Did Baillieu Tape Leak Over Abortion? Sackings Should Follow

THE NOTION this week’s sensationally leaked conversation between a journalist and a former Premier may have been motivated by abortion as an issue is, as things stand, as plausible an explanation as any; should it prove to be so, the culprits must immediately be rounded up, dismissed from their jobs and sinecures, and expelled from the Liberal Party. Abortion is an explosive social issue. It is not suitable ammunition for public factional brawling.

I acknowledge I have remained silent for a few days this week (busy, busy) but readers will know that as ever, I have been keeping an eye on events; I received the now-infamous email on Tuesday morning from a non-existent member of the Liberal Party seeking to distribute the conversation between former Premier Ted Baillieu and The Age‘s reporter Farrah Tomazin — and I do not intend to oxygenate the recording, its transcript or the email within which they were disseminated by republishing them here.

In fact, it had been my intention not to comment on the issue at all; whilst I am personally outraged at what appears to have been a stunning act of bastardry committed against the Victorian Liberal Party ahead of a difficult state election, I was initially disinclined to draw any further attention to it by discussing it, and I indicated as much to the party’s State Director, Damien Mantach, when he contacted me earlier in the week as part of an audit to establish which party members had received the offending email and which hadn’t.

But in light of a conspiracy theory that emerges in the Editorial of today’s edition of the Herald Sun in Melbourne, I wanted to make some remarks in reply.

Broadly, it has been speculated in the mainstream press this week that the potential culprit (or culprits) at the top of the “suspect list” were senior advisers working out of a federal Liberal MP’s electorate office in Melbourne; whether that eventually proves to be so or not, the Herald Sun has today made the case that the entire episode may have been driven by anti-abortionist elements within the party rather than a more orthodox factional ambush aimed at crippling the obvious target, Premier Denis Napthine.

Whether Ms Tomazin’s tape recorder was stolen, as it has been claimed, or that a more sinister explanation lies behind an incendiary background conversation between herself and Baillieu becoming public, there are two facts that seem set in stone: one, that an attempt to derail the Coalition’s campaign for re-election in what was already a tough political environment has been made; and two, that the private contact details of grassroots Liberal Party members have been accessed and obtained for the purposes of making that attempt.

It is my view that once the person (or persons) responsible have been identified, the Party can and should humiliate them publicly, dismiss them from any paid employment they hold at the discretion of either the party or an elected representative, expel them from the Liberal Party, and — if it can be established that offences may have been committed — to take any and all available steps to have them prosecuted.

I conveyed this view, in similar terms, to Mr Mantach in my email to him on Wednesday night.

The abortion angle raised by the Herald Sun simply adds another piece to the puzzle; it, too, may be a correct assessment or it may prove to be a red herring. Either way, with that explosive issue now squarely on the table in the context of the investigation, there are a few points that have to be made.

I think readers know that my personal position on abortion is a reasonably conservative one; with the exception of cases of rape or incest, or where carrying a foetus to term would either endanger the life of the mother or result in a severely disabled (or still) birth, I am not in favour of abortion and would never utter a syllable to advocate abortion on demand.

Having said that, my opinion is exactly that: my opinion. Others will make their own judgements according to their values, and their own decisions; and I phrase it thus because those who wish to procure an abortion will do so irrespective of whether it is safe or not, legal or not, and regardless of the proliferation or otherwise of facilities at which to do so. I’m not having a bob each way in making that observation; it is a recognition of the reality that whether you like it or not, the continued occurrence of abortion is a hard, cold fact.

If a situation is to exist in any mainstream political party whereby hatchet jobs, factional ambushes and the attempted termination (sorry for using the word) of the political careers of opponents are pursued on the basis of such an inflammatory issue, then as a society we’ve got a very, very big problem.

The Herald Sun is right; if advisers to federal MPs (or to cabinet ministers) are pursuing an internal agenda with engineering a savage lurch to the Right over abortion as its objective, they must be dismissed from their positions; if an actual federal MP is directly involved, then disciplinary action including disendorsement and expulsion from the Liberal Party must also be pursued.

Aside from anything else, there is a clear delineation of jurisdictional responsibilities in relation to abortion: it is the preserve of the states, and as much as people involved in federal politics might protest that they remain members of a state-based division of the party, the fact is that from the perspective of operational executive government a line would have been crossed if their involvement were to be confirmed.

And it goes without saying that any other members, employees or associates of the Party found to have engaged in this stunt should be thrown overboard without delay or compunction — irrespective of whoever they are.

Much has been made in recent months of the intention of disgraced renegade MP Geoff Shaw’s intentions to introduce a Private Member’s Bill into state Parliament, seeking to alter Victoria’s abortion laws and tighten them to reflect his deeply held, fundamentalist Christian views — a charade, if and when it eventuates, that the Napthine government will need like the proverbial hole in the head.

Stirring up the passions and hatreds that invariably accompany debate of this issue is irresponsible and counter-productive at the best of times; making it an explicitly targeted political football aimed at sabotaging a government led by moderate Liberals is reprehensible.

And the Coalition government in Victoria faces a fight to be re-elected: invigorated by the ascension of Napthine to the Premiership last year, blessed with what barely passes for “an opposition” and a ridiculous, puerile incompetent as opposition leader — and armed with the best budget position of any state — Napthine should be an unbackable favourite to win.

Despite the problem of Geoff Shaw and the political trickle-down effects of the Abbott government’s budget, I believed until recently that Napthine was a certainty. Now, I’m not so sure — and if the Coalition loses office, this episode over the leaked conversation with Baillieu will probably be seen as the final nail in its coffin.

To be fair, there are a couple of the items on Shaw’s list of demands that could be readily agreed and implemented to try to shut the matter down without causing an almighty detonation in the immediate runup to the state election in November; for example, the requirement that a doctor opposed to abortion be legally compelled to refer a patient requesting it to another doctor who will provide access to one can and should be rescinded.

Doing so would remove a moral and ethical imposition on the doctor opposed to abortion, whilst making no practical difference whatsoever: the reality is that doctors prepared to provide access to abortion services are publicly known, and will continue to be so.

But for the most part, abortion is a matter last dealt with extensively in Victoria just a few years ago. Little meaningful purpose is to be served by reopening the can of worms now.

Aside from what I have said in this article I will make no further comment on the Baillieu tapes scandal until the investigations to identify those responsible have been concluded.

But if the Herald Sun is right — and the whole thing was orchestrated as part of a push for hardline abortion reform by elements inside the Liberal Party with too much of an idea of their own importance — then that’s pretty sick, the outrage of the injury the matter seems certain to inflict on the Napthine government notwithstanding.


Fred Nile, Charlotte Dawson, Abortion And Suicide

IT’S NOT OFTEN that I find myself making any attempt to defend the Rev Fred Nile; there is conservatism, and then there is the brand of mindless, fundamentalist religious fervour he regularly advocates. But his comments — highlighting the fact virtually every obituary written in the wake of the sad death of model Charlotte Dawson has ignored the effects of an abortion she had in 1999 — have been maliciously and dishonestly pilloried.

First things first: I was devastated to learn that model and TV personality Charlotte Dawson committed suicide last weekend; it is difficult to comprehend, without a first-hand appreciation of the effects of depression (although I have a number of people in my “circle” who are sufferers), why a beautiful, vivacious woman seemingly filled with life and with everything in the world going for her would be driven to such a tragic end, although I do know enough to know that the condition and its consequences are often inexplicable in any logical or reasoned sense by what might ordinarily be described as normal standards.

And on the issue of abortion, readers already know I’m not exactly on the cheer squad for its advocacy, save for instances of rape or where a foetus is at risk of birth with severe deformity and/or disability. Even so, those decisions are for others to make — as in this case — just as any adverse consequences must be borne by those make them.

It is in this vein that I feel compelled to comment today; the point Rev Nile has sought to make is no doubt informed by his religious views but is nonetheless pertinent in light of any attempt to understand what might have motivated Dawson to take her own life.

For those readers not familiar with Nile’s comments — or who have heard or read about them only through second or third-hand sources — I suggest a reading of the actual comments he posted on Facebook on 23 February is a good place to start.

It might surprise many to see that Nile isn’t running off on a morality crusade, or a rant against abortion drenched in fundamentalist religious fervour; in fact, he simply makes the point that Dawson herself identifies the abortion she had 15 years ago as being the root cause of her depression, and notes that this fact has been largely omitted from the dozens of obituaries and tributes that have been written in an outpouring of grief in the wake of her death.

Conservative Daily Telegraph columnist (and known committed Catholic) Miranda Devine makes the point in one of her articles today — in also seeking to bat away the unreasoning and unreasonable rantings of what I call the “wimmin’s lobby” (that is, those whose view of issues such as abortion is so one-eyed that even the slightest deviation from their mantra demands immediate crucifixion at almost any cost) — that it would have taken real courage for an otherwise strong, liberated and pro-choice woman such as Dawson to articulate the impact her abortion had on her.

Perversely, Devine no doubt has in mind the christian fundamentalists rather than the wimmin’s crowd as the likely antagonists such admissions might attract. Indeed — as she notes — Nile’s post had been “gentle and respectful.”

There are a few points to make here.

First, nobody — not me, not Nile, not Devine, nor anyone else — has suggested or even sought to suggest Dawson took her own life as a consequence of having had an abortion. Clearly, a lot of factors over a very long period of time fed into her untimely demise last week. But to listen to the outraged howls emanating from some sections of the hard social Left, one could be forgiven for thinking Nile had made exactly such a direct causal link.

Second — irrespective of your views on abortion, the right to choose, or any aspect of the minefield that constitutes the debate on the subject — it is safe to say that there is no universal law when it comes to abortion, or in this case its after-effects: personal anecdote it may be, but I know a lady who’s had six abortions in pursuit of her career, has neither the interest nor intention to ever have children, and is upfront about her view that in terms of any emotional consequences she has faced none. Dawson, by contrasts, pinpoints it as the beginning of her fight with depression and an enduring source of sadness and regret. Others will have different positions and different experiences. These can’t be shut down or bulldozed away by a rigidly militant and ideological standpoint the Left insists must be unquestioningly accepted. Accusations of knuckle-dragging and “misogyny” await anyone who dares to deviate from it.

And third, if we are to embrace Dawson fully in death, we must also accept and embrace the highs and lows that defined her in life. This is not some sister of ideology we’re talking about; it’s a normal woman for whom the tribulations of life grew to be too much for her to cope with. In addition to her abortion, we have a failed marriage, an enduring love for her ex-husband, the loss of her job as a presenter at Foxtel and what is believed to have been an extremely punitive personal financial position all known to be factors that have fed the depression she has so openly battled.

The issue of the so-called trolls Dawson was confronted with on Twitter — who dared her to kill herself, very nearly succeeding on at least one occasion prior to her doing precisely that — has also been well documented, as have all of the other factors I have mentioned. And then some.

Nile’s point is that from her own mouth and in her own words, the emotional consequences of her abortion were as much a contributor among many to her depression, if not her death, as anything else, and should be noted as such.

Too much time, energy and vitriol is expended by the warriors of the wimminhood seeking to silence so much as a nanosyllable that might be uttered in contradiction to its world view on abortion, and too many good men — Prime Minister Tony Abbott a notable example — are unfairly and disproportionately slammed in its divisive and provocative crusade to neutralise anything or anyone whose opinions are out of step with that view.

In this regard — for once — far from being reviled for the stand he has taken, Nile should be commended.

And for someone whose autobiography was subtitled the “Memoirs Of A Blow-Up Doll,” it’s a fair bet Dawson herself would find the fracas that has erupted around Nile’s relatively benign remarks bemusing at best.

Abortion And “Wimmin’s Rage”: Is Julia Gillard Even Fit To Sit In Parliament?

DIVISIVE Prime Minister Julia Gillard has quickly responded to renewed leadership rumblings by trying to provoke gender tensions over abortion; her “outrage” over an LNP dinner showcases her utter hypocrisy and contempt for principle. Is she, simply, not a fit person to sit in Parliament?

The Prime Minister appears determined to plumb new depths of indecency today, with her leadership under attack and a few extra months of her Prime Ministerial salary under threat — to say nothing of the difference to the taxpayer-funded, post-Parliamentary pension she’ll collect that an involuntary demotion would make.

I stand by the assessment published in this column yesterday, in which I advocated — for a raft of reasons — Gillard being permitted to lead the ALP into this year’s election.

Even so, Gillard is doing herself no favours.

The extraordinary outburst from the Prime Minister yesterday, suggesting that women in politics would be “marginalised” by “the Coalition’s men in blue ties” if Tony Abbott wins the September election is not just offensive in its own right, but it symbolises everything wrong with Gillard as a leader and as a parliamentary figure.

Women, according to Gillard, would be “banished from the centre of Australia’s political life” under a government led by Tony Abbott.

Abortion, she claimed, would be a “political plaything” under an Abbott government, which is probably news to the state governments under whose responsibility the issue falls.

And — in a jab at the Coalition leadership, ignoring the patently obvious fact that deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop is a woman — Gillard stated that “…a Prime Minister, a man with a blue tie… goes on holiday to be replaced by a man in a blue tie, a Treasurer who delivers a budget wearing a blue tie.”

Gillard was speaking at the launch of Labor’s Women for Gillard campaign in Sydney, but even with an audience hostile to the Liberals and opposed to Tony Abbott, someone in her position — aware the remarks would be reported — should have been more circumspect.

Her assertion that “the Labor Party is the party of the many not the few, that means we’re the party of women” flies in the face of electoral reality, given there is ample evidence to show the Coalition traditionally polls far better among women than does the ALP.

Yet even if her point was correct, Gillard herself is probably doing more to set the cause of women in this country back than any male could.

She is a major embarrassment to women across the country with her anti-male crusade.

And she is a joke to many people, men and women, who are no longer prepared to take anything she says at face value, let alone be prepared to listen to her at all.

It’s probably no shock that Kevin Rudd appeared on the hustings today, decked out in a blue tie; Gillard can expect to see a sea of blue ties around the necks of opposition MPs when Parliament resumes next week, too.

And in a measure of just how much ridicule Gillard is exposing herself to, Sydney radio host Ben Fordham was giving 20 blue ties away on his program this afternoon — in conjunction with a sponsor, TiesNCuffs, who are running a special of “25% off Blue Ties.”

But Gillard is blissfully ignorant of — or couldn’t care about —  the joke she has made of herself.

As things stand, there is no driving issue surrounding abortion in the wider community (or in state politics in any jurisdiction, where the issue properly sits) to mandate or justify putting abortion forward as an election issue.

Thus, it’s simply another instance of this divisive, confrontational Prime Minister seeking to stoke tensions and fears around socially explosive issues to detract from her own political problems.

It’s pretty low, but then this is not a Prime Minister who will be remembered for any decency or refined sense when it comes to her dealings with people generally.

It comes as an outrage erupted today over a menu used at an LNP fundraiser in March for Liberal candidate Mal Brough, which featured an inappropriate description of Gillard.

The menu — which was produced and published without awareness or sanction from Brough — is clearly tasteless, offensive, and on one level Gillard is entitled to be insulted.

The Fairfax press is reporting this evening that the owner of the restaurant that hosted the function has claimed responsibility and stated — emphatically — that the menu was not distributed to guests on the night. It doesn’t make it right, of course, but it shows Gillard in an equally ridiculous light as her “Blue Ties” and abortion comments have done.

Even so, it seems odd the menu has only surfaced today: three months after the event.

A cynic might note, too, that at the time of the function, Gillard was busily fawning all over Sydney shock jock Kyle Sandilands: hardly a propitious time to let rip with a noisy protest about sexism or misogyny.

One wonders how long the PM’s office has been holding onto the thing waiting to use it, despite Gillard’s protestations she only became aware of it today.

But calls by Gillard for Brough to be disendorsed are hysterical, disproportionate, and unwarranted.

And they raise another inconvenient, uncomfortable truth about Gillard and her behaviour.

Not only was her “misogyny” speech a defence of former Speaker and general grub Peter Slipper — ironically, whose Liberal endorsement Brough has taken — but it failed to enunciate a syllable of criticism of Slipper’s sexist, misogynistic utterances.

(For those who were in hiding at the time, check this out).

Gillard is clearly unperturbed at descriptions of female genitalia as “salty c***s in brine” when the circumstances suit her own political self-interest, but when a description such as “small breasts, huge thighs and a big red box” is used — and there isn’t a butt to cover or a point to be scored (or a “misogyny” stunt to be sprung) — well, that’s simply an outrage.

It’s not even the fact that one personally describes Gillard, and the other was a general statement; like her slavering, fawning appearances alongside Sandilands, the simple fact is that Gillard is no defender of the very standards she viciously purports to uphold.

When it suits her to, that is.

And did anyone ever hear Julia Gillard utter a syllable of complaint over this at the time?

What an absolute hypocrite. Is it any wonder nobody cares what she has to say.

Former NSW Premier Kristina Keneally got it right this evening; she has said on Twitter “Blue ties, menus…here’s the real scandal in today’s news…” before going on to post a link to an article about childhood poverty and the effects of reduced welfare payments — legislated by Gillard’s government — to single mothers.

All of this raises the question: is Julia Gillard even a fit and proper person to sit in federal Parliament?

The Prime Minister appears oblivious to the fact that she is not the head of a student political front, or that she does not preside over some juvenile game of “do unto others before they do unto you:” she is the Prime Minister of Australia, and she is in charge of the government of the country, not an adolescent debating society.

After a while — when the time to dismiss things as mistakes and errors of judgement has passed — it becomes necessary to look at the Prime Minister’s words, the issues that underpin them, and her conduct in office, and to ask that simple question.

Is she fit to hold a seat in Parliament? Is she a fit and proper person to be Prime Minister?

The answer — if her utterances merit the judgement — suggests not.

It is the answer of voters at the ballot box, however, that will be most telling.

Difficult Issues And The Thin Edge Of The Wedge

I READ an article in the Weekend Australian today that I want to share with readers, and invite comments in answer to; there are a lot of hot-button, emotional issues at the forefront of public discourse and debate at present, and that debate is marked to a worrying degree by intellectual belligerence.

Gay marriage, abortion, and I’d add “man-made” climate change: issues never far from divisive (and often ugly) confrontation, with adherents and proponents resolutely welded to their respective positions, often with well-reasoned arguments to back their cases.

Yet there is a slow movement to outlaw the right of the individual to hold an opinion different to those who would set the agenda; typically this movement has come from the Left, and those who disagree with their positions are being worked into the insidious choice of either complying with the agenda of the Left, or facing the prospect of committing a criminal offence for thinking or saying anything in defiance of it.

I’m not speaking necessarily, mind, of the political Left, but rather the ideological Left; there is considerable confluence between the two, of course, but we’re talking here about the social engineers, the thought police, and everyone else who would dream of a nanny state inspired social Utopia.

This article from the Weekend Australian is food for thought, and I would love to know what readers think.

I think it’s disgraceful that people are being railroaded into a single-option choice when it comes to a position on delicate issues such as these; there is no easy answer to things like abortion, or gay marriage, or whether single women should have access to taxpayer-funded IVF, and what answers there are — on both sides — a generally not ideal in their entirety and raise other questions of their own.

I’m going to post another article here as well; I published it in this column quite some time ago, and I think it is instructive to read the two side by side.

It’s by American author, columnist and scholar Jeff Nyquist, and whilst he frames his piece in terms of the Cold War struggle between Communism and Democracy, it is interesting to spot the similarities in the two cases.

The striking thing about it for me is the case made by Nyquist is to some extent echoed in the article by the Murdoch columnist, but almost in a causal sense; when you think about it we don’t as a society really consider hard, tough questions of governance and world politics in the way we used to do, and the issues Nyquist identified are shaping a very different kind of society indeed.

Anyway, the purpose of tonight’s post is simply to share a couple of articles, dealing with thorny issues from very different perspectives, but asking the question: what sort of society, and world, do we want to live in?

Please feel free to share your opinions by way of comment; I’m curious to know what readers think, and I’m sure you will be keen to see what others are thinking as well.


Stone-Aged: Republican Akin’s Rape Views Legitimately Noxious

An outrage occurred this week on the campaign trail in the US, with a conservative Republican Senate candidate claiming that in cases of “legitimate rape” a woman’s body prevented pregnancy from occurring. The comments sought to justify an abortion stance. They are despicable.

65-year-old Todd Akin — an arch-conservative Congressman, backed by the so-called Tea Party group within the Republican Party, and standing against an incumbent Democrat for a Senate seat in Missouri — created uproar across America and around the world on Sunday, with his concept of “legitimate rape” and the role he ascribed to it in justifying his position on abortion.

“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Mr. Akin said. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Akin also explained his stance in cases where the “legitimate rape” did, indeed, result in a pregnancy: “I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”

Some punishment?

Naturally, once his odious remarks had made headlines across the world, Akin claimed the specious defence that he “misspoke,” but went on to say that “(he believes) deeply in the protection of all life, and (he does) not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action.”

It’s difficult, on the first incredulous glance at these remarks, to tell what’s worse: the fact Akin casually says that a rapist deserves “some punishment” as opposed to having the book thrown at him, or the fact Akin thinks the mother should be put through the consequent pregnancy in the interests of “the protection of all life.”

To put it candidly, these are the noxious utterings of someone unfit for fatherhood — especially of daughters — let alone for public office.

As it happens, two of his six children are daughters, and Akin is also a long-term holder of elected office; I just wonder if he’d be quite so cavalier in his views if — God forbid — one of his own daughters was unfortunate enough to suffer the unspeakability of a rape that led to a pregnancy.

What doesn’t this guy get?

Rape is an abhorrent crime; just the violence and cruelty of it are enough to revolt decent folk.

Surely it is difficult enough for the victim to endure the memory of the act, let alone the forced reminder of a child to go along with it.

And Akin’s comments suggest he has either never had to deal first-hand with rape victims, or — if he has, and has adhered to his “principles” — that he has dealt with them callously and insensitively indeed.

What judgement would he pass on his own daughter in such a circumstance?

I’d be fairly confident that this God-bothering, pious specimen of trumped-up rectitude would be screaming for the assailant to be strung up from the rafters.

If any female I knew — be she a relative, a friend, or simply someone I were in a position to be able to provide support to (and remember, unlike the Neanderthal Akin, I’m not an elected representative, so my ability is much more limited than his) — suffered the indignity and the humiliation of a rape that resulted in a pregnancy, I’d want all options to be available to her, including an abortion.

And if anyone did that to my daughter, hell would have neither fire nor fury to rival  the retribution that would be visited upon he who did it. To hell with the notion of “some punishment.”

As the debate over Akin’s remarks has raged in the US, it has been noted that a study by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in 1996 found an estimated 32,101 pregnancies result from rape in the United States each year. This equated to an average national rape-related pregnancy rate of 5% among victims aged from 12 to 45.

Unsurprisingly, a conception rate of 5% is very similar to the statistical conception rate  resulting from one-off unprotected sexual encounters between consenting partners.

So much for a woman’s body short-circuiting pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape.”

Make no mistake, denying abortions to rape victims is a pretty low act.

I understand that in such circumstances, some women choose to proceed with the pregnancy, and some choose termination, but that’s just it: the woman, in this situation, should be given the choice.

I’m fairly conservative when it comes to social issues, and I certainly don’t condone abortion as a routine birth control method in normal circumstances when there are so many other options available. But I would never deny a woman an abortion if she had been raped — and I don’t think any reasonable individual would either, be they conservatively minded or otherwise.

Todd Akin and his repulsive moral stand on this issue gives men in general, and conservative men in particular, a bad name by virtue of the fact he trumpets his principles as a great recommendation as to why people should vote for him.

You can see for yourself — here is his bio aimed at electors in the state of Missouri.

To be perfectly honest — as a political conservative, and one who hopes Mitt Romney beats Barack Obama in November — I hope Akin’s Democratic opponent, Claire McCaskill, is re-elected in that particular Senate seat in a landslide.

Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, quickly distanced themselves from Akin, releasing a statement to say that a Romney-Ryan administration would never deny an abortion to a rape victim. Whilst I would be inclined to believe their assurance, I would also add that just as they would never deny that right to a rape victim, nor should they deny it.

To the good burghers of Missouri, I’d suggest a presidential vote for Romney and a Senate vote for McCaskill; and if enough of them do so, it’ll send a powerful message that dinosaurs like Akin will no longer be tolerated in America’s seat of governance.

And to those Missourians who meet Akin on the campaign trail, I would strongly recommend they check the back of his hand for scars before they shake it.

I really just have to shake my head in disbelief.