Although I do often tune into News Radio, I generally only last about ten minutes listening to the Parliamentary proceedings before I switch stations in frustration at the raucousness, ratbaggery and inanity of it all. The weary tones of the Speaker remind me of extras duty as a teacher, having to take a Year 9 class for the last period of the day, say, in mathematics. You don’t give a fig for these kids, or their work; you just want something less than absolute mayhem; you’re more concerned about the hubbub leaking out through the windows than anything else and you just want to get out of there with a shred of professional dignity intact.
I was looking through James Curran’s book The Power of Speech and note that political speeches are not only delivered in parliament, but also at events like the Australia Day Council, launches of awards and celebratory events, commemorations, party conventions and conferences. Some of the anticipation that preceded Rudd’s “Sorry” speech in February was an awareness that something important was about to happen in Parliament itself, as the highest expression of national discourse. Quite beyond my own feeling of relief and pride that it had been said, I recognized the importance of the context and setting as well.
Of course, there are those curious parliamentary aberrations, the conscience vote, that seem to be exclusively centred on sex and particularly the consideration of sex and women. Obviously there is no room for conscience and ethics in considering poker machines, going to war, climate change, treatment of refugees etc. but if we’re talking about abortion or RU486 then, well, every parliamentarian has a story. And they share those stories with us, each and every one of them, in more detail than perhaps any of us want to know.
The Victorian government recently passed legislation to decriminalize abortion in Victoria. It went to a conscience vote, and there was plenty to say- especially from ‘no’ voters like Liberal Bernie Finn, who spoke for nearly six hours, and DLP member Peter Kavenagh who managed three hours. The newspaper columns were full of letters on both sides, dominated, I perceive (I wish I’d kept a running tally) by angry male voices.
I was delighted to read this report in yesterday’s Age by Paul Austin about Upper house Labor MP Evan Thornley’s contribution to the debate- an elegant, succinct, powerful, aposite ten-minute speech.
It is simple as it is obvious: if men took as much responsibility for contraception as women did, the number of unwanted pregnancies would drop like a stone…How much courage or responsibility does it take for a bloke to walk into this place and pronounce moral judgement on women in a situation that he will never find himself in?… Mr Finn, Mr Kavenagh and others have asked, ‘Where are the men in this picture?’. I ask the same thing….If you walk into this chamber wanting to take some responsibility and wanting to show even the tiniest amount of courage compared to that which women must face when they have an unwanted pregnancy, then when you walk out of here you should take the lead in convincing men to take their share of responsibility for contraception. If you are serious about the unborn and if you are serious about reducing the numbers of abortions, then get out there with your videos and your horror stores, get out there with your moral righteousness and self-importance, and walk into the pubs and clubs, the footy clubs and the construction sites, the high school halls and the army barracks, and tell the blokes to take responsibility for contraception.
If you do that, you will save thousands of unborn children from abortion. If you do not do that, all you can do is parade around here in cowards’ castle excoriating women for making a decision- that you will never, ever have to make- for whatever you perceive to be their moral shortcomings. If that is all you do, that is basically gutless and it raks being nothing more than political grandstanding and campaigning for votes.
I am up for it- and I hope you are too, boys! It’s time for men to show some leadership, to show just a tiny fraction of the courage that women have to have every day when they contemplate how to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. It is time for men to take responsibility for contraception and contribute to a massive reduction in the number of abortions and the suffering involved to the unborn, their mothers and their families.
Good one, Evan.