Politics and Civility: Manners Maketh the Man

So another federal election has come and gone. We have a change in government, a new opposition and an interesting three years ahead of us as we look to see what manner of Prime Minister Tony Abbot will become.

Yet some politically active members of the ANU seem to have already made up their minds. I noted with some surprise that according to Facebook, Tony Abbott has already been declared as the worst Prime Minister in Australian history; a bold claim you would admit. Despite all the claims made by those on the left of their commitment to policy, a large number cannot seem to help themselves in reverting to name-calling and bigotry.

In an article in the Sydney Morning Herald in 2011, titled ‘Tea and Civility: Manners Maketh the Leader’, political strategist Mark Textor made a number of quite strong points regarding civility in Australian politics. In doing so, he quoted former Prime Minister John Howard, who once said, “People who exercise free speech have an obligation to do so in a sensitive and caring fashion,” but that, “if someone disagreed with the prevailing orthodoxy of the day, that person should not be denigrated as a narrow-minded bigot.” This quite accurate statement forms my distaste with a number of the politically active members of the ANU student community.

I voted Liberal. I have no qualms with it. I reject the Greens on ideology alone, and have difficulty with Labor’s economic policy and continual dysfunction. I’ve simply just gravitated to the right since my first engagement in politics a number of years ago. Despite this, I would not dream of being so disrespectful as to insult the intelligence of those who either vote for either of those parties, or those who represent them. Mark Textor notes that “much has been made in the mainstream media of the growing negativity in politics” and neither of the major parties has done much to dispel this attitude.

As I noted earlier, a particular theme I have noticed amongst the politically active left is their engagement in policy debate. Be it gay marriage, asylum seekers or climate change, the left have been proud to display their strong commitment to strong policy and to engage in politics on a policy basis.

It is a shame that their commitment to civility in politics is not as strong as it seems on face value. After making my voting intentions known prior to the last ACT local election, I was told on a number of occasions that I was a “f***ing idiot” for my particular political preference and have had similar treatment in the lead up to, and following this election. Similarly, whenever I attempt to engage in policy debates with my colleagues on the left, I’m met with the response, “How can you vote for Tony Abbott? He’s such a f***ing idiot”. The prevailing theme here is to ‘vote for whom I did or you’re an idiot’. Democracy at its finest.

In arguing this, I’m not attempting to exonerate the right from similar criticism. Cries of “hippie” or “commie” directed at those on the left are common from what I hear. I’m not particularly proud of Tony Abbott’s treatment of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard either.
But if it turns out that Prime Minister Abbott is the “policy-free-zone” that everyone seems to think he is, call him and his fellow Liberals out on the lack of quality policy, rather than baseless insults of someone’s intelligence. After all, last time I checked, Mr Abbott is a Rhodes Scholar, which none of us are.