The last time I went viral I had a glandular fever back in 1999. Now it’s all social media. Welcome to the 21st century.
Two weeks ago I got abused and threatened by a CFMEU member while campaigning for my friend, Trevor Evans, around Newstead in Brisbane inner north. Mind you, campaigning might be too strong a descriptor for wearing a Trevor Evans LNP t-shirt while standing on the side of the road next to two Trevor Evans A-frames and otherwise minding my own business. I don’t even wave at passing cars anymore, since a mate of mine caused a car crash doing just that along the Coronation Drive during the 1996 federal election.
One of the things I reflected on in the course of the next hour, waiting for the man to come back (spoiler alert: he didn’t), was the little irony that I was born and raised in a country where, at that time, trade unionists – or anyone else for that matter – where threatened with violence for holding political beliefs unpopular with the government, and here I was, 15,000 km away and 30 years later, being threatened with violence by a trade unionist for holding political beliefs unpopular with the trade union movement.
Two weeks later, I was back, not because I like to troll building sites, but because a friend I haven’t seen in months was going to be in the neighbourhood and promised to drop in for a chat and bring me some coffee. Thus history (or a footnote to a footnote to a footnote of history) is made on account of a take-away cup of Campos coffee (thank you Campos, and thank you my friend who shall remain anonymous lest everyone else starts hitting him up for a caffeine relief on Saturday morning campaign streetsides).
Someone else who was back that morning was my old friend, the CFMEU loudmouth. I caught a glimpse of him in the distance, walking back towards his construction site with morning tea, and, mindful of my friends’ regret I didn’t actually get punched or at least film the incident a fortnight back, I readied my phone camera on the of-chance my friend wouldn’t be able to help himself again.
The result was 14-second video I shared with friends on Facebook. In turn, a few dozen friends have now shared it on their walls, and then their friends. As of this morning, it had 253 shares and been viewed 21 thousand times. I try not to watch TV but I’m told it made Channel 9 News in Brisbane last night. It also made the Australian edition of The Daily Mail, one of my favourite online publications.
The Daily Mail called the video “shocking”. Personally, I don’t find it particularly shocking; in fact, quite routine really. This is partly a matter of having a thick skin and partly of being desensitised. In 22 years of being involved in politics, sometimes working in politics, and occasionally writing about it, I have been called every name under the sun from the c*** down and been wished all manner of violent and unpleasant deaths. Anyone else who’s been around politics for a while is bound to have had similar experiences or at least have friends who had. This isn’t meant to excuse or lessen the impact of the sort of behaviour I captured on video, but to point out that it’s not unique, if mostly out of the public eye.
We are fortunate to live in a country where political intimidation and violence are quite rare and overwhelmingly frowned upon. Let’s keep it that way. While I might be desensitised to political abuse, it still saddens me to see this sort of lack of basic civility and manners exhibited so blatantly and unashamedly in a public place, in a full view of others and in front of a camera. We’re better than that, as a country and as a peoples.