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The mess is the point: Nyadol Nyuon on Peter Dutton

Today, lawyer and contributor to The Saturday Paper Nyadol Nyuon on Peter Dutton, social media and how impoliteness can be a radical agent of change.
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Last week, opposition leader Peter Dutton called for policy reform to regulate social media due to its impact on civil discourse.

He said debate in this country was absurd, dangerous, reckless and reprehensible. But who gets to define what is and isn’t “civil” in the public sphere? And what does that say about power?

Today, lawyer and contributor to The Saturday Paper Nyadol Nyuon on Peter Dutton, social media and how impoliteness can be a radical agent of change.

 

Socials: Stay in touch with us on Twitter and Instagram.


Guest: Director of the Sir Zelman Cowen Centre Nyadol Nyuon.

Read Transcript

[Theme Music Starts]
##RUBY:
From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is *7am*.

Last week, opposition leader Peter Dutton called for policy reform to regulate social media platforms due to their impact on civil debate and discussion. 

He said debate in this country was ‘absurd, dangerous, reckless and reprehensible’.

But who gets to define what is, and what isn’t ‘civil’ in the public sphere? And what does it say about power?

Today, lawyer and contributor to *The Saturday Paper* Nyadol Nyuon on Peter Dutton, social media and how impoliteness can be a radical agent of change.

It’s Monday, July 25 

[Theme Music Out]

##RUBY:
Nyadol, last week, the opposition leader Peter Dutton called for regulation of social media and for more civil debate. There’s obviously history there - and there is a subtext to what Dutton is saying. But, what did you think as you watched Dutton make that appeal to what he calls civility?

##NYADOL:
I think that was, that's the initial entry really. Peter Dutton is such a good character to illustrate what is wrong about the framing of incivility or uncivilised debate. I mean, Dutton is one of the most, if not the *most* polarising figure in Australian politics.

##Archival tape  – Senator:
*“Mr. President, I stand by it. I think Peter Dutton is a racist bigot!”*

##Archival tape  – Mr President:
*“Well, that's unparliamentary language directed at a member of the other House. I'd ask that you withdraw that, please, Senator Hanson-Young.”*

##Archival tape  – Senator:
*“It is my opinion, Mr President, I will withdraw it for the sake of the chamber. But honestly, I believe it.”*

##NYADOL:
He's been called an extremist. You know, he's been referred to as a hyper-partisan person, someone who sees, you know, sort of means justifying the end. And we have seen that in his public career. 

##Archival tape  – Peter Dutton (Sky News):
*“The reality is now people are scared to go out to restaurants in the nighttime because they’re followed home by these gangs. Home invasions and cars are stolen..”*

##NYADOL:
You know, he's weaponised issues of race with regards to asylum seekers or African gangs. 

##Archival tape  – Peter Dutton (Sky News):
*“And we just need to call it what it is. Of course, it's African gang violence.”*

##NYADOL:
During the African gangs or the so-called African gang crisis, which he led, he went as far as blaming the death of a young Sudanese girl on gangs, despite pleading from her family, from the community and from experts saying her death had nothing to do with African gangs. 

##Archival tape  – Peter Dutton (Sky News):
*“This gang violence, the gang violence is present here in Victoria, and I think the Victorian Government needs to do more than what they've done in recent months and years.”*

##NYADOL:
He saw a political opportunity and weaponised even the death of someone's child. You know, this, that to me, is a level of incivility incomprehensible to a person who is supposed to hold a public office to… It's a complete disregard and he never apologised, never showed an ounce of civility or grace in the whole process.

I mean this is not a man at all that has any, any grounds to be telling anybody how to conduct civil debate. 

##RUBY:
Mmm, yet he is saying that we should be more civil. And in that interview in Sky, he said that that was something that politicians should bear in mind. People in the media, journalists should be more civil as well. But in particular, he was really talking about social media, about social media companies. So why do you think that he's singling social media out in this way? 

##NYADOL:
I think part of the reason he's singling out social media, which is, I thought, another interesting part to explore in the article is because social media is the only media platform that Peter Dutton has absolutely no control over. You know, either by his status or by his political position, he can't really influence social media in the way he can influence Sky News, in the way that you might be able, because there are political relationships between politicians and traditional media you know, and those relationships can be good. Maybe they provide us access, but they are also a transactional relationship in some form.

So, I mean, I find it really revealing that he takes social media because I think social media isn't something he can control either by his political influence or standing. And it's not the ABC. He can't intimidate them with, you know, cutting to their funds or he can't, politically intimidate them.

So social media has this awkwardness of being a place where anybody technically can say anything to anyone. And it's problematic because of that, but at the same time, quite liberal in its ability to allow everybody to have an opinion. 

And it's not necessarily politically aligned with the goals and the aspirations of someone like Peter Dutton, as some of the traditional media are obviously, are in that conservative angle quite aligned to the way that he wants to conduct politics in Australia. 

##RUBY:
We’ll be back after this

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##RUBY:
We're talking about Peter Dutton's appeal to civility in debate and what's really at stake here. Could you tell me a bit about what it says to you to hear someone who is in a position of power, someone like Peter Dutton, the leader of the Opposition, make an appeal like this. What do his comments tell us about…about power, and how it works to defend itself? 

##NYADOL:
Well, exactly: how power works to defend itself. I think that's the core, the core claim that I'm trying to make, that the appeal to civility is actually an example of power defending itself. 

The moment he talks about civility, without at all indicating how he plans to change or apologise for his behaviour, I think that's the moment we become suspect. When civility is, or incivility, or uncivilised debate is only ever directed against one class of people, it is often to protect the status quo.

If you look at it as a matter of power defending itself, when you look at it as incivility being used and weaponised against a group, that's how you figure out that it's not being used in good faith - when the people that are constantly making complaints about incivility often don't live up to its requirement. 

##RUBY:
Hmm. So this isn't really just about Dutton, is it? We hear these kinds of views, these kinds of calls for civility, from other people as well…people like Rupert Murdoch, who owns the majority of newspapers in Australia, has made similar comments about social media, hasn’t he?

##NYADOL:
Oh, yeah. It's not, I mean, we saw people like Trump complaining about social media. We've seen the former prime minister too, complaining about social media. In fact, attempting to legislate, you know, to try and deal with trolling behaviour. 

Murdoch is also one of the people that decried social media.

##Archival tape  – Murdoch:
*“For those of us in media, there's a real challenge to confront, a wave of censorship that seeks to silence conversation…”*

##NYADOL:
When he was recently receiving an award, you would think that the traditional approach is to thank people, but he used it as a platform to complain about social media. 

##Archival tape  – Murdoch:
*“This rigidly enforced conformity, aided and abetted by so-called social media, is a straitjacket on sensibility.”*

*“Too many people have fought too hard, in too many places, for freedom of speech to be suppressed by this awful woke orthodoxy.”*

##NYADOL:
Interestingly, he was calling for reforms of social media that were quite similar and almost identical to Peter Dutton's call for reforms of social media. 

You know, so you see an alignment of both the political and economic interests, or business interests in the suggestions that they have, for how we should deal with this perceived incivility or perceived attack on their sensibilities by the uncivilised nature of social media. 

And if you look at what is affecting democracy as a whole, it's not just social media…and there are some issues with social media…. It is also media monopoly and the lack of media diversity, especially in a place like Australia. 

##RUBY:
On this question of civility, then. Should we just give up on it? Should people be able to say whatever they want? 

##NYADOL:
No. No, I don't think we should. I absolutely don't think, I don't think we should give up on civility. I think it's…it's very important. But I also think that like most things in life, it is often messy. 

So to me, to determine what is uncivil, you must first determine what is at stake. You know, so because from slavery to the suffragettes to the civil rights movement, to the you know, all this disruptive incivility stood up to power, which is to say it stood up to the status quo that has been shielded for a long time by the requirement of civility. 

Part of living in a diverse democratic society is that the mess is the point sometimes, right? Like the idea that somehow we can find this sanitised area of life where we can have this purely civilised debate is, is unrealistic, right? It's impossible.

I don't know what…the English word for it… but I feel it's almost fanciful and unreal, to demand a space in which civility as a precondition to engage in any debate. We, you know, that there must be, there has to be a space… a civilised space, but moral questions about who are we, how we live with each other are difficult, messy concepts, you know? So that is never going to be a time or a place that is sanitised enough to have a sanitised debate. 

##RUBY:
Hmm. So without incivility, things won't change. We need it for progress. 

##NYADOL:
Well, the truth of the matter is, if you look at it historically…power concedes nothing without a demand. And sometimes to question power, to make power uncomfortable, requires you to be uncivil. You know, the road to progress is not paved with good behaviour. 
 
Anybody who cares about social progress, will have to make power uncomfortable. Now, the degrees in which we make power uncomfortable are in the self-questions that we need to wrestle with. 

I know for sure, that if you look at Peter Dutton’s history of incivility, if you look at the kind of power of people like Murdoch that are calling social media uncivil - to assume that these people in the framing of the problem and the solution they propose, have your interests at heart, is truly a mistake.

##RUBY:
Nyadol, thanks so much for coming onto the show and talking to me about all of this. 

##NYADOL:
Thank you very much. 

[Advertisement]

##RUBY:
Also in the news today:

The World Health Organisation has declared Monkeypox a global emergency. 

The classification is the highest alert that the organisation can issue and follows a worldwide upsurge in cases.

More than 16,000 cases have now been reported in 75 countries, with five deaths.                                                                      

And Federal employment and workplace relations minister Tony Burke has announced that Labor will fulfil its election promise to pare back the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

Burke said the ABCC had overstepped its authority by investigating union members for the flags they fly or the stickers they put on their helmets. 

He said that as of Tuesday, the ABCC and its powers will be pulled back to the bare legal minimum.

I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am, see ya tomorrow.

[Theme Music Ends]

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