The Politics    Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Lights, camera, reaction

By Dominic Kelly

Few things set the cultural warriors barking like International Women’s Day

Yesterday we were greeted with the news that ten female pedestrian lights have been installed in Melbourne as part of a 12-month trial. The initiative came from the Committee for Melbourne, a non-profit organisation made up of more than 120 local business and community groups, which hopes to eventually see equal representation on traffic lights across the state. Ordinary reactions to this news might range from seeing it as harmless symbolism to perhaps a waste of money and distraction from more important issues.

But ordinary reactions are not what keeps the culture wars raging. On cue, the warriors of the right took to their battle stations. The Herald Sun’s Rita Panahi went on radio to denounce the initiative as “utterly absurd”. The Institute of Public Affairs’ Evan Mulholland went further, blaming radical Marxists. “The lights themselves don’t really matter,” he wrote in the Spectator Australia. “But the insidious ideology which underpins them does.” Someone ought to tell the business and community leaders that make up much of the Committee for Melbourne’s membership that they’ve been infiltrated.

Spectator editor Rowan Dean was later invited by Sky News to comment on the issue, and he further lowered the bar by switching to race-baiting:

If I were doing the Melbourne traffic lights, I would actually have – instead of the woman – I’d have a Sudanese guy with a crowbar flashing up on the lights to warn you that you’re about to be carjacked, which is the situation that Daniel Andrews has left that state in, a state of anarchy. Nice one, Labor.

Dean’s was a textbook example of the racial stereotyping that permeates media coverage of the so-called Apex gang, as reported recently by Santilla Chingaipe. But as Sky host Paul Murray giggled away like an overgrown schoolboy, Dean continued with his theory on the “current feminist movement” and what symbolic gestures like the ABC’s all-female line-up for International Women’s Day are really about: “Get rid of men. It’s all about sacking men, getting rid of men out of jobs so that they can take their jobs. That’s the real issue.”

This is the sort of “discussion and debate” that occurs nightly on Sky News. With a rotating line-up of pundits dominated by washed-up politicians, failed political advisers and journalists looking to build their profiles, Sky is a pale imitation of Fox News, minus the good ratings. (Take, for example, Sky’s panel discussion on the future of conservatism with Mark Latham, Ross Cameron, Jennifer Oriel and Chris Kenny. It takes special effort to assemble a four-person panel in which Kenny is the most sensible participant.)

Back in the real world, feminists are ignoring the trivia and getting on with fighting the battles that matter to women. In an address to the Australian Education Union last night, veteran feminist Anne Summers outlined her blueprint for equality, prioritising four reforms by 2022: legislated equal pay, decriminalisation of abortion in New South Wales and Queensland, the establishment of specialist domestic violence courts in all states, and 50% gender quotas for leadership roles in politics and business.

Regrettably, with politicians increasingly resorting to the childish level of discourse described above, it is difficult to feel optimistic about Summers’ targets being achieved any time soon.

Today’s links

  • Representatives of the Australian Council of Social Service and the Community and Public Sector Union have slammed Centrelink’s automated debt recovery system at a Senate inquiry.
  • Housing affordability is on Scott Morrison’s mind as his second budget nears, but don’t hold your breath for any substantial policy changes. Ross Gittins outlines some of the fallacious thinking and policy-making that got us into the current mess.
  • In WA election news, Pauline Hanson has blamed social problems in the Pilbara on “bloody lefties” in the education system. And as she woos the anti-vaccination vote, Fairfax reports on this delusional, dangerous movement and its tactics.
  • History corner: Norman Abjorensen looks at the origins of our present culture wars, while Paul Kelly pines for the 1950s.
  • The Hungarian parliament has passed legislation that will see asylum seekers detained in camps at the country’s borders.
  • The Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act has upset both liberals and conservatives.
  • WikiLeaks reveals that the world’s pre-eminent spy agency uses spy methods.

Dominic Kelly

Dominic Kelly is a PhD candidate and tutor in politics at La Trobe University. He tweets from @illywhacker_.

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