A wresearch breakthrough could mean the restoration and repair of reefs around the world, including our own Great Barrier Reef–and it all relies on hot, steamy, coral sex.

The project, led by Southern Cross University’s Professor Peter Harrison, has been working in the Philippines, in an area of reef highly degraded by blast fishing.

“Degradation and loss of coral reefs around the world is among the most obvious examples of the damage humans have done to our planet. Our research shows that some reefs can be repaired,” Professor Harrison said.

Professor Harrison’s team grows millions of coral larvae in tanks, and then delivers them onto the reefs in large underwater mesh tents. The research partnership backed by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the results have been incredible.

“This research is globally significant. It’s important for the reef areas we’re working on in the Philippines, but also important to the future of other damaged coral reefs including the Great Barrier Reef,” Prof Harrison said.

“What we have proven is that microscopic coral larvae can settle and grow as colonies to the size of dinner plates within three years, and be able to sexually reproduce at this early age. This is the first study anywhere in the world that has successfully re-established a breeding coral population from coral larvae settling directly on the reef, and proves that we can start to restore damaged and degraded reefs,” he said.

Professor Harrison stressed that protection of our reefs should be our highest priority.

“Being able to start to repair and restore reefs at small scales is good, but the best possible way to protect and preserve our reef environments is not to harm them in the first place,” he said.

ACIAR’s General Manager of Country Programs, Dr Peter Horne, said that ACIAR’s support for scientific research like the coral seeding project was vital.

“ACIAR does a lot of excellent work in a lot of places around the world. In my view, it’s important that we keep taking on these sorts of research projects; challenging scientific ideas that, if they’re able to be successfully applied, can yield gigantic benefits.

“The way that Australian scientists have been able to partner with the University of the Philippines and their expert marine scientists is typical of so much of the work ACIAR is involved in.

“We’re really excited to be able to support and fund this project, and we’re very proud of the work Peter and his team have been doing.”

Media release written in conjunction with ACIAR.

Media contact: Jessica Huxley, Southern Cross University media officer, 07 5589 3024 or 0417 288 794.

High-resolution images available on request.

For further information, please contact:
Communications and Publications
Southern Cross University
PO Box 157 • Lismore NSW 2480 • Australia
T +61 2 6620 3508e • Follow us @
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SCU respects our environment. Please be green… and read from the screen.


Former Liberal minister Philip Ruddock returns to politics as mayor in Sydney’s north

Counting is continuing after Saturday’s vote to elect 46 New South Wales councils

Former Liberal minister Philip Ruddock has been elected mayor of the Sydney suburb of Hornsby.
 Former Liberal minister Philip Ruddock has been elected mayor of the Sydney suburb of Hornsby. Photograph: Mike Bowers for the Guardian

Former federal government minister Philip Ruddock will return to politics as mayor of a northern Sydney council after NSW’s local government elections.

Millions went to the polls on Saturday to elect 46 councils and, while final results are almost a week away, many mayors have already taken to social media to claim victory.

Ruddock, Australia’s second-longest serving federal politician, came out of retirement on a Liberal ticket to snatch the mayorship of Hornsby by a convincing margin.

He secured 48.44% of the vote with all the formal votes counted on Saturday evening, eclipsing the second-placed candidate by almost three times as many votes.

“I’ve come back into [politics] with a very clear focus,” Ruddock said.

“Hornsby Shire is not known as bushland shire for no reason. We’re between major national parks. We have a particular heritage which is important for Sydney. I often make the point we are the city’s lungs. You need to maintain them. There are a whole range of development issues which people will be looking to voice concerns on.”

In Newcastle, Labor candidate Nuatali Nelmes was re-elected with 43.86% by the time all formal votes were counted.

The race tightened in Wollongong, however, with Gordon Bradbery leading David Brown by only a few thousand votes. It was still too close to call on Saturday night.

About 2.8 million people were enrolled to vote in the 46 council areas which went to the polls, the first council elections since the state government walked away from its controversial amalgamations plan.


Local sports clubs in the Coffs Harbour electorate are being invited to apply for grants of up to $20,000, with Member for Coffs Harbour, Andrew Fraser, saying the focus this year is encouraging more talented girls and young women into sport programs.

“Around half of all Australian boys are active through a sports club during their childhood compared with just 33 per cent of girls, and the participation rate for girls drops sharply after girls turn 12,” Mr Fraser said.

“I encourage all local clubs and sporting organisations to use this opportunity to boost their female programs and events, because we want to see girls not only take to the field, but stay on the field.”

Thousands of local clubs across the State are now eligible to apply for funding under the NSW Government’s Local Sport Grant Program. The grants will cover initiatives such as new sport programs, upgrades to facilities or projects that improve participation in sport.

Minister for Sport, Stuart Ayres said the program is part of a $10 million sport grants package announced by the NSW Government.

“Women’s sport is the fastest growing area of many codes and we are now seeing more big name sponsors and media networks recognising the public’s appetite for prime time viewing,  but more needs to be done, including cultivating participation at a grass roots level,” Mr Ayres said

“From the bush to the city, sport is the lifeblood that unites communities. This is not just about female programs though, I encourage all sporting groups to apply for grants that will help people of all ages and abilities get involved in their local club or become more active.”

Grants are now open until 6 October 2017. For more information visit or phone 13 13 02


The phoney war on same-sex marriage is over, and the real contest starts    now.

The High Court has spoken and the plebiscite  will go ahead.

From next week, voters will start receiving their survey papers.  (We should not call them ballot papers, since the process is explicitly a survey not a vote.)

The “yes” and” no” campaigns will now get into their stride. Let us hope that, as all Australians deserve, those campaigns can be carried on with respect and restraint.

The Turnbull Government will be mighty relieved at its victory, even though it is as thin as tissue-paper.

Although the Plebiscite or rather survey, is entirely unnecessary in law, it has become vital in politics. Not the politics of the country but the internal politics of the Coalition, which remains deeply divided on the issue.

It is a devastating commentary on the current state of the  nation that this exercise, for which taxpayers  must shell out $122 million, has had to be conducted  solely in order to convince the governing parties’ recalcitrants  to back a measure that Australians, according to opinion polls, already overwhelmingly endorse.

It is an equally devastating commentary that the survey has no legal force.

A majority vote  for or against same sex  marriage binds no one.  If ”yes’ wins and MPs who oppose same-sex marriage find their  consciences as inflexible as ever they can vote against change.

 If “no” wins,  and the Government loses the next election, an incoming Labor government could simply change the Marriage Act with a majority vote in both houses of Parliament.

To pile absurdity onto costly absurdity, as we have reported, the government was preparing, if it lost yesterday in the High Court, to go ahead with the plebiscite anyway by other, undisclosed, means.

Never has an essentially meaningless vote apparently mattered so much.

Even so, a loss yesterday would have made an already struggling government look impotent and incompetent, tripped up by constitutional details, and unable to manage the processes of governing which means, in this case, the internal squabbles of the Coalition.

For Mr Turnbull, who is looking more and more bedraggled as the roll of negative opinion surveys grows longer, the win is a lifeline. He will be voting “yes”, encouraging others to vote “yes”, but stopping short of “campaigning” for the cause – those tricky Coalition politics contriving yet again to make him look something less than a leader. Rather paradoxically, the decision will also give heart to those in the government who oppose same-sex marriage. Their spoiling tactic is still on foot, an d they can hope to make inroads into support for change.

But that the High Court has declared the plebiscite legal and constitutional does not make it right.

Let us hope this flawed, optional, unscientific postal survey sets no precedent as a mechanism for governments.

If it has value, and that is debatable, it is that a majority for the “yes” campaign may persuade those who take a conservative view of marriage that the future has arrived: times have decisively changed, and they will have to accept that the assumptions behind the “no” campaign are no longer shared by the mainstream.

Given that marriage is a central institution in our society – as it is in all societies – that might be something positive to salvage from this absurd episode.



air raid in the Arhab area near Sana’a, the capital of Yemen
 Red Crescent workers at the site of an air raid in the Arhab area near Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, last week. Photograph: Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images

Aquick quiz. No Googling, no conferring, but off the top of your head: what is currently the world’s worst humanitarian disaster? If you nominated storm Harvey and the flooding of Houston, Texas, then don’t be too hard on yourself. Media coverage of that disaster has been intense, and the pictures dramatic. You’d be forgiven for thinking that this supposedly once-in-a-thousand-years calamity – now happening with alarming frequency, thanks to climate change – was the most devastating event on the planet.

As it happens, Harvey has killed an estimated 44 Texans and forced some 32,000 into shelters since it struck, a week ago. That is a catastrophe for every one of those individuals, of course. Still, those figures look small alongside the havoc wreaked by flooding across southern Asia during the very same period. In the past few days, more than 1,200 people have been killed, and the lives of some 40 million others turned upside down, by torrential rain in northern India, southern Nepal, northern Bangladesh and southern Pakistan.

That there is a disparity in the global attention paid to these two natural disasters is hardly a novelty. It’s as old as the news itself, expressed in one, perhaps apocryphal Fleet Street maxim like a law of physics: “One dead in Putney equals 10 dead in Paris equals 100 dead in Turkey equals 1,000 dead in India equals 10,000 dead in China.”

Most of this amounts to a pretty basic form of racism to which, lord knows, the media are far from immune. Perhaps Eurocentrism would be more accurate. But whatever term you favour, it surely represents the most fundamental form of discrimination one can imagine: deeming the lives of one group of people to be worth less than those of another – worth less coverage, less attention, less sympathy, less sorrow.

Still, blaming the media is the easy option here. It allows everyone else to assume that, left to their own devices, they would be perfectly equitable in their distribution of empathy. But many western consumers of news would be more truthful if they admitted that images of a submerged US city do indeed strike them with greater force than images of a drowning Nepalese one, for a variety of reasons. Perhaps because the American city looks more like their own, or at least more familiar, thanks to films and television. Or simply because havoc in the US is more surprising than natural disaster in, say, India or Bangladesh – developing nations where extreme suffering and regular beatings from the elements have come to seem like part of the terrain.

A tiger killed by floods in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam.
 A tiger killed by floods in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam. Photograph: Uttam Saikia/AP

The media deserve to be attacked for the discrimination they have shown this week. But if those attacks are predicated on a presumption that were it not for all those wicked editors, the audiences they serve would be full of universal fraternity and undifferentiated, boundless compassion, then they are built on shaky foundations.

But I’ve not yet given an answer to my quiz question. Full marks if you put your hand up to say … Yemen. In July the UN determined that it was “the world’s largest humanitarian crisis”. If you think it’s hard to get westerners interested in flood victims in Nepal, just try talking about Yemen.

The scale of the suffering in the Arab world’s poorest country is clear. Since it became the site of a proxy war in March 2015, 10,000 people have been killed, with 7 million made homeless. The UN is especially anxious about cholera, which has already killed 2,000 people and infected more than 540,000. It threatens to become an epidemic. That’s no surprise, given that sewage plants have been among the infrastructure bombed from the sky. The Saudi-led coalition has kept Sana’a airport closed, which means food and medicines cannot get in and the sick cannot get out for treatment. Pictures of gaunt children, listless babies and starving mothers recall the worst of Africa’s famines – but this disaster is entirely human-made.

Nor is this a remote story utterly unconnected to us. On the contrary, the Saudi government is armed to the hilt with weapons supplied by the UK and the US: £3.3bn worth of British firepower in the first year of this vicious war alone. And yet Yemen has barely registered in the western consciousness, let alone stirred the western conscience.

Of course, there are all the usual factors explaining public indifference to horrible events far, far away. But there is one that is relatively new. Before 2003, whenever word came of some distant catastrophe that posed no threat to our own safety, a discussion soon followed on what “we” should do about it. The two sides would take up their positions: the “something must be done” brigade pitted against those who argued that, however awful things were, it was none of our business and we would only make matters worse. Sometimes the latter camp would prevail – think of Douglas Hurd and mid-1990s Bosnia; sometimes, the former: witness Tony Blair and Kosovo.

After Iraq, that changed. Thanks to the invasion, as well as the bloodshed and mayhem in Afghanistan and Libya, the argument is now settled – and the non-interventionists won. The test case is Syria, where Bashar al-Assad has killed hundreds of thousands of his own people – more than Saddam ever did – and yet has been allowed to retain his throne untroubled by outside challenge.

If there has been little western public appetite for action to shield Syria’s people from their dictator, there’s less to protect the people of Yemen. There’s not much interest even in pressuring London and Washington to stop arming the Saudi regime that is responsible for the country’s torment, despite the warnings that Yemen risks becoming the next Syria: its soil soaked in blood, rendered fertile for the next generation of violent jihadists.

This is not the place to re-litigate all the old arguments for and against intervention. (In the Yemen case, there is already western intervention – on the side of those doing most of the killing.) But it is worth noting one consequence of this shift: it’s as if, now that we know that we will do nothing about these distant tragedies, we have lost interest in them altogether. If we are not going to act, then why bother knowing about them?

The result is that the children of Yemen are dying cruel deaths, while the rest of the world ignores them. They are not drowning in Texas or Mumbai. They are dying under a hot desert sun, killed by our allies – and by our inattention.

 Jonathan Freedland is a Guardian columnist


Documents that emerged this week offer insight into Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, legal experts say

Robert Mueller departs Capitol Hill following a closed-door meeting in Washington.
 Robert Mueller departs Capitol Hill following a closed-door meeting in Washington. He reportedly possesses a draft letter explaining Trump’s rationale for firing James Comey. Photograph: Andrew Harnik/AP

Two of the most intriguing questions in US national political discourse – what does the special counsel Robert Mueller have on Donald Trump, and what more is he looking for? – were filled in at a remarkable pace this week, as details of highly sensitive documents and internal Trump Organization emails became public for the first time.

Taken together, the documents could indicate that the special counsel is looking seriously at whether Trump committed an obstruction of justice on potentially various fronts, legal experts say.

Certain additional documents whose existence was revealed for the first time – meeting notes taken by the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and a letter of intent reportedly signed by Trump to build a tower in Moscow – seemed to undercut previous statements by the president, his son and others about relationships now under the scrutiny of Mueller’s team.

Mueller is charged with investigating alleged ties between the Trump presidential campaign and Russian operatives, and he is believed to be examining the past financial relationships of Trump, Manafort and others.


The Wall Street Journal revealed this week that Trump lawyers had submitted memos to Mueller arguing that the president did not obstruct justice by firing the former FBI director James Comey. Those memos were probably not written in a vacuum, said Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor and legal commentator.

 “One important implication that you can draw from the fact that they sent the memo is that they believe that Mueller is seriously looking at obstruction,” Mariotti said. “They would not send that memo otherwise.”

In any obstruction of justice case against Trump, Mueller might also review reports from this week that Trump had directly contacted the chairman of the Senate judiciary committee after it was announced that Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr, was scheduled to speak with the committee, said Mariotti.

Mueller might additionally review this week’s report that before pardoning the Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, Trump asked the US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, whether it would be possible to drop federal criminal charges against Arpaio.

“I think that all goes into the same bucket of things that could be used by Mueller if he’s looking at obstruction of justice,” said Mariotti.

Draft letter

The documents were still flowing on Friday afternoon, with a New York Timesreport that Mueller was in possession of a draft letter explaining Trump’s rationale for firing Comey. The draft was reportedly written by Trump and an aide, Stephen Miller, but rejected by the White House counsel, on unknown grounds.

Trump has said he fired Comey while experiencing frustration at the FBI investigation of his campaign’s alleged Russia ties and at Comey’s refusal to publicly exculpate Trump. The firing ironically hastened the appointment of a special counsel, under whom the investigation has expanded.

Former US attorneys judged the draft letter and its possession by Mueller as significant. “Logical assumption: If WH Counsel wouldn’t let him send it, [Trump] had improper if not illegal motives for firing FBI Director Comey,” wrote Joyce Vance, a former federal prosecutor in Birmingham, Alabama, and now a University of Alabama law professor.

“Hard to assess significance without knowing the actual contents of the draft firing letter and why WH counsel vetoed it. But can’t be good,” wrote Preet Bharara, the former US attorney for the southern district of New York and now a professor at New York University’s law school.

 Ryan Goodman, a former special counsel at the defense department, tweeted that a “big implication” of the draft letter’s existence was that Miller, the aide who helped Trump draft the letter, is “perhaps implicated in conspiracy to obstruct justice”.

Other documents revealed a changing narrative in Trump campaign contacts with Russian agents. The Washington Post reported Monday that during the campaign, Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen wrote an email to an aide to Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, asking for help with a real estate deal.

It was further revealed that early on in the presidential campaign, Trump signed a non-binding letter of intent to build a tower in Moscow, Cohen confirmed in a statement to ABC News. Trump claimed during the campaign that he “knows nothing about Russia” and had “no loans” and “no deals” there.

In a separate incident, Manafort took notes, since obtained by Mueller, about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower arranged by Trump Jr, who expressed eagerness to receive damaging information about Hillary Clinton, NBC News reported on Friday.

Manafort’s notes reportedly referred to political contributions and to the “RNC”, or Republican National Committee. The president personally dictated a statement released by Trump Jr saying the meeting “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children”, the Washington Post reported in July.

The details of any Trump deal or debt with a Russian connection, if any exist, are not publicly known – but yet another headline this week indicated that Mueller may have gained insight on the subject. According to a Daily Beast report on Thursday, the special counsel has enlisted the help of agents from the criminal investigation unit of the Internal Revenue Service.

“I think he got everybody’s tax returns,” said Mariotti, now a defense attorney at Thompson Coburn in Chicago. “I have no professional, personal knowledge of it, but when you’re looking at someone for something unrelated to taxes, still to get tax return information is very valuable information that tells you a lot of valuable things: who owes them money, who they owe money to, and where they keep their money.”



Donald Trump Is Leading a ‘Cult of Toxic White Masculinity’ that May Well Destroy Our Institutions and Endanger Our Safety

By Don Hazen, Kali Holloway, AlterNet

Writer Chauncey DeVega believes Trump’s base has fallen hard for an abusive tyrant whose damage we’ll be undoing for years. READ MORE»


More Than 4,000 Black People Were Lynched in the South. Where Are Their Monuments?

By Jessica Wang,

A new video from Equal Justice Initiative argues we need more memorials devoted to remembering racial violence. READ MORE»


Donald Trump Is Starting a Republican Civil War—and It’s a War He Can’t Win

By Jeremy Binckes, Salon

A growing number of Republican senators, says a GOP strategist, are ready to tell Trump, “Go f**k yourself.” READ MORE»

Planes, Trains or Automobiles: What’s the Most Carbon-Efficient Way to Travel?

By Reynard Loki, AlterNet

Reduce your carbon footprint by using public or shared transport, and walking or biking for short trips. READ MORE»


National Weather Service: Hurricane Harvey Is ‘Beyond Anything Experienced’

By Taylor Link, Salon

The National Weather Service issued an alarming statement Sunday unheard of from a federal agency. READ MORE»


How Men Recover From War

By Jefferson Morley, AlterNet

A photographer and a Marine confront their demons in “Shooting Ghosts.”  READ MORE»


How Teaching ‘Grit’ Is Making the US a More Authoritarian Nation

By Nicholas Tampio, Aeon

Democracy requires active citizens who think for themselves and challenge authority. READ MORE»


Impeaching Trump Is America’s Favorite Solution: Poll

By Tom O’Connor, Newsweek

The stats are in and we the people want him out. READ MORE»


Plastic Water Bottles for Our National Parks. No Bikeshare Station at the White House: For Trump, No Obama-Era Environmental Innovation Is Too Small to Obliterate

By Lorraine Chow, EcoWatch

Hard to know what is next as the hyper-petty Trump stomps on many good things. READ MORE»


Steve Bannon Is Back at Breitbart—But Can His Page of Rage Survive an Ad Boycott?

By Dominic Rushe, The Guardian

A campaign for companies to pull their ads has seen revenues fall dramatically—but the right-wing news site can still call on wealthy backers for support. READ MORE»


Why Tourists Go to Sites Associated with Death and Suffering

By Daniel B. Bitran B. Bitran , The Conversation

“Dark tourism” is going to locations that are associated with human suffering and death—in the past or present. READ MORE»


Collaboration: Be Careful Who You Work With

By Linda Sherr,

At a time when precise language has gone missing from the White House, how best to describe those Republicans still loyal to President Trump? READ MORE»


Rebuilding Our Country Should Boost Good Jobs, Not Privatization Schemes

By Roxana Tynan, The Huffington Post

Don’t leave our critical roads and bridges in the hands of giant corporations.  READ MORE»


Trump May End DACA Program Which Protects Undocumented Immigrant Children Brought to theU.S.

By Chris Sosa, AlterNet

DACA exists to protect children—called Dreamers—from having their lives ripped apart through deportation. READ MORE»


Colorado Adolescents Did Not Increase Marijuana Use in the Year After Retail Sales

By Sheila P. Vakharia, AlterNet

With less risk of criminal justice involvement, it turns out the kids are alright.  READ MORE»


Tony Abbott leaves the chamber during question time
BY Jeff  Sparrow
 ‘Marriage will become the Lost Cause of the Australian Right: something that conservative politicians and pundits mutter darkly about, without any real hope of changing.’ Photograph: Mike Bowers for the Guardian

Though he devised his plebiscite scheme to trap equal marriage advocates, Tony Abbott unwittingly created a snare for the Liberal party, one that’s wrapped them in impossible tangles.

With every poll showing public support for reform, a cannier conservative might have quietly passed the necessary legislation, thus taking the subject off the table.

Instead, as I argued back in 2016, by committing the Liberals to a popular vote, Abbott placed his disagreement with the majority of Australians right in the centre of public debate.

Already, Malcolm Turnbull’s version of the plebiscite has unleashed an extraordinary tide of sentiment.

A few random examples:

For young Australians in particular, opposition to marriage reform just seems bizarre, a weird legacy of a prejudice they’ve never endorsed.

And now they’re voting.

The Australian Electoral Commission has revealed that 90,000 new voters – most of them young – have registered since the poll was announced, a number it calls “extraordinary”.

Something like a million Australians have either updated their details or enrolled for the first time – and, once they’re on the roll, they’re legally obliged to participate in future elections.

Not surprisingly, some Liberal party insiders are already aghast about what their leaders have done.

“You’re motivating a group of people, the large portion of them young, who are naturally going to vote against you at the next election,” a worried strategist told Buzzfeed’s Mark Di Stefano. “It’s just not smart.”

Unlike, say, Labor’s Penny Wong (who voted to ban same-sex marriage and spoke against equality as late as 2010), Turnbull’s always publicly endorsed reform.

But after pushing through his weird postal plebiscite, he can’t campaign for a yes vote with any passion, not least because he couldn’t appear at rallies without being booed. While Bill Shorten’s team rushes to associate itself with the yes campaign, Turnbull must spend most of his time defending a shonky process that pleases no one.

Not surprisingly, the poll has widened the already deep divisions within the Coalition.

Turnbull is openly at odds with Abbott, who has gleefully positioned himself as the unofficial leader of the nos.

The Herald Sun’s James Campbell recently reported that the Australian Christian Lobby, Marriage Alliance, the Catholic archdiocese of Sydney, the Anglican diocese of Sydney and other conservative groups have begun sharing databases as they campaign together as the Coalition for Marriage.

Campbell thinks the coalition could be the beginning of that mythical beast, a rightwing alternative to GetUp.

But there’s a big problem with that idea: namely, opposition to same-sex rights has become a fringe preoccupation.

Look at Tony Abbott’s own career

In the Quarterly Essay entitled Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott, David Marr describes the young Abbott launching himself into Sydney University politics by attacking gay students for “perversion”.

Publicly identifying himself “an infrequently practising heterosexual and drunkard” (truly!), Abbott opposed the legalisation of homosexuality. His friends remember the way he baited lesbians during political arguments.

But that, of course, was a different time, an era in which prejudice could be taken for granted.

If Abbott repeated today the language he used when he was promoting the Heterosexual Solidarity Society (yep, seriously), his parliamentary career would be over.

Years of struggle against prejudice have shifted the parameters of public discourse so that most Australians now see the kind of “jokes” in which Abbott once specialised as hateful.

 On Thursday, radio host Kyle Sandilands labelled as a “homophobe” a talkback caller who said that same-sex couples shouldn’t raise children.

Now, the man’s rhetoric was far less offensive than that employed by the young Tony Abbott – but Sandilands (in a clip shared a million times) still denounced him as a “fuckwit”, “cockhead” and “wanker”.

With even shockjocks calling out homophobes, it’s not surprising that, as Abbott urged a no vote, he felt compelled to add, “I’m not saying that there is anything inferior about a relationship between a man and a man or a woman and a woman.”

His evolution (he was once opposing legalisation of homosexuality; he now acknowledges homosexual relationships as not “inferior”) hints at the fragility of the anti-reform alliance.

That’s why, contrary to Campbell’s claim, the Coalition for Marriage doesn’t provide any real foundation for a broader conservative movement.

Whatever the Catholic or the Anglican archdioceses say, the vast majority of religious believers (like the vast majority of Australians) support same-sex marriage – and have done so for a long time.

So here’s the paradox

The best outcome for the Liberals, given the pickle they’re in, would be for the high court to strike down the plebiscite process.

If that happens – if the postal vote’s derailed – the life will go out of the grassroots activism and marriage reform will stall until the next election.

Barring some huge upset, Labor will win power and then, presumably, amend the Marriage Act.

Under those circumstances, the Liberal right and the ACL will continue pretending they represent mainstream Australia. They’ll bluster about lawyers interfering with the democratic process; they’ll imply that the no campaign would have won.

Marriage will become the Lost Cause of the Australian Right: something that conservative politicians and pundits mutter darkly about, without any real hope of changing.

If, on the other hand, the postal survey goes ahead, the Liberals are cooked, whatever the result.

The campaign for the postal vote will initiate thousands of people into participatory politics. In schools, in universities and in workplaces, they’ll campaign for a yes vote – with almost every institution or organisation that matters to young people already urging reform.

They’ll march on the street; they’ll hand out leaflets; they’ll go to marriage equality events.

The campaign itself will highlight the difference between the pro- and anti-equality forces.

Does anyone really think that Lyle Shelton and his allies on the religious right could, for instance, have organised an event comparable to the rally in Melbourne on Saturday: a huge assembly, joyous and young and angry?

If the yes case wins, a generation will know they played a role in reshaping the country – and they did so in opposition to the Liberal party.

That’s not something you easily forget.

Even if the yes case loses, participants will (rightly) blame the trickiness of the postal vote for frustrating the majority sentiment identified in every reputable survey – and they’ll be more determined than ever to get the Liberals out.

Either way, we might well be on the cusp of a significant new anti-Liberal constituency, one that will affect Australian politics for years to come.

  • Jeff Sparrow is a Guardian Australia columnist