NSW One Nation Leader Mark Latham’s 8 May 2019 maiden speech in the NSW Legislative Council begins fairly innocuously. He rattles off the usual belief in “a fair go”, acknowledges the value the upper house has in state parliament, and he praises the achievements of western civilisation.
It’s not until the fourth paragraph that extreme rhetoric around “leftist elites” and “social engineers” kicks in. Latham asserts that as the “New Left” badly craves control, it’s attacking Christianity, turning schools into “gender fluidity factories”, while “mums and dads” has become a taboo term.
“Having with the fall of the Berlin Wall lost the struggle for economic control, the Left got smarter. It shifted from the cold war to a culture war,” Latham asserts. “Instead of trying to socialise the means of production, it is now trying to socialise the means of individual expression and belief.”
Indeed, it’s hard to believe that this is the same politician, who, between December 2003 and January 2005, was the leader of left-wing federal Labor, whilst it was in opposition. That’s until considering he was against ultraright PM John Howard, whom most appear moderate beside.
And while a Pauline Hanson party politician spouting such logic in parliament seems absurd in 2021, what’s more disturbing is that the Berejikilian government is tending towards the One Nation party line.
Speaking about culture wars
Amongst the handful of private members bills that Latham’s introduced is his Religious Freedoms and Equality Bill 2020, which purports to add religious belief to the list of protected attributes in the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW), whilst actually raising it to a status above all others.
In explaining why such a bill is needed, Latham said, during his second reading speech that “every letter of the alphabet seemingly has a flag, a network, a special ceremony to affirm and celebrate its identity, except the letters C and H: Christians and heterosexuals”.
Discrimination law expert Sydney University Professor Simon Rice has said Latham’s laws are problematic, as “instead of protecting people from discrimination on the basis of their religion, it allows people to assert their religious beliefs in a way that enables them to discriminate”.
Yet, despite expert witnesses raising the potential to promote conflict this bill has at parliamentary hearings, the majority of the review committee considering the laws recommended that the Berejiklian government draft its own set to be tabled this year based on the One Nation legislation.
And the fact that the Berejiklian government is now considering enacting laws that promote religious freedoms at the same time that the Morrison government continues to have similar proposed laws pending in its Religious Discrimination Bill 2019, seems more than just coincidence.
The Hanson-Howard compact
During the Howard era, political commentators would posit that something of an unholy alliance existed between the federal Coalition and Pauline Hanson. It was said the One Nation MP’s racist and divisive rhetoric would make Howard’s ultraconservative policies appear more moderate.
The support behind Latham’s religious freedoms laws and the recommendation that Berejiklian follow his lead again tends towards a Coalition-One Nation union. And if the Liberals pull back on some of the more divisive provisions in Latham’s bill, the laws may appear more palatable.
But this is not the only time Latham has opened up legislative avenues for the Coalition to skip down. The One Nation MLC introduced a bill in May 2019, which sought to lift the state ban on uranium mining and bring an end to the prohibition on establishing nuclear power facilities.
The uranium bill was then sent for parliamentary review, and the March 2020 committee report again recommended backing Latham’s policy. While last August, the Berejiklian government resolved to consider drafting its own pro-nuclear laws, rather than just support the One Nation bill.
Right now, there’s a third divisive piece of One Nation legislation before a parliamentary committee for review, and this one has grave implications for transgender children, who already face major challenges under current systems whilst in their formative years.
Persecuting trans kids
Latham’s “gender fluidity factories” maiden speech reveals that despite being a professed atheist, he’s aligned with the Christian Right of politics in the promotion of religious freedoms, and he’s also got his sights set on persecuting transgender people.
At the February meeting of Christian Right politicians and commentators at the Church and State Summit in Brisbane, the Australian Christian Lobby’s Martyn Iles suggested that in countering the LGBTIQ rights movement post marriage equality, they should target the transgender community.
But the NSW One Nation leader was already onto it. Latham introduced his Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 last August.
It’s a cruel piece of legislation designed to erase all mention of gender fluidity from schools via the threat of being sacked for any staff member who touches upon it.
These laws would lead to situations where transgender children who approach school teachers or counsellors in relation to any questions they may be struggling with in terms of their gender identity would simply be turned away. And this sort of community erasure can prove fatal.
The bill is framed around upholding the rights of parents against having to send their children to school under threat of being indoctrinated into becoming transgender, which is the sort of paranoid far-right position that One Nation thrives upon.
In his first upper house speech, Latham also states that the last Census found there were only 1,300 Australians who identified as transgender, and he adds that the “political and media coverage” makes one think there are 13 million – sentiments that seem to be at odds with him bringing the bill.
The former Labor leader also remarked, “With few exceptions people are born either male or female”, which shows that he’s well aware that there’s more than just the binary. And this plainly sets out that he’s taken it upon himself to persecute a minority for political gain.
While many have simply dismissed the parental rights bill as extreme legislation that would never get off the ground, NSW parliamentary secretary for education Kevin Conolly has already made clear that he supports the bill.
And going on the track record recent parliamentary committees have had in relation to One Nation bills, the real danger is that Berejiklian will soon be overseeing the drafting of her party’s own anti-transgender laws, which would almost certainly cut more than a few young lives short.
The Kill the Bills, Protect Trans Youth rally is being held at Sydney’s Taylor Square at 1 pm on Saturday 17 April.
Community Action for Rainbow Rights has called the action to protest Latham’s parental rights and religious freedoms bills, along with the PM’s favoured religious discrimination laws.
Receive all of our articles weekly
Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.