From the Paid Parental Leave scheme that might have been a good idea at the time but is now a millstone round the PM’s neck, to the awkward and callous “shit happens” when discussing the death of an Australian soldier in Afghanistan, Abbott has consistently shown a troubling deficit in political acuity.
And now he has likened his role in defending the budget to throwing a punch in order to be best and fairest.
Yes, you read that right – our PM said that sometimes one must be the physical aggressor in order to be considered the epitome of fair sportsmanship.
Abbott was reportedly commenting at a media event on the ‘hits’ he was taking over the federal budget. He related an anecdote about a rugby match in his university days, a punch thrown to quell the dirty tactics of an opposing player, and how he was subsequently awarded a point for that punch in a newspaper’s best and fairest competition.
Abbott concluded his morality tale with the extraordinary exhortation: “The point of the story is that sometimes you’ve got to throw a punch to be the best and fairest.”
The words “appalling” and “offensive” don’t even begin to describe this conclusion, both in isolation as well as the context within which it was made.
Last month, Tom Meagher, wrote a searing piece about the pernicious culture of everyday male violence against women, which had mostly escaped his notice until the rape and murder of his wife Jill Meagher.
Having since reached the conclusion that all instances of violence against women have the same cause, that is “violent men, and the silence of non-violent men”, Meagher presented us with the confronting truth that “most rapists are normal guys, guys we might work beside or socialise with, our neighbours or even members of our family” and that “violent men are socialised by the ingrained sexism and entrenched masculinity that permeates everything from our daily interactions all the way up to our highest institutions.”
What does this have to do with a superficial media grab from the Prime Minister?
Abbott’s clumsy suggestion, even as a joke, that decking an opponent on the football field is somehow fair play, is a perfect example of the normalising of violence that Bailey is warning us about.
Considering the persistent allegation that he punched a wall beside the head of a female political adversary to intimidate her during in his university days, and contemporary accusations of him being a sexist or misogynist, Abbott should have simply known better than to introduce a violent metaphor to the debate over the budget.
It’s one thing to be resilient in the face of turbulent political times, but quite another to condone – let alone celebrate – thuggish behaviour.
How will the men and boys of Australia learn that it’s not okay to give their wife, partner or child a smack in the mouth for giving lip, when the leader of the country implies that it’s not only okay to throw a punch at a troublesome adversary but jolly well sporting of one to do so?
How will the apparent targets of Abbott’s comment – the pensioners, disabled people, students and unemployed – feel about their PM suggesting he should give them a bit of biff in return for the hard time they’re giving him?
And how will the women of Australia – of which anywhere from one-quarter to one-third will experience physical or sexual violence by a man sometime in their lives – be anything other than horrified by the example set by the Prime Minister?
Abbott’s comments may seem inconsequential, but they are in fact the height of irresponsibility and disrespect towards the women who’ve lived with or been subjected to violence by men. For us, the condoning of violence is never an amusing or trivial thing.
Meagher is now promoting the White Ribbon campaign to stop violence against women. He quotes in his essay a call to action by feminist and anti-violence educator Lee Lakeman:
“Violent men, and men in authority over violent men, and the broader public that authorises those men, are not yet shamed by the harm of coercive control over women … Maybe we can rest some hope on the growing activity of men of goodwill calling on each other to change. When that group hits a critical mass, the majority of men will be more likely to want to change.”
There is no point resting that hope in Tony Abbott. Clearly the Prime Minister remains one of those who are not yet shamed. Pinning a white ribbon to his lapel and mouthing platitudes about preventing violence against women will do nothing to reverse the destructive impact of him normalising violence to further his own political agenda.
Originally published at The Hoopla.