Christensen and Abbott: still schoolyard bullies

George Christensen has a problem with pamphlets. The last one to cause him trouble was a university magazine he happened to edit. 

In it, he wrote a piece saying, among other things, “the truth is that women are bloody stupid”. Another article complained that newer versions of the Bible were “removing accusations that the Jews killed Christ”. Elsewhere was a joke about a gay man dying of AIDS.

This 1998 curio resurfaced during the 2010 election campaign. Christensen apologised, explaining that the bigotry was “in jest” and had only been brought to light by a Labor smear campaign. 

Tony Abbott, who was then leader of the opposition, refused to rebuke Christensen. “There’s colourful stuff from my uni days,” was all he would say. “There’s colourful stuff from Julia Gillard’s uni days.”

But the problem for both men is they never outgrew the pettiness of those university days. They never outgrew the small-minded obsessions, the viciousness, the ill-informed hate.

Both Abbott and Christensen signed a petition this week to suspend funding for a program addressing the bullying of children on the basis of their sexuality. Abbott had no concerns about the program when he was leading the government that funded it. The program was raised in the party room, concerns were dismissed, and it went no further.

And that is the point. This mean little campaign is only in the most basic sense about ill-placed morality. What it is really about is splitting the party Malcolm Turnbull now leads. Uncertain children – confused by their sexuality, more likely than others to attempt suicide, to be harassed or intimidated – are nothing more than collateral damage.

An independent review was conducted into the Safe Schools program. Unsurprisingly, it found little wrong with the initiative. The teaching of tolerance is difficult to argue against.

But the argument continues. The backbench petition is only part of that. Christensen used parliamentary privilege this week to suggest the program was written by a “paedophilia advocate”. It was not. Earlier, he had said the materials mimicked the grooming technique of paedophiles.

This is a base slur, born of the oldest bigotries. It is about conflating homosexuality with paedophilia. It is disgusting in every way. Christensen should feel the shame of his idiocy. The words, if he had any decency, would sour in his mouth.

Instead, queer children have listened this week as their happiness and identity became the plaything of hateful politicians. They have heard as Christensen mocked their “gender confusion”. They heard as he told anyone born with same-sex attraction that they should live a life without intimacy, a life in denial of who they are. “Someone makes the choice that they’re going to have homosexual sex, that’s up to them… If you’ve chosen it or if you’re born with it, the act is the act.”

It does not take much to imagine what the cruelty of this debate might do to a child. But it does take empathy. Clearly, these men have none. 

The right wing of the Coalition has been aided in this campaign by The Australian and fringe groups such as the Australian Christian Lobby. For them, it is about politics. For any decent person, it is about the vulnerable and marginalised. Any decent person would see how sick it is to play this group of children for advantage. But Christensen doesn’t. Abbott doesn’t. For them, no dignity is worth more than their own. It’s still just a game. It’s still just colourful stuff.

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on March 19, 2016 as "Schoolyard bullies".

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