Eric Abetz Hates Prejudice Abroad, Unless It Helps Promote It At Home


Eric Abetz – Senator for Tasmania, full-time bowling ball impersonator, and right-wing Liberal stalwart – has mixed feelings on conservatism abroad. If it helps him argue against the expansion of LGBTI rights in Australia he’s all for it. But when it can be used against Muslims, well, that’s a different story.

Abetz today gave the thumbs-up to a piece of writing in the conservative magazine The Spectator Australia by one of his staff members.

The short op-ed is a defence of Sonia Kruger, who the headline declares was right – “Muslim immigration should be carefully considered.” (For the record, that’s not what Sonia Kruger said. The TV personality was not of the view immigration should be ‘considered’, or ‘studied’, or ‘reflected on’. In fact, she argued that every single Muslim in the world, regardless of their beliefs, nationality, language, cultural background, personal history, or level of religiosity, should be banned.)

In the misleadingly framed piece that follows, staffer Josh Manuatu puts forward a now well-worn argument: that Muslims must be discriminated against in the interest of advancing tolerance.

“As a gay man, I am deeply concerned about what an open-border approach to Muslim immigration would mean for me in circumstances where every single day in the Middle East people suspected of being gay are publicly hung or stoned to death,” he wrote.

Manuatu also says “I couldn’t bemoan any woman who may be similarly concerned about the consequences of having an open-border approach from countries where it is a crime for a woman to dare to receive an education or to choose her own clothing.”

The crudeness of Eric Abetz endorsing this piece will not be lost on those follow his positions on women and LGBTI issues.

Abetz has done everything in his power to stop the advance of marriage equality, refusing to be bound by the government’s plebiscite and speaking out as a vocal opponent of the movement and those who support it. He’s said marriage equality would open a “Pandora’s box” and lead to “polyamory”. In his efforts to argue against a woman’s right to choose, the Senator has also claimed abortion is linked to breast cancer.

And then there’s the argument Abetz made in July 2015, one which sits very awkwardly alongside the case he is promoting today. We can’t legislate marriage equality, he said, because Asia hasn’t done it.

Put the problem of talking about ‘Asia’ or ‘Muslim countries’ as single, homogenous blocks aside for a second and compare that with Abetz’s ringing endorsement of Manuatu’s hot take.

On one hand, we must not let migrants come from regions which fail to extend civil rights to LGBTI people, lest those views come to Australia. On the other hand, we must not further extend civil rights to LGBTI people in Australia, lest we offend or go beyond regions which have not done so.

Trying to tie those arguments with a single and consistent thread of logic only gets more difficult when you consider there are, shock horror, Asian states with major Muslim populations. Abetz is drawing on an assumption among the Australian public that places like Malaysia and Indonesia are dangerously homophobic due to their significant Muslim populations while using those countries as a block against calls for more inclusion here.

Playing one group persecuted on the basis of their identity off against another is a tactic gaining traction on the right of Australian politics, as well as abroad. Manuatu’s article makes the exact same case that Donald Trump does, for instance.

Abetz is certainly a fan of the technique, but has his own special twist. In 2015 the Senator actually tried to wedge LGBTI people against…themselves. Dolce and Gabbana don’t want to get married, he told his Party room. Why should we let any of the rest of them?

The treatment of LGBTI people in places as vast as Asia or the Middle East varies greatly. But Abetz isn’t interested in that. The construction of prejudice abroad is his way of promoting it at home.

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