Discrimination on all fronts evident in May media coverage

By Pia White
hockey-budget

Media review by Pia White

Budget blues

On 13 May, Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey delivered his budget speech to the House of Representatives, declaring: “the age of entitlement is over.”

Some of the more controversial measures in the budget included raising the aged pension age to 70, introducing $7 Medicare co-payments for GP visits, the deregulation of university fees, a six-month waiting period for Australians under 30 applying for unemployment benefits, funding cuts to the ABC and SBS, and an almost $8 billion cut to foreign aid over the next five years.

Criticisms have largely centred on the disproportionate effect the budget will have on the most vulnerable sections of the Australian community …

Though somewhat overshadowed by the “winkgate” and scholarship scandals, Tony Abbott launched a “post-budget media blitz”, justifying the supply bill measures as necessary to combat Australia’s “budget emergency.” Treasurer Joe Hockey also made numerous media appearances defending the budget. He notably appeared on Q&A on 19 May, fielding tough questions on both the policies and the government’s mandate to implement them.

The budget has undoubtedly attracted substantial opposition to its harsh measures. State and territory leaders called for an urgent COAG meeting in objection to the cuts to federal funding of schools and hospitals. It is equally disliked by the electorate, sparking “March in May” protests attended by tens of thousands around the country and ranking as one of the least popular budgets of recent years.

Criticisms have largely centred on the disproportionate effect the budget will have on the most vulnerable sections of the Australian community, targeting “young people, the sick, the poor, the unemployed, the elderly and the marginalised” and serving to further entrench the divide between high and low income earners.  Wayne Swan succinctly described it as “an assault on social justice in the short and long term

With parliament resuming last week, it’s expected that the coalition will have to compromise in order to see the budget passed in the Senate. Although whether the bill will need “a little refinement” or a lot remains to be seen.

Free speech appeal quietens

Though overshadowed by the furore surrounding the budget, the proposed Racial Discrimination Act amendments continued to featured in the media this month.

The initial proposed changes (outlined by Meleesha Bardolia for Right Now), would serve to dilute the protections against racial discrimination by incorporating a number of broad exemptions and replacing provisions making it an offence to “offend, insult and humiliate” on racial grounds with a prohibition on “racial vilification.”

… perhaps the controversy has just become one battle too many for the coalition in the post-budget political climate.

The reforms garnered criticism for unnecessarily weakening the laws, unconvinced as many were by the government’s “free speech” agenda. Objections have persisted with over 5,000 submissions made to the government on the issue and protests against the reforms taking place in Sydney.

Liberal party members initially supportive of the measures have now admitted that review may be necessary. Even Attorney-General George Brandis seems to have changed his tune somewhat. The champion of free speech and our “right to be a bigot,” recently stated that the reforms are intended to protect the right to express an “intellectual opinion” and that a “jibe was not an opinion.

There is speculation that the government’s proposal will be amended to wind back the proposed changes although the draft legislation is not expected to be presented to cabinet for another month.

The Attorney-General suggests that the slow progress and anticipated softening of the reforms is due to a genuine engagement with public submissions, however you’d be forgiven for thinking that perhaps the controversy has just become one battle too many for the coalition in the post-budget political climate.

Manifestations of misogyny

Another news fixture this month was the shooting in Isla Vista, California. Six people died and 13 were injured at the hand of Elliot Rodger after he set out to exact his “retribution.”

Rodger wrote a 140-page manifesto chronicling his life and outlining the injustices he felt he had had to endure. While these related to a variety of things from class, to race to social status, particularly prevalent was his deep hatred for women and outrage over their unwillingness to sleep with him.

… if the male entitlement and violent hatred of women that he shares with many others are not appropriate catalysts for a discussion of misogyny, what is?

Throughout the text, Rodger made statements such as “I desired girls, but they never desired me back. There is something very wrong with that. It is an injustice that cannot go unpunished” and “there is no creature more evil and depraved than the human female. If I can’t have them, no one will.”

Following the shooting, commentators pointed out that Rodger was not alone in holding these attitudes. Many similar sentiments can be found posted in online groups committed to “men’s rights activism” and “pick up artistry.”

The misogynistic attitudes Rodger held about his entitlement to women sparked a conversation on twitter under the hashtag “#YesAllWomen.” Contributions to the trending topic sought to highlight the routine harassment and violence women experience.

Some responded to the debate arguing that it is inappropriate to attribute Rodger’s actions to misogyny, as they were those of a mentally ill young man. Others suggested that his inability to connect with others had left him angry at society as a whole: women who denied him, men they didn’t, cool kids that excluded him and people of all racial backgrounds for being (in his mind) superior to or beneath him.

Setting aside arguments about where to apportion the blame for Roger’s actions, if the male entitlement and violent hatred of women that he shares with many others are not appropriate catalysts for a discussion of misogyny, what is?

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