Wednesday, 10 October 2012
If the last grisly month of politics has shown anything, it is that these days the left is much better at launching personal attacks than the right. The decay of the progressive social movements of the 1960s and 1970s into the current realm of the personal with its victims, the easily offended and enforcers of politically correct etiquette, provide a far more conducive platform from which to launch personal attacks than the right’s out-dated social mores.
However, what this month has also shown, especially yesterday, is that while political correctness provides a good base from which to personally attack another, it’s a lousy one for restoring one’s own authority.
It has been entirely fitting that the two most important political events in the media in the last month occurred in student politics. The self-absorption of student politics, especially in Australia, where it tends to be detached from the student body, let alone the rest of society, is not only the perfect training ground for future politicians but a suitable forum for today’s politicians as well.
It all kicked of with David Marr’s Quarterly Essay on Abbott. Marr was reportedly surprised at the way his latest round of psycho-babble posing as political analysis took off. Yet if he had focussed on actually looking at the political situation today, rather than wasting his time trying to second-guess Abbott’s psychological make-up, he shouldn’t have been surprised at all. It plopped perfectly into the stew cooked up by the current government that knows however unpopular it may be, they have one thing going for it, the unpopularity of Tony Abbott.
This can cover up a lot. Take one low in a month full of them, Barrie Cassidy’s interview with the Attorney General on Sunday. Here is the first law officer in the land who has just been handed down a judgement that is the biggest blow to the way national security is used to justify the toughness of Australia’s immigration laws since the Haneef affair. Yet instead, the interview spent more time on how rude Tony Abbott was to her by swearing to her and turning his back on her while she is talking in Parliament (as has every other opposition leader on their swivel chair).
Barrie Cassidy’s interview reflects the way the media uncritically thinks that personal relations between Roxon and Tony Abbott could possibly be of interest to anyone else. But it is hardly the media leading this. It is the political class that is in the driving seat. It is not just in the way that the government prefers to focus on the personal attribute of Abbott and his behaviour, but the way on so many important issues these days the differences between both sides simply melt away.
Abbott and Roxon may differ fiercely over whether he is a misogynist, but on the issue as to whether ASIO has the right to force indefinite detention without even letting the detainee know why, there is perfect harmony. As Roxon said, both parties will be working together to make arguably the toughest immigration laws even tougher still, without even the partial political disagreement that accompanied the Haneef affair.
What we are seeing here is a continuation of the trend from the Haneef affair, and the previous ruling on the Malaysian solution: the increasing challenge by the judiciary on the political class’s wide-ranging discretion powers enshrined in the Migration Act. The response by the political class is an increasingly unanimous one – to reassert their discretionary powers. In the middle of this tussle between the judiciary and an insecure political class, of course, is the fate of hapless asylum seekers but that hardly matters here. It is not even about getting votes, although presumably Roxon avoided Labor’s boycott on Alan Jones so at least she can go on there and assure him and his listeners that the job is still being done.
But we went even further down yesterday. It’s quite clear what the opposition was trying to do. After dragging poor old Margaret out to join in the fray, the Coalition was going to use the text messages of Slipper to try and deflect the government’s charge against Tony Abbott of sexism. There were no other principles involved and, to protect the Speaker and its majority, Labor had no principle to defend. So instead Gillard used the occasion to raise the level of personal attack against Abbott.
Jones’s nasty over-reach was to be expected from a culture war bore whose over-inflated sense of own importance is shared by others, ignoring his spectacular failure to mobilise any sign of it. Gillard had received praise for not responding to his comments (even if she presumably OK’ed her ministers to do so) but this rule was broken yesterday. Abbott’s bizarrely tactless use of “died of shame” was an opportunity to directly do what government ministers had been trying to do all week, link him to Jones’s words and make a full frontal charge of misogyny.
Sexism’s social impact is easy to see. Despite the fabulousness of having a female Governor-general, Prime Minster and now Speaker, there is still a gender pay gap of around 17% that has barely moved in 20 years. Arguably its sharpest point is with single mothers where social expectations of women’s role in child-rearing collide with lesser opportunities in the workplace to ensure that single mothers, making up almost 90% of lone parents, are one of the most disadvantaged sections of the community.
How delightful is the timing then that on the very day that Gillard was complaining about sexism against her, her government was passing legislation that targets single mothers in what is likely to be the start of wide-ranging assault on welfare benefits. As Howard side-kick Arthur Sinodinos noted in the Senate, this marks the picking-up of the Welfare to Work reforms started under Howard but without even the grand-fathering benefits of Howard’s attack. Again this time there is total agreement compared to Labor’s opposition to Howard’s changes. It marks an historical change in the relationship between society and the state that has been around since before the 1930s, especially significant for the party most associated with it. Nevertheless, it is wonderful to see such bipartisanship at work in our Parliament behind the personal attacks.
Finally, what seems to have been also missed is that attacks on Abbott’s sexism may put him on the defensive but it hardly does much good to the women making them. Listening to an Attorney General complaining of someone being rude to her makes her look pathetic. For Gillard the impact is even worse. Gillard’s gender isn’t under attack, her authority is; sexism is just one of many tools to do it. Her authority problems stem from being put in by Labor power brokers with no agenda other than a faux Howard parody that assumes everyone listens to 2GB. It was an attempt to “relate” to the electorate that led her to target asylum seekers from day one and loll around for the Women’s Weekly in a way that hardly added to authority. Similarly turning herself into an offended victim of misogyny may put Abbott on the defensive, and thrill a media that gets off on personal argy-bargy, but it hardly restores her authority either. But then, given what she is doing with it, who really gives a damn?
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 10 October 2012.Filed under Political figures