Peter Van Onselen has a, presumably well paid, gig writing opinion pieces for The Australian. But are they getting value for money?
Here he is in this Weekend Australian developing his theme, expressed earlier in the week, that Liberal conservative members are not really conservative at all.
His basic premise is contained in the following two excerpts
For a representative democracy such as ours to experiment in unnecessary direct democracy is a radical step, make no mistake. Which is why it’s so ironic that conservatives are pushing for the precedent-setting plebiscite on the issue of same-sex marriage.
Ordinarily, it’s conservatives who warn about the “slippery slope” when considering shifts from the norm. Or, as Sir Humphrey of Yes, Minister fame described it, a “Bennite solution” (named after Tony Benn, a radical left-wing British politician who died in 2014). Yet here they are risking the start of a slippery slope.
In other words, true conservatives are not risk takers. That may be true in terms of policy but is it true in terms of politics? As just one example, Malcolm Fraser, in his earlier years before he wandered off the reservation, could justly be called conservative. But his actions in blocking supply to the Whitlam government might just conceivably fall under the heading of ‘risk taking’, wouldn’t you think, Peter?
PvO goes on to postulate that:
Advocacy for direct democracy on gay marriage could lead to the same for euthanasia, the death penalty, abortion, legalising drugs or other conscience considerations.
In general, when it comes to social or moral issues, would that be such a bad thing? To paraphrase Kerry Packer, governments of both persuasions don’t seem to be doing a very good job of their core business, such as financial management, energy security, law and order and so on. Why should we entrust them to make good decisions on such subjective issues as same-sex marriage?
As an aside, when conservatives use the ‘slippery slope’ argument against gay marriage, they are castigated. Yet this claim has as much, possibly more, justification as Van Onselen’s ‘slippery slope’ argument against the use of a plebiscite to resolve what has now become a poisonous issue. He falls into the same trap later in the piece by rubbishing the latest Newspoll which, ‘purports’ to show that a majority now support the plebiscite. In his words:
… rarely have I seen such a distorted Newspoll published on these pages.
His objection is that the Newspoll in question failed to point out that the plebiscite was non-binding. He may be right about that. But almost all polls are questionable by the fact that they attempt to address complex issues in simplistic terms. If a poll is not to be trusted in this case, why should it be trusted to tell us that a majority of voters want same-sex marriage?
With regard to this particular plebiscite, what needs to be remembered is that it was a concession on the part of Tony Abbott – a strong opponent of same-sex marriage but no homophobe – to progress the issue with the least amount of political pain for him and his conservative colleagues.
Some context is necessary here. As recently as 2010, Labor’s official policy was to support the traditional definition of marriage. In fact Labor’s most influential gay MP, Penny Wong, supported this policy saying there was a “cultural, religious and historical view of marriage being between a man and a woman“.
Let’s take Wong at her word, that in 2010 she genuinely held that belief. Sometime in the last six years she has apparently come to accept that times have changed and she is happy to move on from that earlier ‘unenlightened’ view. But more than that, having seen the light herself, she is now determined that anyone rather more tardy than her in coming to this view is a hateful bigot. But is it unreasonable to expect others (by which I mean those of no particular religious conviction but with a conservative view of marriage), with whom Wong apparently agreed less than six years ago, to be less inclined to throw off their long held belief in the importance of the traditional view of marriage?
Now let’s assume the more likely interpretation – that Wong did not really believe her own words but was merely playing the political game. That she was prepared to sacrifice same-sex marriage on the altar of her career. In this case, isn’t it hypocrisy on steroids for Wong and her fellow travellers to expect others (by which I mean those whose opposition to same-sex marriage is based on firm religious or secular conviction, for example Tony Abbott or Cory Bernardi) to abandon their beliefs just because it now suits Wong’s political and personal convenience to belatedly acknowledge her own?
Van Onselen goes on to say:
…. in Ireland, where a constitutional amendment was necessary to allow same-sex unions, thereby requiring a vote on gay rights (as wrong as that seems — just like popular votes on giving blacks or women increased rights sickens me), those involved in the campaign have been quick to point out how ugly the debate got at times, and how hurtful it was for the LGBTI community.
Let’s have a look at the Irish referendum. It now seems an article of faith among the more incoherent SSM advocates that this was a divisive event.
Interestingly, back in September 2016 we had two of the convenors of the Irish ‘Yes’ campaign in Australia.
Tiernan Brady, who was the political director for the Irish “yes” campaign, quoted in The Australian, said:
… the lead up to the vote was mentally taxing for LGBT people but the vote itself was ultimately a “unifying moment for our country …
“ugly conversations were not the result of the process itself”
On the other hand, SMH reported Grainne Healy, co-director of the Yes Equality campaign, as saying
… Irish volunteers needed counselling after abuse and hate speech from reform opponents …
If hatred and vilification was a significant aspect of the Irish referendum it was not widely, if at all, reported in the media. An extensive Google search failed to find any evidence of this. What mostly appears to be the case is that activists label elements of the ‘No’ case as homophobic. For example, the argument that ‘children do better in a family with a mother and a father’, whatever its merits, is simply dismissed as disguised homophobia that is hurtful or insulting to gay people. That is a great example of having your cake and eating it too. Reduced to its basic, absurd, level the logic seems to be ‘we can’t have a meaningful debate about same-sex marriage because all your arguments are hurtful’. Here is the 18C mindset writ large.
Even if the debate in Ireland were divisive, why would that necessarily translate to Australia? Ireland has a completely different social, religious and demographic tradition to Australia.
Van Onselen’s has a warning for conservatives:
If the main right-of-centre party deals itself out of this debate by opposing a free parliamentary vote, it won’t have a serious seat at the table when discussing the terms of enacting same-sex marriage. Remember when some conservatives refused to endorse Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations? How has history treated that stubbornness? Have the conservative fears of a plethora of litigation following the apology materialised?
Setting aside the fact, as pointed out very comprehensively by Keith Windschuttle in his excellent book The Break Up of Australia, that the stolen generations is largely a myth, there may not have been a rash of litigation following the apology but neither did it do a damn thing of any substance for indigenous Australians as witnessed by the fact that there has been no let up in the strident demands for compensation in one form or another. And neither will there be following whatever form of recognition may make it past a referendum. But that’s another story.
Same-sex marriage is now widely touted as a human rights issue. And that is why the LBGTQI lobby so vociferously oppose the plebiscite. They do not want same-sex marriage to be bestowed upon them as a concession from the community. They want it acknowledged by Parliament as a pre-existing right, unjustifiably denied to them.
Same-sex marriage as a human rights issue is a very long bow. I am not a philosopher but it seems to me that if the term ‘human rights’ is to have any real meaning it must be limited to a few fundamental and instinctual concepts. If they are fundamental and unarguable, they must transcend human institutions. They cannot be conjured out of the latest fashion or fad. In the case of same-sex marriage, what is the ‘right’ they are seeking? Apart from a few obscure exceptions that could be easily rectified, same-sex couples have all the property rights that married couples have. All they lack is the ‘right’ to say they are married. As far as human rights go, this one’s a long way down the ‘nice-to-have’ column.
As for Peter Van Onselen, he is a political commentator whose focus is always on politics rather than policy. In other words it is the mechanisms rather than the outcomes that fascinate him. If it were otherwise, he would be reproaching Labor and the LGBTQI lobby for their opportunistic tactics absent which same-sex marriage might well be in place today. Given that voters now seem to be increasingly disenchanted with the antics of politicking, surely his trademark commentary is fast reaching its use- by date at The Australian. Particularly, as he has a perfect doppelganger in the form of Niki Savva. Do we need both or even either?
Finally, as far as this conservative (who was once unperturbed by the idea of same-sex marriage) is concerned, the LGBTQI lobby were offered an olive branch by Tony Abbott in the form of the plebiscite and they threw it back in his face. It was taken, as a firm promise, to an election and thwarted by an opportunistic Labor Party urged on by the LGBTQI lobby. Had it been implemented, SSM would probably be in place now. SSM is now an ideological battlefield, not a human rights issue, and conservatives would be foolish in the extreme to knuckle under now. It would demonstrate that any bastardry will eventually be rewarded if you persist long enough and if you cloak your aspiration with the sacred mantle of ‘human rights’.
Update: I noted above that Peter Van Onselen had rubbished the latest Newspoll showing majority support for the same-sex marriage plebiscite. His beef was that the question did not clarify that a plebiscite is non-binding. Here are his words:
The question on how to resolve same-sex marriage did not point out that the plebiscite was non-binding, which is an important missing piece of information — so much so that when past polls included that peccadillo, the numbers savagely shifted to majority opposition to the plebiscite.
Presumably we would have preferred the question to be phrased something along the lines “Do you support a plebiscite on same-sex marriage knowing that it is non-binding on MPs?”
But then it would have been necessary to add a further clarification to the effect that the non-binding nature of the plebiscite is totally irrelevant because the commitment of Abbott was that, in the event of majority support, he would allow a conscience vote in Parliament. And that is what LGBTQI lobby have been clamouring for all along. And, by all accounts, the numbers are there for a Parliamentary vote to succeed. Cynics and Abbott haters may claim that Abbott might renege on his promise but they can hardly make that claim about Turnbull.
Which brings me to another point. The same-sex lobbyists have demanded that the Coalition allow a conscience vote on this issue. The plebiscite was a means of Abbott allowing this to happen without totally alienating his conservative base. But when some conservatives announce that they will vote with their conscience against the result of the plebiscite that is used, quite shamelessly, by journalists such as Van Onselen, to re-inforce the ‘non-binding’ red herring and imply that the plebiscite would not deliver same-sex marriage.
I have wondered before in this forum whether the sub-editors at The Australian do any serious work when it comes to the opinionistas in their pages. Illogicalities abound. But you would think that, when one of their columnists uses such specious, one might almost say deceptive, reasoning to disparage their own Newspoll, some editorial intervention might be called for. Columnists are there to shape public opinion and, therefore, they should not be allowed free reign by the editorial staff.