In his capacity as an individual, Malcolm Turnbull has just as much right to an opinion on same-sex marriage as any other adult Australian.
However, when he is Prime Minister and leader of Australia’s largest nominally conservative party, the matter is a little different.
Turnbull, once he was elected leader of the party, had an obligation to make the preservation of party unity a major priority.
It is a priority in which he has shown no interest, from the day he ousted Tony Abbott, in a coup preceded by the long-term, furtive undermining of his leader. He can hardly have failed to know back then that his act would split the party, but showed as little concern for party unity two years ago as he does now.
A real leader of a big-tent democratic party knows when to shut up, and this is patently one of those times: his strident commitment to same-sex marriage, and all that goes with it, will gain the Liberals no votes on the Left, and lose them numbers – which they cannot afford to lose – from the conservative right and centre. After all, there are now alternatives to vote for.
It is elementary politics that a prime minister should never become involved in an emotional, divisive issue when he doesn’t have to, and here, by no means for the first time, Turnbull has missed an excellent chance to shut up and let things work themselves out naturally.
It is not helping Turnbull that the instances of harassment, bullying and victimisation, such as have been directed against the 75-year-old Christian pastor Margaret Court, have come overwhelmingly, indeed almost entirely, from proponents of a Yes vote.
Court, one of the world’s greatest women tennis players as well as a pastor of the Victory Life Church, is the target of a campaign to have her name removed from sporting bodies. She was sacked as the Cottesloe Tennis Club’s vice patron by a vote of 68 to 2, purely because of comments by her opposing same-sex marriage. Yet, the theologically conservative, evangelical Victory Life Church is large and growing.
I have heard several accounts in the last few days of school children who have spoken out against a Yes vote being ostracised by class-mates, sometimes with the connivance of teachers. Shop windows carrying No advertising material have been broken wholesale, and there has been at least one terrorist-type attack on the offices of the Australian Christian Lobby. The whole debate in Parliament and legislation against so-called ‘hate speech’ is both fallacious and profoundly dishonest, because actions like this have come almost entirely from the Yes side, and it is purely the No side that is being targeted.
By failing to take a stand against such tactics of heterophobic bigotry, and even failing to denounce them, Turnbull and his like-thinking cronies are allowing the Liberal Party to be tarred by association with these bullies and bigots. There has been no sign that the government has been concerned about the threats to religious freedom which have been identified.
It may be objected to that John Howard and Tony Abbott have campaigned for a No vote, but this is not a mirror image of Turnbull’s championing of SSM.
For one thing, they are not leaders of the party now; Howard is a private citizen and Abbott a back-bencher. Their influence in not comparable with that of a sitting prime minister. Further, they have never made any bones about being anything but conservatives, and got to lead the Liberal Party because of their conservative credentials. While acknowledging it to be a broad church – Howard frequently referred to it as the bearer of both Australia’s liberal and conservative traditions – they did not seek to wrench it to the left as Turnbull and his satellites have done, defending everything from the burqa to Gillian Triggs (he invited Triggs round for tea and supported her until even he saw the indefensible could no longer be defended. He got little gratitude from her) to compulsory student unions as cash-cows and cadre-generating institutions for the Left. He subscribed to the 1788 ‘invasion’ slander and held up Mao Tse-Tung as a role-model.
Turnbull must, obviously, have known that his coup against Abbott would split the party. Equally obviously, he didn’t care. If he ever offered Abbott a Ministry (say, Defence) in an attempt to heal the wound he had inflicted on the party, there is no record of it.
Now he seems intent in dragging the parliamentary party farther away from a large part of its natural voter base and undermining the settlement which worked so well for Menzies and Howard in particular, but to some extent for every previous Liberal prime minister.
The weird, Orwellian Marriage Law Survey (Additional Safeguards) Bill 2017, is virtually certain to split the party further. It is an insulting statement by the government that Australians cannot be trusted to conduct themselves with ordinary politeness. Further, it is again plainly pointing one way: to intimidate those speaking out against a Yes vote.
Single-sex marriage is only a part of a great culture war against tradition and values, though at present a pre-eminently important one. We are confronted – and to a greater or lesser degree this goes for the whole Western world – with a leftist takeover of our entire culture. Social conservatives have been hounded out of the ALP and are in the process of being hounded out of at least the parliamentary Liberal party.
There is in fact a great deal the government could do to stop this pervasive leftism, starting with taking on the ABC which has so egregiously betrayed its charter, if it were not largely in agreement with it, and if Turnbull, Brandis, Pyne and Co. were capable of recognising the politically suicidal nature of the present settlement. On a vastly greater scale, there is the curiously unresisted barbarisation of universities and the also curiously almost unresisted international Muslim assault on the West.
The totally unprecedented attacks on President Trump are because he is seen to be standing against an international leftist project whose outlines we can now discern but about which our own political leaders not only do nothing, but in some ways support – or at least that is how it is coming to appear to the Liberal party’s core of socially-conservative voters. They feel betrayed, angry and, yes, fearful. Only the fact of Shorten being what he is seems to stand between the Liberal party and an electoral train-wreck of monumental proportions. And that may not be enough.
Subscribe to The Spectator Australia today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator Australia for less – just $20 for 10 issues