Married to the lynch mob

There’s a truism that says Australia is the 51st state of the US – a McDonalds on every corner, a rather pathetic desire to curry favour with the President, and a willingness to be screwed over in treaties and trade agreements by an ally.

After yesterday, I think, we can really claim that title. Yesterday, we saw the Tea Party come to Australia, with all its hysteria, fake claims of ‘grass-roots’ sentiment and lies. And – just as in the US – we saw a conservative political party try to convince us that they weren’t causing the hysteria, just listening to ‘the silent majority’ finally rise up and exercise their right of free speech.

Radio station 2GB – home of ultra-conservative ‘shock jocks’ like Alan Jones – helped organise a protest rally against the government’s proposed carbon pricing scheme at Parliament House yesterday. According to the Australian Federal Police, about 1500 people gathered on the lawn, led by former rock singer Angry Anderson. In the crowd were One Nation, the anti-Semitic Australian League of Rights and former One Nation MP Pauline Hanson. On the platform were discredited scientists, self-styled ‘experts’ and carefully chosen ‘ordinary Australians’.

And the Coalition came out to meet them with open arms.

All well and good. People have a right to protest, despite the best efforts of politicians like former Prime Minister John Howard and former Liberal Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen (who infamously legislated to declare any gathering of three or more people in a public place an ‘unlawful assembly’). That right isn’t limited to any cause, or restricted to reasoned debate in conference halls. When people feel passionately, they want to be visible, and they want to be heard.

But what happened in Canberra yesterday went far beyond ‘protest’ – it was an ugly mob, and the Coalition pandered to it and whipped it into a frenzy.

Speaker after speaker mounted the platform to address the rally. Every one of them repeated the lies that form the now-familiar Coalition message: that Prime Minister Gillard’s broken promise on a carbon price was a deliberate deception on her part; that every Australian would suffer terribly by being forced to pay a carbon tax; and – with the notable exception of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott – that climate change was simply not happening.

Well, they can lie. They should, and are, being called on those lies, but it’s free speech, right? As Liberal MP Kelly O’Dwyer repeatedly yelled over both Labor MP Nick Champion and Sky’s Keiran Gilbert this morning, they’re ordinary Australians who are allowed to have their views heard. Even if those views are the kind of personal insults yelled by Pauline Hanson (who fronted the cameras to attack Gillard for being unmarried with no children).

Except this isn’t about free speech. This isn’t about the person who carried a sign protesting against everything from the ‘carbon tax’ to the IMF, the UN and ‘one world government’. This isn’t about the person who carried the brightly-coloured placard that made ingenious use of fridge magnets to spell out ‘NO LABOUR CARBON TAX’. It’s not even about the ‘My Mom Is Cold’ sign that popped up. (And can anyone explain that? Anyone?)

This is about the so-called alternative Prime Minister of Australia standing on a platform with his senior colleagues, scare-mongering and lying, while standing in front of this sign (photo credit to the ABC’s Latika Bourke):

Notice the flames of hell?

This is about Senator Barnaby Joyce trembling with anger and screaming red-faced into the microphone, ‘She lied to you! She lied to you!‘, then smiling and nodding as the crowd roared, ‘BITCH! BITCH! BITCH!’

This is about not one of the Coalition speakers asking the crowd to show respect for the Prime Minister – or even for the office of Prime Minister. Every single one of them either stood silently with approving smiles while the crowd roared, or actually encouraged further abuse.

It was a mob virtually baying for Gillard’s blood, and being encouraged to do it.

Unsurprisingly, those actions provoked shock and outrage – although, to listen to some media outlets, you’d be forgiven for thinking the rally was just an excitable picnic rather than a sustained personal attack on the Prime Minister. Senator Bob Brown sent a letter to the Prime Minister yesterday afternoon expressing his feelings of disgust at the abuse they’d hurled at her, along with his wish that Abbott would apologise for endorsing such sentiments.

Abbott, however, was having none of that. Late last night he issued a statement saying he regretted the actions of ‘a small group of people’ – but no apology, no admission that he and his colleagues had helped fuel the situation. Confronted by the media this morning, he expanded on those remarks. Let’s take a look.

‘A few people went over the top … naturally I regret that … but I can understand that people feel passionate.’

A few people? There were hundreds of people waving abusive signs and chanting ‘Bitch!’ and even ‘Kill the Witch!’. A sky writer even gave us the benefit of his opinion at an opportune moment. And it was particularly impressive how many of those signs were identical and professionally produced.

But what about this?

Abbott: ‘Let’s face it, this is a Prime Minister who told us before the election that there will be no carbon tax … it was unfortunate that some ppl chose to go a bit over the top yesterday … I would urge all people to conduct this debate with respect … but if we are going to build respect for the democratic process in this country it is important for the Prime Minister to seek a mandate for her carbon tax.’

‘It’s a pity when some people go a little over the top … it would have been better for everyone if the Prime Minister had said “I don’t want to deceive you, there will be a carbon tax” … if the Prime Minister had been straight with the Australian people before the election we wouldn’t be in quite the situation we’re now in.’

A ‘little over the top’? Calling for violence to be done to the Prime Minister of the country?

Just in case we didn’t pick it up, Abbott kept repeating that the ‘real’ problem here was Gillard’s broken promise – what he consistently referred to as a ‘lie’ or ‘deception’.

Yes. You read that right. It’s Gillard’s fault. She made these poor people howl for her blood. If only, if only she hadn’t ‘lied’, we could all be having tea and scones right now.

In the real world, Mr Abbott, we call that ‘blaming the victim’.

Then there was this gem:

‘People are entitled to feel pretty unhappy … I want the protest to be civil … but let’s not get too precious about these things.’

No, let’s not get concerned about the fact that the Coalition egged the protesters on to louder and more abusive expressions of intended violence. Let’s not worry about Joyce’s endorsement of the kind of abuse we consider unacceptable if it’s yelled in the street. Let’s not get precious, because after all, she brought it on herself.

Asked why he and his colleagues addressed the rally, Abbott replied: ‘I thought it was important that … politicians should speak with them.’

Oh, how disingenuous. Abbott was just doing what politicians should do – speak to the people. After all, other politicians go out to see protesters on the lawns of Parliament House – why shouldn’t he?

Because other politicians confine their actions to talking one-on-one with protesters. Other politicians listen to grievances – they don’t deliver speeches designed to turn a rally into a screaming lynch mob. Other politicians carefully demur when asked by protesters to endorse their slogans.

In other words, Mr Abbott, other politicians speak with protesters, not to them.

Abbott even suggested that Gillard was at fault for not going out to speak to the protesters, as he had. Given the mood of the crowd, she would have been mad to do that. We’ve already seen people throwing shoes at politicians and burning their pictures – and that’s without the Coalition helpfully whipping them along. Watching that rally yesterday, I don’t think many people could doubt that Gillard’s safety would have been at risk.

Abbott tried to shift the blame to Gillard. He tried the old ‘oh, it was just a few mavericks’ line. He tried the free speech and ‘caring politician’ defence. In short, he did everything he could to excuse himself – everything but apologise. In the words of Jake Blues:

But – as Keiran Gilbert asked this morning – what more could he have done?

How about this?

He could have asked the crowd to stop yelling abuse.

He could have insisted that the ‘Bitch’ sign be taken down while any Coalition representative was on the platform.

He could have made it clear that he wouldn’t tolerate any of his colleagues encouraging abuse.

He could have forbidden any Coalition representative from addressing the crowd as a whole, and confined his actions to listening.

But he did none of these things. By mounting that platform yesterday, he married the Coalition to the lynch mob

Abbott should now apologise without reservation on behalf of himself and his parliamentary colleagues. And he should stop treating the Australian people as idiots. After yesterday, he has no basis left for his persistent claims that he is not contributing to fear and anger. After yesterday, he has no credibility whatsoever.

Independent MP Tony Windsor was pooh-poohed when he expressed the concern that the anti-carbon price rhetoric was becoming so inflammatory that it might well spill over into violence directed at those politicians who supported it. Actually, it’s more accurate to say he was mocked – everyone from politicians to media to tweeters rubbished the idea.

After yesterday, it doesn’t seem so far-fetched, does it?

Mr Abbott and his colleagues need to realise that sooner or later, violence may well erupt as a result of their lies and fear-mongering. And if it does, and all their protests of ‘free speech’ and ‘it’s not our fault’ will mean exactly nothing. They will have blood on their hands.

What’s truly frightening – and after yesterday, seems even more likely – is the idea that they know that already, and they simply don’t care.

AFTERWORD:

Two senior Coalition members chose not to attend the rally yesterday – Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey, and former leader Malcolm Turnbull. Neither of them gave their reasons – perhaps it was political expediency, perhaps a recognition of just how inappropriate and damaging it would be.

What’s important is that they did not endorse, either by their presence or their words, the abuse, offensive language or threats of violence that occurred – unlike their leader and their colleagues.

For their common sense, they should be commended.

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19 Responses to Married to the lynch mob

  1. s.willmot says:

    Who can forget the NEVER-EVER goods and services TAX? This was an outright LIE by howard. Thousands of small businesses went out of business when this was introduced,but of course this fact received very little media attention at the time, (normal procedure for australias liberal-owned media organisations.)Whereas Julia Gillards no-carbon-tax statement was the TRUTH, and only after you the voters delivered a hung parliament,thereby resulting in a green alliance (labor-green coalition),did she have to reverse that decision. Hence there was no lie. What this really shows is that liberals and their supporters are nothing more than bullies and hate-filled numbskulls whereas Labor and supporters have class,intelligence and a forward-looking agenda. The thought of an abbott led fascist liberal government scares the hell out of me.One has to wonder about the intelligence of Australians? I mean,come on , the GST comes straight out of your wallet,whereas the carbon tax is paid by biggest polluting businesses same as the mining tax.You the people are compensated so you don’t lose out.Its now been proven that the carbon tax has minimal impact on electricity and food prices.I think now is the time to protest against abbotts lies! I would, except I have class and intelligence-something that is unfortunately missing in 2013 Australian society.

  2. […] that his absence wouldn’t upset any Coalition plans, Abbott hurried off to get himself married to the lynch mob. The rally Tony Abbott couldn't […]

  3. […] the Messenger Remember the ‘No Carbon Tax’ rally back in March? The howling mob, the incredibly offensive signs, the crowd of Coalition MPs on the platform in […]

  4. Team Oyeniyi says:

    Whatever it was, it was not appropriate. I expect better behaviour from the people I vote into parliament.

    I don’t care which side of politics a politician is on as far as this sort of thing goes. I thought the banner was highly inappropriate. Are these mature, rational adults or Year 7 children?

  5. Ben McGinnes says:

    You’d think that Tony Abbott would know better than to be involved with the same things as Pauline Hanson. Again.

    Does he really think that everyone has forgotten that David Oldfield his staffer when setting up One Nation? Well, no doubt a lot of people have, perhaps it is time for a reminder.

    Actually, I am surprised that Pauline Hanson would go anywhere near Tony Abbott too. After all, in order to get out of the dog house he arranged for the initial funding of legal action (by providing free legal services through the Liberal Party) which led to Pauline Hanson’s initial conviction for electoral fraud and subsequent gaol time.

  6. Catching up says:

    I believed that Mr. Abbott was past anger today, he appeared to be consumed by hate. At stages he appears to forget where he was and that cameras were recording his reactions.

    The last woman who got under his skin so bad, he pursued to prison. (maybe Mr. Oldfield was his real target).

    The man has as history of being a good hater, but the question is does he only take on women.

    I re-watched the encounter in parliament and come to the conclusion that Mr. Abbott lost more skin than the PM.

    It was not a good show jumping up to complain when he and Mr. Hockey were heard with no interruption, except the Speaker pulling Mr. Hockey up for going too far. It was not a sight for him to be proud of, standing across the table, ranting while the PM was making her response. It was the Opposition Leader that set the tone of the debate.

    It was not a good show for the Opposition leader complaining the PM insulted him and demanding that she withdraw. The Speaker treated the request with the disdain it deserved.

    Mr. Abbott does not appear to comprehend the meaning of what he says. He does not appear to see to many, he is just being nasty by attacking the person. Mr. Abbott seems to be of the belief that if he says something, that makes it fact. He does not appreciate all he is putting forwarded is his opinion. Even to do this he cherry picks and takes words out of context. He is great for putting his own meaning on what is uttered or done. He does not appear to understand what is sexist and where women are concerned, they will not tolerate it.

    Mr. Abbott would be advise to work on that sulky smirk he gets when he believes he has done something clever. Clever but generally nasty.

    Before anyone pulls me up, this is only my opinion.

    Once again, Mr Abbott has said he is sorry some of the placards were a little overboard but as with Mr. Scott Morrison and Mr. Cory Bernardi, it was a false apology as he goes on to say, he knows why they do it. According to his reasoning. All bad behaviour is the fault of the PM. What he is really saying is that anything goes, as long as it gets him closer to his obsession of taking up his rightful role as PM.

    The PM is capable of looking after herself and is capable of giving back what she receives. This is why I believe she replaced Mr. Rudd. I believe we seen our PM as close to anger that she will ever allow herself to be. The PM was a long way from being out of control.
    Next time, and there will be a repeat of what occurred today, that the Government calls the Opposition’s bluff and allow the censure motion to succeed. I would imagine that the Opposition would soon run out stream, allowing the Government to reply to the accusations in a methodical manner. This would be better than allowing the Opposition to proceed with matter of public importance which is just another platform to trash the Government.
    …………..
    Mr. Abbott just does not get it. It is not just a few nasty slogans. Few including the PM would not worry if that was not all they were. There is plenty of evidence that the PM has a great sense of humour and can laugh at a joke made against herself. What the complaints are about is the sexist nature of many of the placards. Sensible woman have zero tolerance for sexist remarks, they are not jokes or nasty slogans.
    “Mr Abbott has told the ABC’s 7.30 program Ms Gillard did not raise the issue of an apology with him.
    “There’s no doubt that the Prime Minister’s ministers are trying to make a big song and dance about a few nasty slogans,” Mr Abbott said.
    “I really think people should stop being too precious about this.
    “And the Prime Minister, I think, is a tough enough politician who dishes it out to understand that sometimes you’ve got to take it back.”
    http://www.news.com.au/breaking-news/abbott-says-he-did-not-apologise-to-pm/story-e6frfku0-1226027664751?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+newscomaunationalbreakingnewsndm+%28NEWS.com.au+%7C+National+Breaking+News%29

    Read more: http://www.news.com.au/breaking-news/abbott-says-he-did-not-apologise-to-pm/story-e6frfku0-1226027664751#ixzz1HWEFtZWB”

  7. Hamish says:

    As a quibble Joh Bjelke-Petersen wasn’t a liberal, he was Country party which became the Nationals.

    There are many other things he can be called that are less flattering…

  8. I did not suggest there was a sign behind Abbott saying ‘kill the witch’. I reproduced a photo showing a sign saying ‘Juliar Bob Brown’s Bitch’. ‘Kill the witch!’ was shouted.

    Audio and video recordings are available all over the place. Go check out the archives at various major media organisations.

    As for what I saw and heard – I watched every available piece of footage and chased down every publicised photo on both mainstream and social media. So yes, I did see and hear what I wrote about – as did many, many other members of the media, who made the same points I did.

    • I’ve seen quite a bit of the footage, many interviews with various politicians and read more than a few articles and the only place where it has been alleged that he was inciting violence against Julia has been on this blog.

      If there is evidence of this then I think that it isn’t being reported makes this a pretty news worthy story. I’m sure you’ll appreciate my scepticism until you provide evidence to the contrary.

      One link, clearly showing what you have alleged will do the trick.

      In regards to my scepticism, I’m pretty sure that if she was threatened with violence and especially if Tony endorsed or encouraged it she would have said so. Instead she accused him of showing poor judgement when associating with known hate groups and for the sexist signs.

      http://www.skynews.com.au/topstories/article.aspx?id=592925&vId=2275521

  9. lilacsigil says:

    This is really, really not something I expected to see in mainstream Australian politics – the Liberal leader pandering to a crowd shrieking “Bitch!” at the Prime Minister. It’s totally inappropriate, violent, and encouraging of the absolute worst of partisan politics. There are Liberal politicians I respect, despite being a lifelong Greens voter (occasionally Labour or the Democrats when no Greens were in my electorate), but this is appalling. Tony Abbott is demonstrating how *not* to lead.

  10. While I agree with the Tea Party analogy I think you haven’t demonstrated that the rally was violent, encouraging violence against the PM or that anyone of the Liberals at the rally were inciting violence against the PM.

    These are pretty serious accusations to be throwing around and I think you lack the evidence to back it up.

    The Libs need to get rid of Abbott though. His politics of fear and degradation is disgusting and I believe it’s very unAustralian. How far off the beaten track have you gone when Joe Hockey effectively says, ‘That’s below the belt and I’ll have nothing to do with it’?!?

    • I consider people screaming, ‘Die, bitch!’ to be violent. I consider people ripping up pictures and stamping on the pieces to be violent.

      And I consider political representatives who nod and smile, who shout, ‘You have a right to feel this way!’ and who clap along with the abusive chants to be condoning and inciting violence.

      • The picture you posted has ‘Ditch the Witch’, not ‘Kill the Witch’ as you have suggested.

        Do you actually have any proof? Say pictures of these alleged signs? Video of chants inciting violence? An audio recording? Did you attend the rally and see it for yourself?

        Your contention that it was disrespectful and uncouth has been well established. However if you want to contend that the rally (or the pollies that attended it) encouraged citzens to violently oppose the PM/Labor government then frankly you have not met that burden of proof.

  11. Bill says:

    Great analysis.

    Michelle Grattan makes an interesting point that Abbott basically sucker-punched himself by encouraging all the protest without realising he would either have to denounce or pander to the extremist fringe.
    http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/abbott-fell-into-obvious-trap-20110323-1c6ss.html

    • Good article Bill. Thanks for linking it.

    • She’s quite right – but he could have come out of it smelling a lot better if he’d made a point of trying to damp down the worst of the abuse.

      He didn’t. From the look of things, most of the Coalition got carried away with the heady mix of a completely partisan audience and an atmosphere of ‘no holds barred’. That’s going to come back to bite them.

      • Bill says:

        Agreed. Just look at Bronny there – she would glare like schoolmarm at anyone who said anything half as bad about her. Then there’s Wyatt Roy who would be called a young lout if he were supporting the same language in any other context. Most disappointing of all though is Ken Wyatt. I sincerely hope his presence can be put down to a beginners’ miscalculation – and I don’t mean that in any kind of condescending way.

  12. Jess says:

    There’s also a heavy dose of misogyny in there, too. When male politicians fuck up, no one’s calling them names based on their gender or attacking them for their marital status or parenthood status. (I’d argue the only exception to this which comes close is the stuff Pyne has copped in relation to his sexuality, yet that’s not been paired with “Kill him!” and words which are generally regarded as slurs as bitch is, from my understanding.) Where was anyone saying that THAT was inappropriate?

    And while I’m no means supportive of a lot of his politics, I’m unsurprised that Turnbull didn’t turn up: he’s got more class in his little finger than most of the Liberal Party do put together.

    • What’s interesting is that a quick Google of protests against Howard showed that the most common insult hurled at him appears to be ‘cunt’. (And I should point out that those banners weren’t foregrounded by Labor politicians.)

      I don’t know if there’s any conscious misogyny going on there, but it’s certainly significant that the language is gendered.

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