You may not agree with everything – or indeed anything – that comes out of Cory Bernardi’s mouth but at least he has the courage to say publicly what he really thinks.
This paints him in stark relief against the vast majority of Australia’s political class who say only what they believe the public and their political masters want to hear.
Bernardi, the South Australian Liberal Senator and prolific author, has just published a new book, The Conservative Revolution, in which he restates positions that he has championed throughout his controversial public life.
No-one could be seriously surprised that this very conservative Christian opposes abortion, believes that a traditional nuclear family is the best form of societal unit, and is worried about non-Christian religions and atheism.
It’s also not surprising that many people have been offended by some of Bernardi’s statements, including that some women use abortion as ”an abhorrent form of birth control”, and his suggestion that children brought up by single mothers are more prone to criminality and promiscuity.
Naturally, in the post-Christmas silly season, these comments have attracted significant attention and predictable condemnation, including from his own side of politics.
According to his critics, he is an ugly person, a “wingnut”, “arsehat” and a misogynist; an Islamaphobic, fundamentalist, religious zealot.
Now, apart from the obvious point about meeting ugliness with ugliness (made so effectively by George Orwell in Animal Farm that it doesn’t warrant an extensive airing), the uncomfortable fact for most of Bernardi’s trendy opponents is this: a powerful portion of the Australian Labor Party agrees with just about every point he makes on social issues.
There is an obvious divergence when it comes to the industrial relations system, which Bernardi would like to see deregulated, but on social issues such as abortion and the traditional family unit, the maligned senator has many cross-party friends.
Members of Labor’s hard Right faction quietly go about their ideological business behind closed doors, stymieing progressive ideas within the Labor Party on all kinds of social issues, most notably gay marriage. Like Bernardi, they favour restrictions on abortion and they believe in the traditional family unit.
They rarely have the political naivety – or courage – to talk publicly about their social views and, when they do, they are slapped down and go back to their behind-the-scenes maneuvering (as an ironic aside, it’s also true that supporters of progressive social positions in the Labor Party are often silent for fear of political backlash).
Apart from rare exceptions, most members of Labor’s hard right save themselves from the ugly abuse directed back at Bernardi by avoiding subjecting their views to full public scrutiny. Even when they do, they rarely attract the condemnation that Bernardi receives (consider this thoughtful treatment of conservative Labor politician Jacinta Collins). However, they are much more influential on public policy than Bernardi will ever be, despite his clear talent for building coalitions of support. Even on this level, though, Bernardi is simply preaching to the choir (almost literally).
Within the Liberal Party, Bernardi has his supporters but the broader Parliamentary party considers him as an annoyance.
Within the community, his views have substantial support.
Conservative Christian denominations – including the exponentially growing Pentecostal movement – have similar views to Bernardi on most social issues. Family First, a media darling in South Australia, harbours many who share identical views (his close relationship – both ideological and personal – with incoming Family First Senator Bob Day was explained by InDaily last year).
Bernardi’s social agenda, rather than being a collection of weird, alien beliefs, is relatively mainstream. At worst, he represents a small but well-organised minority.
Do I personally agree with the way he expressed his position on abortion or his attacks on Islam, gay people and single parents? No.
Do I think his inflammatory language helps the debate? Again, no.
But I don’t have to agree with him to see that many of his opponents are hypocrites.
You want civilised, decorous debate? Engage with his arguments; don’t fling self-righteous mud. You might even want to actually read his books.
If you’re still outraged by Bernardi’s views, you also might want to ask your local MP for his or her opinions on the social issues he raises.
Good luck getting straight answers.
Make your contribution to independent news
A donation of any size to InDaily goes directly to helping our journalists uncover the facts. South Australia needs more than one voice to guide it forward, and we’d truly appreciate your contribution. Please click below to donate to InDaily.