Parliamentary democracy is underrated as a safeguard of personal liberty. From the outside, the perception is that parliament is mired in gridlock and inertia. That is a source of frequent criticism from the media and the general public. Yet the checks and balances of the legislative process are what give democratic outcomes their rigour and legitimacy. Within parliament, as we know, lawmaking is subject to a considerable scrutiny regime—and that is quite proper—intended by the framers of our Constitution. This parliament is held accountable by a robust committee process, internal reviews and spirited debate on the chamber floor.
The Regulations and Ordinances Committee, established back in 1932, monitors delegated legislation, and there is formal committee scrutiny of every bill. Of course, outside of this building, politicians are held to account by the cut and thrust of the political process and, of course, by the free media. The ultimate accountability before the general public is at the ballot box. None of this makes governing easy, but the fact that lawmakers are ultimately accountable to the people is what gives our system of government its moral authority. We respect the process even if we don’t always agree with the outcomes. And that’s true of both the federal and the state parliaments. Yet none of these mechanisms protect us from the unelected. Indeed, many of today’s most insidious threats sidestep the political process entirely.
Recent efforts to purge the concept of gender from the Victorian Public Service and from the Defence Force are a case in point. Earlier this month, it was reported that the Australian Defence Force had introduced a language guide, warning new recruits that a failure to use gender-neutral language when referring to relationships or gender identities could be met with a charge of bullying. These revelations followed an announcement by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services a week earlier declaring the first Wednesday of every month as They Day, urging their staff to eschew gendered language in the workplace. Unlike democratic lawmaking, the process which led these departments to veto the words ‘he’ and ‘she’ has been shrouded in bureaucratic secrecy. Who’d have thought that pronouns could be regarded as a form of aggression in modern Australia? Who were the architects of They Day and the Defence Force’s new language guide? Was it an ambitious public servant who thought virtue-signalling their commitment to postmodern gender theory might mark them up in the eyes of their superiors, or was it perhaps a zealous HR manager keen to remove the threat of injury by bullying that might arise from a snowflake employee being offended by being addressed in a manner that differed from their preference?
I believe we live in a country in which we can sort out the issue of how to address each other simply by good manners. You call a person what they’d like to be called in the reasonable hope that you might get a similar courtesy in return. It’s another thing entirely to make it the rule, backed up by the force of policy that flows into employment law. Will the minutes of departmental meetings and internal memos associated with these changes and policy ever see the light of day? I suspect not.
Most importantly, why were the general public and their elected representatives not consulted on the decision to control acceptable work language on the pain of facing disciplinary action at work? I imagine there would be many people in our community who, like me, think this is going too far. You can’t, or at least you shouldn’t, impose human decency, respect or good manners. It must be a personal choice for it to have any value. We should not forget that there are many in our community who feel strongly about the imposition of new language structures, because they see it as an attempt to delete from public discourse the traditional concepts of gender and family structures. It is also good manners to respect their deeply held view. But the real issue in all of this is that there is no oversight or accountability for this kind of social reform being implemented by stealth through bureaucratic policy.
Although bureaucratic diktats like They Day lack the binding force of laws that are passed by this parliament, it’s likely to be neither here nor there for employees who fall within their purview. After all, what prospects of promotion await the traditionally minded soldier or nurse who conscientiously continues to use he and she? Similarly, what option does the conservative army colonel seeking career advancement have but to parrot the full array of talking points? It used to be enough to simply do your job, mind your own business and be polite to your colleagues. Advocates of gender-neutral pronouns claim the engendering of language is in the interests of tolerance and inclusivity. In truth, they have it back to front. It emanates from what former Prime Minister John Howard wisely labelled ‘minority fundamentalism’, whereby long-held customs, practices and beliefs are assumed to represent or imply an attack on those who support it. It’s this kind of suspension of common sense that allows the use of ‘he’ and ‘she’ to be taken as a swipe at the minority of people who fall outside of these categories.
This growing push to androgenise our vocabulary is about more than just language; it’s about using the guise of civility to pathologise thought which doesn’t conform to the minority fundamentalist world view. It was this alarming instinct to curb free thought which led Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson to risk censure before the Ontario Human Rights Commission by defying his province’s diktat compelling the use of gender-neutral speech at all times. And herein lies their success in rewriting social norms without a mandate.
Minority fundamentalists recognise that the mainstream of Australia has a broadly conservative disposition that’s wary of diving deeply into sweeping social change. And, rather than going door to door to persuade the public of their worldview—an avenue that I would respect, I must say—radicals have taken the lead of their European forebears and focused on capturing our culture by force. What Marxists in the 1960s dubbed ‘the long march through the institutions’ has been an overwhelming success. Now minority fundamentalists are keenly aware that they can realise their vision of the world far more swiftly by infiltrating unelected positions of cultural and political power. That’s much easier than going through the inconvenience of public persuasion to obtain a democratic mandate. The universities, public education, the arts and even the corporate sector of late are testament to their success. Aided by an apathetic majority often cowed by political correctness, these fundamentalists are no longer knocking at the gate; they’re well and truly inside it. They’ve never been in a stronger position to stage an assault on time-tested traditions and values.
The irony is that all of this tolerance has delivered the very opposite. If you’re not sure that that’s so, try using a few unauthorised pronouns in your Public Service or corporate workplace and see what HR has to say about it.