An American moment in an Australian campaign

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Perhaps the ugliest part of Australia’s election campaign has been the debate around transgender rights. Katherine Deves, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s hand-picked candidate for Warringah headquarters, sparked controversy this week when she backtracked on an earlier apology for calling the transitional surgery “mutilation.”

Morrison has resisted calls – including from within his own Liberal Party – to fire Deves since tweets that had been deleted from his account resurfaced, including the original comment about the transitional surgery. In another tweet, she compared her campaign to ban trans women from women’s sports to fighting the Holocaust.

Morrison dismissed the reaction to Deves’ comments as cancel culture, and in an election season that has been light on politics and heavy on spectacle, the issue has generated angry commentary and countless headlines.

To many, the tone and arguments seem very, well, American. It seems that conservative talk in the United States has been exported to Australia. Or is this something that reflects Australia’s own political yearnings or unresolved divisions?

It is not the first time that culture war and identity issues have been part of an Australian election campaign. But this time it looks particularly ugly, both because of the topics being debated and the biting language being used.

“I think it’s more personal, intrusive and painful for those involved in it,” said John Warhurst, professor emeritus of politics at the Australian National University.

He said it appeared to be an example of overlapping with American culture. “We’ve had previous political debates about political correctness and wakefulness,” said Professor Warhurst. “These usually spawn in the US and are picked up in Australia by those who use them to their advantage.”

Political analysts say Morrison appears to expect Deves’ views to resonate with religious voters in rural areas, in the districts the coalition needs to win on May 21, even if some moderate liberal seats have to be sacrificed.

But will it work? According to Paul Williams, a political analyst and associate professor at Griffith University, the issue of transgender rights does not resonate in Australia as it does in the United States.

“You can see that culture wars are at the heart of American politics,” he said. “I don’t think we’re at that point in Australia.”

“Central Australia appears to be a very reasonable constituency,” he added. With economic concerns at the forefront of people’s minds, issues like trans women’s participation in sports are hardly a priority.

This does not mean that there are no voters who see politics through the prism of pro and anti-political correctness. But do they amount to a critical mass? No, said Professor Williams. And would the issue of trans rights decide their votes? Probably not, he added.

But he is worried about the future. This campaign was particularly “presidential”, he said – driven by the personalities of the leaders, not the policies of the parties. It was also marked by the “atomization” of news coverage, with different outlets constructing different realities for different audiences, and the framing of issues such as trans rights, he said.

He fears that “Australia will become not only polarized but as irrational as post-Obama America, where the old adage that you are entitled to your own opinion but not entitled to your own facts has been completely thrown out the window. ”

“This idea of ​​winning at all costs, winning in ethos and pathos, feeling and character – or at least character perception – but not facts, is a terribly slippery path to follow,” said Professor Williams.

Now, here are our stories for the week.


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