In a speech in Sydney yesterday, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott declared that, should he win at the next federal election, he would overturn racial vilification laws and reject planned media law changes which would see a council supervising journalism standards and a suitability test for media ownership. Mr Abbott claimed that “it is not … the role of government to manage the day-to-day practices of journalism, to dictate who can and who can’t control Australian media outlets.” According to Mr Abbott the Gillard Government plans to use proposed media laws to restrict media criticism.
It’s all too easy to think the good old days were really good and that what happens now is anything but. In the case of the Opposition Leader’s call for repeal of current laws and rejection of recommendations by the Finkelstein Report into media, it raises the question whether we are in an unnecessarily negative – and personally abusive – period in Australian politics. Or whether, as Senator George Brandis said on ABC TV’s Q&A program last night, we are just witnessing the same level of robust debate we have always had. I don’t support either of the above positions. The good old days saw very strong attacks on party leaders and while they weren’t really that “good’ there does seem to be a marked difference in 2012. The intensely personal attacks on the nation’s Prime Minister, in my opinion, have never been as vicious nor as undeserved. Comments such as ‘ditch the bitch’ and ‘unproductive old cow’ have no place in political debate. No place whatsoever. And what has this got to do with repealing laws, you may ask. Well it is all about the totally negative approach of the current Opposition and its leader in particular. Attacking policy for the sake of it has no place in a progressive society. Often good ideas put into legislation should simply proceed, regardless of your party affiliation. Malcolm Fraser managed this when welcoming hundreds of thousands of displaced Vietnamese boat people in the wake of the war which tore apart their homeland. It was good sense to do this and both sides of politics understood Australia would be the richer for it. And it has been. So to continually criticise and promise to unpick each and every reform simply for the sake of it is destructive and divisive. Dr No struck again yesterday on two different issues – racial vilification and media propriety. Is there anything he doesn’t oppose I wonder? And if Malcolm Turnbull had stumped up the necessary votes to remain Opposition Leader, what a different approach we might have witnessed. Occasionally we do have to say no, so let’s start now by saying no to Tony’s negativism – it’s pulling our society apart.