HOW THE “YES” WAS WON

DEATH THREATS, DIRTY TRICKS AND HARD SLOG… HOW DID ALEX GREEN­WICH SUR­VIVE THE GRU­ELLING MAR­RIAGE EQUAL­ITY CAM­PAIGN IN AUS­TRALIA? HE TELLS AN­DREW CREAGH ABOUT THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF THE STRUG­GLE – AND WHAT HE THINKS THE NO SIDE WILL DO NEXT.

DNA Magazine - - NEWS -

When at­tacks were com­ing thick and fast I’d go out door-knock­ing to prove to my­self that they were not rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Aus­tralians.

DNA: For years, be­fore the postal sur­vey, opin­ion polls showed that Aus­tralians sup­ported same­sex mar­riage. How did that ef­fect the way the Yes cam­paign was run?

Alex Green­wich: There was strong sup­port in Aus­tralia, and that was con­sis­tent across all polls, so the chal­lenge of the postal sur­vey was to make sure that sup­port was re­flected in the re­sult. We had to make sure peo­ple filled out their sur­vey forms and re­turned them and en­cour­aged ev­ery­one else to do that same. We still had to put for­ward the case for mar­riage equal­ity, and we still had to de­fend against the non­sense that was com­ing from the No side, but a core com­po­nent of our cam­paign was, “get out and vote”.

Who did you need to tar­get?

It be­came quite clear, to­wards the end, that 18 to 24-year-olds, al­though huge sup­port­ers of mar­riage equal­ity and who’d in­di­cated they would be re­turn­ing their sur­vey, were not do­ing that. We directed a lot of ad­ver­tis­ing to them.

Was there a par­tic­u­lar mes­sage that res­onated with them?

The mes­sage was about em­pow­er­ing them to help make Aus­tralia a fairer and more eq­ui­table place; that by vot­ing they were mak­ing a dif­fer­ence.

The No cam­paign re­lied on fear and mis­in­for­ma­tion. Was that ex­pected?

Yes, cer­tainly, and they im­ported a lot of their cam­paign from the US. The dis­turb­ing thing was that they had a na­tional plat­form that was dam­ag­ing to many LGBTIQ peo­ple. The other dis­turb­ing as­pect was that some me­dia out­lets took the view that they were com­pelled to ven­ti­late the No side’s ar­gu­ment for the sake of bal­ance, re­gard­less of how in­ac­cu­rate or dam­ag­ing they were.

What was the low­est point of their cam­paign? When they ramped up their at­tacks on the trans com­mu­nity, par­tic­u­larly tar­get­ing trans kids; a vul­ner­a­ble sub­set who are al­ready dis­ad­van­taged by bad pub­lic pol­icy. That was truly ap­palling. They also shaped the nar­ra­tive as “the gay com­mu­nity are bul­lies who are forc­ing you to sup­port mar­riage equal­ity”. I don’t think most peo­ple be­lieved that, al­though a num­ber of rightwing me­dia out­lets ran with it.

Peo­ple who fol­lowed the cam­paign closely would’ve seen you do­ing count­less in­ter­views, an­swer­ing the same ques­tions over and over. Did you feel like you were trapped in a Ground­hog Day loop?

[Laughs] I was watch­ing some in­ter­views back and not only was I asked ex­actly the same ques­tions, but I pro­vided ex­actly the same an­swers each time! It didn’t bother me. That was my job – to be bor­ing but con­sis­tent!

How many times were you asked about gay wed­ding cakes and boys be­ing forced to wear

dresses to school?

Right! There were in­ter­views where I tried to stay calm but some­times I needed a glass of wine af­ter­wards. You be­come the pub­lic face of the cam­paign, and that came at a per­sonal cost – vi­cious hate mail, numer­ous death threats. How did you deal with that?

The in­ten­sity of it was rat­tling. I got a lot of sup­port from the New South Wales Po­lice and my hus­band, Vic­tor who would say at var­i­ous points in the cam­paign, “Turn your phone off, we’re go­ing for a bush walk now.” When at­tacks were com­ing thick and fast – and peo­ple think this is a bit bizarre – I ac­tu­ally went out can­vass­ing. I’d go to Martin Place or go door knock­ing with vol­un­teers to prove to my­self that the at­tacks that were com­ing in through so­cial me­dia or to my of­fice were not rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Aus­tralians. One Sun­day af­ter­noon I had to call the po­lice on two in­di­vid­u­als. The fol­low­ing Mon­day morn­ing I was out at Martin Place hand­ing out fly­ers and the pos­i­tive re­sponse from peo­ple, well, that was re­ally the best thing to com­pen­sate for the at­tacks. How did you feel when Tony Ab­bott sug­gested that the vi­o­lence that oc­curred dur­ing the cam­paign had mostly come from the Yes side?

That was an ill-in­formed state­ment backed by ab­so­lutely no ev­i­dence. I was for­tu­nate enough to have a cer­tain level of se­cu­rity but it made me con­cerned for peo­ple who didn’t have that. It was a tac­tic for the No side to claim vic­tim sta­tus, and it was a tac­tic that res­o­lutely failed. How did you feel when Mal­colm Turn­bull took credit for achiev­ing mar­riage equal­ity?

The peo­ple who de­serve the credit are the 15,000 vol­un­teers who worked on the cam­paign. For the Prime Min­is­ter, or my­self, to try to take that vic­tory away from those peo­ple – it’s not the right thing to do.

On the day the leg­is­la­tion was passed in Fed­eral Par­lia­ment, a lot of MPs at­tempted to take credit where it wasn’t due.

That was frus­trat­ing, but what made up for that was that the par­lia­men­tary de­bate was led by the gay and les­bian MPs and sen­a­tors. To see Dean Smith [Lib­eral] in­tro­duce the bill, fol­lowed by Penny Wong [La­bor], fol­lowed by Janet Rice [Greens] and Louise Pratt [La­bor] – to me it was a mo­ment where we had fi­nally taken con­trol of the is­sue.

What do you think the postal sur­vey re­vealed about or­gan­ised reli­gion in Aus­tralia?

It showed that you can trust Aus­tralians to do the right thing, re­gard­less of their faith. It also showed that there are or­gan­ised el­e­ments of the re­li­gious right-wing who are very strate­gic in their tar­get­ing, and we par­tic­u­larly saw that in Western Syd­ney, where tar­geted cam­paigns of mis­in­for­ma­tion were run in mul­ti­ple lan­guages. Our cam­paign was fo­cused on the whole of Aus­tralia, theirs was fo­cused in ten-square kilo­me­tres. Cory Bernardi, par­tic­u­larly, used it as a plat­form to build a data­base for his new po­lit­i­cal party. Some, who thought they were not go­ing to win, saw it as an ex­cel­lent op­por­tu­nity to build a data­base and fundraise, and that’s a scary propo­si­tion be­cause they have lots of money and they want to con­tinue to cause dam­age.

Is the in­quiry into pro­tect­ing re­li­gious free­doms just an ex­cuse for churches to find ways to legally dis­crim­i­nate against LGBTIQ peo­ple?

I hope not. My ex­pe­ri­ence ap­pear­ing be­fore the panel was that we had a ro­bust and re­spect­ful con­ver­sa­tion. I was there with LGBTIQ peo­ple of faith and the im­pres­sion [I think] we left them with was that sex­u­al­ity and reli­gion should not be in con­flict. What we need to be do­ing is dis­pelling the “gays vs God” myth and work­ing on build­ing trust. I’m hope­ful that there were won’t be any per­verse rec­om­men­da­tions that come out of that re­view. The gov­ern­ment re­port­edly has $40 mil­lion left over from the al­lo­cated $122 mil­lion for the postal sur­vey and it’s been sug­gested that be spent on LGBTIQ health.

Ab­so­lutely. And par­tic­u­larly for the trans com­mu­nity. They were the No side’s tar­get. Does Aus­tralian Mar­riage Equal­ity have cam­paign funds left over? What might be done with those? We’re still work­ing that out. We’ve started dis­cussing how we can sup­port in­ter­na­tional cam­paigns for mar­riage equal­ity, and how we can sup­port LGBTIQ com­mu­ni­ties in Western Syd­ney. We’ve still got work to do.

Lyle Shel­ton (for­merly of the Aus­tralian Chris­tian Lobby) has joined the Aus­tralian Con­ser­va­tives, whose pol­icy states: “We com­mit to sup­port­ing fam­i­lies by de­fend­ing the tra­di­tional def­i­ni­tion of mar­riage…” Can you imag­ine mar­riage equal­ity be­ing rolled back? It has hap­pened in Bermuda. The sit­u­a­tion in Bermuda is very dif­fer­ent. They have a very con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment with strong evan­gel­i­cal roots. It’s a scary prospect, Lyle Shel­ton en­ter­ing fed­eral par­lia­ment, but if he sought to in­tro­duce such leg­is­la­tion it would not pass. The sup­port for mar­riage equal­ity in the par­lia­ment was a land­slide. The large num­ber of LGBTIQ MPs and sen­a­tors would work hard to pro­tect that from hap­pen­ing.

How did you and your hus­band, Vic­tor cel­e­brate the Yes win?

On the 7th of De­cem­ber when the leg­is­la­tion passed, I was in Can­berra and it was great, but I had a sud­den urge to fly back to Syd­ney and have a quiet din­ner with him.

And you slept in the next day?

I slept in the next day! The in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence is that when mar­riage equal­ity hap­pens, the next day, ev­ery­body just moves on, and ev­ery­body just moved on. Go­ing from do­ing so much in­tense cam­paign­ing and me­dia to “it’s done” was quite a re­lief.

Did you go to Chris­tine Forster [Tony Ab­bott’s sis­ter] and Vir­ginia Ed­wards’ wed­ding?

Yes! It was won­der­ful. Lots of peo­ple had it tough dur­ing the cam­paign and I think Chris­tine and Vir­ginia and both showed amaz­ing lead­er­ship. It was won­der­ful to share the cel­e­bra­tion of their wed­ding. They worked so hard for that.

Did you have a word with Tony?

I didn’t.

What’s next for Alex Green­wich?

I go back to my day job! And fo­cus on my role in the New South Wales par­lia­ment.

The low­est point of the No cam­paign was… “when they ramped up their at­tacks on trans kids. That was truly ap­palling.”

AWAIT­ING THE AN­NOUNCE­MENT OF THE POSTAL SUR­VEY.

THE YES WIN BE­LONGS TO THE VOL­UN­TEERS, SAYS ALEX.

CEL­E­BRAT­ING THE WIN WITH MAGDA SZUBAN­SKI AND JOHN PAUL YOUNG.

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