The slur issued by Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe in the Chamber last week towards Hollie Hughes reaffirmed one thing, that hypocrisy is the currency of the Left’s debate on women. It’s apparent that it’s not about women, it’s about using women as a cudgel to achieve their aims. It’s difficult to imagine a more offensive remark that one woman could utter to another than Thorpe’s ‘At least I keep my legs shut’ issued during a debate on disability. That Hughes has a son with autism says all you need to know about Thorpe’s views on people with a disability.
As appalling as the remark was – and Thorpe did later apologise unreservedly and withdraw the comment – what is even more appalling is the silence of the usual Star Chamber, who use allegations and cancel culture, to ply their trade. The mainstream media has been largely quiet on what happened in the Senate, as it does not fit their narrative. When they talk about the rights of women, they mean the rights of certain women, the rest deserve no compassion or consideration and are fair game for abuse from Thorpe and others like her. Smear passes for comment, and they can denigrate whole sections of the community with impunity. All women were smeared by Thorpe’s remark, but it is the mothers of people with a disability who feel most let down.
The idea that people with a disability should not be born is reminiscent of the Reichstag in 1933 and has no place in Australian politics or any civil society. Greens leader Adam Bandt should have also immediately and unreservedly apologised to Hollie Hughes and to all Australians who have a disability. His reluctance to utter the words and his refusal to reach out to Hollie Hughes (she has to reach out to him, he stated) is appalling misogyny. But Thorpe’s remark encompasses more than misogyny, it suggests a deep contempt for people with a disability – they should not even be conceived. As a woman and a mother I find this deeply offensive. In the last few days I’ve spoken to several people whose lives have been touched by disability, and they have expressed disbelief at what Thorpe said. Living with disability requires a quiet courage that is seldom trumpeted, but is a true test of character.
What was needed last week was political leadership and Adam Bandt was found wanting. He should have said something along the lines of ‘the comments by Lidia Thorpe in no way represent the views of the Greens and I repudiate what she said unreservedly. I assert the right of people with a disability to live full and productive lives and I and my party will fight for their right to do so. I acknowledge the love and dedication that parents of children with a disability exhibit every day of their lives and I support measures taken to support them’. His attempts ‘to move on’ and not address the issue, to ‘put the matter behind us’ as quickly as possible were unacceptable. His spin doctors, let alone his own sense of decency, could produce nothing more to deal with the situation; his indifference to the hurt inflicted on Hollie Hughes, her son and by inference, to all parents of children with a disability was palpable. Hughes is a conservative woman, and therefore fair game.
Parliament reached a new low with Thorpe’s remark and it was incumbent on Bandt to restore some dignity and humanity to the chamber. That he failed to do so, and in fact seemed annoyed to even have to address the matter, speaks volumes. Australians are entitled to expect more from the leader of a mainstream political party; certainly that he could muster more than a robotic ‘she’s apologised, let’s move on’ attempt at evading questions and his refusal to address the inference of the remark. A lot of Australians, with and without a disability, expect more.
The limited life experience of so many MPs today – the university to spin doctor, research assistant to MP trajectory – is producing people who have no capacity to empathise with or understand the life situations of anyone outside this narrow cocoon. People with a disability often have little opportunity to advocate for themselves and rely on politicians to promote their needs to the wider community. Disability knows no ethnicity, no religion and no political affiliation. A sizeable percentage of the population is either born with a disability or acquire one over a lifetime; they are entitled to believe that they matter and to see their families and carers treated with respect. They are certainly entitled to believe they have the right to exist.
Perhaps the biggest losers from the Thorpe episode are the mainstream media outlets who’ve shown themselves incapable of dealing with anything other than their own narrative. Like deer in headlights they’re incapable of responding. Their only hope is that the twenty-four-hour news cycle will roll on and distract from any analysis, while they move on to cancelling the next witless soul who admits to a thoughtless tweet from their fifteenth birthday. The episode has demonstrated that journalism is now about activism and that what matters in any news story is where the participants sit in the identity hierarchy.
Women – well, certain women – are now trophies to be used to promote ideology. It’s the same old exploitation of women in a different guise. All women are equal except those deemed less so by the left-leaning media: those who quietly get on with the job of caring for a child with a disability, women like Hollie Hughes.
There are hundreds of thousands of Hollie Hughes around Australia, hundreds of thousands of men and women who love and nurture their children with a disability. They belong to a diverse group politically, culturally and socially; it seems it’s only certain myopic politicians who put ideology front and centre.
Albert Einstein, Helen Keller, Stephen Hawkins, Harriet Tubman, Beethoven, FDR, Stevie Wonder, Louise Sauvage, Louis Braille, Marlee Matlin, John Nash – all experienced disability and the world is better for their existence. You might ponder that fact, Adam Bandt and Lidia Thorpe.
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