Whatever your opinion of the ALP’s decision to scuttle the plebiscite on same-sex marriage, it leaves voters with one uncomfortable truth.
Australia has become a nation of inaction on many of the social, economic and environmental issues which define our time.
That is not to say the ALP should have supported the plebiscite. That’s a matter for them to decide. But Australia now faces a period of uncertainty about when – or if – same-sex couples will be granted the right to marry which is in strict counterpoint to many of its international counterparts.
There is a pattern here.
Whether it is renewable energy, refugees or marriage equality, Australia continues to struggle with the questions that comparable nations have settled. Even a socially conservative nation like the United States has a right to same-sex marriage.
Australia likes to think of itself as a progressive place. Ask Australians to list comparable nations around the world and they’ll likely answer Canada, New Zealand, the US, England, the Netherlands and Ireland.
In economic terms we are comparable. We share similar social values. But when it comes to issues like same-sex marriage, Australia is in a completely different conversation.
Those aforementioned countries allow same-sex couples to marry, but Australia does not. That’s despite 21 countries legalising same-sex marriage since 2001.
These include Belgium, South Africa, Sweden, France, Brazil and Denmark.
But it’s not only the issue of same-sex marriage which shows that Australia may not be the thoroughly contemporary nation we imagine it to be.
On other major social issues, Australia more closely aligns with Asian neighbours like Pakistan than it does Canada. Yet Pakistan’s history, place in the world and circumstances are profoundly different to Australia’s.
Take energy production, perhaps one of the most vital services for any nation.
As the problem of climate change grows, Canada powers itself using 63 per cent renewable energy and 18 per cent nuclear energy, while Australia has 14 per cent of its power generated from a renewable source.
That’s a level much closer to Pakistan, which aimed to have 15 per cent of its power come from a renewable source by 2015.
Other nations around the 15 per cent level include Syria, Bulgaria, Egypt, Haiti, Indonesia, Russia and Senegal.
Same-sex marriage is also not allowed in Pakistan.
On cutting carbon emissions, Australia has pledged to reduce emissions to 26-28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030. Australia is trying to achieve that by paying big polluters to implement carbon emission cutting schemes.
Meantime, three Canadian provinces have carbon prices in place or are on their way to having one, because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made it compulsory.
Pakistan, like Australia, does not place a price on carbon emissions.
Here are some other ways Australia is more like Pakistan than it is Canada:
Australia has led the world on social issues before. We were the second country to give women the vote in 1902.
The Howard government was fearless in enshrining strict gun control laws in 1996 following the horrid Port Arthur massacre, where 35 people were slain.
And we haven’t lost our voice in the world either. Former prime minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop have been fearless in standing up to Russia over the MH17 disaster.
When Australia wants to achieve something – like justice for the MH17 victims – our leaders rightly speak up. And they are heard.
That kind of direct advocacy and passion are missing at present on matters like same-sex marriage, among many others.