There never was a time in Australian public speech when our leaders went for gold. But in the past week, they’ve sure been smelting the worst kind of tin. “Debate”, such as it isn’t, around big issues like homophobia, racism and free speech has been smaller than that endured by a Year 9 supervisor at one of our nation’s second-tier private schools. Just when you thought the utterances of Eric Abetz could not ring more boyish and hollow, the Tasmanian Senator sets a new standard in nyah, nyah, nyah.

After a moment on Sky News that recalled the best of Bernardi, we found Abetz arguing his way out of charges of bigotry on a technicality, Your Honour. Just as Bernardi claims often that he cannot be a racist because “Islam is not a race”, Eric made the case that he couldn’t possibly be homophobic because stable sexual categories can’t really be said to exist.

I’m not actually joking. Watch the thing. Abetz, who retains his interest in the clear and honest depiction of sexual acts on mainstream media, makes the case that outlets routinely fail to cover the true erotic experiences of Australian citizens. He says that people who go from a straight to a gay identity are applauded in the press, whereas those who make the opposite transition are undersold. He denies that he is making a case for gay conversion, but insists that media has a responsibility to show that it quite often occurs. I’m not sure why the Senator yearns to see an Australian Story that unfolds in the moving narrative of a little gay boy who finally realises that homo-eroticism is not his bag. Probably, neither is Eric. Nonetheless, he says he seeks a media, and a corporate culture, that praises pansexual behaviour.

As a person who studied the discipline known as queer theory in those constructivist ’90s, I find this especially curious. Abetz is partially informed by that radical scholarship when he suggests that sexual desire is a social construct and not a fixed or natural thing. We can bet without risk that Eric does not believe this, as we can bet that he hasn’t read the French guy who started all this thinking, Michel Foucault. But we can see when he makes statements about sexual fluidity like, “It is up to the individual as to what they want to be and how they want to express themselves” that he’s prepared to adopt any line of argument at all, Bernardi-style, in the effort to make his curious case.

[No analogies for you: why Lyle Shelton needs to quit comparing Safe Schools to Nazism]

And it is curious. He claims in interview with Samantha Maiden that, “evidence has been given to Senate Committees, where people that have been in gay relationships have gone into heterosexual relationships”. Which Senate committees, and why are citizens of the “free society” that Abetz passionately upholds being asked to submit to this act of sexual McCarthyism? Are you now or have you ever been a member of the homosexual party?

That there are those who feel deep, nearly primal revulsion for homosexual acts or any form of conspicuous cultural difference is clear. It is hardly obfuscated by the Abetz attempts to engage in “complex” debate. When his Twitter feed was not full this week of re-posted comments about the damage to free speech done by anyone whatsoever who even mildly disagreed with the rot that comes out of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s mouth, his mind was full of complicated, unconvincing arguments about sexual identity.

Honestly, I’d prefer it if he just said, per Pauline, “I don’t like it”. It’s tedious to listen to him offer a patchwork of arguments taken from French thinkers, and I feel very keenly for my old university tutors forced to mark my dreadful essays every time Abetz thinks he’s offered some unassailable truth.

Just as I feel very keenly for the subeditors at News Corp forced to crawl through the text of similarly over-complicated, under-thought bilge such as that offered by Jeremy Sammut, apparently a guy from the Centre for Independent Studies, an organisation, as I understand it, just like the IPA, but with less money.

It seems that there is an ad for an ice confection, which features the marriage of two brides. Sammut suspends, as does Abetz when it is convenient, his commitment to free-market practice and says this depiction sets an “elitist and hedonistic tone”, which I would have thought was spot on for a high-calorie, high-end treat. He then goes on to make the queer politics case, such as I have myself many times in the past, and critiques the fact that this is a depiction of “gay people (who) want to be part of this very conservative institution”.

The last talk I attended by the CIS was in praise of Adam Smith. For a bunch of people desperate to maintain faith in classical models of economic thinking, their research fellow is suddenly very interested in smashing dominant paradigms. And, indeed, in offering a semi-cultural Marxist critique of advertisements that offer a false view of freedom.

[At-risk LGBTI people don’t need marriage, they need mental health care]

If an ice cream manufacturer can sell its goods using imagery that seems either conservative or progressive, it will do it. This is surely the glory of the free market, right? You can use dominant morality, which now happens to be in support of same-sex marriage but was once exclusively enamoured of the stable and heterosexual nuclear family, to sell your commodity.

These arguments, of course, do not bear much scrutiny, and I apologise for my critical indulgence, which may be as trivial as that of Abetz. But, please, boys. A little consistency in your argument. You can use queer theory, or even a radical attack on the conservatism of marriage to make your case. You can moralise about the coercion to which we are subjected by our purportedly “free market”. I often do these things myself. But I do it consistently and never to conceal a loathing for difference. If I hate a minority, I’ll tell them outright.

So here goes: I hate the minority of hypocritical elites who make poor and erratic arguments to impose their vile conservatism on a nation.


Peter Fray

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