They call it ‘going into public life’, but in actual fact, the last thing Australian politicians want is to be publicly observed in honest action.
In public, Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey pretend they are closer than locker-room buddies, cheerfully waiting for Malcolm Turnbull to arrive for a three-way game of squash. In private, they can barely tolerate each other. Meanwhile, over on the notionally progressive side of the aisle, Gillard is paralysed by having to ride three horses at once: one faction chained to Rome by Joe de Bruyn, one as devoted to the polls as de Bruyn is to Rome, and one desperately wishing they dared be progressive, if only it didn’t hurt. And then there’s Bob Katter and the other temperamental show ponies.
It’s the same in Victoria. There’s a big crevasse right through the middle of the Coalition Government, with rigid hardheads like the Attorney-General on one side, and small-l wets like Mental Health Minister Mary Wooldridge on the other — a crevasse so wide that in trying to bestride it, Ted Baillieu finds himself perpetually off balance, unable to move, and in constant danger of emasculation.
What the situation everywhere calls for is courage and daring, but somehow those qualities have been squeezed out of our parties and parliaments. Seats are filled by the same kind of colourless drones who sit in cubicles in call centres, parroting the same script over and over again.
When the vote to restore the special rights and privileges of the nominally religious came up for a vote in Melbourne recently, the best the Liberal wets could manage was for Mary Wooldridge to turn up too late to vote, and even that’s being sold as an accident.
Heaven forfend that any dissenting member should dare to actually express outright opposition to this pernicious piece of nonsense. They didn’t dare.
When the aforementioned Joe de Bruyn produced that hoariest of discredited chestnuts last week, claiming that poofs brought down the Roman Empire and gay marriage would be the end of civilisation, did Julia laugh in his face, tell him to go easy on the communion wine and take a Trappist retreat for the next 10 years? She didn’t dare.
The cowardice is especially noticeable when it comes to the gay. Hillary Clinton may tell the world that gay rights are human rights. Conservative British government ministers may pledge public support and embassy assistance in fighting homophobia worldwide. The European Parliament may refuse admittance to homophobic countries.
But try getting an Australian politician from either of the main parties to consistently and publicly support, defend and spruik for our community, and they start making like Ronald Reagan in the AIDS years, when he let thousands die rather than utter the word ‘gay’.
And then they wonder why we get mad at them. It’s simple. We expect better.