So, day two of the penultimate week of Parliament before the election, and things just get stranger.
For a start, Tony Abbott has quite suddenly gone all kumbaya on us. Who would have believed it? But at the end of Question Time, he jumped up and launched into a big speech about the need for niceness in public debate.
Truly. Abbott spoke of the need to unify the country. He lamented the fact that there was “too much venom” in the Parliament and in the wider political sphere. About Australia’s need for a leader who would heal the divisions.
Laudable sentiments, of course … if they had come from someone else.
But we’re talking about Tony Abbott here, the fierce warrior of student politics, with his violent outbursts. The health minister who insulted the integrity of a man dying of asbestos-related illness. The most unremittingly negative and obstructive Opposition leader in memory.
And we should not consider the hypocrisy of his appeal for niceness just against his personal behaviour, but against the behaviour of those he leads.
For Abbott is the anointed leader of the nasty party, the titular head of the wider nasty movement.
Only a few hours before the national healer-in-waiting gave his kumbaya speech, his former Parliamentary secretary, Cory Bernardi, gave an interview again asserting that the move towards same-sex marriage was pushing society in the “abhorrent and disgusting” direction of group marriage and bestiality.
As to the wider nasty movement – why, in the past week or so, it has scaled new heights of misogyny, via a menu for a party function which wittily described the food by comparison to the Prime Minister’s breasts and genitalia.
Whether or not the nasty party hierarchy had specific knowledge, it goes to the attitudes of their supporters.
Then we had Howard Sattler on Perth radio, quizzing her on “rumours” that her partner was gay. He at least was sacked by his employers at Fairfax Media. But when the egregious Piers Akerman chose to give the “rumours” another gallop on weekend TV, he escaped censure, as far as I’m aware, except by his host, Barrie Cassidy.
To be fair, his sins were not as great as Sattler’s, but Akerman claimed he too had heard the rumours. I’ve got to say, I’ve never heard them around Parliament, and nor has anyone else I’ve spoken to.
The nasty movement would put Julia Gillard in a chaff bag and throw her in the sea. They call her Juliar. The witch. The bitch. They say her father died of shame.
But the nasty movement does not just spray its social poison at the PM.
Its members infest the talkback airwaves, commercial TV’s so-called “current affairs” shows and the commentary pages of the tabloids.
They bring their meanness of spirit to a wide range of issues, from immigrants to education, from human relationships (see Bernardi, above) to the environment.
Facts are unimportant to their pitch. The children of same-sex couples, they say, will suffer. No matter that the science shows the kids are all right.
Asylum seekers are criminal. No matter that the evidence shows they are law-abiding. Climate change is “crap” (as the great healer himself once said), when the scientific evidence is overwhelming. We are having an “economic emergency” (also from the lips of the healer, in his Budget reply), when we patently are not. There are so many examples; you can think of some for yourself.
They seek to divide us, one from another. Their stock-in-trade is the promotion of “downward envy”, the perception that someone below you on the ladder of life is getting an unfair boost up.
Their message is never hope, but fear. They exaggerate the problems, but they are too shy to reveal their solutions. A cynic might think that’s because (a) they don’t have any, or more likely (b) they realise people would find their solutions unpalatable.
Ah, but the nasty movement is travelling along very nicely without having to propose solutions, and propelling Tony Abbott towards power.
And now, at the eleventh hour, he seeks to persuade us that with the election of an Abbott Government, niceness will be restored to the public and political discourse and the nation’s divisions will heal.
Personally, I doubt it. But if the nasties do quiet down a bit, it will only be because he has called them off. For he is their leader.
(Photo: Mike Bowers/The Global Mail)