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No man is an island: except for Senator Xenophon

By Malcolm King - posted Friday, 16 September 2011

How long must we tolerate Senator Xenophon, the renegade Senator from South Australia? He has no decency, no respect, and no sense of proportion or moderation. By using parliamentary privilege and accusing a former Catholic chaplain of the navy, Ian Dempsey, of the rape of another man 50 years ago, he forfeits his right to be taken seriously in public affairs.

Senator Xenophon was warned against it. Archbishop John Hepworth, the alleged victim and sole source of Senator Xenophon’s allegation, said he did not want the matter raised. Senator Xenophon over-ruled Archbishop Hepworth's plea, saying, ''If this priest is named tonight in the Senate, the Catholic Church will only have itself to blame. We have to act in the interests of parents and children in the parish first and foremost.''

The Catholic Church implored the Senator from South Australia not to besmirch Dempsey’s name, as there was an ongoing investigation in to Hepworth’s allegations. Even the Liberal Party warned the Senator from using parliamentary privilege to embark on a hate campaign against a man who today stands innocent. The archdiocese in Adelaide said it was ''shocked and dismayed that Senator Xenophon had ignored our pleadings'' not to reveal the priest's identity. Dempsey has denied the accusation.


The question now turns not on whether Senator Xenophon is a fit and proper person to hold the title ‘Senator’.

I have not been a supporter of Senator Xenophon’s. I have been a critic of his media stunts and policies. His attacks on the Church of Scientology were ridiculous. His hatred of churches, no matter what form, knows no bounds. He has no policy, no interest in notions of church versus state. He was, like a gunslinger, simply out to bring down a good man and get a headline.

I had until recently, underestimated the Senator from South Australia’s craft and zeal. The man he accused from ‘Coward’s Castle’ has served the Church and this nation for 40 years. That’s 40 years of honest servitude, which Senator Xenophon, in one small late night speech, took away from him.

How do you heal a wound to one’s reputation? I do not know Hepworth. I have never met and did not know of him until Senator Xenophon named him. Surely this priest has a family and friends. What do they think of him now? The taint of accusation without reply sits like a stone he cannot remove from his shoe.

Xenophon rode in to Canberra on an anti-gambling crusade. He pities the poor gambler. He is the scourge of those who profit from there loses. He hates pokie machines in hotels and amateur football clubs and those who bet on the AFL. These are where the TV cameras and light are. This is where Xenophon shines. He is no friend of working people, nor now is he a friend of the Catholic Church.

Forget the shocking number of Aboriginal suicides, the parlous state of outback healthcare, pay equality for women, juvenile crime rates and the fact that our prisons are over flowing. None of these issues are of interest to the Senator. Where there are no TV news cameras, Xenophon does not shine.


Xenophon is a populist. He likes the attention. He is no more a crusader for justice than you and I. He has become mesmerised, as so many do, by the red carpet of the Senate, of the infallibility of his word. But these are ephemeral things. They pass in a night.

As Mr. Walsh said to Senator Joseph McCarthy in the communist witch-hunt trials in the 1950s, “You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?” Like Senator McCarthy, the Senator from South Australian nowbecomes a mocked thing, yesterday’s man.

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About the Author

Malcolm King is a journalist and professional writer. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University in Adelaide. He runs a writing business called Republic.

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