An ACT Liberal politician has used a parliamentary debate on inclusion to lament the lack of government support for heterosexual, white men.
Mark Parton said white males, aged over 30, who held down a job were “not really included in anything”.
“I always find it fascinating that we focus on all of these groups that we’re not going to leave behind,” he told the ACT Legislative Assembly.
“But if you are a heterosexual, employed, white male over the age of 30 you’re not really included in anything.”
Mr Parton pointed to high suicide rates among men, particularly in the 30-to-54 age group as the reason for his concerns.
“I know that those on the other side would say that heterosexual, employed, Anglo males have opportunities aplenty so we don’t need to look after them, they’ll be OK,” he said.
“When we commit to inclusion, we shouldn’t be picking favourites, we should be including everyone.”
The private motion, which was brought on by Labor MLA Tara Cheyne, noted government funding to promote the inclusion of women, gay and lesbian Canberrans, refugees, Indigenous Australians and vulnerable people.
It applauded programs like A Gender Agenda and the ACT’s Safe Schools program.
Responding to Mr Parton’s comments outside the Assembly, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said in 2017 he would have hoped to have “moved beyond those sorts of accusations”.
“I think if you ask anyone who isn’t a heterosexual, white male, they would feel that over most of their time, decisions have been made by heterosexual, white males for them,” he said.
“The people of Canberra … in last year’s election elected Australia’s first majority-female Parliament and also elected men who weren’t heterosexual.
“[That] probably tells you something about where this community views that kind of argument.”
‘Foolish, daft and offensive’
Director of the women’s equality foundation 50/50 by 2030, Virginia Haussegger, said Mr Parton’s comments were “foolish” and “offensive to all those not part of that privileged class”.
“As Mr Parton is aware, our federal Parliament is overwhelmingly run by white, heterosexual men aged over 30, who hold the majority of power, influence and key decision-making roles,” she said.
“They dominate among state premiers and chief ministers, across all three defence forces, our judiciary, academia, local government [and] across all religious denominations.
“White men aged over 30 rule the majority of Australia’s publicly listed companies, they overwhelmingly control the boards, our financial institutions and our banks and operate in workplace environments that severely lack gender and ethnic diversity.
“What’s more, they get paid more than women to do it.”
Ms Haussegger said if Mr Parton was concerned about suicide rates among men there were better ways to draw attention to the issue.
“To suggest heterosexual, white, employed men aged over 30 are somehow missing out on attention or inclusion is not only daft, it is damaging to the gender equity project and has a heavy whiff of backlash about it,” she said.
“If Mr Parton is suggesting that a particular cohort of men is struggling with mental health issues, as a result of missing out on attention, then perhaps it would be best to invite serious discussion about that important issue, rather than take a swipe at minority and disadvantaged groups who are in need of focused funding initiatives.”
‘I want freedom from religion’: Chief Minister
Mr Barr used his speech on social inclusion in the assembly to call for the right of freedom from religion to be included in the debate over same-sex marriage.
Concerns about eroding freedom of religion have formed part of the No campaign against same-sex marriage, but Mr Barr said he believed he should not be forced to abide by religious values in his own life.
“I want freedom from religion … others want freedom of religion and I respect that too,” he said.
“I don’t need other people to impose their views on my life, my relationships, my family and anything to do with how I conduct myself.”
Mr Barr, the first openly gay state or territory leader, has pledged ACT Government funds to encourage Canberrans to support the Yes vote.