April Fool?

You could be excused for thinking April Fools Day came early this year, after watching the performance of the Abbott Government last week.

Forget the right to health or education, it’s the “right to be a bigot” that’s top of their list. Meanwhile, the return to knighthoods had all the characteristics of a sick joke. Indeed the man who as Opposition Leader was derided as the ‘Dr No’ of Australian politics, has emerged from the Lodge as its ultimate ‘Joker. ‘

But sadly these bizarre policy announcements are no laughing matter and reflect a government hopelessly out of touch with mainstream values.

Rather than seeking to represent the nation as a whole, Abbott is pursuing a vision for Australia that is as small as his Speedos. It seems that for our Prime Minister, government is not a device for advancing positive change, but rather for protecting the narrow sectional interests that underpin his support base.

The only rationale that the government has provided for its crusade against the Racial Discrimination Act is the need to remedy a supposed injustice done to one of its staunchest supporters, Andrew Bolt. The fact that most Australians are rightly appalled by racism and regard its elimination as a much more appropriate focus of government, appears to be lost on the Attorney General, George Brandis. Worse still, through his words Brandis has legitimised the kind of racism and bigotry that should have no place in public life.

The notion that freedom of speech is limited in any functional democracy is one that has traditionally been accepted across the political spectrum. The right to free speech has always been tempered by the rights of all members of our community to feel safe, free from vilification or persecution. Despite this, the dangerous proposition that freedom of speech is somehow absolute and should trump the rights of others is now being championed by the Government.

The return to knighthoods is equally jarring. Australians are known for our belief in egalitarianism and rejection of pomp and ceremony. It is hardly surprising therefore that the embrace of this elitist symbol of the past was met with ridicule. It says much about the judgement of this Prime Minister that he was drawn to an idea that was rejected by one of the nation’s most outspoken monarchists, John Howard.

While Abbott has long argued that same-sex marriage is simply not a priority for “ordinary” Australians, his re-establishment of knighthoods is surely a slap in the face to the majority who actually support marriage reform. Celebrating love might not be a priority for his government, but it seems celebrating power and privilege sure is!

While Australians give points for conviction in politics, they also punish over-reach and Prime Ministers should pick their battles. Here, Mr Abbott should pause to reflect on his road to the Lodge. He was not swept to power on a wave of popular support. Rather, his election represented a backlash against a dysfunctional Labor Government. As such, he began his Prime Ministership with little goodwill (opinion polls confirm this). Squandering the limited political capital he has left in order to appease his rusted-on base, may well prove to be an indulgence the Prime Minister regrets.

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