On August 13 in Big Birds, regional politics and the futility of "Freedom Wars", I wrote in part of the work done by Alison McLaren. There I concluded:
Alison and I do not share the same political persuasions. She has been a doughty fighter for the ALP. Yet I do wonder why the ALP has not drafted her for political service despite the factional divides that bedevil that party. Alison is withdrawing from her council and community roles after long service to pursue other interests. I think that's a huge loss. If the ALP were to persuade Alison to run in a half-way decent seat, then she would have my total and active support despite party differences. We just need people like her.
Now a piece in Sydney's Daily Telegraph, You can run, you'll need a tough hide, provides part of the answer to Alison's withdrawal. The story begins: "For eight years they called her a "bitch", a "whore" and a "slut" - now one of western Sydney's political leaders has had enough." I leave it to you to read the story. In a Facebook comment, I wrote:
I know Alison well and wrote a tribute to her in one of my posts. She has done some remarkable things. However, I had no idea of any of this. Maybe I'm just getting old but I think that there has been a coarsening of the tone. It's not that people didn't think and sometimes say things - I remember as a kid on a polling booth being told by someone from another party who did not know who I was that my grandfather had killed his wife (Gran died in a car crash when Fah was driving) to marry his secretary; Amie had been his secretary decades earlier. It's that people now feel that they have a right to say things directly. We see it in the on-line world all the time. This is associated with a level of censoriousness and public scrutiny that makes public life impossible for many. I'm so sorry, Alison.
One of the stupidest phrases in the English language sometimes applied to politics is "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." This crassness provides a justification for all sorts of extremes. We saw how it almost destroyed former NSW opposition leader John Brogden, something I wrote about back in 2007 in one of my depression series - Professional Services - Value, Culture and Depression 4: Guidelines. It seems to gone on and on and just get worse. We are going to have to find a way to stop it or no one with any shred of sensitivity will enter public life. Why would you bother?
I don't have a general answer. I don't think that we are going to stop it through laws, protocols or codes of conduct. I don't think that we should try to stop people expressing very strong views that we find distasteful in private. That's their right. I do think that we should demand respect and manners in public discourse, that we should call those who do not display them.
I also suggest that we start at the top, with the political leadership and the commentariat. The next time a commentator calls the PM or opposition leader dismissively by their surname, object. The next time a commentator refers to you dismissively as the punters, object. The next time Treasurer Swan or PM Gillard or Mr Abbott play the game, object. I know that this probably sounds a bit silly and futile, but groups exercise their control in this way. And Australia is just a big group.