Sir Joh and Sir John

Gough and Joh


The Dismissal of the Whitlam Government is now 40 years old and in this tediously stable democracy of ours it remains the most exciting thing to have occurred since the indignity of the Rum Rebellion in 1808. And so it came to pass that in these recent weeks our stuffiest old historians and columnists revisited their favourite subject and the results have been predictably beige.

There are no new facts left to discover about the Dismissal. The exciting new revelations by Paul Kelly or Jenny Hocking about the colour of Lady Kerr’s wallpaper were ignored by more sensible historians as the pointless trivialities that they are. All there really is left to discuss is the hopelessly subjective question: Who was in the right and who was in the wrong. And in this bloggers opinion the views expressed by paid commentators on this matter are without exception, wrong.

Contrary to popular opinion the three main actors in the Dismissal all acted in a broadly conventional way. Both Whitlam and Fraser behaved in a typically partisan and uncompromising fashion, the kind of which we’ve come to expect from Prime Ministers and Opposition Leaders. On the rare occasion one our major party leaders put down their weapons and engage in a bit of bipartisanship, like, say, Malcolm Turnbull attempting to martial support for Kevin Rudd’s Emissions Trading Scheme, they are eviscerated by their own side.

What made 1975 exceptional was that Fraser was an atypically powerful opposition leader. He commanded an absolute majority in one of our parliamentary chambers from opposition. Only Brendan Nelson in 2007/08 could claim the same but unlike Nelson, Fraser was facing a Prime Minister with depleted political capital. If Nelson had attempted to be an obstructionist opposition leader he would have presented an unassailably popular Prime Minister with a double dissolution trigger. Whitlam on the other hand could not afford to take his case to the Australian people.

It is difficult to imagine a modern opposition leader in command of a senate majority pitted against an unpopular and scandal ridden government using those numbers in any way other than to frustrate the Prime Minister. Think of John Howard circa 1995, Beazley circa 1999, Abbott in 2012 and Shorten in 2014. Each and every one of these men would have blockaded the legislature and in lieu of a Prime Minister being prepared to call an early election there would probably have had to have been a vice regal intervention, which brings us to the third main player in The Dismissal.

With regard to the actions of Sir John Kerr it is beyond dispute that he behaved imperfectly, but not, I would contend, improperly. The reason that Westminster democracies have an executive power, divorced from the legislature, is to resolve complications that prevent the parliament functioning properly. And one such situation is plainly in occurrence when two diametrically opposed forces wrest control of a legislative chamber each and refuse to compromise in any significant way.

To be sure, the governor general ought to pursue a satisfactory resolution while acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister but if the Prime Minister demonstrates no capacity or intent to resolve the paralysis it is wholly appropriate for the governor general to withdraw their commission, indeed it is their duty to do so. Where Kerr erred however was in his decision to conceal his intentions from Whitlam. It was well within Kerr’s remit to issue Whitlam with an ultimatum but to ambush the Prime Minister was a failure of judgement.

The received wisdom that is offered to account for Kerr’s subterfuge is that Kerr feared that if he issued Whitlam an ultimatum, the Prime Minister would sack him and appoint a weaker governor general. It makes no difference, this was not Kerr’s decision to make. He served at the pleasure of the Prime Minister it was not for him to deceive Whitlam whatever his motives. If Whitlam made a habit of removing governors general for doing their job it was the role of the palace to intervene, not Kerr.

Nevertheless Kerr is perhaps the greatest Australian victim of what is sometimes metaphorically referred to as “ivory tower criticism.” Kerr’s errors of judgement were not altogether unreasonably behaviour in the context in which they were made. Constitutional crises are by their nature difficult to resolve. Whatever his faults, Kerr resolved the crisis quickly and efficiently. The business of government resumed shortly thereafter, no blood was spilled.  Despite Paul Kelly’s pompous histrionics about the constitution being “pushed to its limit,” the Dismissal demonstrated the strength of the constitution to resolve parliamentary deadlocks , affirmed in a gloriously robust way. It did not, as Paul Keating contends, constitute a “completely undemocratic act”, but a resounding victory for the institution of constitutional democracy.

There was a clear villain in the constitutional crisis however and that was the Queensland Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen. So often is the fact that Fraser commanded a majority in the Senate raised, far too seldom are the circumstances by which he came by this majority explained.

In 1975 Labor Senator Bert Milliner tragically and suddenly passed away. It therefore fell to the Queensland government, effectively Premier Bjelke-Petersen to appoint a senator to fill the vacancy. Rather than appoint Whitlam’s recommendation of Mal Colston in accordance with convention, Bjelke-Petersen appointed nominal Labor member but Whitlam critic Albert Field. Field had publicly declared his intention to vote against supply and the consequence of Sir Joh’s manipulations was to appoint an opposition senator to fill the vacancy created by the death of a government senator.

Throughout the constitutional crisis of 1975 many players acted imperfectly, but none  acted grossly unethically except Premier Bjelke-Petersen. With a legacy of corruption, racism and gerrymandering to his name, Sir Joh emerges from the Dismissal in the worst light imaginable. He was an opportunist and a cheat, embodying all the suspicions and misgivings ordinary people have about politicians. There is no redeeming Bjelke-Petersen, he was the pantomime villain historians so desperately want and that the Australian people never deserved.

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What Might Have Been


Few politicians have lost as much as Joseph Benedict Hockey. In 2009 with Malcolm Turnbull crashing as leader it seemed the youthful Hockey was his party’s great hope for the future. Peter Costello had just left parliament Julie Bishop was held in low regard after a disastrous spell as shadow treasurer, Scott Morrison was then a little known entity and Tony Abbott was widely perceived as “too right wing.” Joe on the other hand was soaring. At this point he had been soaring for going on three years.

Ever since John Howard made Hockey the Minister for Workplace Relations he had successfully cast himself as the warm and cuddly face of Liberal Conservatism. His warm, jovial demeanour cut a sharp contrast with his predecessor Kevin Andrews under whom Workchoices had been rolled out. Hockey’s big break came as Kevin Rudd’s sparing partner on the Sunrise program where he held his own against Labor’s unstoppable juggernaut. But in 2007 Joe became far more than merely Rudd’s Sunrise opposite. He was everywhere: the genial, witty, moderate, pro apology republican was practically the poster child of a government desperate to prove its enduring relevance.

The Coalition lost the 2007 election but Joe just kept on rising. Like lambs to the slaughter senior Liberals attempted to knock Rudd down a peg with aggression and brutality and were rendered ridiculous. Only Joe had the tactical instincts to fight folksiness with folksiness. While Labor Ministers right across the spectrum became media darlings to a country besotted by Rudd’s honeymoon popularity, Hockey was the only in demand member of the Coalition. Light entertainment and hard news programs booked him night after night, he was the only member of the Liberals who seemed able to adjust to the shift in tone in national politics spearheaded by Joe’s old mate Kevin.

It was against this backdrop that Joe firmed as the favourite to take over the Liberal leadership from the struggling Turnbull.  Six short years later he has left parliament as a failure.

The poison chalice for Joe appears to have been the Treasury portfolio. Under the more restrained leadership of Turnbull, Hockey proved to be reasonably effective at prosecuting Labor’s record on debt and deficit but the Abbott approach to opposition crushed his credibility. Hockey tried to foreshadow the need for budget cuts if the Coalition was going to deliver a surplus but he was trampled over by his “shoot first, ask questions later” leader. Abbott promised to tax nothing, fund everything and deliver budget surpluses.  Hockey was given the unenviable job of reconciling these irreconcilable contradictions and was held responsible when he failed to do the impossible.

When the Coalition came to government and the time came good to make good of their commitment to return the budget to surpluses, individual ministers became economic NIMBYs. Of course, they agreed, cuts needed to be made, but none of them in their own departments. Only Christopher Pyne made a sincere effort to find savings in his department but the diplomatic ineptitude of senate leader Eric Abetz sees these savings remain suspended in the senate till this day.  Hockey meanwhile endures the blame for his leader’s dishonesty, and his leader’s alienation of the senate crossbench, and yet this only accounts for half the story.

Hockey’s public demeanour changed dramatically over his time as shadow treasurer. Prior to 2010 Joe was frequently identified as a voice of decency within the Liberal ranks. He wasn’t a ruthless, cut throat political animal like Howard of Costello, he was a jolly man who simply believed in individual enterprise and wanted to make it easier for small businesses to operate by cutting red tape and shrinking their tax burden. Like Turnbull, he appeared to have more in common with Kevin Rudd than he did with John Howard or Tony Abbott. In politics however every strength will be distorted into a weakness and soon Labor (although notably not Rudd) honed in on Hockey’s lack of venom as evidence of a lack of strength. “He’s a nice guy, but you wouldn’t trust him to run anything” said the then Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner and the attack stuck. Soon ambitious colleagues coveting Hockey’s treasury portfolio like Andrew Robb began using this same attack to try and blast him out.

Butted and buffeted, Hockey returned from the Christmas break in 2012 with a new found aggressive streak. Gone was the jocular Joe, the new figure was snarling and unsympathetic. Instead of presenting himself as understanding and gentle as he had done with such aplomb in 06-07, Joe told the voters to suck it up and take their medicine. It was out of character and unconvincing, it didn’t come across as tough love, it came across as nasty. He started saying things like poor people don’t drive cars and homeless people just needed to get good jobs. These were derided as gaffes but in all probability they were deliberate but poorly judged. They were intended to woo the economic dries and the hard right, but Joe just couldn’t pull it off.

Hockey threw away a politically effective media persona to curry favour with the Abbott/Abetz hard right bloc that then controlled the Liberal Party and it destroyed him. He was hectored and scorned by his Liberal colleagues for being too genial towards Labor when instead they should have urged him to cultivate and utilize this ability to transcend the partisan divide. Hockey could have been a national unifying figure,  occupying the centre, transcending the political divide  and making government more inclusive, instead he retires a failed partisan warrior: aggressive, forceful and defeated.

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The End Of The Accidental Prime Minister

Your Prime Minister

In 2009 there were at most half a dozen members of the Liberal National Coalition who believed Tony Abbott was the best placed candidate to defeat Kevin Rudd in a general election. But morale was low and egos bruised, for three years they had been told by successive leaders that they had to compromise to be competitive and for three years Rudd had humiliated them at every turn and they’d had enough. If they were going to lose anyway, they were going to lose fighting for what they believed in.

Even still these ideological martyrs did not constitute a majority of the Liberal Party.  The affable Joe Hockey was expected to replace the damaged Malcolm Turnbull. Although a moderate, Joe did not exhibit the same contempt for the party’s conservatives that Turnbull did. In a head to head ballot against either Abbott or Turnbull, Hockey, who had few enemies within the parliamentary party, would have won comfortably. Abbott and Turnbull represented polarizing and destructive hardliners, Hockey was an acceptable compromise between the two. The problem of course was neither Turnbull nor Abbott would drop out and Hockey was squeezed out in a three horse race. He never made it to the second ballot and the Liberal Party was confronted with the unenviable choice of two polarising and divisive figures.

And so it came to pass that the problem child of the Howard government became the leader of Australia’s natural party of government. He was not expected to win the election, he had only been given the opportunity because the upcoming election was thought to be a foregone conclusion. Indeed many in the parliamentary party and the rank and file consoled themselves with the idea that they would expend Abbott on an unwinnable election, then three years later when the public may have grown weary of the Rudd government, a more plausible candidate could lead them in a much closer contest.  Yet all this was predicated on the Labor government continuing to proceed with some semblance of orthodoxy, instead they imploded.

Unbeknownst to the Liberals, Labor was already making preparations for their own self-immolation at the time the Liberals were performing theirs. Labor too believed the 2010 election was a foregone conclusion and a ripe opportunity to install their leader of preference with no serious electoral consequences. Alas they underestimated the extent to which their electoral fortunes were tied to the individual they decided to destroy. With hitherto unseen brutality the traditional power structures of the labour movement deposed the Keynesian in labour clothing who just so happened to be the only person to deliver them victory since 1993. Having interwoven its image with the personality of the individual they’d banished to the backbenches Labor struggled to present a compelling argument in favour of its own re-election. After a few weeks of honeymoon polling the absence of purpose in the post Rudd government was exposed and Labor’s standing with the electorate plunged long forgotten depths.

For three year the Gillard led Labor government attempted to present a coherent agenda for government while repudiating the legacy of the Rudd era and in doing so cobbled together a confused and paradoxical message which alienated huge portions of the electorate. They were for an emissions trading scheme, then for outsourcing climate policy to a so called “Climate assembly” then for a fixed price on carbon, then for a floating price on carbon. They were going to detain asylum seekers on East Timor, then Malaysia, then Nauru and Manus Island. Against these contradictions and Abbott led Liberal Party soon became the electorate’s preference but Abbott himself was never popular. His satisfaction remained at historically low levels throughout his tenure in opposition and his lack of personal popularity gave the Labor Party hope that they could still win under Julia Gillard’s leadership.

Gillard and Abbott were mutually dependant on each other’s unpopularity. Opinion polling throughout the three year period constantly suggested that a leadership change from either party could trigger a crisis in the other. When Labor finally turned to Rudd after two years of scorched earth tactics the Labor Party apparatus was deeply damaged. Political donations were already flowing in the direction of the Liberal Party, half his cabinet had resigned and the polling deficit was ten points. Against this damaged and unpopular government Abbott was elected but in losing Julia Gillard he had lost the reference point that gave him political purpose.

As a Prime Minister who was carried into office on the back of a government’s capitulation, Abbott was unique in having never asserted himself as an intellectual heavyweight, the consequences of which became apparent with every passing Newspoll. In a long form interview with Leigh Sales or Sarah Ferguson Abbott was simply too inarticulate to persuasively make the case for his government’s policies. Whereas in opposition his policies were all hypothetical proposals, in government they were tangibly impacting upon people’s lives and it was no longer adequate to explain them with platitudes and slogans. Indeed as Malcolm Turnbll repeatedly stated in outlining his reasons to challenge Abbott for the party leadership, Abbott’s recourse to political slogans was devastating the government’s economic credentials.

But sloganeering was all Tony Abbott had ever demonstrated an ability to do. He hadn’t been made the leader of the Liberal Party because he was articulate and nimble. He was elected to be a martyr, but his executioners kept surrendering. Success after success came to Abbott but none of them were strategically won and eventually he found himself the accidental occupant of a position he had never been well equipped to serve. Some may have held out hope that he might learn on the job, instead he did the opposite. His interview with Leigh Sales, a week before being toppled encapsulated precisely why Abbott was never going to be able to revive his party’s fortunes. Here was a Prime Minister being asked a flexible, open ended question about his economic record, it was a perfect opportunity for a more articulate politician to calmly explain the mechanics underpinning some of his economic policies to a hitherto unimpressed electorate and his response was “we stopped the boats.” A slogan about an unrelated area of policy. How could the Liberal MPs and Senators be expected to believe that he would be able to articulate the case for re-election in 2016? As the events of September 14 demonstrate, they couldn’t. They had never meant for him to become Prime Minister, they had never believed he was capable of being a successful Prime Minister. Now they knew it to be true.

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The End Of An Epic

Clarke and Cook

2011: The boy wonders destined for leadership

When Michael Clarke and Alastair Cook first faced off as captains back in 2011 they were the archetypal boy generals. Taking over the top job while still in their twenties, the energetic and limber new captains cut a sharp contrast with their crusty and deteriorating predecessors.  Both men had been earmarked for the top job about thirty seconds after making their test debut and when they swiftly rose to the top position at precociously young ages it seemed we were destined to witness a rivalry so epic as to cast a shadow over all others.

Cook and Clarke have now gone head to head as test captains some fourteen times, plus a dozen or so one day encounters. Ricky Ponting did battle with Graham Smith on nine occasions, so too Mark Taylor with Michael Atherton but neither crossed that magic ten match threshold. Cook and Clarke did not merely cross it, they have well and truly demolished it. The idea now of an Ashes test under different leadership seems a little peculiar and yet, sadly before time, we are poised to experience exactly that.

The two men that shook hands at the beginning of July were markedly different from the boy wonders that crossed swords four years earlier. Out of form and under fire with talented and dynamic young deputies breathing down their necks, the pair were grimly aware of the fact that they were not merely playing for the Ashes but their own careers.

Cook and Clarke would face off for the last time under threat from popular young deputies

Cook and Clarke would face off for the last time under threat from popular young deputies

Alastair Cook was the first captain in decades to take over an English side of comparable strength to the Australians, arguably greater. Yet his record as both a batsman and a captain has disappointed, falling short of the high standards set by Andrew Strauss and Michael Vaughan.  For the last four years as a batsman Cook has been lacklustre and as a side England has been volatile. An Ashes loss on their home turf would likely have spelt the end of Cook’s captaincy and potentially his place in the test side.

Clarke as we well know was an ageing, underperforming batsman leading a side in continual decline.  Under his leadership Australia was meant to arrest a persistent slide in overseas campaigns that began with the retirement of the Warne, Mcgrath, Gilchrist Troika in 2007/08. Whether by strategic genius, disciplined leadership or sheer force of his own run scoring, Clarke was supposed to reverse the decline. For a fleeting moment  he appeared to be doing just that,  off the back  of his own Bradmanesque scoring he appeared to be keeping the decline at bay, but when injuries hampered his batting prowess Australia slid right back into this severe decline from the their 97-07 high water mark. The string of disappointments had stretched too far, the Australian selectors could not abide another and so Clarke had to go.

This was the spectre under which both captains greeted each other at the beginning of the series.  Unlike many other notable cricketing rivals there was no malice or acrimony in the relationship between Clarke and Cook. They have throughout their careers maintained a dignified and professional respect for the other. There were no unedifying shouting matches on the field, no potshots in the media and no accusations of bad sportsmanship. They played hard, they played to win and they did it within the spirit of cricket. It was perhaps therefore with a touch of melancholy that they shook hands with the knowledge that at the end of the series only one of them could have a future ahead of them.

The final showdown was a yo-yoing affair but this was the how it had always been between Clarke and Cook.  In 2013 England comfortably claimed  a home victory over the Australians before being humiliated six months later in a five nil whitewash in Australia. This time round, fighting for his very survival, Cook drew first blood with a convincing win at Cardiff against a respectable Australian performance.  Clarke’s Australians fought back at Lords as they were wont to do with an imperious 400 run victory and for a moment it looked as though Cook might be the one forced to deliver a resignation speech. But wimpy batting efforts from the Australians saw England seize control at tests 3 and 4 and undisciplined bowling secured Clarke’s demise. Cook will go on to lead England perhaps for another five years, the boy captain is still only thirty years of age and despite poor form with the bat still seems athletic and hungry in the field. His Ashes triumph has bought him time. Time to regain his form, time to correct his technique. His great rival has completely run out.

remebrance day

By 2015 both captains were out of time: they needed to deliver or stand aside.

When they go head to head for the last time at The Oval for their final pas de deux, Cook will be a man with a spring in his step. The weight of a thousand pressures will be lifted from his shoulders. Clarke will be, as they say, a dead man walking. He has chosen not to fight his own demise, he has pleaded guilty and stoically prepared himself for execution.

Four years ago two promising young deputies stood in for their injured captains. They stood on equal footing, relaxed, confident and optimistic.  Four years later one is a national hero, his position in the side is unquestioned, he looks as fit and healthy as a twenty year old and appears destined to enjoy a flourishing career for years to come. The other is a humbled and broken. Frustrated by injuries and a lack of success he can but wonder what might have been had his (and perhaps Ryan Harris’) back held up.

The final encounter

The final encounter

So when the two shake hands on the 20th of August savour it. Take a moment to reflect upon the rich and exciting era of Ashes cricket under Cook and Clarke: Ashton Agar’s 98 at no11 on debut, Mitchel Johnson’s 37 wicket series in Australia, Kevin Pietersen’s dramatic sacking, Steven Smith’s double century at Lords and of course Stuart Broad’s 8/ 15 at Trent Bridge. Throughout these turbulent years Cook and Clarke remained at the helm, stoic, dignified and resilient and now it is all at an end. The game will of course go on as it always has but we have never seen and may never again see two captains go through as much together as these two and even the hardest of men must be touched with sadness at this truth.

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Fixation With Turn Backs Misses The Point

Anthony Albanese votes against boat turnbacks. But Manus Island detention is fine.

Anthony Albanese votes against boat turnbacks. But Manus Island detention is fine.

Within Labor Party ranks the debate about asylum seekers can be accurately contextualized as an attempt to find the right balance of compassion and pragmatism. The same can be said for some members of the Liberal Party, but others are wholly guilty of using the plight of waterborne asylum seekers to prosecute xenophobic agenda.

Recently the Labor Party conference debated whether to rule out towing intercepted asylum seeker vessels back to Indonesia.   Successive speakers from the left faction spoke of the need to show compassion to refugees, to be fair, to treat their fellow man with basic human decency. These are all admirable sentiments but that they were employed in a debate about turning back boats highlights Australia’s fixation with this particular element of asylum seeker policy, a fixation which completely misses the point.

Turning back boats is not the harshest element of the government’s approach to asylum seekers, nor is it the most effective deterrent. It was a key plank in John Howard’s so called Pacific Solution because, prior to 2013, genuine asylum seekers who made it to Christmas Island or the Australian mainland were legally to be resettled in Australia. Intercepting the vessels and transporting the travellers either back to Indonesia, or to Nauru for offshore processing was therefore necessary in order to create a situation whereby asylum seekers would not travel to Australia by boat with an expectation of getting permanent residency once they arrived.

This is no longer the case, in 2013 the newly reinstated Rudd government, changed the rules, to use Rudd’s parlance.  From that point on, no new arrivals would be resettled in Australia, whether they were intercepted on water, at Christmas Island or on the Australian mainland. If their claims for asylum were rejected they would be returned to their country of origin. If they were accepted they would be resettled in Papua New Guinea. The promise of Australian resettlement was removed and before long the numbers of boats began to decrease. It also meant that genuine refugees were being resettled in a country that lacked the infrastructure to accommodate the dramatic increase in its immigration intake, and in which homosexuality was a crime punishable by corporal punishment.

While the Gillard government wrestled with the East Timor, Malaysia and finally Pacific MK II solutions turn backs may possibly have formed an effective deterrent. Theoretically if vessels were intercepted either to be taken back to Indonesia or a third country for processing, the promise of Australian residency would be taken off the table. Instead the Gillard government went for a “deterrence by cruelty” option. Making asylum seekers spend inordinate amounts of time in hellholes while their claims were being processed. It caused, and still causes, immeasurable suffering and trauma but the end goal of Australian residency remained and it failed as a deterrent.

As for compassion, turning back boats is not the main source of trauma or suffering, compared to detention on Manus it barely registers. None of which is to say that being on a towed boat would be anything short of horrific, but it is little worse than being on a boat that wasn’t being towed back, and unlike Manus it is a very temporary arrangement. Somewhere, somehow it has become received wisdom that Prime Ministers Rudd and Gillard refused to turn back boats because it was a bridge too far, it was too cruel. In fact neither Rudd nor Gillard had any humanitarian objections to turnbacks.

In 2007 Rudd, then opposition leader, announced plans to shut down Nauru detention centre, abolish temporary protection visas and scrap detention debt for humanitarian reasons. Turnbacks remained a part of Labor’s platform. Once in government however they received advice, first from the public service and later from the Houston committee that boat turnbacks were not feasible. Their level of risk meant they failed the cost benefit analysis. Labor were concerned that asylum seekers might sabotage the vessels they were travelling on and in put the lives of Navy personnel at risk.  If the suffering of asylum seekers on towback vessels was the primary argument against it, the Rudd government would not have hesitated to continue turn backs in 2007. It was the advice from the department of immigration that it was unfeasibly dangerous without cooperation from Indonesia.

And yet while this battle rages on and the rhetoric of compassion and cruelty is doled out in enormous portions, nobody within Labor appears to be at all interested in debating the real human rights concerns: offshore processing and offshore resettlement. So what’s it all about? If the Labor left is prepared to support the continuation of Manus Island, Nauru and the so called Papua New Guinea situation  then this debate is hollow as they have already adopted the harshest components of the current government’s asylum seeker regime.

If the intention is to retain some compassionate edge over the Liberal Party while broadly accepting the principles of “deterrence by harshness”, fine, but opposing towbacks simply doesn’t achieve this. In fact in this regard the Labor Right are far more adept than the Left. Matching the Liberal policy then ramping up the size of the humanitarian intake puts some genuine space between the two major parties. Perhaps I’m missing a more cynical angle to it.

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What underpins opposition to same sex marriage?


It has been some time since I have considered myself particularly passionate about same sex marriage. Although firmly in agreement with the principle that everyone should be equal before the law, I have struggled to convince myself that exclusion from the institution of marriage is any real impediment to a rich and fulfilling life. Notwithstanding all of this I find, and have always found, the sentiment that underscores opposition to same sex marriage to be detestable.

The pleas of Archbishop Jensen not to conflate his views with bigotry are laughable, the concession made by Fran Kelly on the ABC’s Insiders program that opposition to marriage equality is not indicia of homophobia was craven. The opposition to marriage equality stems from minority yet prevalent view that homosexual intercourse is a depraved act.

The union of marriage –heterosexual or otherwise –is a thoroughly conservative, at times prudish concept.  Those bellicose opponents of same sex marriage regard extra marital sex as a selfish indulgence in lust and gratification. In their puritanical world view intimacy outside of wedlock is animalistic, degenerate and weak, a capitulation to unsanitary urges. The lifelong commitment to keep only one partner, to devote their lives to the singular partner and to enshrine the commitment in law is supposed to sanction the otherwise immoral act.

Conservative views of sexual intercourse impart marriage with immense importance. In the correct circumstance sex can be the manifestation of true love, in the wrong circumstance it is the manifestation of something vile and loathsome. When Barnaby Joyce referred to same sex marriage as decadent he was in fact referring to homosexual intercourse.  In this way marriage is supposed to transfigure something vile into something holy and beautiful, which brings us back to the homophobic quest to stop marriage being extended to same sex relations.

No reasonably minded person could be left with much doubt that Eric Abetz and those of like minds regard homosexual intimacy as something vile and immoral. They lost the legal fight to prevent it many years ago, now they are digging in to try and restrict it to what they might term “immoral contexts.”

For decades bigots have stereotyped homosexuals as promiscuous debauchers.  The last thing they want now is for same sex couples to start entering enduring, monogamous marriages that would seem to satisfy conservative ideals. And therein lies the true driver of this furious push to keep marriage equality at bay: marriage equality looms likely to destroy the most mainstream critique of homosexual lifestyles, in doing pulling back the veil to reveal the naked and irrational disgust that homophobes reserve for homosexual intercourse. And should this proxy debate be shattered and the bigotry get flushed out into the open its practitioners will become the pariahs of conservative politics, shunned in mainstream political groups as Hansonists have been for the last decade.  This fight isn’t about etymology and it definitely isn’t about protecting any pre-existing marriage, it is about preserving the last remnants of plausible deniability against the all too accurate charges of bigotry.

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Greg For PM-An Update


An unexpected by-product of Sarah Ferguson’s  The Killing Season has been to provide a little more insight into the sort of leader Greg Combet would have been had he accepted Julia Gillard’s offer as an anointed successor in 201, and gone on to defeat Kevin Rudd in the caucus ballot.


In July last year when Combet released his autobiography I latched onto a specific section of the book in which  the former secretary of the ACTU in which he discussed his ideological conflicts with his then leader Rudd and expressed dismay at Rudd’s attempts to de-unionise the government. In particular the quote  “After spending my life in the union movement, the idea that I needed to be cleansed of my union past was pretty offensive” was very illuminating as to where Combet stood in comparison to Rudd, and  why Gillard may have perceived him to be a suitable successor.


Whereas Kevin Rudd led a movement to rebrand the Labor party as a broad church housing a diverse range of centre left philosophies, Combet still believes the labour movement deserves ownership over Australia’s oldest political party. This was a perspective Julia Gillard seemed to share. In February 2013 Gillard addressed the Australian Workers Union  in a speech  that was going to be rebroadcast on all the major news bulletins that evening. In her address Gillard proudly declared

 I come here to this union’s gathering as a Labor leader.

I’m not the leader of a party called the progressive party.

I’m not the leader of a party called the moderate party.

I’m not the leader of a party even called the socialist democratic party.

I’m a leader of the party called the Labor Party deliberately because that is what we come from.



The speech electrified the faithful at the AWU and thousands of moderate Australian voters watching it on their televisions recoiled uneasily and started contemplating whether the Liberal Party might be a more accommodating house for them.  In the minds of Gillard and Combet if the election could be framed as a contest over industrial relations, and if the Labor party could articulate its position effectively than this was a winning formula but in the real world elections can’t be restricted to singular issues and Labor came off once again as obsessed with IR at the expense of other issues like debt and deficit and cost of living.


In 2012/13 we could have been forgiven for thinking that Gillard was the worst offender in terms of wrapping herself around labour issues and neglecting others but in The Killing Season Gillard comes across as positively Third Way compared to her grizzling anointed successor. Combet was one of two people interviewed who seemed convincingly bothered by Rudd’s challenge to Kim Beazley in 2006, the other was understandably Jenny Macklin who lost her place as deputy leader.


But in Combet’s mind Howard had just put industrial relations at the centre of the election through his Workchoices legislation and Beazley had responded with a 1950’s textbook response. It was gearing up as a good old fashioned election to be contextualized as a contest between the businesses and the workers and Howard had overstepped badly with Workchoices. Then Rudd intervened. Eschewing the crude narrative of bosses versus workers, Rudd sensed his moment, scaled back the ideological rhetoric and launched a scattergun attack on the Howard-Beazley axis that enabled him to transcend the old political divide. Upping the ante on a raft of secondary issues including climate change, education, broadband and reconciliation Rudd capitalised on the public’s lack of enthusiasm for the old paradigm. When it became apparent that public opinion was demanding the Labor caucus install Rudd, Combet was understandably shocked out of his comfort zone. For ten years he had yearned for another Labor government, now on the eve of a likely Labor victory the rules were changed and instead he got an anti-politics social democrat who hadn’t done his dues.

For 10 months the ACTU and the Rudd led Labor  Party ran a bizarrely two pronged campaign against Howard. For the first time in living memory the rhetoric of the labour movement was completely out of synch with the rhetoric of the Labor party. The ACTU ran a heavy handed negative campaign oriented around Workchoices, Rudd ran a highly positive campaign, presenting a broad and optimistic vision for the nation’s future.  As Barrie Cassidy, another creepy crawly of the Labor apparatus, noted in 2010, the party had been stolen, it’s apparatus used to get elected an outsider.


We can glean from these glimpses into Combet’s mindset that a Combet leadership in 2013 would have been electorally disastrous. An obsessive focus on industrial relations and attempts to recreate fears of a Workchoices strawman that nobody believed would have dominated the campaign and debt and deficit  would have lied neglected in the corner. The party faithful would have been engaged, the volunteers out en masse come election day but the swinging voters disillusioned and sent scuttling into the safe embrace of the opposition. It was for the best that Greg bowed out when he did. If he hung around, only more misery awaited him.


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