Lessons of the past, hopes for the future

The new deputy prime minister Michael McCormack has distanced himself from a series of newspaper editorials published in the 1990s in which he advocated for the death penalty, proudly claimed a homophobic identity and ridiculed women’s sport.

McCormack, a professional journalist, was the editor of Wagga Wagga’s Daily Advertiser from 1992 to 2001. Since entering politics in 2010, McCormack has apologised for a column he wrote in May 1992, where he said it was “unfortunate” that “gays are here to stay”.

In editorials from 1993, however, McCormack argued against laws that would have opposed gay hate, and backed his initial column against “sordid homosexuality”. Despite immediately receiving dozens of complaints from readers and gay rights groups, his next column was titled: “I’m not sorry, why should I be?”

In the lead-up to Sydney’s successful 2000 Olympics bid, McCormack also wrote that women’s soccer “trivialised” the Games. In another editorial he called for the return of caning in high schools, saying “there is nothing wrong, in my opinion, with students … being given a ‘stinging reminder’ about how to conduct themselves”.

Last month the deputy prime minister said none of these articles reflected his current views. “Editorial views expressed more than 25 years ago in no way reflect how my views and community views have changed since publication,” McCormack said. “As people get older and start families, and grow as members of their community it is completely reasonable their views change over time.”

It’s right to allow space for conversions of heart and mind – and to celebrate inclusion wherever it is expressed. In 2017 a once homophobic newspaper editor voted in parliament for marriage equality. What a story! People can change!

It’s also right that ignorant commentary from a person of considerable influence be revisited, especially in light of new national leadership. It’s crucial that the interests of people hurt most by macho and heterosexist comments are pre-eminent. The Sydney Mardi Gras holds a cultural space for lamentation (countless lives damaged and cut short by homophobic violence) as well as celebration (resilience and nobility of the human spirit). We can all do more – through our words and actions for justice, equality and compassion – to support the most vulnerable. To be advocates; to bear witness.

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