Im­po­tent out­rage from tod­dlers and trolls is too late. They al­ready lost the ar­gu­ment

The Guardian Australia - - Politics - Katharine Murphy Political edi­tor

The queru­lous­ness of the van­quished was per­haps sum­marised by Ian Macdonald’s fury at Der­ryn Hinch’s rain­bow scarf.

The Queens­land Lib­eral really wanted that scarf off. Hinch wasn’t in­clined to take it off. And so it went, as the Se­nate crept to­wards le­gal­is­ing mar­riage equal­ity.

Calm en­treaties that the pub­lic was watch­ing didn’t dis­rupt one man on a mis­sion to feel ag­grieved and put upon by Der­ryn in his rain­bow scarf, and scorned by the pro­gres­sive peanut gallery who were col­lec­tively un­der­whelmed with Macdonald’s pre­vi­ous ef­forts to re­move dis­crim­i­na­tion for gays and les­bians, and by the fact he knew a cou­ple of athe­ists.

So Macdonald’s im­po­tent out­rage grew, a thing in it­self, but some­how symp­to­matic of the im­po­tent out­rage that is now prompt­ing a rud­der­less gov­ern­ment to turn on it­self in full pub­lic view.

As the Se­nate inched to­wards do­ing its job, de­liv­er­ing the out­come on mar­riage a ma­jor­ity of Aus­tralians asked for, Macdonald raged in­side and, out­side, var­i­ous con­ser­va­tives lined up to blame Mal­colm Turn­bull for fail­ing to “lead” dur­ing the mar­riage equal­ity de­bate.

By fail­ing to lead, the crit­ics meant Turn­bull had failed to en­gi­neer a sit­u­a­tion where more so­cially lib­eral col­leagues would meekly cop the con­ser­va­tive po­si­tion on re­li­gious pro­tec­tions.

In the words of the Na­tional Andrew Broad, Turn­bull had been “sneaky” in the way he had han­dled the in­ter­nal de­bate about re­li­gious pro­tec­tions. This view was backed by the still in-house dis­si­dent Ge­orge Chris­tensen, whom col­leagues sense is on a mis­sion to mar­tyr­dom.

Se­ri­ously, the col­lec­tive numpty in Can­berra at this point can be so enor­mous it is al­most nox­ious.

Vot­ers are treated to a daily spec­ta­cle of feel­ings first, con­se­quences se­cond, as a dan­ger­ous, dis­ori­ent­ing fog de­scends. Right now, the key per­for­mance in­di­ca­tor for the pro­fes­sional dis­si­dents of the gov­ern­ment seems to be bag­ging some­one else on Sky News: the prime min­is­ter; some­one else who looked side­ways at you in the lunch line. Mainly Turn­bull though.

If we can take a breath for a minute and just look at the facts, the record shows the al­leged fail­ure wasn’t Turn­bull’s.

If there was a fail­ure, it was the stun­ning lack of judg­ment and tac­ti­cal smarts by the naysay­ers, who could have brought a con­crete pro­posal to the Coali­tion party room ahead of the postal sur­vey re­sult, when their in­ter­nal bar­gain­ing power was at its height.

They could have called out the art­ful am­bi­gu­ity of the prime min­is­ter’s pub­lic po­si­tion on re­li­gious free­dom by do­ing some work and forc­ing a de­ci­sion.

They could have brought a fin­ished bill to ri­val the pri­vate mem­ber’s bill drafted by the Lib­eral Dean Smith and de­manded a party room de­bate and some con­crete un­der­tak­ings – or at least pro­duced a list of bul­let points out­lin­ing the spe­cific un­der­tak­ings they wanted col­leagues to ac­cept.

Yes sup­port­ers in­side the gov­ern­ment were, in fact, brac­ing for pre­cisely that out­come in the fi­nal party room be­fore the postal vote – but the con­crete chal­lenge never came.

So, as we move to the set­tled out­come, a yes vote in both par­lia­men­tary cham­bers, the de­bate in some quar­ters is be­ing re-pros­e­cuted – this is not our fail­ure but some­one else’s fail­ure, and it may as well be Turn­bull’s fail­ure.

By this deeply strange ra­tio­nale, Turn­bull, a long time yes sup­porter, in a con­science vote process, is sup­posed to try and un­der­mine the yes cause, to get an “out­come” with no prospect of pass­ing the par­lia­ment, be­cause ... you know ... lead­er­ship.

This is pa­thetic. There is no other word for it.

Also pa­thetic is the ready re­sort of the re­ac­tionary rump of the con­ser­va­tive right to full vic­tim­hood ev­ery time they lose an ar­gu­ment.

The right foisted the postal sur­vey on the pub­lic, some to force a so­lu­tion on same- sex mar­riage, some to delay it. This was the right’s process, not some sneaky con­spir­acy by the prime min­is­ter to let pro­gres­sivism rip.

They de­ter­mined the rules of the game and they lost. That’s the long and short of it. The end.

So­cial con­ser­va­tives in the par­lia­ment are en­tirely jus­ti­fied in stick­ing up for their val­ues and prin­ci­ples, right un­til the end. It would be ap­palling if they didn’t use the par­lia­men­tary de­bate to ex­press their con­vic­tions. It would be a be­trayal of them­selves and their sup­port­ers.

But fight­ing the good fight with dig­nity and re­spect seems be­yond the ca­pac­ity of some of the tod­dlers and trolls who in­habit the cham­bers of our par­lia­ment, whose pri­mary task now is, seem­ingly, feed­ing the me­dia eco­sphere that en­cour­ages their an­tics and trades in only one zero-sum com­mod­ity: out­rage.

For­tu­nately for all of us, for the in­trepid pol­i­tics watch­ers who th­ese days have to coun­sel them­selves against hope­less­ness and de­spair at the un­hing­ing, the Se­nate cham­ber on Wednesday pushed past the strange bat­tle of the rain­bow scarf, past the churl­ish­ness, past the pro­fes­sional vic­tim­hood and into a tan­gi­ble re­sult.

While the mi­nor­ity rum­bled and roiled as the world turned, a clear ma­jor­ity of se­na­tors came to­gether, con­struc­tively, with good will, with deep in­tel­lect and sin­cere emo­tion – to carry out an act of rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­racy, to turn the as­pi­ra­tion of a ma­jor­ity of Aus­tralians into re­al­ity.

Even Macdonald was a yes vote, in the end.

‘Ian Macdonald really wanted that scarf off. Hinch wasn’t in­clined to take it off. And so it went.’ Pho­to­graph: Mike Bow­ers for the Guardian

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