KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

2014 columns, Politics

Abbott and Brandis’ culture war backfires

by David Donaldson , March 31, 2014Leave a comment

Tony Abbott

 

What is supposed to happen in a culture war is that conservatives use a controversial issue to drive a ‘wedge’ through the left, forcing a split between factions. In Australia, this usually means pitting Catholic unionists against their socially liberal colleagues in the Labor party. Favourite topics include abortion, gay marriage and refugees.

But the Abbott government’s latest attempt at wedge politics has backfired, instead causing disquiet within Coalition ranks.

The clearest example of this is the debate about racism started by Attorney General George Brandis’ quest to repeal section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act. Senator Brandis’ poorly considered remark that ‘people do have a right to be bigots’ not only induced the expected flurry of outrage from the left, but appears to have gotten some Liberals offside, too.

The most visible Liberal condemnation came from NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell, who told the media that ‘bigotry should never be sanctioned, whether intentionally or unintentionally. […]There’s no place for inciting hatred within our Australia society.’

It’s not unusual for a state premier to contradict an unpopular federal government on its own team to make sure voters know the difference between the premier and the PM, but it’s still a bad look – especially so early in the life of the Abbott government.

Victorian Liberal Multicultural Affairs Minister Matthew Guy also rebuked the repeal draft – though in less forthright terms – stating he was ‘concerned there may be some harmful and unintended impacts upon our community should the exposure draft as it stands be enacted.’

But perhaps most concerning for Senator Brandis is the fact that three members of Federal cabinet saw fit to feed Fairfax anonymous comments lampooning his original draft. One minister commented, with a sprinkling of metaphorical flair, that ‘George has really drunk the right-wing Kool-Aid.’ Others said the original draft had been ‘terrible’ and ‘much worse’ than the version eventually released – hardly a resounding reflection on even the final, cabinet-approved product.

Then there was Abbott’s bizarre decision to revive the ‘knights and dames’ honours system, apparently without consulting cabinet. Some speculated that this was aimed at wedging Bill Shorten by conferring the honour upon his mother-in-law, Quentin Bryce, but this was ignored as the Opposition responded with straight-up mockery of the government.

Abbott has done well over the past couple of years at shaking off his stuffy, 1950s ‘Anglosphere’ reputation, so it seems strange that he would choose to embrace such a relic of the imperial past. Many will see this as evidence the ‘old’ Abbott never really went away, but was merely locked in the attic for the election campaign.

Renowned republican and alternative Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull couldn’t help but employ a touch of gentle mockery in his attempts to support his leader’s policy, joking that there were many ‘distinguished republics’, including Peru and Guatemala, which maintain honours systems.

Even former PM John Howard thought the move was ‘somewhat anachronistic.’ If a monarchist and Liberal hero like John Winston reckons you’re out of date, chances are a fair chunk of Australia will agree.

Instead of wedging the Opposition, Abbott and Brandis’ recent efforts have led to ridicule in the media and discomfort among their colleagues. They’d better come up with a better strategy if they want to be taken seriously as twenty-first century conservatives rather than out-of-touch bumblers clinging to the past.

David Donaldson is a Master of International Relations graduate who lives in Melbourne. He tweets @davidadonaldson.

ACO logo




9780733633782

Kill Your Darlings

What We’re Reading: Readings staff share their July picks

Looking for a book recommendation? Staff from Readings bookshop share what they’ve been reading this month. Read more »

lead_960

James Tierney

I Call The Shots: The provocation of violent women

In a Western culture increasingly stripped of its old taboos, violent acts by women – real and imagined – still possess the genuine power to shock. Cultural representations of violent women can both affirm and react against the kind of pernicious questioning that posits women as fundamentally, and fatally, reactive. Read more »

9781925106510

Oliver Mol

July First Book Club: Read an excerpt from Oliver Mol’s Lion Attack!

At the Kill Your Darlings First Book Club event in July, Oliver Mol will discuss his debut memoir, Lion Attack!. Read an extract from this funny, energetic and original coming-of-age story, which interweaves stories from Oliver’s childhood in Texas and his young adulthood in Melbourne. Read more »

abortion

Rebecca Shaw

Choice Without Stigma: Dismantling the abortion taboo

Abortion is still illegal in the criminal code in Queensland – even in this, the Year of Our Beyoncé 2015. While women are unlikely to face practical obstacles to abortion due to the law, it can still cause isolation and unnecessary fear, and creates a stigma around the act. Read more »

17177200132_2383e88c36_k

Rebecca Shaw

Rage Against the Marriage: The inanity of same sex marriage debate in Australia

I am someone who is completely comfortable in my sexuality, and who classifies myself as the genus Lesbionisos. I am 100% certain that I am not abnormal, an abomination, or in any way inferior to heterosexual people. Sometimes I even secretly think non-heterosexuals might be superior. But I haven’t always been this assured. Read more »

clouds-of-sila-maria-1

Rebecca Shaw

The curse of the ‘gal pals’

As a well-known humourless, angry, hairy arm-pitted, feminist lesbian, I encounter daily issues that I can place on a scale from things that mildly irritate me all the way to things that completely offend me. Read more »

Zombies

Michelle Roger

It’s All Just Preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse

‘She’s just another Walking Dead hanger-on,’ I hear you say. Well, yes, I am partial to a bit of walker action. And yes, I may have entertained the odd erotic daydream about a crossbow carrying, scraggy-bearded redneck – but this is not where my zombie obsession began. Come gather around people. Hear my obsessive zombie-loving origin story. Read more »

tom-cruise-jack-reacher-premiere-postponed

Chris Somerville

A lit match in a box of wet dynamite: Tom Cruise is Jack Reacher

I first watched Jack Reacher a few years ago, in a spate of insomnia. The plot is a confused mess, both needlessly intricate and incredibly simple. I’m not going to go into it, mainly because I don’t actually know why the people in this movie do anything. Read more »

Partisan

Joanna Di Mattia

To experience the world with blinkers on: Ariel Kleiman’s Partisan

Partisan beautifully evokes that complex space between childhood and adulthood, when we start to question the worldview we have inherited – when we begin to see the world through our own eyes. It is both a coming-of-age story, and an innocence-coming-undone story. Read more »

3ab01d05-2590-4aa4-80f4-45fab0eccec4-2060x1236

Anwen Crawford

Heart of Darkness: UnREAL‘s ruthless reality

Everlasting, the show-within-a-show at the dark centre of new American television series UnREAL, is a fantasy blend of champagne cocktails, pool parties and true love. Everlasting is a Bachelor-style game show in which a dozen immaculately groomed women compete for a handsome millionaire husband, and its relationship to real life is, like any ‘reality’ show, non-existent. Nothing goes to air on Everlasting that has not been scripted, staged, and edited for maximum controversy. Read more »

Zombies

Michelle Roger

It’s All Just Preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse

‘She’s just another Walking Dead hanger-on,’ I hear you say. Well, yes, I am partial to a bit of walker action. And yes, I may have entertained the odd erotic daydream about a crossbow carrying, scraggy-bearded redneck – but this is not where my zombie obsession began. Come gather around people. Hear my obsessive zombie-loving origin story. Read more »

OITNB2

Anwen Crawford

Still in Prison: The limitations of Orange is the New Black

No, I haven’t binge-watched the entire new season of Orange Is The New Black in one sleepless, bleary-eyed frenzy. This season, the show’s third, doesn’t lend itself to that kind of viewing. The pace is slower, the cliff-hangers missing. Read more »

ss_8df8236403f5aad45eeedd33d2bd545e45435b39.1920x1080

Katie Williams

The More Things Change: Choice and consequence in Life is Strange

You can either be a benevolent hero or a monster, but few games deal with the multitudes contained by actual people. And what does it matter, anyway? There’s no such thing as regret when it comes to in-game decision-making – not when you can so easily restart the game to see what outcome will result from choosing Option B instead. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

Keith - photo Shane Reid

Jane Howard

Local Courage, Global Reach: The National Play Festival

There is something to be gained from observing any collection of works in close proximity, and in these readings you could see the way Australian playwrights are reaching out into the world. Together, these works show the minds of our playwrights in robust health, with works that are itching to find their audience. Read more »

2015GISELLE_Artists of The Australian Ballet. PhotoJeffBusby

Jane Howard

The Beautiful and the Dated: Australian Ballet’s Giselle

The weight of history sits heavily on the Australian Ballet’s Giselle. One of the most enduringly popular ballets from the romantic period, there is much to delight in its presence on stage and its lasting lineage. But 175 years after its debut, in a production that premiered 30 years ago, the sheen of Giselle has been dulled. Read more »

CrawlMeBlood_20150607_261_LoRes copy

Jane Howard

Adhocracy: Lifting the curtain on the creative process

Every June long weekend I wrap myself up in several extra layers and make my way to the Waterside Worker’s Hall in Port Adelaide for Adhocracy, Vitalstatistix’s annual hothouse that brings together artists from around the country for a weekend of creative development. Read more »