Radicalism is Infectious
The recent comments of the Queensland Health Minister claiming that gay community leaders have sold out the HIV community by pursuing radical political agendas is silly, but by using it Minister Springborg displayed the use of that blunt political concept: divide and conquer, with its tool: the wedge.
A newspaper report hinted that a draft study on increasing instances of unprotected sex between gay men was going to give the state government a reason to cull the radical elements in the LGBTI community, presumably by withdrawing government funding.
But who is “radical”? How do you define it? Identify it? By making surprise visits to government-funded groups to make sure they’re toeing the LNP party line? Will LGBTI group staff across the state soon be panicking over whether the Rip&Roll poster they have in reception will be considered politically radical by a visiting government assessor? After all, it was produced by that nest of radicals, Healthy Communities. What about the ‘I [heart] Che Guevara’ mug in the staff room? Will that be interpreted as taking a radical position in favour of Communism? God forbid anyone turns up wearing a ‘You call it Sodomy, I call it Fabulous!’ badge when a government agent is visiting. He could be fundamentally Catholic and – bang! No new photocopier for your group this year...
Driving a wedge into communities can reap great political rewards. Look at John Howard and the boat people – he brought out the latent xenophobia in many Australians in a campaign that is hailed as a successful example of wedge politics because it divided Labor voters. Many of them saw Howard as taking a strong stance with his anti-queue jumping comments (as if asylum seekers ought to form one orderly line at a country’s borders). A rudderless Labor appeared to say yes to everything he proposed.
The thing about wedge politics is that it needs to appeal to voters’ prejudices, to their inner, conflicted lives, rather than their rationality. By introducing terms like “radical” and “sold out” into the debate – and let’s face it, the defunding of Healthy Communities is the pink elephant in the room here – Springborg has departed from his earlier stance, where he cited rising HIV diagnoses as the reason for defunding. Now, he has politicised it, saying: “The previous Labor Government squandered the health dollar trying to buy and appease radical political lobby groups rather than investing in serious health outcomes and cultural changes.”
If, by adapting to the changing conditions of HIV in the community, by looking at the factors such as mental health and well-being that surround it, Healthy Communities was being a “radical political lobby group” then any group holding a world view different to that of the ideal LNP voter can be tarred with the same brush.
But now I have a more pressing issue. I’ve just realised we have a Eureka Stockade-themed tea towel hanging in the kitchen. I bought it from the CWA ladies at last year’s Ekka, but radicals are everywhere these days in Queensland and it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Radicalism: it’s infectious you know.