Guest article by Gregory Storer.
Michael Danby MP has let us all know, well before the next election, that he won’t be standing again.
The member for Melbourne Ports has been in the seat since 1998. That’s twenty years.
While Danby may have enjoyed the support of his Jewish constituency, that can’t be said about other demographics within his electorate.
Letters of congratulations and thanks have been pouring in for him.
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry issued a glowing summary of Danby’s retirement, saying that it is sad news. They talk about him being a ‘fearless champion for the arts and for many human rights causes, most especially those which have not been fashionable or popular, or which have attracted the ire of powerful interests.’
They then give two examples, Danby meeting with the Dalai Lama and his ‘passionate advocacy for Israel’.
Danby’s record isn’t so wonderful when it comes to human rights. Despite his electorate being in the heart of a diverse area with not only a large Jewish population, but also a GLBTIQ cohort, he had to be dragged kicking and screaming into a supportive role for his ‘gay community’.
When the horrid knife attack at the Jewish Pride March of 2015 happened, the best he could do was like a tweet from Aleph Melbourne.
It was a pretty simple ask. However, Danby has always kept his support for all things Jewish separate from his support for the GLBTIQ community.
When it came to the election in 2010 where I stood against him in Melbourne Ports, it soon became apparent that he didn’t want to muddy the waters. He never addressed Jewish concerns or GLBITQ issues in the one media release. He ensured that his advertising was separate and had different messages for different audiences. Which in itself may not be a big issue, except that he failed to represent the views of organisations such as Aleph, barely even acknowledging their existence. His main bragging point to the Jewish voters was how much he and the then-Labor Government had spent in the community; he called it “The golden era of Labor and Jewish Schools”. Never once did he mention anything about gay rights or all the work he purported to do for the GLBTIQ community.
It’s also worth recalling his response to the horrific shooting of two young people in a gay community centre in Tel Aviv in 2009. He didn’t have one.
When he was busy crowing about how he managed to change moderation policies on crickey.com.au and newmatilda.com.au, which he described as the “Dark and Ugly Recesses of the Internet” he simply ignored a local orthodox Jewish blog that was blatantly homophobic. He took issue with Crikey and New Matilda for posting comments regarding the holocaust and talks about the anti-Semitism on their sites. He used his position to persuade them to make the changes. However, he couldn’t bring himself to address that hate blog from his own community that was almost daily pumping out the hate towards the GLBTIQ community.
The whole lack of support can be summed up with his approach to marriage equality. So while he had been busily chasing the ‘gay vote’ for years in his electorate, he didn’t support equality at all in the parliament, despite claiming he was supportive. I asked him during a candidates debate and he said that the Labor party would address the matter in the next parliament. He never did. When it did come to a vote, he abstained, he left the floor of the house. He never attended one marriage equality rally to show support. He barely acknowledged the Pride March that went past his office every year.
So, while everyone is saying how much he’ll be missed and what a great supporter of the community he has been, just remember, the man played politics with the lives of those he was supposed to be representing.
He sought the vote of the gay and the Jewish community, but made sure that he never mention it to either community.
He went out of his way to call out human rights transgressions, but never once publicly supported Aleph in their attempts to raise sexuality and gender identity issues in his electorate.
He really hasn’t been a hero of Melbourne Ports.
Even in departing, he can’t even muster a few gay people to stand with him in front of his Yes window like he did on other occasions.