Opinion

Can Katherine Deves win Warringah?

We probably wouldn’t be talking about transgender rights in this election if the campaign managers had their way.  The fault-line in this polarised debate does not run along neat party lines and discussion is not easily controlled.  Nevertheless, the question “what is a woman?” has become the barbecue stopper of this election, triggered by the selection of an outspoken candidate in the seat of Warringah and the cancel campaign that followed. 

The good news is that Katherine Deves has achieved a level of recognition of which other candidates can only dream. The price she has paid, however, is to be subjected to a vicious and intimidating attack which would have driven others into hiding. The mainstream media, by and large, has joined the pile-on, condemning her views as unconscionable and her candidacy dead.  

Yet outside the media bubble, Deves has become something of a champion. Australians were never asked if they approved of changing the definition of a woman, just as they were not consulted about the rest of a woke agenda that tramples on their traditions and insults their values.  

They were not asked if they agree with the teaching of gender fluidity in schools or affirmative therapy for kids in puberty confused about their gender. They were not consulted about the addition of new pronouns, or the semantic rules that must be obeyed if one wants to keep one’s job.  The safety of women and girls was not considered before biological males were granted access to women’s bathrooms and locker rooms. Objections were not permitted to be heard, since to do so would give a platform to transphobes. 

All these radical alterations to their world, and a whole lot more, were decided by the woke elite under pressure from intimidating activists. All the time conservatives sat politely on their hands and said precisely nothing.  

In a less democratic nation than ours, people would have taken these changes with a shrug. In Australia, however, they expect their views to be heard. Three-year terms may not stop politicians defying public opinion, but they can’t defy it for long.  

From time to time, however, the political class wanders off with its head in the clouds, contemptuously ignoring the views of the little people. It happened, for example, in 1996, when another Liberal candidate running in a seat she was never supposed to win wrote a letter to the Queensland Times advocating an end for special assistance for Aborigines. It turned out that the candidate also held unsound views on immigration and multiculturalism, identifying her as a member of the untouchable class we later came to know as ‘the Deplorables.’ The Liberal Party quickly dis-endorsed her, but it was too late to remove Pauline Hanson’s name from the ballot paper. Standing as an independent, Hanson achieved a swing of 19.3% in a previously safe Labor seat and was duly elected the Member for Oxley. 

Full credit to the Prime Minister for staring down Nervous Nevilles in his own party by refusing to dis-endorse Deves.  For a leader caught in a vortex of confected outrage, the great temptation is to appease.  A powerful social dynamic is at work that is as old as humankind: purge the community of the apostate, lest you yourself be purged.  

Morrison’s courage should not be underestimated. Regardless of the merits of Deves’ arguments, a day or three of distraction from a party’s core message could cost him government. Indeed, some within Morrison’s own party were publicly urging him to change his mind. Yet, as Robert Menzies constantly reminded us, some things matter more than winning an election, and for many of us this is one of them 

Should Deves fail to win Warringah, as her critics foolishly assume that she will, she will have performed a great service by drawing attention to a dangerous delusion many recognise is wrong but few are prepared to talk about. 

Deves has empowered others to enter this debate and helped them find the words to do so. She has exposed the ridiculous claim that a pronoun one chooses to adopt matters more than biology. She has listened to the fears of women and girls and become their champion at a time when feminism is becoming unfashionable. 

Yet it is not impossible that Deves might actually win a seat that a month ago seemed as unassailable for a Liberal Party candidate as Hanson’s former seat of Oxley did in 1996. Campaigners in Warringah say that Deves is receiving a welcome very different from the one they might expect if the views of the mainstream media commentators were representative of popular sentiment. 

We should not be surprised. A survey by Compass Polling earlier in the campaign found that 78 percent of Liberal voters agreed with Deves that biological men should not compete in women’s sport. Six out of ten Labor voters thought so too. 

Deves’ main opponent, Zali Steggall, has declared that anyone who holds such a view is transphobic, earning her a tick from her friends in the media.  It is a statement she may come to regret. 

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