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“Cory Bernardi is wrong to complain about ABC’s Tonightly” says Caroline Overington . Oh, really? Try the pub test.
The one thing we learn about Caroline Overington in her column today (24/3) is that it would seem that she has no problem with the C bomb or the F bomb on the taxpayer funded national broadcaster. Most taxpayers who fund the ABC would disagree.
With that being the case we are left to wonder about her own taste and values in the public square more generally. We can all be pretty sweary at times but I suggest most people cringe when it comes to the public airwaves.
It’s not about finger wagging or the nanny state. And it’s most definitely not about free speech as she tries to frame it.
It’s about basic standards and decency in public and particularly on the public airwaves. It’s about time and place
Following her logic, just how far do we lower the bar in public discourse on the national broadcaster or, as would seem to be the end result of what she’s suggesting, do we do away with the bar all together?

The bottom line is this. Everyone has a standard and a level below which they won’t go and if they say they don’t, they are lying. Given that standard, in a particular set of circumstances, that is the level where free speech has its outer limits and civilised people exercise restraint.

If Michelle Guthrie the ABC board or the minister are not going to play the role of arbiter of taste and decency who is?
It would seem that in Overington’s universe we just let rip and like shouting fire in a theatre, all speech is free speech.
“….They say you’d have to be mad to come on to these pages defending the ABC, but actually I’m feeling pretty good about it. The latest brouhaha into which the national broadcaster has been drawn is going to put every true conservative in the country on my side.
I’m not counting the big C, by which I mean Cory Bernardi, obviously. He likes to think of himself as a conservative, but he’s a fraud. A pretender.
But let’s go back a step. For those who missed the story, here’s the background: Tonightly is an ABC skit show hosted by a comedian called Tom Ballard.
Is it funny? Maybe, sometimes, who knows? I’m the wrong person to ask. The show is pitched at young people. This we know because it’s sweary, which hardly makes it edgy, although the young aren’t to know that.
They’re young. They know nothing.
None of that matters.
What matters is that Tonightly lately had a bit of a go at one of Bernardi’s Conservative candidates, a bloke whose name is Kevin Bailey.
I could go over the joke for you but suffice it to say it ends with ­Tonightly describing Bailey with a word that starts with C and ends in T and isn’t coconut.
Being young comedians on the ABC, they probably thought: ho, ho, ho, aren’t we edgy as frock? But actually, swearing on the TV? It’s just not big or clever.
Is it even offensive any more? Probably, where that word is concerned, although it has never made much sense to me that the most offensive world in English is the one that isn’t cumquat.
It should be the loveliest word of all. It refers to one of the loveliest parts of a woman, a place depicted, oil on canvas in the 19th century, as the Origin of the World (don’t Google that image, at least not at work.)
Yet we use it as a term of disparagement, a situation beyond anyone who has one, or has ever gotten friendly with one.
Feminists tried for a while to take the word back from those who fling it around as an insult, just as black Americans took back nigger, the gay community snatched back queer and the migrant community gobbled up wog.
They hadn’t had much luck, mainly — and curiously, I suppose — because it is rarely used to describe a woman.
It is mostly men to whom it is applied, as was the case on Tonightly, prompting the self-proclaimed Australian Conservative (his caps) Bernardi to get all huffy.
“When you have a person of Kevin Bailey’s pedigree … he’s a former soldier, a philanthropist, a former ambassador,” Bernardi puffed. “Someone needs to lose their job over it … I don’t think that sort of language is an appropriate thing on TV at any time.”
Oh come on. It can’t be that he has never heard the word before. He’s Cory Bernardi.
Yet he has called for the heads of these comedians. Not only that, he called their boss, Michelle Guthrie, to complain.
“This attack goes far beyond satire, is completely unacceptable and warrants … an apology … also from the ABC for allowing it to go to air,” Bernardi wrote in a letter that Guthrie hopefully threw in the bin.
Except that she can’t. This is the ABC, where they have to take these complaints seriously, especially now that Coalition frontbencher Simon Birmingham has echoed Bernardi’s sentiment.
“Frankly, somebody should lose their job over it,” Birmingham said. And look, here comes Mitch Fifield, the Communications Minister — you’d think, given his title, he’d be for free speech — also saying it “crossed the line”.
Which line?
The vulgar jokes line?
This is a democracy. There is no such thing.
But let’s imagine — and this is not too difficult — that one is coming. Who’s going to draw it? Not the government. That would be fascism. So I guess we’re going to need a committee.
Great! So, who is going to be on it? Who is going to choose who gets to be on it?
How are we going to prevent it from becoming, like every committee ever, a complete leftist stack, hopelessly corrupted by ideology — like, say the Australian Human Rights Commission under Gillian Triggs?
How soon the free speech warriors have forgotten how The Australian’s own Bill Leak got hauled before a committee — my god, just think about the chilling effect of that — for one of his cartoons.
Bernardi is saying he wants to go after the ABC not on free speech grounds per se but for a lapse in taste, a fall in standards, collapsing manners and so on.
What a crock.
Anyone can see what he’s really doing. It’s as naked as the descriptor. He wants to stake his credentials as the family values guy so he can hoover up conservative votes.
But if you’re trying to fire comedians, well, then you don’t get to be a conservative.
You don’t get to pick and choose. If you’re a conservative, then you’re for free speech, including vulgar speech.
Which Bernardi knows. According to his own website, replete with pictures of himself, Bernardi is a liberal champion whose “defence of free speech” has “gained him a reputation as a politician who puts principle above political expediency”.
Except here he is, putting political expediency above principles.
Bernardi also boasts of having campaigned to have the terms offend and insult removed from section 18C(1)(a) of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.
Now he wants the ABC to remove terms that, yes, offend and insult.
As best I can tell, his supporters also are complaining that the ABC in its joke-telling is not impartial.
But jokes don’t have to be impartial. They’re jokes. The most wrong they can be is unfunny.
Also, why should a proper conservative care about criticism from the left, or indeed from the ABC? He should rejoice, even bathe in it. It has to mean he’s doing something right.
More galling still is the fact Bernardi is in no position to be complaining about juvenile behaviour from young comedians on the ABC because he is the most juvenile person in parliament.
Remember last year how he was giggling and guffawing when Christopher Pyne’s Twitter account “liked” a gay porn video at two o’clock in the morning?
Bernardi tried at the time to use his position in the Senate to seek an actual parliamentary inquiry into the matter, with the certain undergraduate aim of embarrassing Pyne and his family.
It was left to the only adult in the room — Anthony Albanese — to step in and say: “We certainly won’t be supporting Cory Bernardi’s resolution before the Senate, and the sort of 1980s schoolboy humour that he has tried on this issue.”
Then you’ve got Bernardi’s motto, which is: “Common sense lives here”.
No, it doesn’t, nor does conviction.
How many times must we say it? Conservatives are for free speech. Democracy dies without it, and extremely bleakly — and I chose that adjective carefully — if we can’t make jokes…”  Cory Bernardi is wrong to complain about ABC’s Tonightly