Maverick Liberal Cory Bernardi thinks “traditional” nuclear families are best for children — so why are his Coalition colleagues from “non-traditional” backgrounds doing better than he is?
Bernardi, who has a new book out, is on a crusade to defend his “gold standard” for families: a biological mother and father who are married. He says anything different — step-families, single parents, same-sex parents — is not equal. The South Australian Liberal Senator, a favourite of columnist Andrew Bolt (who penned the tag-line for The Conservative Revolution, retailing on Amazon for $26.96), has warned single-parent families can lead children into crime and promiscuity.
He might want to be careful with that theory. Crikey has applied the “Bernardi test” to federal Parliament and found quite a list of politicians who have what he dismisses as “non-traditional” families.
Coalition MP Sharman Stone told Crikey that Bernardi’s book contains “angry and hurtful views”, and talking down non-traditional families is “just nonsense”. Stone, a Victorian Liberal MP, was particularly annoyed at Bernardi’s description of those who advocate for abortion rights as “pro-death” and his claim that some women use abortion as “an abhorrent form of birth control”.
“I find that deeply offensive … it’s a hate-filled statement,” she said. Stone called on her author-colleague to donate the proceeds from his book to a women’s refuge. “I certainly don’t think we should have people trying to make profit out of books which are deliberately provocative and anti-women and children.”
As to Bernardi’s views on families, Stone said: “Well, certainly in stereotyping a particular group or individual, it’s just that — it’s not looking at the reality. Blended families have been the nature of Western cultures for generations. After each war there’s been single mother-reared families … what matters is if the child has stability and love.”
Liberal Senator Sue Boyce also criticised Bernardi’s views on the family, telling Crikey that “life happens. People make the best efforts they can to be loving parents in vast numbers of different situations. No one has the right to judge them.”
Crikey applied the Bernardi test to the man himself, and to some of his colleagues. Yes, Bernardi was raised by his biological parents who were married. He is married himself and has two sons. He meets his own “gold standard” — but this has not helped him into cabinet. He has twice held a ministerial role and twice lost his job (Malcolm Turnbull sacked him, and the second time Bernardi “resigned” under Tony Abbott for those bestiality comments). He’s now a backbencher.
Meanwhile, here are some successful Coalition politicians who don’t fall within Bernardi’s “gold standard” …
“I love my daughter to pieces. The love that I have in my family is as strong a bond as anybody’s.”
Tony Abbott had a love child at a young age, who was adopted out (it later turned out he was not the biological father). Abbott’s sister Christine Foster is divorced from her husband and raising her children in a lesbian relationship.
Attorney-General George Brandis was raised by a single mother after his father died. “We were a two-person family, and I was very much the focus of a very loving mother. I always felt her greatest gift to me was self-belief,” he told Fairfax last year. Brandis has two children and is divorced from his wife.
Former Coalition whip Warren Entsch recently remarried and is a stepfather. “I love my daughter to pieces. The love that I have in my family is as strong a bond as anybody’s,” he said this week.
Some of Bernardi’s Coalition colleagues may not be aware of his concerns about their upbringing, however. A number of Liberal sources told Crikey no one they knew was reading his book. “I’ve not seen a copy of it yet anywhere in the building,” a Liberal staffer said from Parliament House.
Crikey is aware of several other frontbenchers who don’t meet the Bernardi test, but as their situations haven’t been reported publicly, we won’t name them out of respect for their privacy.
And here are just a few of the Labor MPs who don’t meet Bernardi’s “gold standard”. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is a stepdad, and infrastructure spokesman Anthony Albanese was raised by a single mother. Defence spokesman Stephen Conroy had a baby via a surrogate mother (Bernardi criticised that practice as well). Trade spokeswoman Penny Wong is in a same-sex relationship and has a child.
Bernardi did previously enjoy some success within the Coalition; he was seen as one of Abbott’s favourites and was re-elected to the Senate last year in the number-one spot (the preselection happened before the bestiality comments). But a party source says support for Bernardi is dwindling due to his fringe statements. “I think a lot of people thinks he’s a bit of a liability,” the source said.
Bernardi is seen as a good factional operator capable of marshalling blocs of support, but it’s understood Bernardi’s popularity in South Australia may be fracturing.
Crikey contacted Bernardi for comment but has not heard back.