When Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull proposed to hold a plebiscite on same-sex marriage he was warned by the same-sex marriage lobby and the Australian Greens that a public debate would unleash hate. In many ways they were right.
But it was not just the conservative Christians and bigots who are unleashing hate.
In the last few months, churchgoers, a football club and even a former Prime Minister have been targeted by zealous same-sex marriage campaigners. Surely, if the plebiscite is harmful, there would be no greater representation of its explosive potential than the assault of a democratically-elected representative and former head of government, just doing his job and engaging in public debate on an issue he is passionate about? If anything, it should serve as a reminder of the volatility on both sides unleashed by this ghastly public vote.
But no. At best, there were some perfunctory 'violence is never okay' statuses shared on Twitter. At worst, there has been undermining of Abbott's description of events and, even worse, celebration of the assault and even those who argue that Tony Abbott was to blame for his own attack.
Let's quickly go over the events. On Thursday the 21st of September, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott was head-butted in Hobart by a DJ wearing a 'Yes' badge. The attacker, a disc jockey and self-declared anarchist named Astro Labe later claimed that the attack had nothing to do with 'same sex marriage' and was motivated by 'a general dislike for Tony Abbott'. Also, apparently the badge he was wearing, which was the standard badge of any 'Yes' campaigner, was stuck on him by his mate or so he claimed.
Yet even before the attacker was found, Tony Abbott's narrative of events was questioned. Sure politicians voting 'Yes' had to give their obligatory condemnation of the attack, but those 'Yes' voters unburdened by the pragmatism of public office had no need to condemn to the attack.
For a group of self-styled 'tolerant' and 'compassionate' people, the Yes voters were quick to doubt Tony Abbott. Kiwi-Australian comedian and writer, Tony Martin tweeted 'Great characters in fiction: Captain Ahab, Homer Simpson, Madame Bovary, Tony Soprano, the bloke who headbutted Tony Abbott'. In the 21st Century it's politically incorrect to doubt a woman who appears at the eleventh hour and claims that Donald Trump sexually assaulted her, yet not to doubt a former Prime Minister who has been assaulted for campaigning politically.
The scab on Tony Abbott's lip was still healing when Paula Matthewson from the New Daily offered her two-cents, blaming Abbott for creating 'the hyper-partisan and aggressive political environment that we have today'. Matthewson then goes on to talk about Tony Abbott's aggressive tactics as Opposition Leader and his policies on national security as immigration to argue that 'Mr Abbott should be thankful the environment he helped to create has so far only managed to produce a thug that couldn't land an Irish kiss.'
The tone is threatening. Tony Abbott, a former Prime Minister who has devoted over two decades of his life to public service, should be thankful that he escaped with a fat lip. Why? Because he played to win as Opposition Leader and kept the Rudd/Gilllard governments to account? Why? Because he enacted policies that he was elected to enact which Paula Matthewson, who obviously didn't vote for him, didn't like?
Matthewson talked about the issue. But there are other opponents of the same-sex marriage plebiscite who haven't even commented on Abbott's assault. Corinne Grant has been a vigorous opponent of the plebiscite since she appeared on Q&A last year. She has recently Tweeted for people to lodge a complaint with the Advertising Standards Board over an anti-same sex marriage campaign and is calling for the ad to be pulledbut is silent when a former Prime Minister is headbutted in the face. In other words, Corinne Grant is concerned about hurt feelings, but not hurt faces.
There are those who may argue that Tony Abbott is a powerful figure who can withstand attack as Matthewson did 'The potential for even greater harm to occur to much less famous people remains incredibly high.' That may be true, but assault on a former Prime Minister is symbolic of something much more. Assault on a former Prime Minister represents a breakdown in civil debate, a disregard for democracy and free speech. In a way, the assault of a former Prime Minister embodies the perversity of the same-sex marriage lobby.
In the same way that the same-sex marriage lobby has come to vilify anyone who supports the present definition of marriage which was uncontroversial only a few years ago, supporters of same-sex marriage also think it's fair game to attack someone who, four years ago, was elected in landslide. Everything has a shelf life in today's politically correct world.
Just imagine if the assault had not happened to a 'No' campaigner and perceived privileged white man. What if it had been Labor's Penny Wong who had copped a headbutt while out on the hustings spruiking the cause of marriage equality? There would have been a national ceasing in campaigning for sure followed by calls that it is never okay to express your politics through violence. Commentators on the Left would have linked the assault to the hatefulness of the 'No' campaign with 'Yes' voters quickly personalising the campaign, saying that it is a reminder that gay people not only cannot get married but also cannot walk down the street with getting assaulted.
In short, Marxian notions about privilege are preventing rational discussion about hate on all sides. Tony Abbott's assault should be condemned just like all acts of political violence.