I’m uncomfortable about this thing we’re doing at the moment, where we dig up something from decades ago and hold it up in front of everyone, crying, ‘See? See? This is what they are really like!’. Because while it does give me joy to see Tony Abbott in the shit, this, and the Slater and Gordon stuff the MSM hounded Julia Gillard with, makes me nervous about what it means to be a public figure, and about what kind of politicians we’re going to have in the future. I don’t know about you, but when I was in my teens and early 20s, I did and said some pretty dumb shit and I’d hate for someone to use it to illustrate what I am like now, as an adult.
When I was a journalist I turned down some stories that seemed to be about getting back at someone – which goes some way towards explaining why I wasn’t a very good journalist. I’d like to think that other journalists would see negative comments from a long-past boyfriend/colleague for what they are, rather than saying ‘wa-hey News with Nipples was a dickhead when she was 21, we got us some NEWS’, but it seems increasingly unlikely. With the Slater and Gordon story, if the journos had put in a call to the law firm before publishing, they would have realised that they were being used maliciously, with a story that turned out to be a load of rubbish. The first story was published without comment from Slater and Gordon – making it gossip masquerading as political journalism – and the second story was ‘we’re not falling for Pickering’s grubbiness but here, read all of this grubbiness’. Again, without comment from Slater and Gordon. How embarrassing for them.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s revolting that Tony Abbott punched the wall on either side of a woman’s head to intimidate her. Violence – which includes making someone think you’d hit them – is very serious, and around one in three women will be physically or sexually assaulted by a man at some point in their lives. Some estimates put it at one in two. Hell, if you still don’t think it’s a problem we can talk about money: violence against women costs the economy $13.6 billion a year (2008-2009 figure). That’s the same amount of money the resources industry contributed to the WA economy in 1999-2000, and it’s the same amount the Federal Government will give to universities this year. In other words, it’s a fuckload of money.
It’s also evidence that Tony Abbott thinks women should be controlled – mainly by him – but there’s already an awful lot of evidence for that. Just because his wife and daughters are women, and he works with women, doesn’t mean that he’s Mr Equality.
And that Abbott referred to SRC president Barbara Ramjan as “chairthing” because she asked to be called “chairperson” and not “chairman” is evidence that, at 19 or 20 years old, he had a petty little mind. But I think his response is fair enough:
“It was silly, childish, embarrassing. It shouldn’t have happened but this is 35 years ago, a lot of silly things happen in student politics.”
I think almost all of us said some pretty dumb shit when we were that age. Of course, that doesn’t excuse being physically aggressive. (Lindsay Foyle has more about Abbott being a tough guy when he’s got a gang to back him up.)
But I can’t help feeling a bit icky about all of this. Every time the MSM publishes old dirt on someone – particularly dirt that’s unrelated to their ability to do their job, like going to a strip club in their own time – it makes me wonder, who the hell would get into politics? The answer: people who haven’t done anything silly/dodgy/illegal/fun/kinky/wrong in their entire lives. People whose youth can withstand the MSM. And how representative is that going to be?
I’m not saying that the MSM shouldn’t have published the story about Tony Abbott punching the wall beside Barbara Ramjan’s head in order to make her scared of him. At uni, he was a beefed-up boxer and rugby player with a reputation for aggression and it’s hard to imagine someone not being scared by the wall-punching. I’m just looking at the story in the wider context of what passes for political reporting these days. And no, I’m not saying it’s the MSM’s job to report on politics in a way that makes people want to be politicians. But it is their job to report accurately and fairly, and I don’t see a lot of that going on. Besides, I’d much prefer journalists to be asking Tony Abbott questions about what he says and does now, rather than about what he said and did in the 70s.