I have to admit to having had a few moments of foreboding as the race for Liberal preselection in the blue-ribbon seat of Goldstein in Melbourne's bayside started to heat up. Some of those feelings were simply because the main contender, former Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson, is a friend of mine and as such I naturally wanted him to succeed.
But beyond that, and in the full knowledge that the other candidates brought their own admirable skills and character to the preselection, it gave me a sense of dread that my own party could possibly see fit, for whatever reason, to pass over as high-quality an applicant as Wilson.
There can be no doubt that we need members of parliament of Wilson's ilk. He is smart, thoughtful and articulate. Wilson is media-savvy and forthright in equal measure. He is a warrior for the classical Liberal principles of freedom of speech and worship, just as he is for the conservative values that put families and reward for individual effort at the heart of our communities and economies.
Wilson’s detractors from the left deride him as opinionated and ambitious. In reality those self-acknowledged attributes mark him as what is so often missed in modern Australian politics: a man of unflinching conviction.
"Wilson’s detractors from the left deride him as opinionated and ambitious. In reality those self-acknowledged attributes mark him as what is so often missed in modern Australian politics: a man of unflinching conviction."
Wilson is also openly gay and if successful would be, to my knowledge, only the second such Liberal MP elected to the lower house of parliament after another of my friends, Member for North Sydney Trent Zimmerman.
Wilson’s critics have loudly labelled him a “self-hating gay,” simply because he is a Liberal and ipso facto must be against everything the LGBTI community is striving to achieve. Nothing could be further from the truth. Wilson in reality, particularly in his role as Human Rights Commissioner, has been arguably the LGBTI community’s strongest advocate for equality and has done an enormous amount of unheralded work toward the achievement of marriage reform, both in public and behind closed doors.
There can be no doubt that Wilson and Zimmerman will be important players in the federal government’s path toward a decision on same-sex marriage. Given the Coalition’s commitment to proceed to an unnecessary and likely deeply divisive national plebiscite, it will fall to members like Trent and Tim, should he be elected, to rebalance the debate within the federal party room.
Plainly Wilson is up for the fight. He has not bowed to political correctness and has never stopped short of levelling criticism where it was due. He has not been afraid to call out members of the gay and lesbian community who have discriminated against religious groups. Nor did he shirk from challenging the age-appropriateness of aspects of the Safe Schools Program, more than six months before the program was in any way controversial.
So Wilson’s greatest contribution will be his conviction to be a politician for all Australians, just as Zimmerman’s will be. The newly elected Member for North Sydney acknowledged in his maiden speech to federal parliament on March 2 that he had been advised that his sexuality was not an issue he needed to reflect upon, yet he championed the end of discrimination and intolerance nonetheless. Zimmerman went on to speak passionately about our need to improve productivity and invest in the right transport infrastructure, particularly in our growing cities.
Wilson campaigned for preselection on a platform of driving reform that “simplifies and flattens tax rates,” taking responsibility for the nation’s finances, and protecting our superannuation and savings. But above all, he spoke of the freedoms and responsibilities we all have as Australians, and his commitment to protect those rights and privileges.
"Should Wilson take his place in the House of Representatives, the Liberals will have more gay members than Labor in the two chambers in Canberra."
Both these men are forging a path on the conservative side of Australian politics, notwithstanding the reality that should Wilson take his place in the House of Representatives, the Liberals will have more gay members than Labor in the two chambers in Canberra.
Along with Western Australian Senator Dean Smith, these two lower house Liberals will have a crucial role in charting our national course toward equality for all Australians. But as Wilson in particular has shown, they will also be instrumental in changing perceptions about being gay, a conservative and in politics. These men are set to prove that we are Australian, Liberal, gay. In that order.