Quarterly Essay 67: ‘Moral Panic 101’ by Benjamin Law


It’s profoundly depressing that this Quarterly Essay, released last week, should immediately trigger reference to the Same Sex Marriage survey being run through the ABS between September and November this year.  This is because the initial ‘No’ case advertisement focussed not on the question of whether the definition of marriage should be changed to include same-sex couples, but instead on the Safe Schools program in schools. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has further muddied the waters by encouraging anyone who is uncomfortable with Political Correctness to vote ‘No’.  It’s wandering quite some distance from the question of whether two same-sex people who love each other are allowed to marry.

Benjamin Law’s Quarterly Essay Moral Panic 101 was written before the High Court gave the go-ahead for the survey. His essay is not about same-sex marriage. It is about the Safe Schools Program, and the lengthy and detailed campaign conducted by Murdoch’s Australian newspaper against it. He traces the history and genesis of the Safe Schools program, created in response to the distress and suicide rates of GLBTQI students, and its uptake throughout Australia.  He then looks at the ‘poison’ of the campaign against it, spearheaded by the Australian Christian Lobby and facilitated and driven by the Australian which somehow, in the reams and reams of print devoted to the topic, never once spoke to a student.  Law begins his essay with the suicide of thirteen-year-old schoolboy  Tyrone Unsworth, who took his own life after sustained bullying over his sexuality.  He ends it at Minus18’s annual formal for GLBTQI students. Law’s focus is on children: just as the Safe Schools debate should be.

So why then the link between this book and  Same Sex marriage? It’s because the ‘No’ advocates opened their campaign with an advertisement, which features three women, including Cella White, who claimed that her son was told that he could wear a dress to school.  Law knows Cella White. As he points out in his essay, her claim was rebutted at the time of her airing it (January 2016), and as far as I am aware, no other parents or students have stepped up to verify her accusations. That hasn’t stopped Cella White being featured in this advertisement in September 2017.

The calls to de-register the doctor who also appeared in the ‘No’ ad alongside Cella White are wrong. But Cella White is wrong to make this incorrect claim, and this should be called out- loudly and repeatedly. Law does it in this book, and Sean Kelly did so in his article ‘Welcome to the No Case‘ in a recent Saturday Paper.  Chrys Stephenson has been doing some interesting investigating into the links between American evangelical religion and the Same Sex Marriage debate, too.

This Quarterly Essay is not about the SSM survey, but because of the advertising campaign prompted by the ‘No’ side, it has been drawn into the whole debate.  It is a good and, unfortunately, very timely read.

A video of Benjamin Law talking about his Quarterly Essay:


7 responses to “Quarterly Essay 67: ‘Moral Panic 101’ by Benjamin Law

  1. My copy of this arrived last week while I was overseas. I don’t think I can bear to read it, I find the hijacking of our politics by American evangelicals so offensive, I just want Barnaby Joyce out of the parliament so we can have an early election and get the ALP into government to deal with it all.

    • I completely agree about the hijacking of our politics. The link I provided to Chrys Stephenson’s work is interesting. Although it’s not new. Back in my dim, dark born-again Christian days in the early 1970s, we were all reading about the Rapture and the Left-Behind series, and we went to ‘missions’ that were very influenced by the Southern Baptists. But somehow all this fringe activity has become mainstream.

  2. Good and heartfelt review! I think my grandson’s Steiner primary school would allow him to wear a dress, that’s a long way from dresses being mandatory (I wonder what empathy boys would develop if schools made wearing dresses compulsory for a day)

  3. Pingback: Do vote YES! Because it is the right thing to do… | Neil's Commonplace Book

  4. Great review and I share your anger and depression about the way this issue has been ‘debated’. Lisa – totally agree about being hijacked. Appalling.
    A young child at a local state primary school has transitioned from one gender to another and the school was nothing but supportive. For the weeks prior all the kids at the school studied issues around acceptance and tolerance and kindness. In the weeks (and now years after) – non-issue. No-one thinks twice about it (beyond the usual care and attention given to that child’s and every child’s well being – it’s a great little school). The kids at the local private school sport a large Christian cross on their blazers (and the school still has cadets, for goodness sake). There is a uniform for girls and a uniform for boys. But the rules are quite clear – any child can wear either uniform, as long as they wear it according to the rules (hair off the collar, ties done up properly, skirt to the knees, blah blah blah).
    It’s really not that hard.

  5. Pingback: Book giveaway: Quarterly Essay – Moral Panic 101, by Benjamin Law | ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

  6. Pingback: Book giveaway winner: Quarterly Essay – Moral Panic 101, by Benjamin Law | ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

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