During much of the past year, all things pandemic have dominated our lives. With the escalating toll of COVID-19, much of our public discourse narrowed – for very good reason – to matters of life and death. The “daily Dan” media conferences, 120 of them in a row, were the epitome of such constricted times.
But in more recent weeks, with COVID-19 largely contained in Australia, and the vaccine rollout turning the tide in some of the worst-hit nations, public debate on issues of local concern that made headlines in pre-pandemic times are making a return. The fervent discussion over the significance of Australia Day, and the broader issue of discrimination, is a case in point.
Such concerns have dogged Australian society for generations, with much criticism rightly focused on the slow and sporadic pace of change. As ex-Collingwood player Heritier Lumumba said only last week on 7.30 in response to a report on racism at his former club: “People need to understand that we all have issues when it comes to racism. We all have work to do on ourselves. You can’t just say, ‘I’m not a racist’.”
For those committed to progressive politics, the battle for breakthroughs can often get lost in a constant war of words played out on various platforms. Former US president Barack Obama, to temper the hopes of rapid progress, liked to remind his supporters: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Such an approach accepts that despite setbacks being par for the course, change will eventually come to pass for those willing to continue the fight.
While the stain of discrimination in Victoria is far from eliminated, the moments when real progress arise should be recognised and celebrated.
Last week, the Victorian parliament passed legislation on gay conversion stipulating that anyone found trying to suppress or change another person’s sexuality or gender identity faces up to 10 years’ jail or fines of almost $10,000 if it can be proved beyond reasonable doubt that their actions caused serious injury.
The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission will also get new powers to deal with complaints that do not meet the criminal threshold, and to instigate investigations into systemic issues as part of a new civil scheme for victims. The Family Violence Protection Act will also be amended to make gay conversion therapy a form of domestic violence.
While the new laws faced robust opposition from a range of groups, and may need some future refinement, this legislation will bring about real change for same-sex attracted and gender diverse people. The Sunday Age congratulates all those who turned a righteous principle into a reality.
But it was also a week that highlighted the fractures that can erupt over discrimination. Collingwood president Eddie McGuire’s hamfisted portrayal of its damning report on racism as a “proud and historic day” for the club was rightly lambasted.
That was soon followed though by a letter written on behalf of Collingwood’s AFL, AFLW and netball players, which began with the one word that eluded McGuire – Sorry. It went on to state: “We acknowledge it is not enough to simply show support for the principles of anti-racism and inclusion. We will confront the history of our club in order to learn, heal and determine how best to walk forward together.”
Impressive words from a group of players who admitted to being humiliated and shocked by the report. Will it lead to real change? History shows it will be a long road ahead. The Age wishes them well, and that justice will eventually bend their way.
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