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Wednesday, 2 March 2016
Page: 1599


Senator SMITH (Western AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (13:52): In the short time that is available to me before we begin question time, I thought I would share with the Senate an article which appeared in The Spectator Australia Magazine, dated 29 February—very recent. It is called 'The conservative case for safe schools'. Reading it, I was empowered and moved by how valuable its contribution is to conservative members and senators in our national parliament. It is written by Michael Davis, and in the time that is available to me I will see how much I can get into Hansard.

Ronald Reagan's daughter Patti reckons her dad would support same-sex marriage if he was alive today. She remembers watching a movie starring Rock Hudson and asking why he looked so uncomfortable kissing the leading lady. Hudson was gay and kept his sexuality quiet, but he and Reagan were old friends. 'Because he'd rather be kissing a man,' Ronald explained to Patti. 'Some men are born wanting to love another man.' Yes, it's a bit of a stretch to say the Gipper would support gay marriage just because he was comfortable with homosexuality. Hollywood, like boarding school and prison, will do that to anyone. But there's certainly a lesson here, especially for those of us who cling to the 1980s and the advent of Anglo-American conservatism.

Today, we tend to think of homosexuality in the public square as a purely political issue. We're hardened soldiers in the Culture Wars; if we give an inch, the Cultural Marxists will take a mile. Nine out of ten times we're right. We've been burned repeatedly by indulging too many juvenile progressive tantrums. Eventually those juveniles become Labor politicians, and those tantrums become parliamentary motions. It's that one instance in ten that separates the conservative from the merely reactionary. The conservative, even (or especially) the conservative statesman, knows where social issues become interpersonal issues.

Michael Davis writes:

To my mind, this is what really makes Reagan the greatest conservative of our time: his unflagging, almost aggressive civility. One of his top advisers called him 'warmly ruthless'. It's a cliche, but it's true: when Reagan was in the White House, conservatism was a force for dignity. It wasn't the shoddy economics of Soviet communism that incensed him: it was the enslavement and degradation of men and women. In theory, this continues today. And though we're more apt to tilt against social democrats than Stalinists, conservatives still believe themselves to be the champions of freemen against the tyranny of cold, materialistic barbarism. In his lauded speech, 'The Forgotten People', Sir Robert Menzies echoed the same sentiment: 'That we are all, as human souls, of like value cannot be denied. That each of us should have his chance is and must be the great objective of political and social policy.' It's the nature of Anglosphere conservatism to be so 'warmly ruthless' — or, rather, so ruthlessly warm.

Michael Davis continues:

I think this is what really makes us nostalgic as conservatives. The Left pokes fun of us for looking back to a time of white picket fences and Honey-I'm-home, but there's something to it. No one can deny that our sense of common courtesy has completely evaporated. Sure, we had our shortcomings. Certain groups — blacks, gays, etc. — weren't always included in that definition of the 'common'. But I can't for the life of me work out why we decided to throw courtesy out altogether instead of widening its franchise. If conservatives in the 21st century adopt one cause, let it be that nostalgia-driven fervor to build a society where people respect one another. Let the great objective of political and social policy be that each of us, as human souls of like value, should have our chance.

'Safe Schools is the perfect place to start,' writes Michael, and he goes on:

It will take decades — maybe even a lifetime — to reinforce the first and most important ethic in Western civilization: love thy neighbor as thyself. Before we teach them what Pope John Paul II and Roger Scruton said about the compatibility of same-sex couples, let's teach them, as Reagan did, that some men are born wanting to love another man. And for now, leave it at that.

I can't help but mention three perfectly selfish reasons for conservatives to support Safe Schools. Look, you know and I know that we're not usually the ones leaping up of our seat to fight for gay rights. You're not going to find many Abbott loyalists coming out for Mardi Gras. But here's what we can accomplish. Firstly, we can prove to the Left and to the politically disaffected that we mean business when we say we're champions of human dignity. The Right is commonly derided for demanding compassion for the unborn fetus... yet when that child is born and turns out to be gay, that compassion evaporates. Let's show them they're wrong. Secondly, we can prove to ourselves that we mean business when we say we're champions of human dignity. Voltaire said that defending free speech is worthless if it doesn't apply to those with whom we disagree. Likewise, our appeal for civility has to be universal, or else it's perfectly meaningless. Thirdly, and most importantly, we just might remember that conservatism is about more than the merely political. It's an existential philosophy. In these days of leadership spills and Donald Trumps, the conservative movement seems to be on unstable footing — but that's only because we've allowed conservatism to be wedded completely to the fates of parties and politicians. Now more than ever we could stand to remember that we don't just vote for conservatism: we live it. And in so doing, we can make life a hell of a lot easier for some kids who are trying to come to terms with who they are. What's not to like about that?