Joe Hockey was right about our age of eligibility. Just watch the Melbourne protests

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What exactly were the violent protests we saw in Melbourne last week? An expression of personal freedom? A predictable reaction to a drastic and overly long lockdown and industry shutdown? Consequence of rational fear of vaccination, or irrational fear of vaccination? A bunch of union thugs doing what union thugs do? Or a neo-Nazi recruiting drive, with vaccination used as a practical problem by proxy? Maybe all of the above.

The violence and semi-ironic pose of some of the protesters made it all look like a nasty social media thread, animated like Frankenstein’s monster, limbs shaking as it charged with electricity. (People often forget that in Mary Shelley’s Gothic masterpiece, the monster became enraged and violent when denied the love and family comforts he saw humans enjoy. His rage came on. from a place of deep injury.)

Former Treasurer Joe Hockey was right – we are living in the age of the law. If you add the word freedom to something, you are entitled to it.

The protests in Melbourne last week.Credit:Chris Hopkins

Former Opposition Leader Bill Shorten also pointed this out when he called the protesters “baby-men”: they are the political equivalent of an angry child and narcissist. Everything (especially their anger) is the fault of someone or something outside of them, and despite the bleating of personal freedom, there is strangely little talk of personal responsibility.

I wouldn’t be the first person to notice the generous dose of toxic masculinity that fueled the protests. They also reflected the Trumpian language that has crept into our political vocabulary. “Personal freedom” is a selection from the human rights menu that leaves aside the concept of civil rights and the responsibility that goes with maintaining one’s place in society.

In Australia, this conception of personal rights was raised in a contemporary context of the political era of Tony Abbott, during the debate on section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which Abbott pledged to change when ‘he won the government. This frolic seems, from this distance, both picturesque and criminally complacent.

The 18C debate. contrasted the rights of people of color not to be offended, insulted, humiliated and intimidated on the basis of their race, with the rights of other individuals to “freedom of expression”. Only one side of the debate risked real harm if its freedoms were denied. It should also be noted that the 18C’s plan for change was rejected by a popular push from culturally diverse communities whose opposition posed a political threat to the Coalition seats.

The Melbourne protests last week were a distant echo of the Convoy of No Confidence rallies against the government of Julia Gillard in 2011, furious at her carbon pricing proposal. These rallies, led by right-wing half-celebrities like Alan Jones and Angry Anderson, and attended by then-opposition bench members, were a strange hybrid of right-wing populism, fearful voters (fearing l ‘economic insecurity, change) and gross misogyny.

I don’t think we’ll ever know to what extent misogyny was the cause of these gatherings and to what extent it was a by-product of them. But damn it, did that become the dominant theme, and in retrospect, it’s really the only thing we remember about them – the hideous blossoming of sexualized hatred for women in power.


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