our side is going to be silenced with the threat of legal action through anti-discrimination commissions that operate in all of the states and territories in Australia?
Rob Ward: Well indeed. I’ve been roundly criticised by some groups on Facebook since Monday night, by people who didn’t like what I asked on Monday night. I don’t have the backing of the Catholic Church to support me with that legal support and you know, you must ask yourself, gosh are you better to be quiet? Are you better not to say anything because you don’t want to be dragged before these kinds of tribunals, and I have to say that I actually believe in anti-discrimination law. I think that we ought to have rules and codes of conduct that are in place in the civil society that prevent, you know, the kind of intemperate language and discrimination in speech and in action against people, whether it be on sexual identity or gender or race or you know freckles or glasses or whatever. There’s a place for anti-discrimination law but when those laws are used in this kind of situation to silence free and open debate, then I think we’ve got a problem. There’s always that tension between balancing freedom of speech and open debate and laws around discrimination vilification. Nobody ought to be silenced in a political sense in this area.
Lyle Shelton: Exactly right. No one should be silenced and we certainly don’t want see hateful speech or anything like that.
Rob Ward: No, no.
Lyle Shelton: And we’ve been criticised, as you know, by even the president of the Human Rights Commission Jillian Triggs who said that ACL didn’t understand the law but the reality is these laws have a very low threshold for triggering complaints and in Tasmania it’s as low as simply causing offence and that’s why Archbishop Porteous has been hauled before the Anti-Discrimination Commission because someone has said that they are offended by Catholic teaching and Christian teaching on marriage. In the other states the threshold is not quite as low but it is low. Holding someone up to severe ridicule or contempt. Now these are things that are very subjective and in any public debate, any one of us might feel that we are held up to ridicule or contempt. You could argue that I was held up to that from time to time on Monday night at Q&A and that’s fine, that to me is part of the hurly-burly of debate. I don’t take offence at that, I don’t want to take anyone off to a commission but because of these protected attributes of sexual identity and gender identity, these are triggered by these anti-discrimination laws and as you rightly point out, Rob, how can we have a fair debate in this sort of environment?
Talking with Rob Ward, you’re listening to the Political Spot brought to you by the Australian Christian Lobby. We’ll be back in just a moment to continue our discussion with Rob Ward about Monday night’s Q&A. If you missed it, you can watch it on the ABC’s iView. We’ll be back in just a tick.
Welcome back. I’m speaking with Rob Ward. We’ve been talking about last Monday night’s episode of Q&A where I was privileged to be a panellist speaking on the issues on the so-called Safe Schools Coalition and the plans to change the definition of marriage and Rob was in the audience, asked a very brave question which resonated with people all over this country. I’ve heard incredible feedback from Rob’s question on Monday night. Rob, in you question you said there’s two types of people. There’s those who support same-sex marriage and there’s those who are bigots. That’s a fairly sharp thing to say. Why were you feeling that way and why did you feel to express your question in that manner?
Rob Ward: Well it was of course a rhetorical question in the sense that, you know, I don’t believe that is the way it ought to be. I have really good friends who have gay children, I have some friends themselves who are gay or homosexual or whichever term you’d like to use, and we live in a mutually respectful way. I don’t agree with some of their choices and decisions. They have a different view to me, that’s fine, but we’re still friends, and we even discuss the issues and that’s great and that’s how it ought to be but in the media in particular, there is coming across this, it’s interesting, Bill Shorten did it the other day with - was it Cory Bernardi? – where he muttered into a microphone…
Lyle Shelton: Yeah called him a homophobe.
Rob Ward: Yeah I mean come on, these are meant to be our leaders, let’s have some civility.
Lyle Shelton: I couldn’t agree with you more Rob. It was very disturbing earlier this week to see the Greens member for Melbourne Adam Bandt get up in the parliament and again, call people bigots who are expressing concerns about the so-called Safe Schools Coalition program. Now the Speaker Tony Smith asked him to withdraw and he did withdraw but I was very disturbed to see the word ‘bigot’ being thrown around in the federal parliament, directed at people like you and I who have legitimate concerns with some of the ideology that’s now creeping into our schools. I think it’s a worrying development for our nation.
Rob Ward: The question is how can we disagree agreeably? I guess whether we’re talking about Safe Schools or whether we’re talking about same-sex marriage, and even I must admit, Michelle Levine was at the CR of Roy Morgan Research, kept quoting, she had one thing to say on Monday night about seventy-six per cent…
Lyle Shelton: Yeah can I just say, I asked her in the green room afterwards, I said “Michelle where did you get that seventy-six per cent? I’ve never seen a poll that says seventy-six per cent of Australians support same-sex marriage.” She was about to leave, she said “oh I’ll send it to you.” I was just gobsmacked with that though. I would have thought someone from Roy Morgan Research would be able to say and quote the actual poll where that came from.
Rob Ward: Well on such a big issue. And even if it was seventy-six per cent, and I don’t believe that it is, I think there’s a couple of points to be made there. Number one is that still leaves a fairly high percentage of people who feel very strongly the other way and for such a massive social change, and let’s be frank about this, if the definition of marriage is to be changed, this isn’t tweaking, this isn’t playing around at the edges, this isn’t just changing the colour of something. This is a massive change that will affect this nation, families for the future, for the entire future, and I don’t think you can make that kind of change until you’ve got whole-hearted almost one hundred per cent support across the country. I don’t think you’ll have that ever if you certainly don’t have it now. So I don’t think you can make that kind of change simply because you know if you have this plebiscite, if it’s fifty-one per cent, does that mean it’s okay? I don’t know.
Lyle Shelton: It’s going to terribly divide our nation.
Rob Ward: So I’m hopeful we do get a plebiscite. I’m hopeful that there is a way for there to be a really full and frank discussion about it, that we can do it in a respectful manner, without flying around words like ‘homophobe’ and ‘bigot’ and that we can just say well what are going to be the impacts on the whole of society, not just today and tomorrow, but for generations to come? This is too big a decision to hide behind just emotion. Let’s look at the facts, let’s look at information, let’s make a really careful, conscious decision and I think if we do that, I think certainly the majority of Victorians, the majority of Australians will come out and say I don’t think this is the time.
Lyle Shelton: Rob Ward, said like a true Victorian. I want t
thank you for giving up your time today to speak with us. Rob Ward, father, grandfather, media consultant, concerned Australian, serial Q&A audience aspirant and questioner. Rob, thanks for being there on Monday night. Thanks for helping with an analysis today for our listeners of the Political Spot.
Rob Ward: Thanks Lyle.