That long, low, mournful sound you heard last night wasn’t a werewolf howling at the moon. It wasn’t a milking cow enduring a particularly painful labour. Nor was it Tony Abbott reading the latest Newspoll results.
No. That heart-rending, plate clattering, awful noise, was the sound of the beleaguered staff of the Australian Christian Lobby’s public relations agency watching Lateline.
As I watched the tape of the show this morning, I couldn’t help but imagine the discussions that must have gone on at PR HQ, somewhere, deep in a bat cave, beneath Mt Ainslie ….
PR Guy 1: Right, listen up. We’ve had a phone call from Lateline. They want to interview Jim Wallace about the ACL’s failing reputation and diminishing influence.
PR Guy 2: Well that ain’t gonna happen! Since homo-smoko-gate we’ve had Jim stowed in a back room with gaffer tape over his mouth.
Wallace ‘going rogue’ again lost us the bloody Prime Minister as the keynote speaker for the National Conference. There’s no way we’re putting Jim anywhere near a microphone until the conference opens. Fuck, if we let Jim loose again we’ll be lucky to get fucking Pauline Hanson as a keynote speaker!
PR Guy 1: Fair enough. How about we put Lyle Shelton on Lateline, then?
PR Guy 2: Bwahahaha!
PR Guy 1: Fair point.
Pr Guy 2: OK, what about the ACL’s Chairman, Tony McLellan?
Pr Guy 1: McLellan? He’s more bonkers than Jimbo!
Pr Guy 2: Yeah, but we could coach him, get him to stay on message – make sure he doesn’t go rogue like Jim does.
Pr Guy 1: Hmmm … could work. Does he have a Twitter account?
Pr Guy 2: Not as far as I know …
Pr Guy 1: Well, we haven’t got much choice, have we? Let’s call him in ….
Later that day …
PR Guy 1: Right now, Tony, you understand how important this is. Jim’s done a great job trashing the ACL’s reputation over the last couple of years – we’ve had the ANZAC Day tweet, the Nazi crack at Dr Kerryn Phelps (he knew she was Jewish, right?), that damned graph that showed Wallace’s fucking needle’s stuck on same-sex marriage and damn-the-bloody-poor-and- homeless.
I’ve got to be up front here Tony, the ACL’s beginning to look like a bloody circus and you can’t go on national television sounding like the ringmaster.
Pr Guy 2: Right. What we’re looking for is a moderate approach. You need to be calm, statesmanlike and above all, don’t say anything stupid.
PR Guy 1: Remember all that money you guys paid to Capacity Builders, to help create a new image? Remember how they rebranded the ACL and tried to position you as a balanced and compassionate ‘voice for values’? Well, Jim’s pretty much pissed that up against the wall. But, that’s what we’re aiming for; balanced, compassionate, moderate.
PR Guy 2: The thing is, Tony – and I know you don’t want to hear this, mate – the majority of the population support same-sex marriage. Fuck! The majority of Christians support same-sex marriage! You do get what that means, don’t you?
Most Australians think the ACL is denying homosexuals a fair go. If we’re talking about ‘values’, Tony, giving your mates a ‘fair go’ is a pretty big issue for most Aussies. The fact is, the ACL’s looking un-Australian. Frankly, you’re cultivating a reputation as a load of Bible bashing bullying bastards. Let’s face it, with Jim representing you, you’re coming across as a lorry load of fucking fruit loops! Christ! Even the Victorian Council of Churches disassociated itself from you.
You want to look ecumenical? If you keep following Jim Wallace’s lead, the ACL will be so far to the right even Danny Nalliah will be calling you guys too extreme!
PR Guy 1: And Tony, while you’re on air, don’t give that Stevenson bitch any ammunition for her dominionist rants, will you? She’s like a fucking mosquito, that woman! Can we just hold back on the whole ‘spiritual warfare’ thing? You know she’ll just equate it with the Reclaim 7 Mountains movement. You did get that link to the ACL taken off their website, didn’t you? And you’ve burned all the copies of that bloody, “Join the Campaign to Reclaim Australia” poster? We don’t want that turning up on national TV! Thank Christ Stevenson didn’t find it when she did that hatchet job on ABC’s Religion and Ethics.
Look, Tony, we know you guys have swallowed all this ‘shield of faith, boots of readiness, belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, sword of spirit, helmet of salvation’, spiritual armour, soldiers for Jesus crap. But y’know, Tony, religious nutters making military references tends to make the public a wee bit nervous, OK? Don’t do it.
PR Guy 2: And can we hold back on the Sunday school theology, Tone? You know all that Satan stuff is pretty much passé. Jesus! Even most American Christians don’t believe in Satan. If you start rabbiting on about the devil as if he’s a real person, it’s going to sound like you think Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck are real and Gilligan’s Island is a documentary.
Think whatever you like privately, Tony, but mention Satan and it’s just not gonna play out well for ya, mate.
PR Guy 1: Just one last thing, Tony. Don’t play the fucking victim card. Most Australians have gay friends and relatives. Lots of them know gay teenagers who are cutting themselves, taking drugs, even committing suicide.
I’ve got to hand it to you. You guys have created quite a toxic environment out there for the gay community. You’ve worked long and hard to equate these ordinary Aussies with pedophiles, child abusers and people who fuck animals.
The research is in, Tony. Groups like the ACL are causing real harm to real people. Australians aren’t stupid. They know that. You’re going to look a right goose if you go on television as a straight, white, middle-class man and play the victim card when gay teenagers are topping themselves at an alarming rate. Don’t do it, right? I’m warning you! If you do, you’re going to look like a heartless, out of touch, tosser – just like the one we’ve got gaffer-taped up in the back room.
So, this is your chance to redress the balance. Get in there, be calm, be reasonable, be moderate, and show them the ACL isn’t the out of touch, fundamentalist, fruit-cake factory everyone thinks it is. Can ya do that Tony?
Good. Here’s the ABC crew.
Remember, the one thing we don’t want is for the ACL to come out of this interview looking like a bunch of fucking delusional, homophobic, victim-blaming, right-wing loonies!
BEN MCLEAN: … as the ACL prepares for its national conference, it’s under increasing scrutiny itself.
Two months ago, this list of keynote speakers for the conference included Prime Minister Julia Gillard. That was until the Lobby’s general manager Jim Wallace claimed homosexuals had a shorter life expectancy than smokers, sparking a storm of criticism.
TONY MCLELLAN, CHAIRMAN, ACL: We’ve been attacked and I suppose I put it down to a group in the media who don’t like the influence that we’ve apparently had in this debate about gay marriage.
BEN MCLEAN: The chairman of the ACL board Tony McClellan says Australia is in the midst of a spiritual war.
TONY MCLELLAN: It’s against the kingdom of God by the Devil. The Devil doesn’t like God and doesn’t like everything God stands for. I would say that people who are trying to change the definition of marriage, which has its roots in Christianity, are obviously trying to deconstruct Christians’ views of what marriage should be. And they well may be motivated by the evil one to do that …
BEN MCLEAN: … Reverend Sue Wickham and her partner Leanne Jenski founded Christians for Gay Marriage specifically to counter the ACL.
SUE WICKHAM, CHRISTIANS FOR GAY MARRIAGE: The number of people Leanne and I encounter who have been ostracised from their churches, from their families because people hold “Christian” values like the ACL is just phenomenal.
… They can say that they are moderate and represent the views of the majority of Australian Christians, but then when, you know, one of their key speakers says something ridiculous like, “It’s better for your health to smoke than to be a homosexual,” they dump themselves right into the, you know – well, the right-wing loony camp.
PR Guys 1 and 2 (in unison) …