The former PM is trying to dumb down the debates over same-sex marriage and climate, but the electorate may be ahead of him.
If you don’t like political correctness, advised Tony Abbott two months ago, vote against legalising same-sex marriage “because voting no will help to stop political correctness in its tracks.”
It was the former PM doing what he does best, artfully setting out an agenda for a negative, divisive campaign. Abbott’s mentor and fellow “no” campaigner John Howard is renowned for his political skills, but when it comes to campaign slogans he’s no match for his protégé.
Abbott’s most cunning trick was to drag political correctness into this already crowded debate. We regular heterosexual guys and gals, he’s saying with a sly nudge, are being railroaded by trendy progressives into allowing people who are not like us to desecrate the sanctity of marriage.
Fast forward to last week. During one of his frequent visits to Mother England Abbott delivered the 2017 Global Warming Policy Foundation lecture to a cosy gathering of fellow climate-deniers.
The GWPF website was down when I tried to access it last week, but Abbott was thoughtful enough to release the text of his address for everyone to see. It makes fascinating, disturbing reading.
The man who as prime minister said he supported climate measures now says he no longer believes human-induced climate change is a settled issue, and those who say it is are acting in “the spirit of the Inquisition, the thought-police down the ages”.
The man who as prime minister had access to the best scientific advice in Australia declared that “more than 100 years of photography at Manly Beach in my electorate does not suggest that sea levels have risen” and that those say they have are “alarmists”.
And for good measure, here’s his final word: “It’s climate change policy that’s doing harm; climate change itself is probably doing good; or at least, more good than harm.”
It’s clear that as prime minister Abbott avoided chats with his chief scientist or any government climate scientist. Despite his strong preconceptions, just half an hour with a professional discussing those sentiments would surely have lifted the fog and revealed how utterly wrong they are.
He’s telling us that the word of a former prime minister with no tertiary science education, who cites no authorities to support his argument, trumps that of thousands of scientists who have spent their lives learning about how climate works.
I’ve observed climate science in action for 30 years. I’ve listened for countless hours to people who do it and got to know many of them personally. I value their personal integrity and collective wisdom, and I’ve learned to trust their word. It follows that I don’t trust Tony Abbott’s.
I have to pause here. Getting hot under the collar about Abbott’s climate ruminations is to risk being branded one of those “thought-police”, those guardians of political correctness, or PC.
A long time ago when I was young, PC was a joke from the far left of politics, usually directed at some party hack who waved the rule-book. It was the left satirising itself.
The joke spread to nursery rhymes and fairy tales, where traditional heroes and villains of a certain gender, type, class, race or nationality were re-drawn in a form that would offend no-one. The inevitable result was a sanitised version stripped of everything that was interesting.
The joke did not go unnoticed on the right side of politics, where US President Ronald Reagan made good use of it. In the 1990s a new breed of conservatives, many of them re-invented ex-Marxists, turned PC into a powerful campaign tool. It’s never looked back.
Both in office and since, John Howard has used the PC line to insinuate that people speaking out on refugee policies, or on racist, sexist or homophobic language, are browbeating us ordinary folk and dictating how we should behave.
Political correctness is a supreme propaganda tool. You may be prime minister or a top-gun CEO or a mining magnate or just a wealthy bigot, or all of the above, but through the magic of PC you can be instantly transformed into a champion of the downtrodden.
Free of both thought and responsibility, it is politics for the lazy, demanding only that its users know how to talk nonsense with conviction. Donald Trump put it best in his 2016 race: “I’m not politically correct, because to be politically correct just takes too much time… too much effort.”
Stumped for campaign ideas? No problem – just bang on about political correctness. You can attack anyone else’s policy on a complex issue – immigration or education or law and order, or anything – simply by branding it as PC. Works every time.
The full power of the political correctness line was unleashed in Britain and the US in 2016, taking Britain out of the European Union and putting Donald Trump into the White House.
That’s what happens when politics is dumbed down and political correctness given elbow-room. We would be foolish if, after all this warning, we allowed the same process to take its course here.
Now Tony Abbott is repeating the trick. Getting us to vote down same-sex marriage and abandon carbon mitigation, he says, would be to save us all from political correctness.
I believe that on these two issues at least, most voters are informed enough not to be sucked in, and that the passage of time will see his views become quaint historical relics. Let’s hope so.