Media Statement: It is not books that Cumberland Council should fear – it is their own prejudice

We are aware that the Cumberland Councillors are meeting tomorrow to vote on whether they should overturn their discriminatory decision to ban Holly Duhig’s book “A Focus on Same-Sex Parents”.

The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties calls on the Cumberland Councillors to overturn their motion and publicly affirm that they will abide by their own Code of Conduct, but the values of equality, diversity, and freedom of expression. 

We also call on the Councillors to:

  1. Review the diversity of books that they have available for the public in their libraries, noting that if there is an absence of representation of LGBTQI, First Nations or Culturally, Linguistically or Diverse books or authors that they should commit to ensuring the lack of representation is rectified.
  2. Apologise to the public for their initial decision; and
  3. For the individual council members who approved such actions to undergo inclusivity training.

We also call on the State Government to strengthen current laws to provide protection against such violations of human rights, to ensure that attacks like these do not continue. 

The decision by the Cumberland City Council to have books removed from libraries is at risk of causing harm to the children of such parents, the parents themselves, and the LGBTQI+ community more generally.  It sends an unjust and cruel message that their families are so immoral, so horrible, that even learning about them is wrong. 

Rather than being subjected to such messages, and the prejudice and hate that they are like to induce, children who are brought up by loving, caring, same-sex parents and carers –as many are--should know that they have a secure and valued place in our society, and feel secure in that knowledge.  There is a right to such protection and knowledge, and a right of their families to such protection and knowledge as well.  Denying it can be harmful to the children’s development; worse, it exposes them to hate and contempt. 

As Kerrie O’Brien notes, from July to December 2023, 4349 book titles were banned across 23 states in the United States of America, on top of 3362 that were banned in the 2022-2023 year. 

Many of the bans follow lobbying by a small group of only 11 people.  There are Australians attempting the same here.  O’Brien quotes Cathie Warburton, chief executive of the Australian Library and Information Association: “We’ve had people going into libraries, grabbing books off the shelves, reading them aloud and saying, “these shouldn’t be here”, calling librarians horrible names and threatening doxing and physical violence.’ 

The Councillors in our local councils, for the defence of democracy and our right to read, have a moral obligation to support their librarians and resist such attacks.

Comments from Lydia Shelly, President, NSW Council for Civil Liberties

Only two Councillors have given their reasons to the mainstream media as to why they voted to ban the book in question—one, that the book is contrary to his religion, and the second, that the age-group for whom the book was offered is too young.  A council should not be able to prevent people from reading books because they are contrary to the religion of one of its members.  A council should not be permitted, for example, to ban the Bhagavad Gita, the Torah, the Bible or the Quran or any other religious text. 

The Councillors should have the courage to stand up for the values of equality, diversity, and freedom of expression. If they are unable to do this, then they should immediately resign. They shouldn’t hide behind cowardice by either refusing to vote or advocating to ban books on the basis of their own personal beliefs or views. It is intellectually dishonest for any elected member of government to say that they are fit for office if they cannot meaningfully contribute to combatting discrimination in all its forms. Worse still if their leadership actively contributes to a more unjust, disenfranchised, prejudiced world for all of us.

It is vital in a democratic society that we value and accept people from diverse backgrounds, cultures, beliefs and life experiences.  Children should be taught such tolerance.  Children, moreover, should know that families are diverse, some with single parents, some with children and grandparents, some with more distant relatives, some with foster parents, including LGBTQI+ people. 

It is not books that Cumberland Council should fear – it is their own prejudice.