Darebin City Council seeking to silence ‘No’ campaigners in Marriage Debate
Darebin City Councillors will next week vote on an emergency motion which proposes to allow access to council facilities for same-sex marriage campaigners. The proposed motion follows the Federal government’s announcement of a September postal vote on the Marriage Act. As part of the council motion, ‘No’ campaigners will be barred from using council facilities and the council will issue a warning to local churches not to campaign against same-sex marriage.
The motion should be rejected by Councillors as it proposes preferential treatment to the ‘Yes’ side of this debate by providing financial and practical support. It further undermines fairness and transparency in the democratic process for those living in this local council area. To suggests that those who hold the ‘No’ position are free to do so, but at the same time, warn that in doing so, these people may contribute to homophobia, implies that the 'no' position is not a reasonable one to take.
Darebin City Council, located in Melbourne’s North, offers a range of venue hire options including the Northcote Town Hall and the Darebin Arts and Entertainment Centre. Venue hire rates do vary but they can be up to $2000 a day for some locations. It is proposed that the Council venues will be offered free of charge for the use of ‘Yes’ campaigners activities.
This motion is an extension of the council’s ongoing public support and campaigning to redefine the Marriage Act to allow for same-sex couples to marry. In 2015, the council formally endorsed a statement calling for marriage equality, and in 2016 expanded it to include that marriage equality should be achieved through a direct free vote in Parliament and suggested that a plebiscite would be harmful to the LGBTIQ community. Darebin Council further made international news in May this year when it voted to raise the rainbow flag until marriage was redefined in law in Australia.
Whilst the council’s actions to date may have been seen as intimidating for some, this move now directly seeks to silence those in the community who hold a different view of the meaning of Marriage. The council’s inability to recognise this signifies a failure of democratic representation and leadership. Local government and our local leaders have an important role in the governance of our communities. They are expected to be role models in conduct and show accountability and representation. The failure to show leadership in serving all members of the community regardless of whether Councillors agree with their position on the Marriage Act is a miscarriage of good governance.
In an interview with Neil Mitchell on radio 3AW this week, Independent Darebin Councillor, Susan Rennie rejected suggestions that this motion was unfair or limiting free speech. Mitchell asked Councillor Rennie, did she believe that those on her opposing side had the right to campaign with decency? She stated that she had seen no evidence to date that anyone on the ‘No’ side of the campaign had demonstrated decency or could put forward a coherent argument against the redefinition of Marriage. The Councillor further stated that she felt that “local Churches had been quite silent” on the issue, and that she was “…very grateful for that.”
Councillor Rennie went on to say that nothing in the motion stopped people from expressing an opinion or campaigning. However, she went on to suggest that any ‘right thinking people' would not support a ‘No’ vote.
“To be honest, I’m not convinced that it is reasonable (to have a debate) on this topic… The level of debate and comments that I have heard from the ‘No’ camp is disgraceful … and just because people are free to express their views doesn’t mean council should deliver a platform for them,” she said.
Regardless of your view on Marriage in Australia, the actions of Darebin City Council undermine democracy and fairness. The Council demonstrates a double-standard in their advocacy for a diversity of views in the community. Diversity, it seems, is only acceptable when people agree with the politically correct discourse of the moment.
Australia is a democratic nation where people are free to exercise their right to vote. By silencing one side of the debate, the Darebin Council fails to appreciate this important mark of a civilised society.
Please sign this petition now which will be sent to Darebin City Councillors prior to next week’s meeting. We are asking for the removal of the Council's motion and for a fair and transparent discussion in the area, in the lead up to the September postal vote.