Tony Abbott flushes nanny down the dunny

2013-06-17 05.23.40 pmNICK CATER

Published in The Sunday Times, September 29, 2013

AUSTRALIA’S new conservative government has begun a purge of state-sponsored political correctness, vowing to reverse the intrusion of the nanny state into everyday life.

Tony Abbott became prime minister three weeks ago after being elected on a platform opposing “Big Brother government” that nudges its citizens to make “appropriate” lifestyle choices.

His government has set its sights on reforming human rights laws, climate change policy and the education curriculum, built up under his Labor predecessors Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd. It plans to scrap environmental “green tape” and rein in publicly funded health bodies.

Supporters say Abbott wants to take moral decisions away from government: the aim is to denationalise morality and deregulate private behaviour much as Margaret Thatcher denationalised industry and wound back state intervention in Britain’s economy.

“Government’s job is rarely to tell people what to do; mostly, it’s to make it easier for people to make their own choices,” Abbott, the leader of the Liberal party, told voters during the election campaign.

The backlash against political correctness has been building in Australia since Andrew Bolt, a conservative newspaper columnist, was found guilty in 2011 of breaching racial discrimination laws.

Nine prominent fair-skinned Aborigines brought a class action after Bolt questioned the racial basis for claiming indigenous identity in articles headlined “It’s hip to be black”, and “White fellas in the black”.

He was subjected to an eight-day trial where prosecutors smeared him with references to eugenics and the Holocaust. The judge ordered the Herald Sun newspaper to publish an apology.

The new government has pledged to repeal the racial vilification clause of the Human Rights Act and appoint a dedicated human rights commissioner for free speech.

The backlash has put the Australian human rights establishment on the defensive.

“If there’s an inflection we’ll remember from the days of the Gillard government, it was its hectoring, moralising tone,” George Brandis, the newly appointed attorney-general, told The Sunday Times.

“The language of human rights is being used as a Trojan horse for the ideological sympathies of the left.”

One of the new government’s first acts was to abolish the Climate Commission. The dismissal of Tim Flannery, its chairman, was criticised by David Suzuki, a Canadian environmentalist, as “an act of wilful blindness”.

Abbott has opposed political correctness since his student days at Sydney University in the late 1970s when he was elected a president of the Student Representative Council in opposition to progressive causes he later summarised as “land rights for gay whales”.

Although passionate about correcting indigenous disadvantage, he is a critic of so-called Welcome to Country ceremonies, the common practice of paying homage to the original tribal landowners at the start of official gatherings.

Abbott dismissed the ceremonies in 2010 as “out-of-place tokenism” by the left, “the kind of genuflection to political correctness that these guys feel they have to make”.

No supposedly warm and fuzzy policy area is considered out of bounds by the Abbott government. The axe has fallen on the Social Inclusion Unit, an idea borrowed from Tony Blair’s government.

It became the butt of jokes when the former minister for social inclusion, Mark Butler, struggled to explain what it was, saying “it means different things to different people”.

A burgeoning preventive health bureaucracy is also under scrutiny amid concern that it has been hijacked by zealots and used to drive a new temperance movement.

The Australian National Preventive Health Agency is under threat after spending £310,000 on an inquiry establishing the case for a tax on fatty foods, though the government had ruled it out. The agency also gave grants to community groups to combat binge drinking that were spent on netball competitions, trade union health and safety programmes and a video production course.

The drive against political correctness includes plans to revise the curriculum for primary and secondary pupils to correct a perceived bias towards left-wing thinking.

Brandis said it boiled down to a split in political thinking over the role of the state.

“Those on the left have an optimistic view of what government can achieve and a pessimistic view about what citizens can achieve,” he said. “The Liberal optimism is about individual citizens, an optimism based on our deep belief in the capacity of free individuals.”