TONY SMITH. Hope in diversity and real cases, not ideological claptrap

Mar 29, 2017

Self-righteous people, believing themselves to be ‘self-made’ are prepared to punish children along with single mothers and so entrench disadvantage for generations. 

When Jacqui Lambie made a plea for single mothers in parliament recently, she was drawing on real life experience. One positive aspect of our parliaments is that they are growing in diversity. At least one federal member has spent time homeless, living on the street and more than one member can tell of the personal experience of being an Indigenous person in Australia. It was encouraging too that when a Senator Bob Brown declined to wear a tie. For too long, parliaments have appeared as walls of business suits and policies have generally reflected this association with the rich male world, which is but a small and already too powerful segment of society.

Senator Lambie’s speech suggested that in Australian politics there are two distinct worlds. Jacqui Lambie’s speech entered the world of the heart. Unfortunately, the other world is not the world of the head but the world of blind ideological campaigning. There is nothing rational about the pursuit of many current policies and as the Turnbull Government encounters greater opposition to its substance and style, the Coalition’s cynicism becomes ever more obvious.

The case of support for single mothers is not an isolated example. Self-righteous people, believing themselves to be ‘self-made’ are prepared to punish children along with single mothers and so entrench disadvantage for generations. In hoping that the Government would not cut welfare entitlements if they understood the impact, Lambie gave the Coalition too much credit for having both head and heart engaged in the business of using its power. As far as the heart is concerned, it is doubtful that any appeal to humanity will influence the Turnbull Government.

Unless rudely guffawing at their opponents, Liberals tend to lack a sense of humour. That is why I remember the remark one student made to me. The Young Liberals, who do tend to be genuinely liberal, were having a fund raising raffle for a charity that supported the disabled. When I declined to buy a ticket, this student asked whether I had a heart, to which I could reply only ‘Perhaps not’. He came back ‘Do I detect a fellow Liberal?’ I had to smile, if somewhat grimly.

Nor does the head play much part in Government decisions. In recent weeks, Coalition members have displayed a willingness to vote against measures they claim to support in principle, abandoning them for political opportunism. They have endorsed the idea of limiting overseas influence in elections but attempted to tie onto that universally acclaimed idea the limitation of donations that might flow to the Labor Party. They have wanted to take the credit for giving more support to the child care industry but tried to force the legislation through parliament in an omnibus bill that would also slash support to others in need including the disabled. This approach is distasteful and indeed hypocritical.

Neither heart nor head plays any role in the push to amend the Racial Discrimination Act. The Government’s ideological stance has been framed exclusively in theoretical terms. The Coalition seems to think that brandishing loaded terms such as ‘freedom of speech’ will secure support for its changes. Yet, while numerous people have attested that there is already too much freedom of speech around, the Government has produced no actual case to support their claims that the Act is too restrictive.

It is of course, not inaccurate to say that there is too much freedom of speech. The experiences of people who have suffered racial abuse show clearly however that there is too much abuse of freedom of speech. The Government’s proposal will not rectify the situation and will likely worsen things. Instead of making rhetorical speeches about hypothetical positions, why has the Government not produced one person who will stand up and say that, yes, they had something they wanted to say, but were afraid of prosecution? The answer seems clear: should the public hear the kind of case on which the Government is basing its campaign and to which proposed amendment would give support, there would be widespread rejection of the amendments. The general public retains a much greater degree of decency than the Government imagines. Perhaps that is why it has become so cynical.

Should we ever become a republic, we need a head of state who will remind us that a society should be judged by the way it assists its least advantaged individuals. A single mother would get my vote before someone in a suit.

Tony Smith is a former academic and regular contributor to Eureka Street and the Australian Quarterly. 

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