A Liberal MP who is pushing for Bettina Arndt to be stripped of her Order of Australia honour has received a barrage of abuse and intimidation since making a stand against “grotesque” commentary about domestic violence.
Tim Smith, the member for Kew in Victoria, says the reactions have further opened his eyes to alarming community attitudes around the horrific murder of Brisbane mum Hannah Clarke and her three children.
In emails and messages seen by The New Daily, supporters of Ms Arndt rail against the “weaponisation” of family law and call the controversial commentator the only “voice of common sense”. They label her critics “femi-nazis”.
“You are such a useless stain … leave us alone, you pathetic waste of space,” one man wrote in a letter to the MP.
Another man wrote: “Try going through a family divorce and see how you feel then, Mr Smith”.
In a Facebook post, another man called Mr Smith a “fag”.
As the debate surrounding Ms Arndt’s comments continued on Sunday, Mr Smith told The New Daily the “sadistic” murders of a woman and her children should never be rationalised.
“Our country has fought against regimes like ISIS and the Taliban who perpetuate or excuse this type of medieval violence – often against women,” he said.
Mr Smith wrote to the Council for the Order of Australia to push for Ms Arndt to lose her honour following comments the controversial backer of the so-called ‘men too’ movement made about Rowan Baxter’s motivation to set his family on fire.
Upon further reflection I think these comments are so grotesque that this woman must not be awarded an AM, which was announced on Australia Day. I hate saying that, but she must not be recognised in any way as an outstanding Australian. https://t.co/tub8RixMzL
— Tim Smith MP (@TimSmithMP) February 21, 2020
His calls were soon echoed by other Liberals who took to Twitter to slam Ms Arndt. A number of high-profile journalists – among them radio shock jock Neil Mitchell, TV hosts Deborah Knight and Sarah Harris and ABC analyst Antony Green – also condemned her comments.
While moves to strip the sex therapist and author of her medal are drawing support across the political divide, they also appear to be exposing widespread misconceptions about family violence.
“This is not a left-versus-right issue, this is not a Labor-versus-Liberal issue,” Mr Smith told The New Daily.
“This is a right-versus-wrong issue.
“Anyone who seeks to justify, explain or rationalise why a man would commit mass murder by incinerating his three little kids and their mum in a car is wrong.”
Ms Arndt had written a number of tweets about the shocking murders of Ms Clarke and her children, Laianah, Aaliyah and Trey, who died after their car was set alight by Baxter in the Brisbane suburb of Camp Hill.
In one, she wrote “congratulations to the Queensland police for keeping an open mind and awaiting proper evidence, including the possibility that Rowan Baxter might have been ‘driven too far’.”
That comment referred to a line Detective Inspector Mark Thompson used during a press conference on Thursday as he explained how the case was proceeding.
As is normal practice, the Coroner will investigate all the circumstances around the deaths. Because Baxter also died, and police have strong evidence he was the perpetrator, there is no criminal case.
While urging anyone with information on the murders to come forward to help inform the police brief of evidence, Inspector Thompson stressed that investigators must keep an “open mind”.
“To put it bluntly, there are probably people out there in the community that are deciding which side to take,” he said.
“Is this an issue of a woman suffering significant domestic violence and her and her children perishing at the hands of the husband, or is this an instance of a husband being driven too far by issues that he’s suffered, by certain circumstances, into committing acts of this form?”
Queensland’s top cop later said the senior officer had been “distraught and gutted” after listening to how he phrased the comment, and had stepped aside from the investigation.
“All he wanted to say is that he needs to get evidence before the coroner,” Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll told ABC.
She added: “He, like the rest of us, believes that domestic violence is nothing but a scourge on society.”
Comments by police including Inspector Thompson, and by Ms Clarke’s family, have left little doubt that Baxter’s actions are being considered the worst kind of family violence.
Ms Arndt seized on the inspector’s words and argued that women are also perpetrators of violence.
Mr Smith said Ms Arndt’s comments sought to excuse extreme violence and brought “disrepute on the Order”.
Replying to Ms Arndt on Twitter, he wrote her views were “completely crackers”.
“Your logic is perverse. A young family has been murdered by their father and ex-partner, a crime that is completely indefensible,” he said.
“Please shut up, you are sounding like someone who has completely lost the plot.”
A Howard government favourite
The weekend’s developments are significant because it showed the tide is well and truly turning on the controversial commentator and psychologist.
Within the Coalition, it hasn’t always been this way. In 2007, it emerged the then Howard government was considering Ms Arndt as a candidate to become the next Sex Discrimination Commissioner.
These comments about a man who doused his wife and children with petrol and burnt them to death are abhorrent. I don’t believe the values which underpin @thebettinaarndt’s views on this horrific family violence incident are consistent with her retaining her Order of Australia. https://t.co/gyTLUIjEQm
— Senator Sarah Henderson (@SenSHenderson) February 22, 2020
In a controversial move in January, Ms Arndt was awarded by the Council for the Order of Australia a medal “for significant service to the community as a social commentator and to gender equity through advocacy for men”.
Sex assault survivors and Victorian Attorney General Jill Hennessy led the calls for her to hand back the medal. They were backed by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and domestic violence survivor and former Australian of the Year Rosie Batty.
Among those backing the calls was Grace Tame, who at age 15 was groomed and raped by a man who was later interviewed by Ms Arndt in a video uploaded to YouTube and titled “Feminists persecute disgraced teacher”.
In the 17-minute interview published in 2017, Ms Arndt accused Ms Tame of “sexually provocative behaviour” and laughed with the convicted criminal about how he had boasted about the crime in an online post.
- Want to know more about the myths surrounding domestic violence? Read here