In the good old days, when officers were gentlemen and sometimes vice versa, most barracks observed an iron rule: no mention of politics, religion or women in the mess.
Such subjects were considered not only indelicate but divisive – a distraction from the unity of purpose needed for the core business of killing off the actual enemies. And also the taboo conversations got in the way of serious drinking and healthy hijinks, the morale building exercises so necessary to sustaining an army intent on preserving and extending the empire.
So it is painful to have to report that this wholesome tradition has been completely abandoned within the mess that is the modern Liberal Party of Australia. Not only do they regard a ban on politics, religion and women as unnecessary – they seem to talk of little else.
Politics, of course, is the staple, the bread and butter topped with the garnish of the day. Politics is not to be confused with policy, an awkward and perplexing puzzle best left tot the boffins or preferably ignored altogether.
But politics is all the go: tactics, spin, deception, conspiracy, smoke filled rooms filled with factions and would-be war lords scrabbling to mount the dung heap from which they can crow with meaningless triumph until displaced by the next rooster on the make. Neither unifying nor edifying, but an addiction they have no interest in shaking.
And women? Well, the mere fact that the Libs spend so much time assuring each other that they do not have a woman problem suggests something close to an obsession. The women involved either put up with it or occasionally complain, or even resign, after which they cease to be a problem. But they are talked about anyway, especially by those who consider themselves the big swinging dicks who are really in charge, just as God intended.
And so we get to God, or at least religion. And this is where the mess turns into a real dog’s breakfast, requiring tongs and rubber gloves to handle, and flamethrowers and fire hoses to clean out if things go awry. As they do, and have.
Our Attorney General Christian Porter has finally unveiled his package designed to mollify the disaffected rump rolled on same sex marriage. This, of course, is not what either he or they call it: the crusaders see it as a gallant and desperate rear guard action to stop Australia sliding into the secularism guaranteed by the Australian constitution, a subversive document whose heathen overtones have only recently become apparent.
One of the more hyperbolic, Greg Sheridan, began his sermon with the absurd assertion: “Religious freedom is under genuine threat in Australia.” It isn’t, of course: not even the conservative Phillip Ruddock, who produced the review to bring the faithful succour and solace, said there was any need for alarm. But for the Sheridans of this world, alarm and panic is there default position.
So, against all their previously held conservative beliefs, they now want to rely on international law and convention to buttress their privileged positions against the marauding pagans at home. Porter, despite his first name, is clearly a heretic, a candidate for the stake once the holy war ends, as it must, in a theocratic victory, an Armageddon in which he unbelievers will be thrown into the fiery pit where they belong.
The mild mannered sandgroper has ducked the apocalyptic struggle, offering only a few extra tidbits for the already groaning trough. In the name of less discrimination, he is in fact planning to deliver more: further exemptions for those who claim to be godbotherers to break the laws of the land the rest of us must observe.
But they will still not be allowed to run free; there will still be limitations on hate speech, although it is not entirely clear where the line will be drawn. And the right to hire and fire those who defy their contractual obligations by claiming evangelism as an excuse is to be offered a lifeline: incomprehensibly, it will be a defence for wealthy employers to claim that as long as it is an essential part of retaining their profits, the sackings can be justified. So even if the new legislation goes through, Israel Folau would still probably have ended up in court.
As, inevitably, will a lot of other people, because the Porter model abounds in ambiguity: an important clause relies on what is regarded as “reasonable,” a highly subjective idea that will have any worthwhile lawyer slavering. And in any case the zealots are not remotely interested in reason: faith is what they affirm, and they have lost it in Porter.
Not that their opponents are any happier: the LGBTIQ mob have correctly noted that this basically all about them, without the same sex marriage debate it would never have happened. So Porter’s announcement is just another battle to be fought, and, like all those in the past and all those still to come, it is essentially a zero sum conflict: every millimetre the Christians win is a millimetre they lose. They are worried that religious anti-discrimination may override gender anti-discrimination, they are not sure to what extent the impending federal legislation will upend the various state laws on which they depend.
And of course Porter has only provided a draft –they know that the Christian lobbyists, already furious that they were not allowed to write the bills themselves, will be breaking down parliamentarians’ doors with threats of the hideous electoral vengeance to be wreaked if they do not get their way..
Morrison has now celebrated a full year as Prime Minister and a full 100 days after his miraculous election win. But in spite of the boosters, he has little substantial to show for it apart from tax cuts which have proved ineffective to date and have even less prospect of success in the future. The rest of it has been all froth and bubble, the bubble he regularly derides.
We are constantly told that his party is united and in good heart – but as we have seen, the tensions have not gone away, they have merely been suppressed. And the showdown over religion could well provoke a serious schism. Trouble is brewing in the mess.