Before I get to the substance of this post, I’d like to provide some context. I’m a former Liberal staffer. The last time I was employed as a political staffer was in 1993, and I’ve never worked for the Liberal Party since, nor am I member of any party. I do not vote, and have not done so for the past two ACT and federal elections. I will not be party to any vote that results in Tony Abbott becoming Prime Minister.
I like Julia Gillard. She is a gutsy, intelligent and compassionate woman who I consider to be a formidable role model for all Australian girls and women. But I will not vote for her party either.
I provide this background in the hope that readers will accept that I have no political axe to grind when I say that the MSM’s coverage of yesterday’s political events is more perceptive than they are being given credit for, and that there seems to be a number of people using social media who are deluding themselves as to what actually happened.
Let’s revisit the event. After asking the Prime Minister in Question Time whether she continued to have full confidence in the Speaker and, if not, what steps she would take to remove him from the position, Tony Abbott then moved a motion to remove the Speaker due to him not being fit for office.
Abbott specifically used only the content of Slipper’s texts, which are in the public domain and uncontested, to craft his accusation against Slipper. Building upon the growing sentiment in the community against misogynist views and language demonstrated by the #destroythejoint movement, Abbott painted Slipper as a man who spoke of women generally, and one female Liberal MP specifically, in derogatory terms. He argued that a person with such objectionable views about women and who clearly had a bias against at least one MP was not fit for the non-partisan office of Speaker.
Abbott accused Slipper of being unfit for office based on the texts, not Ashby’s allegations which are still before the courts. In avoiding use of the Ashby allegations, Abbott denied the Government any grounds upon which to avoid the question of Slipper’s fitness for office, particularly that of needing to follow due process.
Nevertheless, due process was the Government’s chosen shield.
In fact, the Government had little else with which to defend itself. Having invested considerable political capital, in the form of senior female ministers, to raise and maintain concerns over Tony Abbott’s problems with female voters, the Prime Minister became wedged by Abbott’s motion. Abbott’s speech drew a clear connection between the Prime Minister’s fitness for office and Slipper’s, thereby making the motion about her judgement in recruiting him to bolster the Government’s numbers.
The PM was faced with a stark choice: oppose the motion and be seen to be defending the Speaker, or support it in the knowledge that this would be seen as a concession of ill-judgement on her part. Any such concession would also cast a shadow over the PM’s judgement in related decisions such as the formation of minority government with the independents and the Greens.
So the stakes were high when Abbott moved his motion. I initially misunderstood his reason for doing so, thinking that its purpose was to remove the Speaker. In fact, the purpose of the motion was to wedge the Prime Minister into having to oppose it, defend her own judgement, and by association, that of Slipper’s too. It does not matter that Julia Gillard said not one word in defence of Slipper during her speech: Abbott expected that her opposition to the motion would be damning enough.
What Abbott did not expect was the damning words that the PM levelled at him during her speech; a speech which appears to have divided Labor supporters due to its visceral content and emotive delivery. Some voiced concern that the speech was not befitting of a Prime Minister and that it might be seen by casual political observers as an intemperate outburst.
Conversely, the PM’s speech was embraced by the people who have recently formed a front line against misogyny, chauvinism and disrespect against women in public discourse. The coincidental timeliness of the PM’s rousing words raised the spirits of those now experiencing and witnessing a withering backlash against the #destroythejoint movement.
And what of those not involved in or supportive of the DTJ campaign? It is important to look outside that bubble to really understand how yesterday’s events are being interpreted.
For those much less engaged in politics than us – and let’s accept that there are many of them – the event played out thus: Slipper sent texts that were derogatory of women and Abbott claimed a person that held such views was not fit to be Speaker. In opposing Abbott’s motion to remove the Speaker (read: defending the Speaker), the Prime Minister unleashed a tirade against Abbott recounting the many sexist views leveled against her personally, or women generally, which he had never withdrawn or denounced.
In base political terms, Abbott won the day: he wedged the Prime Minister into supporting the Speaker, and was unintentionally rewarded with Slipper’s scalp later that evening. Abbott has however set a dangerous precedent for judging an MP’s character based on their private text messages.
Perhaps the Prime Minister’s impassioned speech compelled some concerned female voters away from Tony Abbott and towards her. Maybe, if they are prepared to overlook her refusal to see Slipper’s texts as evidence that he was unfit to be Speaker. And maybe, if they are also comfortable with the PM delivering highly emotive attacks in Parliament.
Looking at it this way, it is understandable why the media may interpret yesterday’s events as being a potential setback for the Government. Sometimes we need to take a step back to see the whole picture.
I read the views of two men today that were diametrically different but strangely the same.
Both writers opined on issues of the day, and both were once considered high priests in their respective spheres. One was witheringly sanctimonious while the other was simply lecherous. One decried humanity while the other sought to excuse its depravity.
But my response to both men was the same – I concluded that they are embarrassingly out of touch with contemporary community views and perhaps even with sanity.
I don’t accept the suggestion that Bob Ellis’ appallingly misogynist piece was in fact a mirror held up to shock an Australian community desensitised by morally-bankrupt television shows and ethically-challenged paparazzi.
Nor do I accept Clive Hamilton’s denunciation of everyday Australians as an important wakeup call to those supposedly duped by shock jocks into changing their views on climate action.
I’m not going to declaim the many ways Ellis made lame excuses for voyeuristic and sexually predatory behaviour. He is more than adequately scrutinised here and here.
However it appears Hamilton’s latest sermon received much less attention. While it is not sexist like Ellis’ pontification, it is similarly disdainful if not bordering on misanthropic. And unlike Ellis, who seems only to want to put sexually-active women in their “rightful” place, Hamilton has upbraided the whole Australian community.
Hamilton denounces those who “have transformed themselves from a citizenry worried about global warming, and asking for something to be done, into an outraged mob indignant to discover that their noble desire to protect the future means they must pay a bit more for petrol and power.”
He accuses Australians of being selfish, superficial and environmental wreckers:
What do Australians want? The answer is clear. We want symbols of action but not action itself. We want to hear words that make us feel good about ourselves but none that ask us to make any sacrifice. We care about climate change, but we hate the idea of having to do anything about it.
Give us leaders, says the great Australian public, as long as they do not ask us to follow. So the public gets what it wants – hollow leaders who will go through the motions, massaging their sense of entitlement to make them feel secure.
So we may safely write the epitaph of this sad and flabby nation: “Built by resolve and stoicism; destroyed by self-indulgence and timidity.”
Both Ellis and Hamilton are out of sync with the Australian community.
As I have written elsewhere, Australians are motivated by winning, not by losing.
We are rarely motivated by guilt.
If indeed Bob Ellis was trying to shame the Australian community into facing up to its double-standards on the acceptability of certain sexual behaviours, then he failed dismally. All Ellis generated was derision and outraged rejection of his article.
Similarly, there is no point in Clive Hamilton trying to shame Australians into taking climate action. Telling us that we are the worst (per capita) climate polluters or flabby and self-indulgent will generate a reaction no less dismissive than that received by Bob Ellis.
In their different ways Ellis and Hamilton were once considered bold idealists and prophets; now they are nothing more than defrocked priests, muttering on the extreme edge of their respective congregations.
Both are out of touch and discredited. No-one should pay either of them any attention any more.