Senator Cory Bernardi’s new book, The Conservative Revolution, appears to have won him few friends in the media, while his old friends in the Liberal Party have gone missing in action.
Commentary on the book, which covers a range of constitutional, social and economic fundamentals, focussed on some narrow topics — namely, single mothers and abortion — that have provoked considerable if not predictable indignation and outrage.
At a political level there have been urgings from the Labor Party for the Prime Minister Tony Abbott to cut Bernardi off completely — a move that is highly unlikely.
Senator Cory Bernardi.
It is true Abbott moved Bernardi to the backbench for what were undoubtedly inflammatory and provocative remarks on same-sex marriage; but Abbott is tolerant of alternative views in the party, especially those that are similar to his own fundamental worldview.
Other Liberals, particularly those who have never been friends with Bernardi in the first place, have seen the controversy as a chance to put the final nail in the South Australian senator’s career.
Unsurprisingly, the media highlighted selective parts of the book while Senator Bernardi’s “tone” has been roundly criticised.
Even some people on the “pro-life” side of the political divide say Bernardi could better serve his cause if he employed more empathy in his rhetoric.
In particular, the book’s claims that some women used abortion as “an abhorrent form of birth control”, and that criminality among boys and promiscuity among girls are more prevalent among those brought up in single-parent families, mostly single-mother families.
The sociological data on single-parent families is irrefutable, but that does not stop the media from showcasing examples of single-parent success stories to show the Bernardi argument is somehow flawed.
Former South Australian Liberal senator and Howard government minister, Amanda Vanstone, also chimed in suggesting Bernardi is sailing close to the wind politically.
However, Vanstone forgot to mention that she is an old factional foe of Bernardi in the most factionalised division of the Liberal Party.
Vanstone generously agreed that Senator Bernardi is entitled to his views, but accused Bernardi of using deliberately provocative language in order to gain publicity.
“He is using freedom of expression that deeply offends others, using deliberately inflammatory language. It seems then to be more about creating a fight and wanting the inevitable media attention than it does about expressing a view,” she wrote in the Fairfax newspapers.
According to Vanstone, Senator Bernardi deliberately chose his language in order to get attention.
“While I think it is stupid and juvenile to do so, he is entitled to choose that path. He is, of course, preaching only to the converted. He is revving up his supporters. He is not converting anyone.”
In other words, she is both dismissive of Bernardi’s arguments and accusing him of being disingenuous.
“Abbott warned him,” Vanstone wrote. “Bernardi ignored it and went way over the top in his remarks on a gay marriage bill. Linking the approval of same-sex relationships with polygamy and bestiality was just too much and Abbott sacked him.”
At the time Abbott said: “Discipline is critical. Team play is vital. And that’s what Cory has had some problems with. And that’s why I thought it was very important to act quickly and decisively as I have.”
But that did not mean Abbott wanted to get rid of Bernardi altogether. Bernardi was at that time on the frontbench, and Abbott did not want a distraction from his single-minded mission which was to get rid of the Rudd-Gillard Labor government.
In her recent article, Vanstone concluded: “In the AFL, as in politics, being a team-player is vital. Bernardi has had two chances. There won’t be another.” However, this is something of an exaggeration.
Several Liberal MPs, including Warren Entsch and Senator Sue Boyce, came out to condemn Bernardi, but very few were there to defend him.
An exception was the Nationals’ deputy leader, Barnaby Joyce, who said: “We constantly hear from the left that we need a clean and robust debate, but when anyone puts a different, even controversial point of view, they go spare. What the left really appears to be saying is that they want everyone to say they agree with their ever-moving agenda.”
It is unlikely Vanstone has much sway at all with Tony Abbott, who in turn is unlikely in the extreme to expel Bernardi from the Liberal Party or seek to disendorse him.
In the meantime, the substantive issues expounded in Bernardi’s book continue to be ignored.