Friday, September 29, 2017

Today by Sean Kelly

Grabbing the spotlight
Marriage is well and truly dominating national politics

Supplied by ABC News

I am a little stunned by just how absolutely the marriage debate is dominating the political landscape right now.

Remember Tony Abbott getting headbutted? That was … just over a week ago. Since then, we’ve had text messages and robo-calling. We had Newspoll, showing support for same-sex marriage falling, and Essential poll, showing support for same-sex marriage rising again. We had rocks hurled at a Yes house. Frances Abbott starring in a Yes ad. Marriage Alliance was cleared of spam accusations. An archbishop compared same-sex marriage to parents marrying their kids. The High Court explained why it allowed the survey, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics said it would give a running tally of ballots returned. (And I do hope polling companies keep asking that question so we can compare the results … but I doubt they will.)

The previous week now seems almost quaintly quiet: we had the AFL defending its Yes stance, John Howard not muddying the waters, accusations of push-polling, mental health concerns, Jennifer Westacott, the “controversial” school fundraiser, and Roger Corbett.

None of those are opinion pieces, slightly different angles on the same thing. Every one was a separate event, often covered by many, many different media outlets. 

Of course, we all knew the survey was going to be significant. Malcolm Turnbull has been warned by every man and his dog that this was going to take him away from other issues. In fact, Turnbull warned of this himself, back when Tony Abbott was PM: “One of the attractions of a free vote is it would have meant the matter would be resolved in this parliament, one way or another, in a couple of weeks … The reason I have not advocated a plebiscite after the next election is that it would mean that this issue is a live issue all the way up to the next election and indeed at the next election, and if we are returned to office, it will be a very live issue in the lead-up to the plebiscite itself … I want to be clear. I think it is an important issue, but particularly between now and the election, the more time I can talk about the economy, about jobs, about innovation, about digital technology and digital efficiency, the happier I’ll be.’’

But even “very live issue” seems, in hindsight, to be a massive understatement.

One of the main problems for Turnbull is that, as is so often the case, his incentives and the incentives of the man he replaced as prime minister are so massively misaligned.

In the past few weeks, Turnbull has become more willing to wade into the marriage campaign. But it is still fairly clear he would prefer to be talking about other issues, as he indicated in 2015, and as he indicated not that long back when he answered a question about whether he would be actively campaigning by saying he had “many other calls” on his time.

Tony Abbott, on the other hand, is so, so happy to be talking about marriage, all of the time.

Take this latest Macklemore festival of idiocy. In case you’ve missed it, a former rugby league player called for American rapper Macklemore to be prevented from performing his hit song ‘Same Love’, which supports same-sex marriage, at the NRL (that’s rugby league) grand final. The Coalition for Marriage backed him in, not surprisingly. Then Abbott joined the fray, tweeting: “Footy fans shouldn't be subjected to a politicised grand final. Sport is sport!”

Forget about the whole “free speech” debate here, which is a total circus. Saying you don’t think a song should be played at a particular event is not calling for a “ban”, as George Brandis mistakenly put it. It might be idiotic – it is idiotic – but if you think that businesses and sporting organisations can make political arguments – which I do – then so too can people like Abbott criticise them for it. Nor is Peter Dutton correct to imply that “free speech” would mean playing two songs, one for each side [$]. For a political party that prides itself on free speech, the Liberal Party seems to have precious little understanding of what those words actually mean.

Beyond the definitional debates, the interesting thing here is that Abbott saw an opportunity to grab the national spotlight, and took it. I doubt very much whether Abbott gives two hoots about Macklemore, his song, or its tiny chances of influencing anybody’s vote. All this represents to him is a chance to be at the centre of a national conversation. For that purpose, it was perfect: let’s combine the number one political issue with the great Australian obsession with sport. Voila, talkback gold, with your ol’ pal Tony at its heart.

Just under six weeks of this to go.

In other news



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In 2017, why is it so alien to have women of colour heading up a science fiction franchise?

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“So it is that a seemingly innocuous cultural product like a new Star Trek TV series can be accused of ‘white genocide’ by casting two women of colour in the lead roles. While there may be strong creative or commercial reasons for doing so (productions with more diverse casts have been shown to make more money), for many fans this ‘forced diversity’ was an intensely political decision, offering further evidence that the SJW agenda has polluted the pop culture these fans have long obsessed over. Nobody seemed reassured by the accompanying announcement that the captain of the titular vessel, which doesn’t show up until episode three, would be a white, straight man played by Jason Isaacs.” read on


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Hugh Robertson

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Footy player or make of car?
Jaeger, Suban, Hrovat, Bewick, Fiorini, Preuss, Varcoe, Strnadica”
(April 2017) READ ON

Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly is a columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and was an adviser to Labor prime ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.



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