Saturday, September 22, 2012

Warren Entsch, Human Rights and the Australian Christian Lobby

The Hon. Warren Entsch MP, courtesy of
(Radio Interview attached after "The Jump")

It's not often that I'm stunned when I hear something that comes out of the mouth of a politician (or anyone for that matter), though an interview that I conducted with Warren Entsch in Parliament House about 10 days ago, most certainly knocked me for six. As a matter of fact, parts of the interview nearly brought me to tears. That says a lot, as I'm normally unflappable when it comes to controlling my emotions during various interviews.

As a lot of people have probably found out over the last few days due to the Marriage Equality debate, Warren Entsch is the Chief Opposition Whip for the Coalition in the Australian House of Representatives. He's also one of the most ardent supporters for Same-Sex and Gender Diverse rights within the Conservative movement in Australia. From raising the rights of a Gay SAS soldier with Prime Minister Howard to protecting a Transwoman who later became a Doctor in rural Australia, he's done a lot of stuff behind the scenes in order to protect minorities over the years, purely because he thinks it's the right and honourable thing to do.

As the Australian Christian Lobby's Jim Wallace found out recently, it also a role that he takes extremely seriously.

When I first walked into Warren Entsch's office on the Ground Floor of the “Reps” side of Parliament House, I honestly didn't know what to expect. While I'd met and dined with various Government and Shadow Cabinet officials in the past, I'd never actually interviewed one. From the Crocodile heads on his office Cabinet through to paintings of stockmen droving cattle on the wall though, I had a feeling that I could get some really touching, unique and honest content out of one of Australia's most respected rural politicians, if I played my cards right.  

What came next most certainly didn't disappoint.

(Audio from the interview and more after the jump!!)

In order to get the ball rolling and to get a more stable feel for Warren Entsch, I decided to start by asking him what his role as the "Chief Opposition Whip" entails.  While Journalists such as myself are fully versed with what being a “Whip” means, (e.g. organising MPs and Senators so that they vote according to Party lines etc) most people aren't fully versed with the ins and outs of Parliament. Not only that, but it also allowed Warren to see that while I was going to ask him a series of tough and honest questions, that I wasn't going to ambush him.

Straight after that, I moved onto how Warren Entsch became a supporter of the Same Sex and Gender Diverse community. While I was aware that he'd stood up against various parts of the Coalition over the “Affirmation of the Marriage Act” in 2004, I was unaware of just how deeply he had engaged with this particular minority throughout the remainder of the Howard Government. From standing up at a lot of Party room meetings through to taking the case of a highly decorated gay SAS soldier who was about to be deployed and wanted various securities in place financially and otherwise for his life partner if he was killed or severely injured in Afghanistan to the Prime Minister, the words that flowed from him in a kind, considerate, respectful and honest manner packed a punch.

As the interview progressed, Warren Entsch really started to get into his element as he described how he had encouraged Prime Minister Howard and other members of the Coalition, to realise that a person's level of bravery or capability isn't determined by their sexuality or gender identity. Given the body language that he was starting to openly express, it wasn't hard to see that this particular change in John Howard's perspective towards Same Sex and Gender Diverse people, as well as the fact that Senator Barnaby Joyce was the first politician in the Coalition party-room to rise up in support of his concerns were matters of great pride and satisfaction for the Chief Opposition Whip.

Armed with that knowledge, I decided to bring a few more recent events into the interview, by asking him about specific human rights, and if he had the chance, how he would get people such as Jim Wallace and his supporters within the Australian Christian Lobby to become more acceptive of the Same-Sex and Gender Diverse community.

After stating his belief that most of Mr Wallace's comments were probably a result of the Marriage Equality debate, Warren proceeded to describe the level of offence that he felt as a result of Mr Wallace's personal conduct both in the media and at specific events.

He then proceeded to describe how he'd like to challenge Mr Wallace to visit his local cemetery with him, during which time he'd present him with a roll of the names of the Same-Sex and Gender Diverse people buried in that particular cemetery who had committed suicide due to the types of comments and other forms of discrimination that people like Mr Wallace have made against them.

He then stated that he'd then like to take Mr Wallace to meet with some of the suicide victims families, in order to showcase the destructive influence that words of discrimination can have on entire families and communities in general. He then made a reference to also introducing him to a group of gay and lesbian couples, who've maintained stable, long-term loving relationships with one another for decades. That's a challenge that would result in Mr Wallace and his organisation loosing a lot of credibility and respect within society if he refused to accept it, especially given the deep Non-denominational and Baptist Christian faith that Warren Entsch and Mr Wallace possess, respectively.

After this, we then started to explore the issue of online bulling and abuse, which raised a couple of hot topics of its own. Apparently due to the high level of abuse that a lot of minority groups have been receiving from specific websites, forums and social media outlets within Australia, Warren has been investigating the legalities of “outting” such individuals to various law enforcement authorities via parliament.

About two thirds of the way through the interview, I think that Warren started to suspect that as well as being a reporter, that I was also member of the Gender Diverse community. That's because what was supposed to be a short 10 minute interview quickly became a 30 minute one, as soon as he realised that we were exploring issues that were partially reflective upon my own life.  This fact really started to hit home when he stated that while he's fiercely heterosexual, he's more than willing to be whatever people need him to be, in order to help them find the level of support, acceptance and stability that they need in order to live happy and healthy lives.

As I attempted to wrap up the interview Warren then proceeded to take the reigns, so to speak, and explain his role in the creation of the LGBTI Support Fellowship within Parliament House. He then proceeded to state why he hasn't been an active supporter of the Marriage Equality legislation that's been currently placed before parliament, even though he supports the concept itself.

In a more open manner than I've ever seen any politician use, Warren stated that he believes that Marriage rights should be the last chapter of the Same Sex and Gender Diverse struggle for equality. He then proceeded to defend his position by saying that there's a lot of extremely important work that would probably be left untouched in regards to health and aged care as well as Gender Diverse rights, if the signature element of the Same Sex and Gender Diverse equal rights movement was signed off on now.

Whether you agree with Warren on that particular issue or not, it is a valid and thoroughly well thought-out reason for his refusal to support the marriage equality movement at this time, in contrast to some of the views that have been offered by some of his colleagues in Parliament. While there have been a lot of victories for same-sex attracted people over the years, these victories haven't always been extended to the gender diverse parts of the wider community.

It was at this particular time that I decided to go for broke and confirm Warren's suspicions that I'm Transgender, while dropping a question on him about rural support services, given my own personal experiences in that area. If there's one thing that I'll remember from my interview with Warren until the day I die, it's the response that he gave to that particular question.

Warren stated that during his youth, he had worked on a rural station with a cousin of one of the women that he was dating. Warren said that every weekend he'd buy this particular guy beer, as he'd go to the pub with the rest of the men, though barely have enough money to cover his expenses. Furthermore, the more this particular guy drank, the more feminine he became. During this time, Warren said that he had to defend his friend on a number of different occasions, due to the dangerous situations that they regularly found themselves in by trying to be themselves in a deeply traditional rural area.

After not seeing his former workmate for a number of months, Warren asked the parents of his girlfriend at the time what had happened to him. During this time, a young woman walked through the bar they were staying at. Instead of buying alcohol, Warren's former colleague Allanah, had been saving her money so that she could start her transition, while paying her own way through High School, University and Medical School. Warren then stated that Allanah is now a Doctor who tends to the medical needs of rural and remote communities within Far North Queensland.

 Given how toxic society and politics in general can be, it's important that we all realise that regardless of politics and ideology, there's always role-models and mentors out there that we can look to guidance, regardless of our own personal situations. From the Chief Opposition Whip to all of the members of the Parliamentary LGBTI Support Fellowship, members of the SAS and even a Doctor in Far North Queensland, there's always somebody willing to listen and offer support.

Interviews such as this also show that you should never judge a book solely by it's cover.


  1. Kate, thanks for these interviews - I value the work that you are doing in teasing out the more complex thoughts of our Parliamentarians.

    I don't agree with Entsch on civil unions, but I was so interested to hear about his relationship with the LGBTQI community.

    Well done and look forward to hearing more from you.

  2. An interesting article. Thanks.

    It is easy to doubt the credibility of some MP's because we never hear from them except as card board cut outs in the LNP shadow play. Abbott ha seemingly put his party under relatively tight discipline in towing the part line.

    But this article helps give Warren Entsch an authentic voice. I saw a report of an interview with him in the Age this morning and thought he sounded very genuine.

    I agree with Entsch that marriage equality should not the main issue for the LGBTI community. Australia already has equal rights in force through other legislation. And I doubt that in this generation marriage equality will change the image of gay people in some sections of the community.

    Generally speaking, gay people in Australia face far less discrimination than many others but I think that transgender people still have a really hard time of it.