THE same-sex marriage debate had the panel divided and furious on an emotional Q&A; featuring high school students on Monday night.

Geordie Brown turned on fellow youth panellist Lauren McGrath-Wild after she suggested the postal survey had been "the most realistic way to see great change in regards to LGBT youth and how they are perceived in Australia".

Tamworth student Geordie shot back: "Respectfully, I think your comments about the plebiscite being a good thing is absolutely ludicrous."

He continued to applause: "It is so ludicrous to suggest it's good thing. It hasn't been a respectful debate at all."

The young man said he thought the heavy media coverage had been "quite tame", since news outlets had a responsibility to keep it that way. But, he added, if you look through online responses from the public, you will find a different story.

"There is such an abundance of disrespectful and hateful comments, which truly are making the LGBTI community feel so isolated and feel so unrespected in what should be a really progressive nation," he said.

But another of the young panellists supported fellow Sydney student Lauren's point of view. "I acknowledge that the postal survey may have had negative consequences but my personal opinion is that the postal survey was necessary to ascertain public support for same-sex marriage," said Arthur Lim, of Moorebank High School.

 

Lauren McGrath-Wild said she thought tax havens were plain wrong.
Lauren McGrath-Wild said she thought tax havens were plain wrong.

 

'MY MUM HAS VOTED AGAINST ME'

The final young panellist, Nadia Homem, was on Geordie's side, however. In fact, it was the Burwood Girls High School student who brought up the same-sex marriage topic, in answer to a question on whether lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) young people should receive education relevant to their identity.

"They absolutely should," she said. "That $122 million that went into that postal vote, that nobody even wanted in the first place, that should have gone to at least funding mental health programs for the LGBTI youth or into same-sex education.

"It astounds me $122 million went into this divisive and intolerant plebiscite. And the same sector of education is being denied to LBGT youth. The mental health of LGBT youth has gone down drastically since the plebiscite came out."

She said the vote had "created a national platform to debate and pull apart and dissect the relationships of same-sex couples as though they're not human".

"That's demoralising," she added.

Geordie agreed: "It is their job, whether it be about values or normal legislation, at the end of the day, we the Australian people elected them to represent our views."

Education Minister Simon Birmingham said he hoped for a Yes vote, which would be a "public affirmation of support" for LGBT people.

"I appreciate many people don't like the process that may have come to this, but if it is a strong Yes vote, then the type of positive affirmation is something I hope people will find very affirming as they look to the future and indeed it will be a positive endorsement of the change that will then ensue in relation to our marriage laws," he said.

Shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek said she was concerned "the same people who brought the postal vote on as a way of delaying or preventing marriage equality now want to fiddle with the legislation" and drag it out until after Christmas.

She echoed the students' concerns: "We know calls to support services have increased very dramatically. A lot of people are reporting psychological distress. And one of the reasons is even people who have been out for years, who are very comfortable with their own sexuality, are saying, 'My mum has voted against me. My best friend or my sister have voted against me and my family have surprised me by not supporting my human rights'. Pushing that conflict into families never needed to happen."

Shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek said she was concerned some people would try to delay same-sex marriage legislation further, even if it is a Yes vote.
Shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek said she was concerned some people would try to delay same-sex marriage legislation further, even if it is a Yes vote.

'YOU WEREN'T ELECTED TO PLAY THE BLAME GAME'

The panel were divided on many other issues, notably education, which began with a squabble between the two grown-ups.

As Mr Birmingham discussed public and private school funding under the Coalition government, Ms Plibersek interjected several times to point out that some private schools were getting large cash injections.

Finally, when she said his system was not needs-based, the education minister cracked. "That is the fourth time you've interrupted me," he snapped, to the audience's gasps.

"You can't make it up," Ms Plibersek answered.

But as host Tony Jones tried to make the peace, Geordie seized the moment. "I want to put this in perspective for you because I'm from a rural and remote area," the Oxley High School student told Mr Birmingham. "I go to a school which has to put really strict conditions on each faculty based on how much paper they can print out of a printer because we don't have enough funding to print resources on paper.

"It's not acceptable from my point of view, it's not acceptable for you to sit there and to say something like, 'if Labor were in government we'd be in this situation', because at the end of the day the Australian public elected you as the government and you are in a responsible position now to fix these problems, but instead all you're doing is saying, 'if we had Labor in, this would be the case'. You weren't elected to play the blame game."

Lauren McGrath-Wild said she thought tax havens were plain wrong.
Lauren McGrath-Wild said she thought tax havens were plain wrong.

'IT'S ON THE DARK SIDE OF LEGALITY'

The students were aghast over the Paradise Papers offshore tax haven leak, with the secret dealings of the world's wealthiest people proving one of the few points on which they agreed.

"It's absolutely unjust, it's unethical and unacceptable, the fact the rich are living by one rule and everybody else is living by another," Nadia said. "The average taxpayer will ultimately have to end up compensating for this loss in tax and that is in [and] of itself absolutely unacceptable. That money could be going to fund hospitals, it could be going to fund education programs and mental health programs."

Jones brought in Lauren: "It may not be illegal. It's on the dark side of legality. But a lot of rich people have buried their money in these tax havens. What do you think?"

The Presbyterian Ladies' College student was unequivocal: "I think it's wrong. And I think when we have a look at actually one of the examples that was brought up today, one of them was Glencore and they're a mining company that mine in Australia ... and then they have subsidiaries in countries like the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. They then make a transfer there and avoid all the tax to Australia. They push the money to countries where there happens to be little to no tax and this is completely wrong."

Arthur agreed, adding that the law needed to be clearer on what was tax avoidance, which is unethical but not illegal, and what is illegal tax evasion. "If we make the distinction a lot clearer, everyone will feel that they, that the big companies, are paying their fair share of tax. If governments can say what you're doing here is not right, it's beyond unethical, it's illegal," he said.

Jones then asked him what would happen if, considering the subjects he was studying, he ended up in the tax world and was asked to help a rich client minimise a tax bill.

Arthur's answer came fast. "I don't plan on working in the tax world ... I'd like to enter a field where I am confident that the work that I do is transparent, ethical and I'm not doing it to the detriment of other people. I think the tax minimisation strategies used by businesses, I think it falls almost on the dark side. The issue is, yes, it's legal, but there is so much negative publicity around it that I feel it's not worth my time being there."



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