Repeal s18C. Get offended. Often

Treasurer Joe Hockey is offended by wind farms. And criticisms of his unspeakably cruel and greedy budget. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison is offended by a case being brought on behalf of 50 drowned asylum seekers. And people praying in his office. The default response of government ministers to truth is that they are offended.

This is true. Truth does offend members of the Australian federal government. It causes them to hesitate, for nanoseconds. The artefact of memory, the residual sense of the moment when they could still say they entered politics to do good – to serve the people, to create positive change – is finally severed, floats free, never to return. Any conviction that the ideology to which they subscribe has the capacity to serve anything or anyone other than themselves and their corporate sponsors is cut adrift for the final time. It is replaced by increasingly shrinking, urgently repeated phrases prefaced by statements of belief. “No, Sarah, what I was saying was, I believe that…” in various formats and guises. The emptiness of these claims exposes the fact that they have no belief at all (as do the shameful claims to hold Christian “beliefs”, from Morrison of all people). Instead, we hear a desperate desire to believe one’s own bullshit, a desire so desperate that none know what they believe anymore; but only what they are supposed to believe. Today. Or for this station’s audience. Or when the sun comes out in June.

Asserting that some personal-party-political “belief” is any kind of grounds for policy making is not new; but its unwelcome presence on the political stage is particularly noxious in the age of climate change. Just quite when the self-interest of denialists became permitted to dominate public debate over scientific evidence can be traced to the fatal decision of Kevin Rudd to back away from an emissions trading scheme in 2009.

The backstory is long and dull. The Greens voted down the first bill in the Senate, the Prime Minister negotiated with then-Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull rather than call a double dissolution election. Both lost their positions – Rudd to Julia Gillard, Turnbull to Tony Abbott. Not on the sidelines but front and centre to the whole debacle were the feral employees of the Murdoch Press, columnists and editors and headline writers who have lost all sense of media standards, if they had any.

As with the concerted campaign to switch from “global warming” to “climate change”, the language war on scientific fact was won by denialists. The climate change narrative was skilfully reframed by people whose only skill is to obfuscate facts and reframe narratives for political ends. Now the debate was about whether one “believes” in climate change or “doesn’t believe” in climate change. The anti-climate action position was sustained by nothing but lies and political expedience – and claims of personal “belief”.

This is base. It is debased. It is a foul gamble with the future of the earth and intergenerational equity. It benefits no-one but the fossil fuel and other compromised corporate kings of today who can clearly sell out their own grandchildren for profit. It is also what we have, what we must live with, and in the case of the carbon tax repeal bill, what is going through the Commonwealth House of Representatives tonight.

In addition to the terminal threats posed by these monsters of capital, therefore, is this debasement of language – and thus principle, for changes in language are never meaningless, regardless of whether Abbott assaults our ears with his “terminological clarification” (Oh FFS). The precautionary principle, ditched. The principle of intergenerational equity, jettisoned. The “new policy” (and I use the word loosely) is defended in media interviews on the basis of “belief” and, even more ridiculously, what is “offensive”. Suggest to Joe Hockey that wind farming is a sustainable renewable alternative to coal. Wind farms, he asserts, offend him. Point out to Scott Morrison that Reza Berati, the Iranian asylum seeker who died during an armed attack by local guards whose employment is funded by the Australian taxpayer, was murdered on his watch. The mere suggestion is offensive to Scott. Not the murder, mind. That Scott is any way accountable.

Our Foreign Minister likes to lecture others on when to be offended. Apparently she missed the memo about getting offended by the whiff of truth in interviewer questions, and instead has told everyone else to stop getting offended by Abbott’s unreconstructed sexism. She is wheeled out to be a woman defending a misogynist, a trick used by both parties: oh look, she’s a woman, and she’s defending him, so his sleaze and creep must be a figure of our collective imagination. Nothing at all to do with the fact that he’s her boss, and she’s in cabinet and wants to stay there. Nor the fact that she’s a woman and is therefore the chosen spokesperson for the defence. Nope, she sincerely “believes” there is nothing offensive in the winking, the references to a candidate’s sex appeal, or the daughter’s looks, or the rest of the chauvinistic shit for which he is constantly, incomprehensively forgiven. Constantly, because he keeps doing it; incomprehensively, because he keeps doing it.

Peculiarly enough, the defence of Abbott is always that he has three daughters. This is not in itself evidence of non-sexism. The fact the he relentlessly paraded the daughters before the cameras throughout the campaign and referred to their looks in his leering bumbling way is not refuting evidence at all – it is the opposite. For me, the special corner in his hell should be reserved for the way he treated our first female prime minister, Julia Gillard. Among an embarrassment of choices, the nadir is his snide mockery of the anti-rapist campaign “no means no” by saying Are you suggesting to me that when it comes to Julia, no doesn’t mean no? Many fellow bloggers have listed myriad quotes and links – just google Tony Abbott sexist quotes – I can not rake over these nasty expressions of Abbott’s personality again. What niggles at me the question of whether the electorate perceives each as a vote-winner, or as forgivable ‘gaffes’, or simply overlooks the obvious character defects signalled by such ugly language.

But I headed this entry with reference to the planned repeal of “offence” from section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth). There was a reason for that, and it is this: anything that goes for blackfellas seems to incite collective white panic. It is a common misconception among elites that social justice policies will cost them dearly. Since nothing is more dear than the hip pocket, elites campaign relentlessly against equalising policy like the NDIS, universal healthcare, increased investment in education among lower socio-economic groups and so on.

This may showcase their complete economic ignorance. Do privileged people know that most estimates put returns on social investment at between $17 and $34 per dollar spent on early childhood interventions such as baby health nurses and other family supports? That’s upwards of $17 returned on every dollar spent. The savings are in reduced costs of healthcare, welfare, public housing, and the big one: the criminal justice system. The profits are in employment, increased productivity and increased tax receipts.

Or it may showcase their naked greed: the privileged definitely understand the transfer of power that comes with such equalising policy as investing in education and adequate housing in impoverished neighbourhoods (neighbourhoods which have been actively impoversished, by guess who). Returns on investment may include the privileged hearing criticism of their narrow world view, or for once competing with a less loaded dice, or actually competing. This is unappetising to a group who have invested centuries in convincing themselves and others that their assets are the product of hard work, and represent “just” rewards (as opposed to the indolent poor, who receive “just” desserts). As George Monbiot points out, “if wealth was the inevitable result of hard work, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire”.

But the point. In 2008, Kevin Rudd apologised to the Stolen Generations. The Aboriginal Stolen generations. Those Aboriginal children who were forcibly removed from their families, many if not most on grounds of being Aboriginal. It was a crime second only to the original dispossession and massacre. And then, what? All of a sudden it seemed like everyone was getting an apology. Not that the subsequent recipients did not deserve a heartfelt apology. They did. As do many more who are systematically oppressed and impoverished by the state. But it was like anything those blackfellas get, we must have too.

The taking of offence has followed the same trajectory. A group of Aboriginal people proved in a court of law that a white columnist had behaved extremely offensively. The offence was proved, the offender was found in breach of the Racial Discrimination Act. The offendees were entitled to the offence they took, AT LAW. All of a sudden every elite in the land was offended; or lecturing on who was entitled to be offended, and by what. And that everyone has a right to be offensive (this last claim, from the highest law officer in the country, is so absurdly false as to be embarrassing: there are no legislative gurantees of free speech in Australia, offensive or otherwise). The gist of it is this: if those blackfellas can be offended, we can too. The same thing happens with “entitlement”. While the Tories merrily feather their nest with their extremely expensive entitlements (like taxpayers funding their travel to hob-nobby weddings), the rest of us are lectured over ‘income support’ pittances, less for a week than MP per diem allowances for a day away from home.

When petulant elites hijack the victim role while asserting their right to victimise (a la Bolt and Brandis), someone has probably had a basic human right recognised by power. Members of a less powerful group have probably been recognised – by power – as having had their basic rights denied – by power. The Bolts of this world do not like such recognition. They push back, and push back hard. When the next key sentiment emerges from this nasty government, the pattern is sure to repeat.


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