Protesting Perrottet’s Prejudice: An Interview With CARR’s April Holcombe

by Paul Gregoire

The coming of ultraconservative Dominic Perrottet does not bode well for the progressive and diverse community of the nation’s “premier state”.

Indeed, it tends towards the reactionary 1950s vision of a lost Australia that prime minister Scott Morrison conveys.

Both Liberal leaders are staunch members of the party’s Christian Right. Both leaders propagate neoliberal ideals that have left the community fractured and unable to respond collectively to crises. And both Liberal leaders are about profiteering from the wellbeing of future generations.

Perrottet’s scorecard says it all. As Trump took the election in late 2016, the current NSW premier declared, “It’s time for a conservative spring”. The devout Catholic, who wears his faith on his sleeve, further believes that child abuse exposed in the confessional should simply remain there.

And when it comes to the fundamental human right to marry, Perrottet was against it being extended to the LGBTIQ community, stating at the time that “marriage is about every child’s fundamental right to grow up with their own mum and dad”.

The right to bigotry

The coming of Perrottet casts an especially ominous shadow over the NSW constituency at present, because the Liberals at both the federal and state levels have been pushing a years-long campaign, under the guise of religious freedoms, to legislate against the general acceptance of diversity.

At the federal level, Scott Morrison has been championing laws that would provide those of faith with the right to discriminate against others in the name of their religion, while in NSW, it’s been One Nation leader Mark Latham doing the Liberals’ bidding in this regard.

The initial post-marriage equality push for greater religious freedoms morphed into a campaign to legislate religious discrimination laws, which would basically ensure that heterosexual Christians will be able to legally treat the Other in a prejudicial manner.

And right now, as Perrottet takes centre stage, there are proposals underway to pass such laws that would provide the religious with the right to treat others prejudicially, as well as another set that would erase the identity of transgender children completely from the NSW schooling system.

Rainbow rights

Community Action for Rainbow Rights (CARR) has been organising regular public demonstrations against both the push for discriminatory religious laws at the state and federal levels, as well as actions targeting Latham’s anti-transgender student laws.

And the grassroots LGBTIQ rights group is currently calling on Sydneysiders to rally against the appointment of the 46th NSW premier Dominic Perrottet to say that although he hasn’t pulled his prejudices out since taking the top job, we’re all well aware that he’s got them in his back pocket.

Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke to CARR co-convenor April Holcombe about why the premier’s record warrants a rally, the likely impact his coming will have on the One Nation proposed laws, and how Labor can’t be trusted to oppose any of the prejudicial measures on the table.

Community Action for Rainbow Rights co-convenor April Holcombe

Firstly, following the resignation of Gladys Berejiklian, Dominic Perrottet was appointed the 46th premier of NSW. Soon after the announcement, Community Action for Rainbow Rights called a snap action protest.

April, what is it about a politician like Perrottet being put in charge of the state that’s led one of Sydney’s leading LGBTIQ organisations to rally against him?

Right after he came to power, people unearthed the sordid history Perrottet has of expressing extremely reactionary views against LGBTI people and women, as well as extreme nationalism and pro-Trump politics.

This all came out soon after he came to power. And it can’t be unopposed.

We can’t have someone who says things like the welfare state weakens the heterosexual nuclear family and therefore it must be attacked. We can’t have someone who celebrates the election of Trump, come to power without a response.

This is also a man who opposed marriage equality. He opposed the decriminalisation of abortion in NSW. And he is now a premier of a party, the NSW Liberals, which is hoping to push through legislation like the religious freedoms bill.

On all of these fronts, we have to come out publicly and say that we’re opposed to this guy and what he stands for.

Even right-wing radio shock jock Kyle Sandilands said Perrottet is not welcome on his radio program due to his homophobia.

So, we’re taking it a step further and saying that we want people out on the streets in protest against him.

Since we last spoke, Mark Speakman has responded to the parliamentary review of Mark Latham’s religious freedoms bill.

The NSW attorney general said the state Liberal Nationals will be enacting their own set of laws based on the One Nation leader’s private members bill and the Morrison government’s own set of religious laws.

How would you say having Perrottet in the position of premier bodes for these coming laws?

They’re extremely worrying laws. They already were before Perrottet came up. The federal government’s laws have been a big focus of Community Action for Rainbow Rights protests over the last few years.

The federal government has strongly hinted that its bill will be introduced by the end of November. And the NSW Liberals have said they will move such a bill in this state, right after the federal bill is passed.

Both of these bills are purported to contain Folau clauses, which protect high profile people from any consequences for espousing bigoted and reactionary views.

With someone like Perrottet in power, we can expect that these laws will become even more of a priority, and that they’ll also become a rallying cry for the far-right base of the Liberal Party.

It’s the far-right Liberal membership that this bill is really about. It’s all about throwing a bone to those people.

So, we imagine that when someone from the hard right of the party comes to take leadership, it really sends a message to all the far-right membership that it’s right to pursue reactionary policies and ideas.

We want to be able to demoralise that side of politics. Whereas the assumption of Perrottet has only increased its stance and that they’re entitled to discriminatory legislation like this.

Another major development is that the review of Latham’s Parental Rights Bill came back with the majority endorsing the proposed laws with slight changes. This legislation is more commonly known as the anti-trans student bill.

Many thought these laws were so extreme they had no chance of getting up. Can you speak on this development?

It shows that people were wrong to think that about these bills. It shows that they had too much faith in the integrity of politicians, who are the main people in our society to purvey homophobia, bigotry, transphobia and reactionary ideas.

That’s politicians, as well as the corporate media and other powerful individuals in religious institutions. These are the forces that create and impose reactionary ideas and policies.

It was naïve to believe that such a bill would be too much even for them. In fact, what it has shown is that if we don’t fight then they can become determined to push through such laws.

It’s disturbing. And we need to maintain an opposition to it.

One really outrageous thing about the review was a Labor minister on that committee also endorsed the bill. That’s appalling. And this also applies to the religious freedoms bill.

The Labor Party hasn’t opposed these bills. And their previous track record on these bills suggests that without substantial pressure on the streets, they could try and move these laws as well.

All of this shows that we can’t rely on politicians, or their conscience, to stop seemingly depraved legislation like Latham’s, as it can get a hearing amongst them without any fight back.

Australian Christian Lobby boss Martyn Iles was on the radio last week boasting that a so-called Folau’s clause is set to be included in the federal government’s Religious Discrimination Bill.

So, currently, we have archconservative Pentecostal PM Scott Morrison pushing for laws that will negatively impact LGBTIQ people in the name of religion at the federal level, while we now have ultraconservative Catholic premier Perrottet about to oversee similar laws in this state.

What’s going on here?

It can be bewildering when obviously the vast majority of society are against discrimination like this.

We already have discriminatory laws in this country that need to be abolished. These allow religious schools and institutions to sack LGBT employees.

We see this in the case of Karen Pack and Steph Lentz, two lesbian teachers, who were both forced out of their schools due to their sexuality.

This is already legal, and about 70 to 80 percent of the population are opposed to such laws. So, the idea that parliaments would be putting and moving more of these powers against the rights of LGBTI people, women and many others is a disgrace.

We need to realise this is not about a genuine concern or idea. It’s about a backlash to progress. They don’t like the fact that the majority of people are more accepting of and are celebrating diversity, as well as the idea of free gender expression.

These ideas are anathema to right-wing ideas and politics, which are about controlling people, repressing them, and making them more pliable and obedient to authority.

The politics of the right are about making people more productive and profitable citizens and workers.

Our ideas – which have become popular amongst people in general – undermine that. And the right seeks to entrench their power and entrench ideas that divide people.

The right is always looking for a way to bring that back. It’s interesting that they need to do it under the cloak of religious freedoms, which is seemingly good sounding.

That’s because they can’t openly do it for the real reasons, which is to allow ideas of bigotry to dominate and flourish.

We have to be able to take that cloak off and show what these bills are really about, which is that our side won in 2017, and now they want to win. But we’re not going to let them.

Independent member for Sydney Alex Greenwich quizzed Perrottet as to whether he will work with the LGBTIQ community to support and protect it against discrimination.

The new premier responded that “human flourishing is only possible when the inherent dignity of everyone in our society is recognised and affirmed”.

In your opinion, is this a sign that Perrottet may proactively support the LGBTIQ community?

Not at all. Again, it goes back to popular opinion. He would provoke an even bigger backlash if he was to come out swinging against us straightaway.

It’s a good sign for our side. But we can’t be complacent about that. Perrottet may well utilise attacks on us as a useful means for his political project.

The idea that this man, who is letting the virus rip in NSW – someone who thinks the rights of small businesses mean more than the rights of the people not to suffocate and die in hospital waiting rooms – the idea that this man is concerned with the individual flourishing of every person in society is an absolute joke.

This is a man who attacks young people who protest around climate change. The idea that he supports the individual flourishing of people, when he supports destruction of the planet, is a joke.

Perrottet’s whole track record on LGBTI rights and women’s rights demonstrates that he is – like all of the Liberals – a crusader only for the rights of powerful, privileged rich people. And this extends to their right to trample on the rest of us.

That’s what Perrottet really means when he talks about rights and freedoms: he means those rights and freedoms of a minority of powerful people to trample on the rest.

The idea that he is now a changed man is absolutely ridiculous.

And lastly, April, the Protest Perrottet Snap Action is set to meet at Sydney Town Hall this Sunday. Why should people turn up? What message is being put forth?

The message is this guy is a bigot. The message is LGBTI rights are essential, and we’re not going to accept that the new so-called leader of this state has spent his whole life fighting against them.

The message is there’s legislation in this state and in federal parliament that’s determined to roll back our lives, and we’re not going to let this happen.

The ultimate message is we are not going to make this premiership easy for Dominic Perrottet because he’s attacking ordinary people on a range of fronts.

This is one of those fronts that’s caught the attention of so many people as he has come to power, and we need to make sure that he doesn’t have a honeymoon.

We also need to ensure that we’re building the capacity for ordinary people to resist his whole pro-business, pro-1 percent, anti-ordinary people and pro-oppression agenda.

We need to make sure, from the very first days, that we’re building up our side, our muscles and our capacity to hit the streets to defend our rights, recognising that we’re not about to see any opposition from Labor, which is basically going to crawl and follow the Liberals on so many things.

We won’t see opposition from Labor. It is only ourselves that we can look to. And the first way to do that is to hit the streets this Sunday to say we reject everything this repugnant man stands for.

The Protest Perrottet: Snap Action for LGBTI Rights is meeting at Sydney Town Hall at 12 pm Sunday 31 October

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Author

Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on social justice issues and encroachments upon civil liberties. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub. Paul is the winner of the 2021 NSW Council of Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism.

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