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Loonies latch on to politics of hate

  • Laurie Oakes
  • March 05, 2011 12:00AM

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Source: The Daily Telegraph

WINGNUTS are coming out of the woodwork. The mad and menacing phone calls to independent MP Tony Windsor are just one indication.

There are plenty of others, especially online. The carbon tax and Tony Abbott’s call for a people’s revolt have crazies foaming at the mouth.

You see it on the “Revolt Against the Carbon Tax” Facebook page, for example.

Like this message from a Gillard-hater about a rally in front of Parliament House being planned for March 23.

“Just like Egypt we stay there and protest continuously until she and her cronies, Bob Brown greens etc, are ousted! We have got to get rid of this Godless mistress of deceit.”

Hosni Mubarak was a dictator while the Gillard Government is democratically elected, but it doesn’t seem to matter to the fanatics.

The Australian Tea Party – a fringe group based on the US right-wing movement – also attracts some prize specimens. A US tea-bagger, for example, writes: “Hello Down Under. Sorry to see we are not the only nation plagued with vermin like Obama. We stand with you in your quest for liberty from tyranny and oppression.”

The protest rally – one of a series being organised around the nation – is a legitimate response to a government policy that has aroused strong opposition. But those planning and promoting the event – among them personalities from what The Australian’s Mark Day calls “redneck radio” – need to take care that they do not egg the extremists on.

So do Abbott and his senior colleagues. Gillard and her ministers would also do well to exercise some restraint.

Australian politics – like politics in the US in recent years – is taking on an unsavoury feel. Insults are getting nastier and more personal. Debate is one thing, but stirring up hate is quite another. Politicians, pundits, talkback hosts and others involved in the political process have a responsibility to keep that in mind if our democracy is to remain healthy.

There have been similarly worrying situations in the past, of course, when controversial issues dominated politics.

At the height of the battle over waterfront reform in 1998, the Australian Federal Police gave then industrial relations minister Peter Reith close personal protection for months as a result of a death threat.

Philip Ruddock, at the centre of the asylum seeker controversy in the Howard government, was guarded by AFP officers 24-hours a day.

Not only were there threatening calls, loonies even poisoned Ruddock’s lawn.

Then the weirdos were from the Left. This time they’re on the Right. From whatever direction they come, they should not be encouraged.

Gillard herself, of course, has to accept part of the blame for the anger. Her broken promise that there would be no carbon tax was bound to provoke a hostile reaction.

Surprisingly the PM seems not to have foreseen it. There was no serious attempt to explain or justify the backflip at her news conference announcing the new policy. Small wonder talkback lines lit up, focus groups went feral and opinion polls dived.

But critics attacking Gillard for dishonesty have an obligation to stick to the facts themselves. Sydney talkback king Alan Jones seems to have forgotten this in his notorious “JooLIAR” interview:

Gillard: “In the last election campaign I talked constantly about how we needed to cut down on carbon pollution and that the best way of doing that was to price carbon through a market-based mechanism.”

Jones: “No, no Julia.You didn’t say that.”

Gillard: “Pricing carbon is the right thing to do and I said that during the election campaign.”

Jones: “No, you did not.”

Jones should have asked shadow treasurer Joe Hockey, who backs Gillard’s version. He said on radio yesterday: “She actually went there and she said ‘I will have a carbon price, I’ll have an emissions trading system, but I promise you I will not have a carbon tax’.”

Gillard is also blasted for producing a framework for her scheme without any detail of an emissions target, what the carbon tax rate will be or exactly how it will be applied.

That produces uncertainty, say critics. They may be right.

But those same critics were silent – some were even members of the government – when John Howard announced his carbon blueprint in 2007. Howard also gave no indication of the starting price for carbon, no emissions target, no information about the impact on households. And it was Howard – not Gillard – who boasted his scheme would “ensure Australia leads the world”.

Anger aroused by the broken promise fuels the violent reaction now, and means Gillard’s answers to the critics go largely unheard.

Laurie Oakes is political editor for the Nine Network. His column appears every Saturday in The Daily Telegraph

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