Features Australia

Mindless conformism

17 October 2015

9:00 AM

17 October 2015

9:00 AM

Student politics is a rough and tumble affair. I thoroughly enjoyed the fierce ideological battles from my student politics days at Sydney Uni, and today, on the floor of the NSW parliament, I still relish that contest with my Labor counterparts.

To win the day, you had to know your stuff, and God help you if you were worried about your feelings being hurt.

Looking at the current state of student politics, it seems the future of the left is cut from a different, more delicate cloth. In an article up on the website of Tharunka, the student newspaper of the UNSW, student representative council president Billy Bruffey (a Young Labor apparatchik) called the uni’s Warrane College – where I happened to be a resident some years ago – to cancel a lecture on marriage and family by former Defence Minister Kevin Andrews.

No surprises there. Another day, another student protest against a conservative MP on campus. But in calling for the lecture to be shut down, Mr Bruffey really let the cat out of the bag: the student left has come to represent all that its forbears fought against. To quote: ‘It is the view of President Billy Bruffey, and the SRC that this lecture will cause UNSW students to feel victimised and isolated, and that Mr Andrews’ views do not conform with those of the University or its students.’

Wow. It’s a fierce (read: flaccid) two punch combo: this lecture can’t go ahead, firstly because it will hurt our feelings, and secondly (and even more astonishingly) because your views aren’t conformist enough. Who would have thought – the future political leaders of the left explicitly demanding that everyone conform with the university’s alleged majority view?


Thus lie the smoking ruins of a once proud political movement. Gone are the days of radical, fearless (often violent) student nonconformism, bucking social mores, sticking it to the man, overthrowing the hegemony, bringing on the revolution and all the rest. Today, the mantra is the opposite: conform, obey, toe the line, don’t ask why, just do it – and if you don’t, I’m going to cry and then you’ll be sorry (because I’m special and delicate and I don’t like it when the world I live in makes me feel uncomfortable).

Marx would be mortified. Trotsky, turning in his grave. Che would be blushing with shame. Today’s conformist lefties somehow manage to combine the very worst of the archetypally stodgy, mindless ‘stick in the mud’ conservatism, with the churlish, temperamental sensitivity of a tantrum-throwing three year old.

No intellectual rigour. No steely determination to stare down the powers that be in pursuit of glorious revolution. In fact, in today’s world of student politics, Mr Bruffey is the powers that be. Much as it might hurt his feelings for me to say so, Mr Bruffey is ‘The Man’. He is the establishment against which his political ancestors once railed; the status quo to which everyone must now conform. Bizarrely, it is people like Kevin Andrews – and young, out and proud conservatives like myself – who now represent a radical alternative to the left’s conformist demands. Strange days indeed.

If Mr Bruffey is so concerned about Mr Andrews hurting the feelings of UNSW students, does he also care about how his comments might hurt Mr Andrews’ feelings (or the feelings of those who want to go along to hear him speak)?

Aren’t Mr Bruffey and the SRC explicitly trying to make Mr Andrews and his supporters feel so ‘victimised and isolated’ as to send them packing? Isn’t this a blatant case of ‘conservative shaming’?

I don’t ask because I’m actually worried about Mr Andrews’ feelings – only because at a bare minimum, one would expect Mr Bruffey to at least apply his ‘no feelings must be hurt’ standard to Mr Andrews and himself equally (in the name of equality, of course). On his own ridiculous standard, Mr Bruffey and his feelings-hurting student paper should be shut down.

The fact is, Kevin Andrews and his supporters aren’t concerned about their own feelings being hurt. They have thicker skin than that. They just want to engage with the issue, to be free to make their case, and for their position to stand or fall on the strength of the argument they put.

They want – quite radically, it seems – a genuine public discussion of ideas in a public university. Unfortunately these days the sensitive student left seem to prefer conformism to debate.

How the mighty have fallen.

Dominic Perrottet is the NSW Finance Minister

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Show comments
  • Erasmus

    Excellent. Very well put.

  • Kathy Minassian

    Brilliant piece, you never disappoint.

    • Greg

      Unless you live in “his” electorate. By that I mean the one he was parachuted into to represent, not the one he actually lives in.

      There the disappointment is fairly constant…

  • wayne

    In terms Mr Bruffery will no doubt understand, it seems that at UNSW these days, some animals are more equal than others.

  • Ed McMahon

    This article is intellectually dishonest and dangerous. It leaves out some key facts. The protest against Kevin Andrew’s appearance at UNSW came in the form of a rally and counter-lecture. The counter-lecture sought to mitigate the damage done by Andrews’ views. In Andrews’ formulation, the family unit and heterosexual marriage are the building blocks of Western civilisation. He omits a demonstrable history of same-sex activity throughout history (including Western history), which is silenced by homophobes in power like Andrews. He omits a consideration of the damage done by power imbalances in traditional family units, manifest today in high rates of domestic violence. Moreover, he entirely misses the point that the privileged status of heterosexual relationships as against homosexual relationships is a state of affairs attributable to astronomical suicide, abuse, and homelessness rates in queer communities. His argument seeks to maintain that disjunct, and thus the human suffering attributable to it. It is, quite simply, an evil view that he preaches. How appropriate that he chose to preach at Warrane College, the infamous Opus Dei institution known to perpetuate such damaging views. The most bitter irony is that it is part of a church that has committed and continues to commit crimes against children globally.

    If a Nazi were to openly preach hate, nobody would begrudge protesters the right to disrupt that sermon. If a Stalinist were to preach genocide, the mood would be much the same. So too must it be with the hate-filled, ignorant, and bigoted views held by the likes of Andrews.

    I am an active student politician at the University of Sydney. The contest of ideas is immense. The commitment to struggle against the state of the world is alive and well.

    On one point, I agree- Bruffey is ‘the man’. He is a cog in the Labor machine, one side of the bipartisan beast that tightly grips power in this country and is responsible for some of the greatest immoralities of our time. But you, Sir, are just another side of that beast, looking to gain electoral advantage by demonising your Left side and claiming to be a different organism. While you’re at it you seek to defend Warrane College as the loyal servant of Opus Dei that you are.

    You are a disgrace.

    • KingEric

      Basically all you have said is that you strongly disagree with Kevin Andrews views so you don’t want to listen to them. Show some balls and let him come and speak and then you can argue with him as to whether they are right or wrong. By stifling debate, you are the disgrace in this matter.

    • RightReader

      Proper finger in the ears, foot thumping infantile temper-tanti. Even got the ‘I hate you’ bit.
      You’re probably an academic.

    • Niall

      @RankRight:disqus @disqus_pgWuqkJ3s0:disqus did you guys actually read Ed’s comment???

    • E.I.Cronin

      ”In Andrews’ formulation, the family unit and heterosexual marriage are the building blocks of Western civilisation.”

      Err… I hate to break it to you kid, but they are. Is that simple fact so surprising? Btw I’m speaking as a gay man raised in a loving, stable, Christian family and the product of a monogamous, heterosexual marriage.

      I will vote No in a referendum on SSM as Marriage is a heterosexual tradition designed to provide the ideal conditions for the raising of children and to nurture the family. We should respect it. We don’t need SSM. Civil partnerships give us everything we need to encourage new generations of gay and lesbian youth to lead ethical, grounded lives in sync with community standards.

      ”Moreover, he entirely misses the point that the privileged status of heterosexual relationships as against homosexual relationships is a state of affairs attributable to astronomical suicide, abuse, and homelessness rates in queer communities.”

      Nonsense. And a blatant attempt at emotional blackmail – playing the victim card is a cheap tactic that doesn’t work anymore. Gays and lesbians in the ME, Africa or Russia are genuine victims enduring abuse, violence and homelessness. Of course terrible abuse still happens in OZ, but being unable to marry has got nothing to do with your, or mine, emotional and physical wellbeing. Several generations of gay men have grown up post decriminalisation without the concept of SSM. I’ve never felt discriminated against or a second-class citizen because of SSM being unavailable.

      ”He omits a consideration of the damage done by power imbalances in traditional family units, manifest today in high rates of domestic violence.”

      Of course heterosexual marriages face tragic rates of domestic violence and alcohol abuse. What you aren’t mentioning is gay and lesbian relationships are prone to exactly the same violence and abuse. The SSO has run frequent articles and workshops for victims of domestic abuse in SS couples. So much for ‘power imbalances’.

      And I would think our communities have enough to be getting along with acknowledging and responding honestly to endemic recreational drug abuse, alcoholism, gambling, dishonesty and promiscuity that all contribute to domestic violence without pumping so much time, energy and funding into a campaign for a pointless ‘right’ that alienates the wider community, makes no meaningful difference to our relationships or lives, and is driven by leftist extremists as part of a cluster of highly destructive progressive policies.

      I’m no fan of Dominic or Andrews, not to mention Opus Dei, but this kind of histrionic browbeating does you no favours. Relax. There are far more important battles we should be joining. Try supporting Western civilisation instead of helping dismember it.

      • RightReader

        Unfortunately people like Ed believe that the destruction of western civilization is somehow a good thing.

        • E.I.Cronin

          I know, I know, that’s the saddest thing isn’t it?.

  • Niall

    You’re a terrible person mate the fact that you twist Bruffey’s words ‘victimised and isolated’ into ‘hurt feelings’ merely demonstrates that you have never been on the receiving end of any bias or prejudice in your life and have never had to suffer worse than a case of the sads. As already mentioned by Ed McM there are clear links between the kind of discourse Andrews wants to bring to the campus and suicide and self-harm within, and violent assault on, the queer community. To conflate the emotional life of student politicians with the persistent social conditions that make queer people feel unsafe and ‘un-personed’ is a dog act. I agree with Ed, its evil. Shame

  • Luke Mckeown-Todd

    Its funny how easily white, christian, heterosexual males/ sometimes females in power can make themselves the victims of persecution. For most of history homosexuality was criminal, even now gay people face intolerance and aggression in their day to day lives. Yet when people protest the bigoted rhetoric of these people in power suddenly the tables are turned. Free speech means you can have your say, it doesn’t mean people aren’t allowed to react to it. As to your assertion that the left has lost its “stick it to the man” attitude in favor of conformism, this is just ridiculous and false. What you seem to be failing to grasp is that your side has already lost this debate, marriage equality will happen sooner or later. 72% of Australians agree with me. Thats why the left seem conformist, because they have the majority on this and you aren’t used to that.
    Also can we please PLEASE end the ridiculous notion that every side to a debate is equal and valid. It just isn’t. Anti-vaxxers have no evidence for their case, they actively endanger children and the community. To say their argument is just as valid as the common sense of not getting preventable diseases is ludicrous. Climate skeptics have been soundly and thoroughly beaten at every turn and 99% of the scientific community says they are wrong but we are supposed to treat their handful of oil-funded studies as seriously as real science? Come on.
    Opponents of marriage equality are just as ridiculous. All of your arguments are disproven or totally reliant on the bible. Kids do just fine, if not better in gay relationships. No-one is going to marry their dog if your let your gay neighbors get married. It really doesn’t matter if its “always been this way” because until recently so had slavery or the subjugation of women. And if the bible says its wrong they why aren’t you concerned about all the other things the bible says. You eat shellfish or pigs? You wear clothes of a different cloth? Farmers plant two different crops side by side. All of these have been discarded. Objection to gay marriage will too. In 50 years you will be seen as bad as those racist nutjobs that tried to stop black people from going to school or using the same bathrooms as white people.

    You are on the wrong side of history, so is Mr Andrews. I give as much time and credence to your lecture as i would to a KKK rally.

    • E.I.Cronin

      And if you don’t support the societies, institutions and liberties that white, Christian, heterosexual men and women created you will find the Rainbow Flag will be on the wrong side of history. Did you stop to think in dismantling the institution of marriage you are opening the door for Sharia? At the end of 2014 SBS Insight hosted a show on polygamy – guess which religious minority featured heavily in the audience? They’re watching and waiting.

      You can vent your contempt on Christians knowing there aren’t going to be dangerous repercussions. Try haranguing Lakemba… or Parramatta. The ALP and The Greens gave the green light to a parade of Islamic hate preachers calling gay men dogs who should be murdered. And they continue to stream in ethnic minorities who are extremely socially conservative.

      There are compelling arguments against SSM and many are not based on religion. I’d suggest you try listening to conservatives with an open mind for a change.

    • Pioneer

      I hope you are being sarcastic.

    • Sue Smith

      Most of these comments are absolutely priceless and yet more evidence of the SELF-serving rhetoric of the left – which is actually ALL ABOUT ME and propaganda worthy of the politburo.

      If so many Australians are pro “marriage equality” (yeah, where did that term spring from; marriage equality, to me, means sexual equality in the partnership between women and men! – talk about sleight of hand!) why is the strenuous and shrill lobby so opposed to a public vote. Come on, this is so transparent!!

      The Same Sex brigade is no different to any shrill minority – you know, the kind you scream about because it’s usually the banks or business!!

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