There’s more than four months until the federal election, and Australia is floating is its own sea of semi-truths and outright lies, snide remarks and blatant insults, minor put-downs and major attempts to undermine the Government…and much of this gutter behaviour is treated as both factual and newsworthy by the media, and digested whole by the electorate.
We’re not just tolerating it; we have allowed it to become the dominant tone in our national dialogue.
We all know that my political preference is left of centre, so this may be biased: it looks as though the majority of bad behaviour is coming from the right. In the interests of fairness, please let me know if you have examples from the other side of the aisle to rival some of these and I'll happily post them.
I’d only been on Twitter a matter of weeks in 2010 when I received some harsh threats from Sydney political hopeful, Mark Sharma, simply because challenged his beliefs and his stereotypes with facts. Mr Sharma has stood as a conservative independent in several state and federal elections, without success. I'm thankful for his failures though; he also failed to carry through on his threats to finish me off.
Twitter’s political enemy of choice at the moment is a particularly unpleasant chap who tweets under the name of @GregJessop1. His stream of hateful tweets were so offensive that his Twitter account has been suspended. He describes himself in his Twitter biography as being “Anti-refugee, anti-communist, and proud LNP supporter”. There’s no question of where his loyalties lie, and unfortunately, no sign of intervention from the LNP either.
It doesn’t have to be weeks and months of deeply offensive tweets, from the usual suspects at #auspol, or a rapid-fire barrage of threats such as I received from Mark Sharma. Common decency can exist in simply thinking about the words you’re using and how they could be taken.
Last night on twitter, Robert Simeon, a Liberal Party supporter and real estate agent, tweeted to Dr Craig Emerson:
“Australians have a plan for Gillard and Swan. It’s called extermination.”Dr Emerson challenged Mr Simeon on the use of the word “extermination”. It’s a loaded word, associated with Nazis and Daleks, and Mr Simeon has since apologised for his poor choice of words. I’d like to know why he thought it was okay to use it in the first place. Apologies are rare on social media.
Dr Mark Roberts has also apologised. Dr Roberts, who was Tony Abbott’s senior policy director was overheard at a Qantas function making chilling threats against the head of an Indigenous NFP. Tony Abbott must’ve known what happened, but chose to deny it to media. Then, when he couldn’t deny it any further, he excused the behaviour as a “booze-fuelled rant” – as if that makes it any less deplorable. Finally, he had to act, so he slapped Doctor Roberts on the wrist and demoted him. That’s all – a demotion.
Someone needs to remind Mr Abbott that when a member of staff shouts and threatens someone – anyone – it is bullying. If it occurs at a function while the staffer is representing his boss or his department, it is workplace bullying. Every workplace that I can think of has a zero tolerance to workplace bullying. Had Dr Roberts been an employee at my workplace, he’d be experiencing now what it’s like to be a recipient of welfare.
Alan Jones should be in the Centrelink queue too. The way he speaks about the Prime Minister and her government is entirely inappropriate, and the existence of the Destroy the Joint movement proves it. It was Alan Jones who arranged convoys of buses to take his faithfully deluded listeners to Anti Carbon Tax rallies in Canberra to brandish signs with “Ditch the Bitch” written in childish letters. It was Alan Jones who popularised the insult “Ju-Liar”, and it was Alan Jones who suggested that our Prime Minister should be shoved in a chaff bag and dumped at sea. Fortunately for him, his status as an entertainer and commentator give him some protection from the expectation of decency. Commentators from the left simply don’t bring that same level of malice to their work.
Far far worse than Alan Jones is former Katter’s Australia Party serial pest Bernard Gaynor. He seems to believe that his righteous Catholicism gives him some kind of permission to belittle people who offend his beliefs. On April 30, after a string of anti-gay tweets, he offered this gem:
“The prancing pansy parade processing down Oxford Street for gay marriage can thank Henry VIII for starting their cause.”His colleague in the KAP is Steve Smith, who tweeted his agreement:
“Yep. His liberal church was founded on divorce. Now they have gay bishops. Next they’ll be baptizing animals”Disregarding the complete lack of both facts and sanity in these tweets, the tone is similar. They could have made their point without resorting to scorn, yet Mr Gaynor and Mr Smith chose the option most likely to cause offence. The conversation also caused a fair amount of laughing on Twitter, so it got what it deserved.
In Newcastle, former newsreader John Church will be standing as a Liberal in the seat of Shortland at this year’s election. I wonder what convinced him that it was a good idea to place a campaign sticker on his Anzac Day tribute this year? It’s months since he launched his campaign, he has the Liberal Party campaign office to maximise his already high name recognition and he doesn’t need stunts to get his head on the television. A campaign sticker at an Anzac Day ceremony is poor form.
Meanwhile at the conservative Menzies Institute, Toby Ralph challenges the notion that the rich should contribute more to society because they can, and because the impoverished have nothing to contribute.
“Is it fair that those who have underwritten our national prosperity should now stump up even more? I think not, and have a more equitable policy alternative that Government might consider. Kill the poor.”
Of course Mr Ralph is using the concept of killing off the poorer classes to illustrate that there might be other options, maybe eveb a better solution to this disastrous burden of being the strongest economy in the world under a flag few non-Australians could recognise. Lop off the last couple of paragraphs of his article and it reads like a genuine suggestion. Poor people – in fact the bottom 80% of earners - are a drain on the economy, and therefore, dispensable, worthless.
And there’s the continual parade of fuzzy half-truths and misleading slogans from the politicians on the right. Yesterday, for example, Queensland’s Premier Campbell Newman tweeted:
“the only cuts to health in qld are Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan’s”In fact, the Premier Newman’s government cut 4,140 jobs out of Queensland health last year.
Few would believe that tweet from the Queensland Premier, but an alarming number of conservative voters still believe that seeking asylum and arriving without documentation by boat is a crime. The truth is that seeking asylum is not illegal, arriving by boat is not illegal and arriving by boat without documentation is not illegal if you are seeking asylum. The Liberal Party pollies must know this, yet they persist in using this untruth as a dog whistle, on advertisements, leaflets and billboards.
The other huge area of conflict is the state of the Australian economy. Listen to the Government and the ratings agencies and they’ll tell you that Australia is in great shape. Compare Australia to other developed countries across a range of measures, and we are indeed the lucky country. Listen to Tony Abbott, and we have the kind of economy that dominates the sunnier states in Europe.
In September 2011, Wayne Swan was named Treasurer of the year by Euromoney magazine, in large part because he steered the economy safely around the GFC. Of course, the Opposition had to poopoo the award because we have a small deficit. Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey even said that
“The real recipient of this award should be Peter Costello, who laid the groundwork for Wayne Swan”.Mr Hockey needs reminding that Peter Costello AC had eleven years as treasurer in which to collect a swag of international awards and he won exactly none. He also had eleven years in which to steer Australia to a Triple A rating from all three ratings agencies. That didn’t happen either.
Right now, it’s easy to listen to the headlines and accept that the ALP Government has made a mess of the economy. The numbers that should be going up – revenue from the MRRT, for example – are failing to deliver, and the promised surplus is looking pretty silly.
Just this morning, Sydney Liberal MP Alex Hawke was pimping his IPA article in which he questions Australia's ability to afford PPL and suggests that we may be heading the same way as Cyprus, Greece, Spain and Italy. He tweeted
@JuliaGillard and @WayneSwan have so badly managed the budget, it is time to reconsider unnecessary and expensive proposals.Mr Hawke, reconsidering unnecessary and expensive proposals should always be considered, and discarded, but the suggestion that Australia’s economy has been mismanaged is incorrect. As for the economy being poorly managed, I suggest Mr Hawke take that up with the ratings agencies, or any of the millions of unemployed people in Spain.
Even if the asylum seekers were illegal and the economy was in sinking like Gilligan in the quick-sand episode, we’d still be left as virtually the only place in the world where a climate change debate continues, despite the weight of science. Casting doubt on climate change allows space for doubt about the Carbon Tax. So apparently, it’s okay to allow a political agenda to determine whether science is to be believed.
In any case, just take a moment to imagine how different Australia might be in 2013 if Tony Abbott's suggestion of a 'gentler polity' had been part of his Gospel truth. Consider how different Australian politics might be if the Leader of the Opposition had only one kind of Truth. That would be the decent thing, wouldn't it?