Political Intolerance on the Rise. Fostered by Social Media

Chris Kenny, in The Australian, 8 May 2019, where the title runs “Egg attack on Morrison hints at rotten state of public debate”

The Albury egging was so pathetic it didn’t even crack the egg. But there would have been milliseconds of sharp concern and shambolic reactions, with one woman knocked to the ground, that ruined what otherwise would have been a terrific event for the Country Women’s Association. And while they will be outwardly phlegmatic, Scott Morrison, his staff and the Australian Federal Police close personal protection officers will be — pardon the pun — walking on eggshells for a while.

In a world of terrorism, violence and ugly protests, silly stunts can trigger panic and alarm. As a journalist and political staffer, I have been with politicians when unarmed protesters have stormed a stage or invaded an event; the instant fear of something worse drives the security response and instils fear in those caught up in it — so the harm is far greater than what it seems with hindsight. Trying to egg, confront or shock a prominent politician on the campaign trail is the equivalent of yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre. There are repercussions that far outweigh the inanity of the prank.

It was an egging of then prime minister Billy Hughes in Warwick, Queensland, during the conscription debate of 1917 that prompted the establishment of what became the AFP. Yet, 102 years later, at a gathering of women known more for separating yolks than throwing eggs, this incident speaks to something toxic about our politics that is beyond the remit of police.

Our politics have become more polarised, abusive and intolerant at a time when there aren’t even issues as divisive as conscription or the dismissal of a PM to blame. It reflects ugly trends in public discourse and society.

In March, when 17-year-old William Connolly egged hard-Right senator Fraser Anning (who had engaged in victim-blaming over the Christchurch massacre) he became a social media hero, funding was crowdsourced for his legal expenses and he was feted on Channel 10. The ABC once made a hero of an activist who threw a shoe at John Howard.

Tony Abbott was headbutted by a man in Hobart last year and in this campaign posters of him have had the C-word plastered across the top. Yesterday, faeces was sent in a package to his electorate ­office.

In February, a police officer, no less, was found guilty of threatening to rape Sarah Hanson-Young’s daughter. Wentworth MP Kerryn Phelps has been on the end of vile attacks, as has her Liberal opponent, Dave Sharma, while Julian Leeser and Josh Frydenberg have had posters defaced with anti-Semitic messages.

Politicians haven’t covered themselves in glory either, with minor- and major-party candidates dis-endorsed over lewd behaviour and Islamophobic, homophobic and sexist social media posts.

This gives us a clue as to why ugly abuse, toxic antipathy and violent protests are creeping into our national political debate. The antagonism is migrating from social media, where profanity and hate are amplified under the cover of anonymity or the false bravado of digital distance.

We need to keep this in perspective — anyone who remembers the union and activist protests that smashed their way into Parliament House in 1996 knows we have seen worse — but the poisonous tone is now more widespread and mainstream. The onus is on all those vilifying rather than debating their opponents to lift the tone.

CHRIS KENNY

Associate Editor, International Affairs … and … Commentator, author and former political adviser, Chris Kenny also hosts The Kenny Report Monday-Thursday 12-2pm, Kenny on Sunday at 7pm, and Kenny on Media on Mondays at 8pm on Sky News. H… Read more

ALSO SEE

* https://news.sky.com/video/protester-bounces-egg-off-head-of-australian-prime-minister-scott-morrison-11713558

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Filed under accountability, atrocities, Australian culture, australian media, cultural transmission, electoral structures, heritage, historical interpretation, legal issues, life stories, news fabrication, performance, political demonstrations, politIcal discourse, security, self-reflexivity, taking the piss, tolerance, trauma, truth as casualty of war, zealotry

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