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
Subscribe to The Spectator Australia today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Subscribe – Try a month free