Abbott's double standard

There are many things to celebrate on Australia Day, but perhaps themost important is that it marks the end of the silly season.

Itis the time politicians and the media dust themselves off and start onthe serious business of the year. Or at least they would have if TonyAbbott had not told the Women’s Weekly that he would advise his daughters to sit on it until they were married.

Actuallyif he had put it as straightforwardly as that there probably wouldn’thave been much of a fuss. Some might have derided him as a bit oldfashioned (or, as his 18-year-old daughter Frances put it, “a lame,gay, churchy loser”) but a lot of traditional parents might haveshrugged in mute agreement.

However, Abbott being Abbott, he had to take it further. After all, the Weeklywas doing an extensive piece on his favourite subject – himself – andindeed on his favourite aspects of it – ethics and beliefs, creed andcredo. So Abbott felt constrained to add that virginity was a gift fromGod to a woman, and the most precious gift she could give to a man.

Byway of later explanation he insisted that he wasn’t preaching – thiswas simply the advice that he would give to his own three daughters,although given that two of them had already reached adulthood it couldstill be seen as a touch patronising. But no one really believed him.The worst fears of the moderates, both inside and outside the LiberalParty, were confirmed: Captain Catholic was back in charge. The MadMonk just couldn’t help himself; he was incapable of drawing the linebetween public policy and private morals. And in Australia, this wasalways going to be a bummer.

Actually Abbott received moresupport than he probably expected; talk back radio ended up slightly inhis favour thanks to a blitz by women of a certain age (and possiblyalso a certain religion). And the most severe critics tended to be theusual suspects: feminists such as Catherine Lumby and Eva Cox, who weregenerally seen as political fringe-dwellers at best.

Kevin Ruddsensibly laid low and said nothing, and his deputy Julia Gillardrestrained herself to the terse observation that Australian women couldmake their own choices and did not want to be lectured by Tony Abbott.

Eventhis was too much for the Liberals’ normally sensible legal affairsspokesmen George Brandis, who said Gillard had no right to talk aboutfamilies because she didn’t have one herself.

The quick responsewas that Gillard was not talking about families but about Tony Abbott,and that Brandis would presumably also disqualify the Pope and allcelibate clergy from the debate; indeed, perhaps he should disqualifyhimself from discussing women and children since he did not have awomb. But the real argument centred around Abbott’s hypocrisy, which heat least acknowledged; after all he could hardly deny it. Rathersheepishly he admitted that when his daughters said to him: “But daddy,you did all those things yourself,” he had replied: “Well, yes, I did.”And indeed he had, and more.

It is on the record that whilestudying in the seminary to become a priest, his lust was sooverwhelming that he was forced to appoint a personal celibacy adviser.This hapless individual was not up to the job; Abbott jumped the walland quickly gained a name for successful lechery at Sydney University.There was an unfortunate experience when one girl with whom he wasplaying Vatican roulette became pregnant, and the child was adoptedout; years later Abbott was reunited with the man whom he thought washis son but whom tests showed had another father altogether.

Andthere are many unedifying anecdotes about his time at St John’s, theCatholic residential college of Sydney University. Thus when he claimedthat he was urging restraint upon young men as well as young women,there was a certain amount of coarse laughter.

But the moreserious underlying complaint was about the idea that a woman’svirginity, and therefore presumably her entire sex life, could beregarded as no more than a gift to a man. The issue died a naturaldeath in the media, but the memory of that piece of unbridled misogynywill linger on.

This generation’s answer to Screaming LordSutch, Gibbering Lord Monckton, is so obviously loony that under normalcircumstances Australians would treat his ravings with the contemptthey deserve. But alas, these are not normal times; the anti-sciencebrigade is not only on the march, but is making the running on thewhole issue of climate change.

They have been helped along bysome very powerful financial backers and some influential allies in themedia, but what has given them a real lift is the revelation that someof the advocates for the case for global warming have been shown to beover-enthusiastic and in some cases just plain wrong. These flaws,according to the sceptics, show that the whole scientific edificepainstakingly erected over a decade is shonky; scientists are not to betrusted, and it is likely that the Earth is flat after all, just asreasonable people have always suspected.

Of course they shownothing of the kind; 99% of the science, supported by 99% of qualifiedscientists, remains intact. By any rational standard the case forman-made global warming is beyond argument, even if all the detailscannot be quantified. But in political terms, we are just about back tosquare one.

It is to be hoped that people of goodwill from allparties can restore some sanity to the debate. The fact that TonyAbbott and even Barnaby Joyce have shunned numerous invitations toassociate themselves and their parties with Monckton’s outrageousdemagoguery is a hopeful start.

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