Rogue remarks cost Senator his job

Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi has been forced to resign after comments he made which linked the same-sex marriage debate to bestiality. His position on the Coalition frontbench as parliamentary secretary to Opposition Leader Tony became untenable after making one mistake too many.

In a statement to the Senate on Tuesday he said, “The next step … is having three people that love each other be able to enter into a permanent union endorsed by society, or four people. There are even some creepy people out there who say that it’s OK to have consensual sexual relations between humans and animals. Will that be a future step? In the future, will we say, ‘These two creatures love each other and maybe they should be able to be joined in a union'”. In spite of the backlash he received following these comments, he then went on radio the following day and repeated them.

Tony Abbott’s move to distance himself from the views of Cory Bernardi has been mirrored within the Liberal Party, with Joe Hockey and Malcolm Turnbull both dissociating themselves from the comments. Malcolm Turnbull, when Leader of the Opposition, also sacked Senator Bernardi from the frontbench.

While noting that the Coalition did not support same-sex marriage, Tony Abbott said, “I will not tolerate comments that are offensive to people in same-sex relationships.” The Opposition Leader also said, “I swiftly concluded that it was one mistake too many. I’ve known Cory for a long time. He’s a decent bloke with strong opinions. But discipline is critical. Team-play is vital. And that’s what Cory has had some problems with”.

Mr Abbott also fired a warning shot to other frontbenchers who may be considering having their say, “I think it’s pretty clear that if you want to freelance, you can do so on the backbench but you can’t freelance from the frontbench”.

In response to Tony Abbott’s actions, Leader of the House Anthony Albanese said Tony Abbott “just didn’t get it”.  Mr Albanese said “His comments were not ill-disciplined, they were bigoted. That is the point.”

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Opinion – Think before you speak

Cory Bernardi should be the poster boy for what happens when you shoot your mouth off without engaging your brain. I can see where his argument was going; you allow same-sex marriage and you open the floodgates for other marginalised groups to demand equality. But really, does he think that anyone who engages in sexual practices with animals would be shouting about it from the steps of Parliament House? As an aside, I also note with amusement, and somewhat flippantly, that he referred to “consensual sexual relations between humans and animals” – how would you know if the animal was consenting?

Whether you are for or against same-sex marriage, these types of comments do not help anyone, nor are they conducive to productive debate about a topic which deeply affects the lives of many. Shouting loudly or being confrontational does not add weight to your argument. That the same-sex marriage bill was emphatically defeated in the House of Representatives just hours after Senator Bernardi’s resignation, perhaps proves that such comments were not necessary to help people form their own opinions.

Tony Abbott and the Opposition have had a tough couple of weeks and this, coupled with the growing popularity in the polls of the Labour Party, will no doubt have prompted Mr Abbott to act swiftly and decisively. Known to have made one or two gaffes of his own, Mr Abbott would no doubt feel for Cory Bernardi’s predicament, but thankfully he did not allow this to stop him from doing what was right.

And it seems there will be no escape from his gaffe as the Senator has flown from one storm into another. Visiting the UK, where same-sex unions are legal, the British media has branded the South Australian Senator “disgraced” and political leaders are already distancing themselves from his visit. He clearly will not receive a red carpet welcome.

Have Senator Bernardi’s comments been taken out of context? Or are they just wrong?

Written by Debbie McTaggart