Despite the best efforts of the major parties to keep the election campaign devoid of content, a few issues have finally surfaced. And one of these has brought to light some very ugly people, with very ugly views about their fellow citizens.
I'm talking about this:
Like a cancerous growth, the flyers displayed above have sprouted in marginal electorates across Australia. Shamelessly depicting distressed looking children alongside an emotive cry for 'mum and dad,' the flyers trade in the basest kind of public discourse imaginable; the language of fear and hatred.
The frankness of the homophobia on display is shocking. The message from these flyers is unmistakable in any way; gay people are abnormal and their abnormality corrupts children. The collapse of society follows shortly afterwards.
The second of the flyers above is the work of Jim McCormack, a long standing member of the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) and the Australian Family Association (AFA). Contacted by The Age newspaper regarding his work, Mr McCormack was unapologetic about distributing printed material designed to encourage discrimination. He explained that he stood by his ads and had acted out of concern 'for children in the future.'
This AFA website uses less noble sounding language. In a section titled 'Keep Marriage 1 Man + 1 Woman,' the AFA President, David Perrin, speaks of an 'unrelenting attack' from marriage equality campaigners and charges his followers to do what is necessary to defend the equation outlined in the heading. Perrin's language, like the whole of the AFA website, is aggressive, hostile and inflammatory. The only thing missing is a call to round up a posse and light a few torches.
The views of McCormack and the AFA are mirrored in sections of our polity.
The 'Rise Up Australia' party, an extreme right group headed by church minister Daniel Nalliah, takes a strong anti-gay stance. Running candidates for the Senate in all states and the ACT, Rise Up's website lists defence of 'traditional' marriage amongst its 26 policies. Their website also states that they will:
Nortoriously homophobic NSW Senator Fred Nile draws different conclusions. The Christian Democrat Party (CDP) that Nile leads has this graphic on their website:
So for Nile, it's more a matter of economics. Gay people are stealing straight people's money! Luckily the CDP 'will change that.' In 2013 it's hard to believe that an opinion like this could be held by anyone, and certainly not by anyone who wished to be taken seriously. Yet Nile is a long term member of the upper house in Australia's largest state and ahs helped shape policy there for decades.
And then there is the re-entry of former Prime Minister John Howard to the campaign this week. Touring marginal seats around Adelaide, Howard offered his view that marriage equality was 'nonsense.' He insisted this opinion wasn't discrimination because:
In other words, it's not discriminatory because... well, he doesn't say. Perhaps he thought it was obvious.
Throughout his Prime Ministership, John Howard denied that he was a homophobe. Much as he denied that he was racist, xenophobic or bigoted. Sure, gay and dark skinned people made him feel uncomfortable and he laid out policies designed to marginalise them and make their lives less equal then everyone else's, but that never meant he was prejudiced. He always said that he was simply upholding a traditional position. Maintaining the status quo. Not messing with something that wasn't broke. And any one of a thousand more wooden, thought deadening sentences that he used to lull his audience into a mild coma so he could get on with the job. Based on his quotes in The Advertiser, he clearly hasn't felt the need to come up with a new strategy.
This same mentality is at play in the people behind the examples of hate speak listed at the start of this article.
Jim McCormack, David Perrin, Daniel Nalliah and their supporters would have you believe that they're not prejudiced either. Or, at the very least, they will lay claim to this, while putting written and verbal material into the public sphere that proves the exact opposite. Their defence in every instance is the same as Howard's. And the same as people put forward to defend the White Australia policy, the denial of Indigenous rights and unequal treatment of women. These too were all traditional parts of Australian life at one time and overturning them took agitation, upheaval, much effort from good people. Minds had to be changed and new ideas promulgated. All of these things are now either gone or on their way out. None of them are missed.
Kevin Rudd has had a dismal election campaign and is probably headed for defeat this coming weekend. But on one issue at least, he showed signs that he was more than just a big plastic bag stuffed with focus group analysis.
For the first time in a long time, the Labor leader got on the reform side of an issue, and it looked good. This was his finest moment since his return to the leadership, and the only one anyone associated with his turgid campaign will want to recall later.
Replacing ill founded and unfair traditions with new ideas is called progress. If politics does not have this as a goal, what is the point of any of it?