It looks like there will be no political resurrection this election year for longtime Liberal senator Eric Abetz. Abetz goes into the 2022 election relegated to the difficult-to-win third spot on the Tasmanian Liberal Senate ticket.
So, for what will history remember Senator Eric Abetz?
First, of course, his relentless opposition to every single reform designed to afford LGBTIQ+ people equal rights.
Then… Well, actually, not much else.
Neurotic Performing C–ts
Perhaps that time he achieved the dubious honour of being only the second person Hansard ever recorded uttering the C-word in parliament. That happened during his very first year in the Australian Senate.
The Canberra Times reported that the Senator’s cursing ‘came out of the blue’ during an ‘otherwise deadly dull debate on Higher Education Funding’. Abetz rose to denounce profligate educational expenditure.
“I assure this House that I am quoting this and it is with some embarrassment and dismay that I put this on the public record…
“Labor, the Greens and the Democrats are saying, ‘you will be denied an education unless you contribute to important and cultural events’, such as by giving $500 for the Neurotic Performing C__ts to perform at the Melbourne Fringe Festival’.”
Try as I might, I could find no record of Labor, the Greens or the Democrats saying any such thing. But that’s Eric Abetz for you.
However, the Tasmanian senator who once strutted about like the last commandant of Port Arthur Penal Colony, now resembles those dreadful flickering images of the last Tasmanian Tiger, prowling its bleak confinement and forlornly contemplating extinction.
Abetz entered the senate in 1994 when the Tasmanian Liberals nominated him to fill a vacancy caused by retirement. This election marks the first time since then that the party did not gift him first place on their senate ticket. To win a spot from third place, he’ll need to beat candidates from Labor, the Jaquie Lambie Network and One Nation.
The hard-right culture warrior won notoriety from the beginning of his parliamentary career for his opposition to LGBTIQ+ rights. In 1994, Tasmania was known internationally as ‘Bigot’s Island’. It remained the last Australian jurisdiction to still criminalise consenting adult gay sexual activity. The state retained the harshest penalties for such private activity in the western world.
When the federal government considered sexual privacy laws to protect Tasmanians from their own state government, Abetz challenged the definition of privacy.
“If my bedroom was big enough, it could be 10, 20 or 50 people?”
The old slippery slope. Allow people to have sex and next they’ll want enormous bedrooms. Ballrooms even. Or, at least, more ballroom.
In 1997/98, Abetz opposed the Sexuality Discrimination Bill designed to give same-sex couples the same superannuation, property and will entitlements as heterosexual couples. He claimed allowing equal rights would encourage and affirm homosexuality.
In 2000, member for Grayndler, Anthony Albanese, introduced another bill that attempted to allow same-sex couples the same rights as married and de facto superannuants. The Coalition opposed the bill. The Sydney Morning Herald described the ‘stridently anti-gay’ Abetz as wielding substantial influence.
We could go on with his cranky old man yelling at clouds’ greatest hits of recent years. His refusal to vote for marriage equality despite a 63.6% ‘Yes’ response in the state he represents. His mocking objection to the presence of the Rainbow Flag in government buildings because it represented a ‘hostile nation’.
But who cares. He’s almost gone. Roadside signs in Tasmania make no mention of the Liberal Party while pleading for a vote for the sidelined senator. Eric Abetz is running a ‘below-the-line’ campaign hoping Tasmanians will ignore Liberal Party suggestion and vote for him first. But that ignores what is apparently a longstanding Tassie tradition — putting Abetz last.
Election analyst Dr Kevin Bonham told the ABC: “In the last election, he got nine times more last place votes than anybody else.”
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