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Tony Abbott's monsters


Boris Karloff as Frankenstein

Melbourne Anglican editor Roland Ashby recently produced a collection of interviews published in the paper over 15 years. Not long after Pauline Hanson made her legendary racist maiden speech in parliament on 10 September 1996, the author Morris West complained in his interview that 'too much attention has been given to Pauline Hanson [because] the media creates its own monsters'.

The most famous monster in the history of the western imagination is the one created by Victor Frankenstein in Mary Shelley's 1818 novel Frankenstein. When Victor realises he has made a mistake in trying to play God, he leaves his handiwork to fend for itself. Frustrated and angry at being cut loose, it wreaks havoc on everyone and everything in its path.

Since the heyday of Pauline Hanson, the media has made monsters out of many politicians. It has mercilessly caricatured them as grotesque and out of control. This may have ensured coverage of politics that is accessible to most Australians, but it has been at cost of diminishing the quality of rational political discourse in this country. 

Significantly, the conservative side of politics appears to have itself adopted a variation on this practice. It has made monsters of its own MPs, in the belief that their larger than life profiles will translate into electoral success.

When appointing Nationals Senator leader Barnaby Joyce to the front bench as shadow finance minister a few years ago, Tony Abbott created the genre of the 'retail politician', in order to justify liberties such MPs would inevitably take with party policy. 'I think that Barnaby is a uniquely gifted retail politician,' he said at the time. 

The retail politician is given special licence to move about the electorate to spruik party policy. As less gifted communicators, the 'wholesale' politicians will stay out of the limelight to finesse the policies their retail colleagues are busy selling. That's the theory. 

True to the form of the monster, Joyce created havoc among his colleagues when he criticised the sale of Cubby Station to a Chinese-led consortium and thereby opposed the Coalition policy that supports foreign investment.

Then last week, another gifted retail politician who had been elevated to the shadow ministry, South Australian Senator Cory Bernardi, played to the nation's bigots by linking gay marriage to bestiality.  

This monster had to go, in what could prove to be a sign that Abbott has learned from his mistakes. Abbott might finally have ditched his distinction between retail and wholesale, in favour of authentic politicians, by appointing erstwhile wholesale MPs Arthur Sinodinos and Jamie Briggs to replace Bernardi in the ministry.

If this is the case, he has heeded the warning against hubris contained in Shelley's morality tale Frankenstein.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.


Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Tony Abbott, Barnaby Joyce, Cory Bernardi, Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, politics



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Existing comments

I'd be more convinced that Abbott had learnt anything if his public pronouncements on this unpleasant matter had included any disavowal or rejection of Barnardi's views. Instead he seems to have treated this as a disciplinary breach, meriting only a token slap on the wrist.

OldG | 24 September 2012  

"the media has made monsters out of many politicians" Let's be clear here. "the media" is a many-headed beast. Even if we narrow it down to the journalists who cover politics, they too have various beastly characteristics. True many of them hunt in packs, usually behind "The Leader Of The Pack". In Australia the leaders of the packs are quite often clever and well-educated but they have no interest in educating the lesser animals who watch them hunting down their prey. "Keep it simple" is their motto. Don't confuse them with the subtlies of survival in the jungle. Let them continue to play in the undergrowth of their humdrum lives. And tell them about the monsters, whether from the lush green vegetation of the Left or from the rough rocky terrain of the Right, who are threatening their comfortable apathy and blissful ignorance. Of course every now and then a self-made monster appears. They are easier to deal with than the magnified monsters of the media. That is the lesson Mr Abbott has learned. And maybe some of his followers

Uncle Pat | 24 September 2012  

The problem for Abbott, as far as Cory Bernadi goes, as with Barnaby Joyce, is that these people have always been the same. If Bernadi had somehow just 'crossed the line' with his crass commentary the other day, it was not for the first time, was it? Sacking him from a job is merely damage control. What the South Australian Liberals should do is de-select him and remove him altogether from the political environment, or at least from the public payroll. But, as shown on ABC Insiders yesterday, Bernadi is not alone. The Grotesque apologist for all-things Liberal on the panel yesterday was making very similar comments some years ago.

janice wallace | 24 September 2012  

Cory Bernardi, from what I've read in the media (trustworthy source!), has jetted off overseas and does not seem particularly remorseful over his repugnant remarks. I think Abbott did the right thing, but I'll be interested to see just how long Bernardi will remain in the wilderness. Perhaps Cory could attend Empathy School during this time.

Pam | 24 September 2012  

I'd much rather hear the honest views of politicians aired, however repugnant and bigoted they are. The message Tony Abbot's giving by merely criticising Bernardi for lack of discipline, shows that Abbott agrees with what he said - but is making it clear that the opinions should be kept quiet for the sake of party prospects at the next election. Let's not censor our politicians - I'd be more offended by being kept in the dark about what our aspiring leaders really believe.

AURELIUS | 24 September 2012  

The media is responsible for 'monsterising' Senator Bernardi. I watched and listened to the speech he made in the Senate, he wasn't making any correlation between same-sex attracted people and those who practice bestiality. The point he was making was of the 'slippery slope' argument and retired High Court judge, Michael Kirby had raised that possibility in Mat when he stated that Australians should not be surprised if, in the event that same-sex attracted people were granted access to marriage rights, other groups may wish to ask for rights for their relationships to have similar recognition. Just who is behind the 'monsterising' of one personality for saying one thing and the 'heroising' of another who says fairly much the same thing, is a matter that all honourable people should be concerned about.

Fr Mick Mac Andrew | 24 September 2012  

I don't see what all the fuss is about Mr Barnardi's comment. But it certainly was seen by Malcolm Turnbull and his followers as a springboard to launch himself back into the leadership of the Liberal party, and maybe as Gillard did to Rudd, a pre-election attempt to ouster Abbott and to become Australia's next Prime Minister. At least Cory Bernardi had to courage to stand up against same sex marriage, something most of the cowardly P.C. politicians aren't prepared to do in case it costs them their job.

Trent | 24 September 2012  

Fr Mick Mack Andrew makes a very good point. I agree with the question, who exactly is making the monsters out of a well argued point? .....Only somewhat undiplomatic at this point in time. But then maybe the constant cries of 'bigot' need to be answered in an equally ferocious manner.

Penny & Mike Elliott | 24 September 2012  

Well "Trent", seems many commenting here don't have the courage to stand up for equal rights. Do you realise same-sex marriage - when it's eventually passed - will not be compulsory? SO there's no need for anyone to "stand up" to it. It's not the job of governments to grant human rights - they are already there. It's the government's jobs to eliminate laws that deny people their human rights. I'm sure you'd agree with Bernardi in thinking that homosexual people's relationships and no more worthy or dignified than bestiality. The politicians who voted against the same-sex marriage bill are in fact the ones who are being politically correct and cowardly - they are afraid to grant what the majority of the Australian public want - both hetero and homosexual - for fear of being seen to pander to a mob of 'poofters'.

AURELIUS | 24 September 2012  

Aurelius has got it wrong. And so have David Marr, Michael Kirby and countless others who want to argue that only their assessment that granting same-sex attracted people access to marriage will 'fix' whatever it is that they see as maintaining a state of injustice in not granting them that right.
The charge of offending against an individual's human rights could very well be levied against those who refuse to allow one or the other or both sides of the issue to be heard without fear and favour. 'Monsterising' by either side must be challenged, so too 'heroising' the likes of which can be seen in the heralding of Galaxy Research Polling which polled 865 Australians and then from that minute cluster, stated that 64% of Australians are in favour of same-sex marriage, or the claim by Senator Sarah Hansen Young the day the vote was taken that the Bill failed "because the wrong people are in Parliament," or, ABC News 24 broadcasting, on the 1pm bulletin that day, 26 minutes coverage for the pro-access to marriage supporters but not one minutes of time to those against. Let the froth and bubble go and let the true debate proceed.

Fr Mick Mac Andrew | 24 September 2012  

I acknowledge this is not related to the above article, but just one question, and this an observation, NOT a criticism. It says Eureka Street is on Facebook. I've looked you guys up just now, and several other times, but the best I get is "Eureka Street Furniture". Don't know if you want to send me the link. If you haven't got time, through your busy schedules, that's fine, but if someone could, that would be awesome! Otherwise, thanks for a marvellous, and inspirational e-zine!!

Phillip | 24 September 2012  

Good question Phillip! Here is the link you need: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Eureka-Street-politics-current-affairs-and-the-arts/9166053734?ref=ts Or click through from the link at the top right-hand corner of this page. Thanks for reading!

Tim Kroenert - Assistant Editor | 24 September 2012  

Indeed; and on the other hand you have the 'faint praise I-don't-quite-know-what-to-say department. John Howard introduced Joe Hockey to his ministry as 'a lovable bear of a man', while Amanda Vanstone was always'colourful'. One wonders about the effect on their subsequent careers of this inabilty to name qualities which suited them for office - or was Howard genuinely at a loss for such material? Do they come across still as a bit lightweight because those descriptions were apt?

Julia | 24 September 2012  

Well, Father Mick, we've heard plenty from those against same-sex marriages and they still haven't come up with a logical debate - simply because there is none. The reason the Bill failed is because Tony Abbott refused to allow a conscience vote - so therefore the decision to vote against it was not based on conscience. Plain and simple.

Same sex couples have heard nothing but the slippery slope argument which you refer to Father Mick - and you know well yourself there is no-one with an agenda to legitimise marriages between human beings and animals - the push for same-sex unions is unanimous consensus that the majority of human beings value monogamy - faithful, eternal partnerships between 2 people - not polygamy, and not promiscuity.
God did not create human beings as sexual beings and expect them to remain celibate - as a priest you have chosen that path, and good for you.

As Bertrand Russell quite wisely said: "The people who are regarded as moral luminaries are those who forego ordinary pleasures themselves and find compensation in interfering with the pleasures of others." And no, he wasn't referring to smoking as an ordinary pleasure.

AURELIUS | 24 September 2012  

What was racist about Pauline Hanson's maiden speech? Please explain. was it perchance about Australia being in danger of being swamped by Asians ? Asia is a continent extending from the Pacific coast to Turkey and includes all middle eastern countries. Australia may not be "swamped" yet but Christmas Island sure is. Anyway, isn't it about time the press stopped bullying Pauline Hanson?

Peggy Balfour | 24 September 2012  

I just can't understand the opposition to same-sex marriage. Conservatives are always rabbiting on about the importance of marriage and the family. Gay people want to get married and have families. More marriage, more families! How can that be wrong, or bad for society?

Monty | 25 September 2012  

Well Monty, the opposition to gay marriage is simple - because people of homosexual orientation are expected to abstain from sexual acts with members of the same sex. Church teaching is that the homosexual orientation is fine - but if they engage in "homosexual activity" they will be sent to hell when they die.

AURELIUS | 26 September 2012  

Unless Tony Abbott can explain why Cory Bernardi's ignorant bigotry doesn't warrant his disendorsement, it is reasonable to assume that he's happy to let Bernardi "freelance" his hate speech from the backbench.

Michelle Goldsmith | 26 September 2012  

Aurelius thinks there's no logical argument against same sex unions.
Data from the Gay/Lesbian Consumer Online Census shows that only 29% of gay/lesbian relationships last more than 7 years!!

Father John Michael George | 26 September 2012  

Well said,Fr Mick, Trent, Penny & Mike and Peggy.

Cory Bernardi's was one of the finest parliamentary speeches I've read in a long time. It was measured, logical, and in no way gratuitously offensive. I would be proud to give that speech down to the last word. Shame on Tony Abbott for his failure of nerve.

What's wrong with saying that, if you abolish one essential element of traditional marriage to accommodate people with desire X, that might establish a precedent for someone down the track to abolish another essential element of marriage to accommodate people with desire Y? That's not bigotry. That is a perfectly valid argument. If you don't think it is, refute it with a valid counter argument, not with ad hominems.

Moreover: "A person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion."(Online dictionary). So, how much toleration of Bernardi's opinion is being demonstrated by the author of this piece (and his backers in the comments), who seeks to demonise, or rather, "monsterise" Bernardi for his opinion?

HH | 26 September 2012  

Apologies. To clarify ... a "bigot" is "A person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion."(Online dictionary). &c.

HH | 27 September 2012  

HH,,Fr Mick, Penny & Mike and Peggy: Thanks for you comments. Aurelius, Where does this so-called "human right" to allow a man on man or female on female marriage exist? It is not a "right" at all. It is against Natural Law and Divine Law. Same sex sexual activity is a Mortal Sin against God and the True Faith which offends God greatly as He has stated. It is one of the 4 sins that cry out to Heaven for vengeance according to God, The Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost. Life is so short so why would anyone forego a "mansion" in Heaven for Eternity, for a peculiar momentary unhygenic bodily pleasure leading the soul to Hell for all eternity! Aurelius, use your intelligence and havve Faith in God who is the arbiter of what is right or wrong. You have the future of your own soul to worry about as do I. God's Laws are good for us. To go against Divine Law if to go against God who judges our eternity. Visit:- http://members7.boardhost.com/TrueCatholic and give us your reasons for not agreeing with my appraisal and give me your own critical appraisal of physical sexual rights for homosexual/lesbian relatiomships Trent

Trent | 27 September 2012  

Isn't it time the people of this 21st century first world country left gay people alone; let them do their own thing?! Gays have been around for millennia, for goodness' sake. They do not choose to be gay. They're born like that. Get it?! If they want to marry, and raise children, let them. Who cares. I was born into a hetero household, to a violent alcoholic, sexually abusive father. My siblings and I have never recovered from PTSD. I'm 69. And to Father John: so 29% of gay relationships last more than seven years! Oh my goodness! Well, how many hetero relationships last longer Father John? Not many I have known, that's for sure. I am not gay, but I have known and worked with dozens of gays in my career and life. Some have been my closest friends. God bless all of them

Louw | 28 September 2012  

Trent, the "unhygienic bodily pleasures" I suspect you are referring to also occur in heterosexual marriages - if I suspect right that you are referring to sodomy. There are gay people also follow the teachings of Christian chastity. Same-sex couples don't all engage in the unhygienic activities you refer to.

AURELIUS | 28 September 2012  

Furthermore, Divine and Natural Law are arbitrary and not enforcable by secular governments. But following our English common law heritage - laws change and are adapted to situations, just as moral judgments vary according to circumstances and the individual's God-given conscience. The UN Human Rights Commission: Stresses that human rights and fundamental freedoms are the birthright of all human beings, that the universal nature of these rights and freedoms is beyond question and that the enjoyment of such rights and freedoms should not be hindered in any way on the grounds of sexual orientation;" Rights for all people, including those who are gay, are guaranteed in various United Nations human rights conventions. As the Universal Declaration states, “ Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind” “Sexual orientation and gender identity are integral to every person’s dignity and humanity and must not be the basis for discrimination or abuse.” Current society and church attitudes towards homosexuality are soul-destroying and lead to suicide. The church is directly complicit in many deaths and should be considered as breaking the commandment - 'Though shalt not kill.'

AURELIUS | 28 September 2012  

lOUW,your "born-like-that" argument, is surely not your best![asocial psychopaths are born like that too!]-that doesnt justify breaking the decalogue[same re gay unions].[H.Lector & Al Capone to judge: "I was born psychopathic,your Worship!]" Louw[Though scientists suggest patho hormonal rewiring 'in utero'= gay etiology- such is not a license for SSU or moral anarchy.

Father John Michael George | 28 September 2012  

Aurelius fails to understand the church's constant campaign against situation ethics and cousins consequentialism, proportionalism and sundry arbitrary anarchies. Censured Charles Curran et alii can attest to RCC aversion to Aurelius type antinomianism, once popular in Soviet Union and Nazi Germany with their "adaptations". Common law adaptations are hardly reliable norms on Decalogue[eg abortion /euthanasia/embryonic research/gay unions etc]

Father John Michael George | 28 September 2012  

It appears that if you are opposed to same sex marriage you are considered to be a bigot by many supporters of same sex marriage.The Sydney Gay Mardi Gras has ridiculed and made fun of the Catholic and other Christian churches for years.I would call that type of action bigotry also.

John Tobin | 28 September 2012  

Well Father George, the fact that a third of gay relationships last more than 7 years should be celebrated, considering the fact they are scarcely recognised and only now civil unions are starting to legitimise partnerships step by step. If a partnership isn't properly consecrated from the start, with public declaration of love and commitment etc, then you could hardly gather figures on how long these loose and complicated pairings last for. And by the way, appalling breakup statistics are NOT a valid argument against same-sex marriage - do you realise divorce is actually legal under secular law and most protestant denomination.

AURELIUS | 29 September 2012  

Yes, Father George, the same situational ethics that allowed the Catholic Church to justify slavery in earlier centuries due to a "symbiotic relationship" between slave and master, and the same situational ethics that produced the Just War theory, the Crusades, today's wars which ignore "Thou shalt not kill" and about covetousness (slavery). It seems happy healthy heterosexual people are not at all threatened by the increase rights for homosexual people. And your argument comparing any genetic basis for homosexuality to psychopathic behaviour is absurd. You cannot compare normal sexuality with mental illness.

AURELIUS | 01 October 2012  

good one!

Marie Biddle rsj | 02 October 2012  

Aurelius you confuse application of perennial principles, with antinominian situationalism Ironically, sound catholic casuistry is undergoing revival, in USA secular ethical literature and ethics faculties.

Father John Michael George | 03 October 2012  

Big words and big ideas, Father, but what you call "situationism", many call "reality". We do not need another faculty to tell us that human beings were created in God's image. I'd prefer to think of how God may perceive our human condition and the way we treat each other - but shudder at the thought of how we already know how God perceives us. (or need a revisional study or some church faculty to tell us)

AURELIUS | 04 October 2012  

And by the way, Father, being a homosexual in no way implies that a person is rejecting the teachings of one's religious code (thereby relying on faith alone as the idea of antinomianism implies). I, just as you are, and a sinner and stand judged by God and if I have need for God's forgiveness, I will ask for that in the context of a confessional - I'm not doing that here as you seem to conclude. And even if I was admitting to breaking any religious rules, that would not make my approach antinomianism because antinomian theology does not necessarily imply ethical permissiveness.

AURELIUS | 04 October 2012  

NB Aurelius: ANTINOMIANISM The doctrine that claims that a person's faith in God and in the person of Christ frees him from the moral obligations of the law, whether natural or positive, biblical or ecclesiastical. It is a logical consequence of any theory that so stresses the work of the Holy Spirit as to exclude the need for co-operation with divine grace. The most authoritative condemnation of Antinomianism was by the Council of Trent, which saw in the Reformation principle of faith without good works the source of Antinomian conclusions. Hence among other anathemas of Trent was the censure of anyone who says that "God has given Jesus Christ to men as a redeemer in whom they are to trust, but not as a lawgiver whom they are to obey" (Denzinger 1571). (Etym. Greek anti, against + nomos, law.) from Fr. John Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary

Father John Michael George | 04 October 2012  

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