But having said that, we don’t think it’s a form of discrimination to recognise that historically, culturally and for most people in this country still, religiously, marriage is an institution uniquely between a man and a woman.

George Brandis Lateline 19 November 2010

There is something in the argument that cultural differences don’t necessarily mean discrimination; but it does raise a question. If attitudes to same sex marriage are just a question of cultural attitudes, why did the Coalition legislate against it in 2004?

One reason was that it was precisely because cultural attitudes to marriage were changing anyway, which was why the Howard government had to put in the amendment that marriage was between a man and a woman that wasn’t thought necessary in the original 1961 Marriage Act. But the real reason was political, as usual. This was another of Howard’s “cultural wars”, trying in a feeble imitation of the Bush administration to set up a wedge issue for the left.

As a political initiative it was a flop, largely because in Australia, the left still preferred to bang its head against the internal walls of Labor’s factional system and their moves to allow same sex marriages were routinely defeated by the ALP Right at Conference. Even during the reign of Rudd, same sex marriages was the one ball that the now defunct factional system could still kick around in its tired game of football. Although Rudd, having taken over the faction system unto himself, felt confident enough to promise the left that they would be close to getting their wish in the second Rudd term, which never came. In the meantime, however, Rudd pretty well drained most of the legal content out of the different definition of marriage with the removal of a 80+ discrimination measures, something that the post-culture war Coalition fully went along with at the time.

How times have changed. The left are now beginning to prefer to bang their head on Labor’s walls from without rather than within and so we have a Green motion to ask the electorate’s opinion on the issue, that has been so toned down to suit Labor sensitivities that it make Gillard’s “citizen assembly” on climate change look positively like policy.

Meanwhile, culture wars are back in vogue on the right, encouraged by the Abbott ascendancy and the June coup, and the old cultural warriors have saddled up once again and come riding out on their moral high horses to do battle. The problem this time is that they voted away the content of their opposition just two years ago, and with opinion polls suggesting a clear majority in favour, and only a third against, they can’t call on that either. What to do?

Well there is always the final fall-back for the right-wing cultural warrior, the supposed views of the male working class that Howard so well tapped into, although not enough for them to actually vote for him. With the deep understanding of working class pubs that only Coalition Senators possess, Ron Boswell has called for Labor MPs to go forth and try and argue the case there. A few things on this. Firstly it would be highly unlikely that most would give a stuff and if they did, it would hardly be at the top of concerns. What Coalition Senators never understand is that whatever the attitudes to different lifestyles there may be in the public, there is a very big difference between that and worrying about the decline of institutions in the way that so frets the cultural warriors.

But finally, so what if they are against it? The majority of voters aren’t, so what’s the deal? Of course what Boswell is trying to do is a repeat of what Howard did, namely claim that Labor is losing touch with its base. But Labor’s ties aren’t eroding because they are pursuing social issues that don’t concern most of their base, they are losing touch because they have nothing to say about the issues that do.

But the Coalition’s hardly taking Labor’s place. The electoral fallacy behind the cultural wars was wonderfully summed up in a neat piece of electoral analysis by Mumbles. If the Coalition’s electoral success was reliant on its ability to tap into those real voters in the outer suburban and semi-regional voters, as right-wing cultural warriors like Henderson, and their Labor admirers like Howes, would claim, then we would have only had two Coalition wins in the last thirty years. Historically the Coalition has been on the nose with these voters (although admittedly still very strong with those truly real voters in the rural areas). While Howard was doing his best to annoy the effete inner city types, inner metropolitan areas did favour Labor more during the Howard years, but are now just as likely to sip their lattés in Labor’s direction as their less sophisticated suburban cousins.

Despite the lack of an electoral payoff, the Coalition’s eagerness for a cultural war should not be surprising – even if it might be to some journos for whom the Victorian Liberals’ decision to preference Labor ahead of the Greens on Saturday was a ‘bombshell’ – as though Howard arguing for it just a few days before meant nothing. If electoral concerns were more important than asserting values, the Liberals would never have put Abbott in to lead them in the first place.

But if the Liberals’ reaction to the issue is not really a surprise, Labor’s reaction is more interesting. Political journalists have been falling over themselves to give us their opinions on same-sex marriages (like anyone cares), but it’s a shame they didn’t do their job and look at the really interesting political question of all of this, which Annabel Crabb has at least highlighted even if no one else has explained: why is the man arguably most responsible for organising Labor’s opposition to same sex marriage, Right party boss, Mark Arbib, now supporting it?

The interesting thing is not so much the change in view, but the way that this internal party hack is pursuing this agenda not through Conference and the normal factional channels that his lot control, but through the media. It’s the same for that other party hack, Paul Howes, who was happily organising Rudd’s fall behind closed doors, but now since 23 June, he is everywhere.

It’s almost as though having won back the right to revive that sparkling internal party debate in the ALP, so ruthlessly crushed by the Merciless Ming, they now don’t seem terribly interested in it. In fact, you almost get the feeling that the exquisite joy of stitching up a resolution on conference floor doesn’t quite have the same appeal as seeing your face on the telly.

The irony is that just when Abbott called them the “faceless men”, they are proving to be anything but. Of course, those faceless men referred to the Labor party bosses on the Federal Executive in Callwell’s day who didn’t mind being faceless because they wielded the real power behind the scenes. Maybe these days being on chat shows is meant to fill the gap.

It’s been especially amusing to see Paul Howes, clearly unused to the type of public debate he is now getting into, appearing everywhere but with nothing much to say other than Labor members’ right to say it, and noticeably touchy to any criticisms, especially from anonymous bloggers. Here’s a little insight; when media celebs attack anonymous bloggers, they are really just attacking the opinions of those out in the ordinary public who don’t have access to the media because, no matter how much some bloggers like to preen themselves, that is all they are. If Howes is annoyed at what one anonymous member of the public is saying about Joe Tripodi, he’s going to be horrified at what all those thousands of nameless NSW voters will do next March when they go to the polls and give their verdict on Tripodi, and all of his and Howes’s crony NSW Right mates, and the system they have lived off for all of these years.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Tuesday, 23 November 2010.

Filed under State of the parties

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Comments

6 responses to “Burnt out cultural warriors meet burnt out faction bosses”

  1. Riccardo on 23rd November 2010 9:07 am

    Love the post! Yes, I suspect the Marriage Act was not the vanguard of a new conservative revolution; but the opposite, the last redoubt of conservatives on the issue before changing social mores swamped the conservative idea of marriage completely.

    I can’t believe the Abbotts and Abetzes of the world don’t see Catholic Spain, Latin America, numerous other places passing gay marriage laws and wonder whether the Catholic Church is able to muster any resistance at all now.

    So you have the Catholic wing of the Libs depending on a faux evangelical (imported from the US) campaign in their place. Rouse the pentecostals if you can’t get the catholics to fight.

    While it’s true Gay Marriage is not going to change a vote towards the left, it is equally unlikely to move votes to the right either.

  2. Tweets that mention Burnt out cultural warriors meet burnt out faction bosses :The Piping Shrike -- Topsy.com on 23rd November 2010 2:23 pm

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  3. Graeme on 23rd November 2010 10:43 pm

    It’s not as if there aren’t some bedrock Labor/Labour issues to focus on eg:http://www.theage.com.au/national/unions-threaten-national-strike-over-equal-pay-20101122-1845n.html

  4. Graeme on 23rd November 2010 10:44 pm
  5. Andrew on 24th November 2010 8:58 am

    “…trying in a feeble imitation of the Bush administration to set up a wedge issue for the left”

    I think you meant a feeble imitation of the Menzies administration setting up a wedge.

    I couldn’t continue reading the article after this glaring misunderstanding of Howard’s origins.

  6. The Piping Shrike on 24th November 2010 9:11 am

    Don’t think poor old Bob knew what was even going on. Looks more Bush-esque to me.

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