We all have memories of a child bawling its eyes out after being clobbered by another kid. We also have memories of the offender’s customary excuse: ‘He hit me first!’. We tend to label such behaviour as ‘kids stuff’.
But how many of you expected grown-up politicians to ape them?
Yet they do. How sickening is it to see those who ask for our vote, who ask that we trust them to manage our nation, exhibiting such ‘kid’s stuff’.
When the Coalition appointed Simon Birmingham as its spokesman, I wonder if they expected him to so often use the ‘He hit me first!’ excuse? I suspect they might be disappointed with such childish behaviour. Let me explain what I mean.
In the run-up to the election we have been astonished at the number of candidates who have been found to be unsuitable because of past behaviour: guilty of foul insults, racism, anti-Muslim rhetoric, anti-Semitism, white supremacist language and behaviour, homophobia, misogyny, sexism, crude references to female anatomy, vile ’jokes’ about women, dirty language and unseemly behaviour. These behaviours seem to have been stock in trade for countless candidates, whose pasts have caught up with them courtesy of the social media, where misdemeanors are meticulously stored, only to be unearthed at the most inconvenient time.
Every ‘exposure’ of the behaviour of these would-be politicians, selected mainly for unwinnable seats, has been seized upon by opponents and shouted from the rooftops. Every day we have seen politicians confronted by opponents calling for the disendorsement of their offending candidates. The response is always the same: ‘He hit me first!’. Translated into the vernacular of politics, this deciphers into: ‘You have candidates who are as shonky as ours’.
To illustrate this, I offer this transcript of a recent dialogue between Sabra Lane of the ABC’s AM and Simon Birmingham:
SABRA LANE: Two Liberal candidates were dumped or jumped yesterday. Do they match the criticism attributed to Kelly O'Dwyer, that the Liberal party in Victoria is perceived as "homophobic, anti-women, and climate change deniers"?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I think there's a lesson for both the Labor and the Coalition parties out of yesterday. We saw, and have seen, candidates now disendorsed from both Labor and Liberal ranks. The Labor party's lost a couple of candidates in the course of this election for anti-Semitic issues. There's another candidate under some pressure in relation to making light of rape. [‘He hit me first!’ excuse]. In the end, this is a reminder to all parties to make sure that the vetting of candidates, even those running in unwinnable positions, is thorough.
SABRA LANE: But how worried are you that in Victoria in particular, where your own colleagues admit it's more progressive and not tolerant of these kind of views, that it further damages the Liberal brand?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Sabra, I just think that there are lessons here that the Labor Party, the Liberal and National parties, all of us need to heed in terms of making sure that our vetting processes are thorough. [‘He hit me first!’ again]. We are the parties of government, and people expect us to have thorough vetting processes.
We do that for candidates, especially in all of the winnable seats. Clearly, some have slipped through the net on both sides of politics in relation to those unwinnable seats.
Let’s leave Birmingham; I’m sure you’ve had enough of his persistently defensive rhetoric.
The Second Leaders’ debate on Sky News
gave us another example of childish behaviour.
In what columnists are describing as his ‘Mark Latham handshake moment’,
PM Morrison tried to get under Shorten’s guard onstage after tensions flared when Shorten questioned him about the LNP’s big tax cuts for high-income earners in 2024. As Morrison dodged his questions, Shorten scrawled “$77 billion” on a piece of paper and held it up to the audience. Morrison’s retort: “I wouldn’t trust your maths in a heartbeat”
, and Shorten’s response: “$77 billion to the top 3 per cent of earners, that’s nice money if you can get it”
evoked an encircling move towards Shorten.
Morrison then accused Shorten of having been shifty with a blue-collar worker who wanted to know if he would get a tax cut when he earned over $200,000 a year working in the mines. “You couldn’t look him in the eye and tell him you were going to increase his taxes”
, Morrison said as he stepped closer to Shorten, who smilingly responded: “You’re a classic space invader”.
The audience and moderator David Speers saw the joke. Morrison didn’t!
Morrison hated being challenged so publically before a TV audience of many thousands. His aggressive response – invading Shorten’s space – was yet another example of ‘He hit me first! So I’m going after him.’
It’s all rather depressing isn’t it? On May 18 we are required to vote for our local candidates and senators, to whom we entrust the governance of our nation. Yet so many of them show so little aptitude for their parliamentary role, so little understanding of the issues that ordinary folk consider important, so out of touch with existential environmental threats, so unaware of the social inequity that afflicts our nation, so indifferent to the sheer unfairness that debases our society, and so shonky to boot!
To cap that catalogue of ineptitude, too many candidates are self-centred, focussed solely on gaining the prize of election, aggressively antagonistic to their opponents, and disparaging towards those with different views.
Most distressing though is that every day they exhibit the behaviour we censure in our children: ‘He hit me first!’