Cruel inventions

Perhaps there is a second world, almost identical to the one in which we live. It has the same brightness and dark, the same politics, the same families and friendships. Except for one thing: the people in this world wrongly believe transwomen are ruining sport. They believe that these women are taking quota seats on boards and that they somehow make bathrooms unsafe.

Scott Morrison lives in this second world. It is here that he sets about addressing imaginary problems, ignoring the ones that exist in the world where he was elected and the rest of us live. On Tuesday, he lent his tawdry support to a private member’s bill from one of his senators. The bill would ensure the right of sporting clubs to discriminate against transwomen.

“I think it’s a terrific bill and I’ve given her great encouragement,” Morrison said. “Claire is a champion for women’s sport and I think she’s been right to raise these issues in the way that she has. Well done, Claire.”

Claire Chandler could not name a single sporting group that had asked for her “Save Women’s Sport” bill. This is because the issue is made up. It is an expression not of need but of viciousness. The political right has lost every major battle on equality and is now trying to invent a conflict with transwomen. As ever, they have found the most vulnerable group and decided to make their lives worse.

America and Britain are already into a pogrom against trans people. In Texas this week, the governor likened gender affirmation to child abuse. Last year, more than 100 bills were introduced to limit trans rights across the country.

British newspapers endlessly debate trans issues. A confused and fretful group has broken off from feminism, gathered around conspiracy theories and sly hypotheticals. At their most polite they say: of course transwomen should have rights; of course it is terrible they experience such high levels of violence and disadvantage; but we have to discriminate against them.

It is possible Morrison does not understand this issue. That would not make the issue particularly unique. Not understanding has been the defining part of his prime ministership – on climate change, on various emergencies, on the pandemic.

What he does understand, however, better than most, is division. He understands hate and its public uses. In the second world where he makes up policies, hate must function as a kind of life force.

In this second world of useless interventions, of problems he invents himself before pretending to fix them, the borders are ringed by refugees. Innocent men in hotel prisons are a threat to the public. Transwomen stand on the winners’ podium at every sporting event.

Paul Keating once said leadership was about two things: imagination and courage. Every time Morrison attempts to exploit a panic against trans people, it is a reminder that he has none of either. He is small-minded and cowardly, just as Claire Chandler’s bill is.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 26, 2022 as "Cruel inventions".

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