Ian Macdonald: Great At Sexism, Not So Good At Reading And Writing


Yesterday in Senate Estimates, Queensland Senator Ian Macdonald got himself worked up into quite a state.

The subject of his rage was Gillian Triggs, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission. Like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a spluttering, third-hand, 1986 Nissan Datsun 180B, Triggs was forced to stare up from the witness table as Macdonald said his peace, lambasting her for the Commission’s Forgotten Children report.

But just as the Queensland senator really got his ancient motor fired up, he hit a roadblock – despite his apparent fury at its content, Macdonald admitted that he hadn’t actually read the report.

While he saw no problem with this, it did cause a few giggles, and probably tears, among those following the proceedings.

So Macdonald is not a member of the Human Rights Book Club. Big deal. We shouldn’t jump straight to conclusions – the man may still be an erudite and articulate fellow, capable of all kinds of subtlety and nuance. Right?

Macdonald evidently realised some observers had not come to this conclusion, however, and to help set their minds at ease he issued a media statement this afternoon. Here’s the first sentence.

“Thanks to all of those who have kindly (and not so kindly – they are the majority and are all Labor/Greens staffers, Union heavies and staff and good old Get Up and old leftie journalists) made media and social media comment on recent media reports on the Senate Estimate Committee on Professor Triggs and the partisan-ly titled report on children in detention “Forgotten Children”.”

Anyone who can read that aloud in a single breath will be sent their very own Ian Macdonald hi-vis fluoro vest as a prize. Here’s Ian modelling it for you.

Our best guess as to how this got past Macdonald’s media advisor/s is that they were already out for a Wednesday afternoon drink by the time the Senator awoke from an afternoon nap, and got his hands on a keyboard.

But alright, let’s be fair about this. A member of the Australian parliament puts out a media release so grammatically incoherent that we can only make an educated guess as to what language it is in. Hardly the worst thing to come out of Canberra today. Maybe it gets better after that?

It does. So long as you’re not a woman. Or in any way sympathetic to women. We’ll come back to that in a minute.

Macdonald also took heat after yesterday’s Estimates hearing for his treatment of the women on the Committee, as well as the woman in the witness box.

Aside from doing what a ‘leftie journalist’ might call ‘bullying the hell out of Gillian Triggs’, Macdonald joked with fellow senator Barry O’Sullivan about the damn ladies taking up all the panel speaking time.

“I thought you might like to hear a man’s voice,” O’Sullivan chimed at one point.

Because if there’s one problem with the current state of parliamentary politics in Australia it’s that women are given too much airtime, of course. Remember the kind of free reign Juilia Gillard was given over the airwaves? Despicable!

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young offered O’Sullivan the opportunity to withdraw his comment from the record. Macdonald laughed her off.

Fairfax Immigration correspondent Sarah Whyte also noted this exchange.

“Female senators were also being barked at by Senator O’Sullivan and the committee’s chairman, Senator Ian Macdonald.

When Labor senator Penny Wong accused Senator O’Sullivan of bullying and berating Professor Triggs, he shot back: “Oh dear, oh dear, Penny, settle down.”

So after a series of raised eyebrows from journalists and MPs alike, Macdonald took the opportunity to clear things up with his release today.

“For those who have accused me of being sexist for trying to protect witnesses by admonishing Senators who were shouting, yelling and interjecting constantly in an orchestrated campaign of disruption, my admonishment was to the perpetrators regardless of their gender. It just so happens that all of the Labor and Greens Senators at the hearing, who were the perpetrators, were females.”

Granted, that would never happen in Tony Abbott’s cabinet. But even so, the witness he is referring to here is presumably Triggs. Gillian Triggs. The woman the Coalition has spent the best part of three months trying to publicly tear limb from limb. If Macdonald really wanted to ‘protect’ her his best course of action would be to politely remind his colleagues that she is well within her rights to criticise government policy.

But Macdonald does make a good point. If only the Labor Party and the Greens didn’t insist on putting women in positions of power he would have never had this problem, and could continue his apparently random acts of rudeness without fear of reprisals from “Labor/Greens staffers, Union heavies and staff and good old Get Up and old leftie journalists”.

Damn Labor/Greens staffers, Union heavies and staff and good old Get Up and old leftie journalists. They ruin everything.

Thankfully, Macdonald’s crystal clear communications skills will now surely silence all those scoundrels who organise against his side of politics.

If you’d like to read the whole treatise, you can do so here. You’ve been warned.

Max Chalmers is a former New Matilda journalist and editorial staff member. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.