The CT today carries a story under the headline Stanhope digs in on gay unions, which at first glance appears to show Sonic attempting a bit of “shock and awe” with the new Federal Government on the contentious issue of gay & lesbian civil unions in the ACT. The rhetoric is firey – he has “warned his federal Labor colleagues against interfering in the ACT’s business”, he will “brook no such intervention from the new Prime Minister”, and even “We will do what we need to do to have it passed” (leaving open the pleasing potential for a blockade of Parliament house by ACT-government badged Priuses, until our demands are met?).
However, a moments reflection makes one wonder at the underlying Realpolitik. Consider the following:
* This was provided to the CT, presumably by the Chief Minister’s Department, yet there was no official media release. This allows the Chief Minister more control on the way in which his comments are reported.
* It is a silly tactic to enter into negotiations, declaring that you will not be moved in your position. If you cannot move in your position, there can be no negotiation.
* Our current negotiating position is apparently the “watered down” version of the Civil Unions legislation, not the original that was first rejected by the Howard Government. Usually in a negotation, you will begin by asking for more than you think you will get, allowing yourself room to move while still getting most of what you want.
* It would politically a bad move to nail one’s colours to the mast so comprehensively on an outcome that is beyond your control. This would leave open the possibility, perhaps even the probability, of being forced into a humiliating backdown.
The logical conclusion? That a deal has already been struck – presumably prior to the Federal Election – and Federal Labor has agreed not to overturn the ACT Government’s Civil Unions legislation, provided it is passed in the current “watered down” form. Stanhope’s comments today are simply playing to the local audience, allowing him to appear to have publically stood up to the Feds and driven a hard bargain. The real negotations have already been concluded.
Note also that Stanhope’s comments have also laid the groundwork for Federal Labor to use “states rights” as the reasoning for allowing the legislation through, which will save them from having to make a comment either way on what they think about the substance of the legislation.
At the end of the day, my assessment is that we will soon have Civil Unions here in the ACT, which is certainly a good thing. In addition, the acceptance of this legislation by the Federal Government will be on a “states rights” basis, which will set a precedent of sorts and that is an even better thing.