The nation’s political commentators are having to deal with two ethical dilemmas this week.
The first is whether it is sexist to call Senator David Leyonhjelm a dick following his attacks on Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young. The consensus seems to be that, while it is sexist to call him that, it is permissible as a statement of fact.
The second is a tougher issue, so tough that few want to face up to it: Is it wrong to play along with Mr Leyonhjelm’s tacky plan for re-election?
Reporting the erstwhile senator’s objectionable remarks – piling on the outrage reaction pieces, pursuing him for further comments to find further reasons for reporting just how objectional he is and so on until another shiny or putrid thing pops up in politics for distraction – is working to get him re-elected.
Mr Leyonhjelm has been elected twice to the Senate, thanks to rather silly Liberal Party supporters. The first time in 2013, it seems to have been the New South Wales donkey vote – drawing first place on the very large Senate voting paper – combined with simple souls who mistook Mr Leyonhjelm’s “Liberal Democrats” for the Liberal Party. From such nonsense, a senator was made.
The second time was thanks to the Liberal Party’s biggest supporter, Malcolm Turnbull, calling a double dissolution. Mr Turnbull must have thought it was a good idea at the time, but it meant Mr Leyonhjelm only needed half the usual quota to keep polishing the Senate’s rich red leather seats.
He’s facing the voters again at the next federal election several months away and this time without the leg-up of a double dissolution. He realises his best chance, his only chance, is to get his name in front of people – and the only way he can do that is by being outrageous.
It is sad but true that merely having a recognised name has become a factor in electoral success. As well as playing to a core audience of misogynists, gun nuts and that odd little group of white men who think they’re badly done by, there are people who will tick or cross a box because they recognise the name.
Mr Leyonhjelm will be competing with One Nation for the Outraged Blokes vote and thus Oscar Wilde’s dictum applies in spades: The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.
So while Senator Sarah Hanson-Young’s frustration and anger are absolutely understandable, the worst thing she could have done to Mr Leyonhjelm, her most successful retaliation, would have been to completely ignore him and assist everyone else to do likewise.
Only stunts and statements designed to shock give Mr Leyonhjelm any profile at all.
This is the senator who took delight in inviting the internationally odious Milo Yiannopoulos to speak in Parliament House, who has worked particularly hard to try to make the rapid-fire Adler shotgun freely available in Australia, who has used the Lindt Café and Bourke Street Mall tragedies to push his weapons deregulation barrow – and get his name in the media.
And it works. Look, I’ve just contributed.