Dear Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory
Greetings. May I first commend you on your impressive title. The general rule is the more tinpot the dictatorship, the more impressive the title. And yours is right up there.
However I foremost want to write to congratulate you on your Facebook page announcement that says your territory will be banning conversion therapy. You announced this move by saying “We’re Banning Conversion Therapy.”
I like it when a politician speaks true. Usually when a politician comes on TV and says “We’re going to build a new highway”, they’re actually meaning “We’re raising taxes”. Or when they state “We’re streamlining the transport system,” they’re really saying “The Number 35 to the city that swings past the aged care facility will be reduced in service, meaning you will have to catch an Uber to the optometrist’s appointment.” So well done there.
Now since it was a spokesman who announced the move on your behalf, I have screenshot the relevant announcement, just in case, though it is colourful enough not to be missed, you may not have seen it.
Personally I think that is a good move. There is a discredited line of pseudo psychotherapy along the lines of “pray the gay away” that has done more harm than good. Most churches and other religious organisations would not go near this sort of thing, and indeed are extremely upset about its practices and claims. You are right about “dubious religious contexts” indeed. There are many orthodox Christian groups – and indeed other religions – who shun such destructive practises.
Yet this is where it starts to go off message and the gears started to grind a bit. Someone then asked you what seems to me to be the obvious question to ask: Where do you draw the line? In other words what is conversion therapy and what is not. It seems, alas, like with so many Facebook status updates, the mouth has gone off before the brain kicks into gear. So for example:
And that’s when you came across all politician again. When pressed as to whether that means sermons (most of which do not include electric shock to the genitals of the hearers, though I’m willing to be corrected on that one), you failed to provide an adequate answer. In fact, a refusal to even answer that question in any meaningful way, despite numerous follow ups to it, and points of clarification requested, meant that your answers started to sound “Number 35 to the city” all the way down. You just couldn’t bring yourself to say what you thought.
Not that your followers didn’t. They said it for you. There were ad hominem attacks, and calls of bigotry and homophobe, and talk of thousands of years of religious oppression. All of which you, as Chief Minister, let through to the ‘keeper, with nary a call for a respectful conversation. The standard you walk by is the standard you accept, and you walked by, then walked by again, then walked by some more, all without attempting to either answer the original question, or tone down the rhetoric.
Now I do realise it was a spokesman (is that term even allowed in the ACT?) that was doing the talking, but it was on your Facebook page with your name on it – Andrew Barr. I don’t know who that spokesman is. It could be a Google algorithm churning out content; it could be a clone of the great Bard himself; it could be a room full of monkeys on typewriters banging out pages of gobbledygook in the hope that they will write the next great Australian novel. But the buck stops with you Chief Minister. It’s your page.
The fact that you could not bring yourself to say that religious ceremonies that have been held for thousands of years by Muslims, Christians, Jews and many others, would be permitted to continuing teaching their ethical practises in their buildings with impunity, is disturbing. You simply made the original statement and then let others do your dirty work for you, as the good Dolores exemplifies:
That’s the point Chief Minister, where you get to intervene and call for a level of public discourse that is increasingly beyond our publicly elected officials, never mind the keyboard warriors in their bedrooms.
So all of this was disturbing my mind. So much so that I couldn’t sleep last night. Now when I can’t sleep I usually lie awake staring at the ceiling counting the possible number of commandments that the sheep of my congregation are breaking in the hours between dusk and dawn (a lot I presume, given how we love darkness rather than light).
But the fact that I could not sleep turned out to be a great blessing. As I lay there I got to thinking. And as I did that I was struck by a revelation (and by my wife’s arm as she turned over in her sleep).
Maybe this is not such a bad idea after all. In fact this could solve a lot more problems for the Australian Capital Territory than it could cause. Rather than clearly put boundaries around the definition of conversion therapy, perhaps its meaning could be extended to include anything said about sex that doesn’t line up with the progressive agenda, in any setting, anywhere. And if you can’t see where this is going, Chief Minister, think “job creation!”
Let’s face it, the ACT is something of a sheltered workshop. It has a strong tax base, a high level of public servants, and the lowest unemployment rate in the country. What I propose could result in the ACT becoming an even bigger sheltered workshop than it currently is, by creating a whole new public service wing that will entice unemployed people around the country to move there in droves, like great herds of wildebeest crossing the savannah in search of much needed sustenance.
White collar jobs could be opened up. A whole department dedicated to ensuring compliance by churches, mosques and synagogues could be developed, in which sermons and homilies and readings could be cross-checked for any hint of traditional, orthodox views on sexuality.
Surely there is an empty government department building just waiting for a re-fit, – and a lifetime’s supply of low quality coffee – in which such a program could be established. You could give it a name too. Something fun and cuddly. Perhaps the Department of Kindness, Goodness and Beauty, or KGB for short.
And right there we can see blue collar employment opportunities. That office refit won’t refit itself. It will need skilled trades. And if you’re going to do the job properly, there are heaps of small business opportunities in the area of surveillance equipment installation. Sermons can be live-streamed straight to the department, and officials could be down at the offending church before the minister even gets to say “finally”. Don’t worry, even if you only start the car when you hear that word, experience tells me you’ve got at least 20 minutes to get down there before the sermon is finished.
And what about signage and labelling opportunities for sign-writing companies? Places of worship will require signage to indicate whether they meet acceptable ACT government standards when it comes to what is being said inside. A system of stars could be established. Worship centres that sign up to the progressive understanding of sexuality could be given five stars and have those stars on display outside their buildings, as a sign that they are a government approved establishment. Worship centres that don’t comply could be given a meagre one star. One yellow star as a sign of disapproval perhaps.
Of course this signage has been done before, and it worked pretty well. If you read Vaclav Havel’s important essay on state authoritarianism, The Power of the Powerless, the former playwright/dissident turned leader of the Czech Republic, tells of the greengrocer who puts the sign in his shop window: “Workers of the world, unite!”
Now of the course the greengrocer does not believe such nonsense, and knows it is a ploy of the state. Havel’s point is that the sign’s actual purpose is to both humiliate the greengrocer, and ensure that he, even in his humiliation, confirms to the wider populace that they too, in their humiliation, are subject to a state that will police their very thoughts. It’s a social argument built on a lie, but it’s super effective in dampening dissent.
Now, Chief Minister, just before you pick up the phone to call Signs’R’Us, Havel says the sign in the window is a bad idea, a very bad idea indeed, and one that has led to all sorts of evils. But of course, as someone in politics, where the push for power is always so alluring, you have already read the entire essay at some point in your career, haven’t you? Here’s a link to the full essay to jog your very memory, just in case you’ve forgotten what it said , or haven’t bothered to read it in the first place.
Of course if you want to push this job creation agenda even further, there are always the one percenters, the elites – of which Canberra has plenty – who could be employed as agents who infiltrate the very organisations that are posing a threat to your agenda.
Whether its a would-be agent learning the Koran and how to say “Allahu Akbar” with the right intonation; or memorising the Torah and reciting the Shema in Hebrew; or even wearing 1990s style chinos and an untucked shirt in order to infiltrate the local independent evangelical church, there are jobs galore for everyone who sees this as their calling.
Now these are all just some ideas that you may wish to consider, because I do know that you want to make Canberra an even better place to live than it currently – and obviously – is. In fact the Facebook post you posted just prior to this one assures me so:
Perhaps all Canberra businesses, greengrocers included, could be forced to put this sign in their windows, just so that we know how awesome you are.
In the meantime, perhaps clarifying what you actually mean by “gay conversion therapy” might make it a place where actually diversity – the kind of diversity that lies beyond the remit of a billboard slogan – may survive and thrive.