WELL, there is good news and bad news for Tim Mathieson.
The good news for Mr Mathieson, the live-in partner of Prime Minister Julia Gillard, is that he has managed to get most of Australia talking about prostate cancer, a potentially deadly disease which doesn’t usually receive the prominence it should.
The bad news is, of course, that Mathieson’s joke about prostate digital examinations was also something of an own-goal for the Labor government which has not only been shrieking about misogyny and sexism from Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, but is also proposing a highly controversial revamp of anti-discrimination laws which would make it illegal to utter offensive comments “in any area of public life”.
So in a result that could see Mr Mathieson consigned to the Lodge’s doghouse with cavoodle Reuben rather than his men’s shed, the comments have sparked a debate as to whether they would have breached the draft regulation.
In making a joke about “looking for a small, Asian, female doctor” to conduct a prostate check, Mr Mathieson was certainly behaving with poor judgment.
He joke was tasteless, but it has also left him open to accusations of racism, sexism and possibly misogyny and maybe even ageism and, of course, left the PM caught squarely in the backwash.
Mr Mathieson has apologised for his remark and, in writing for News Ltd yesterday, admitted to a “nervous fumble” that “left me with my foot in my mouth”.
Look, the bloke goofed.
He made a stupid, thoughtless and tacky joke, but was it truly offensive to the point legal action is needed?
We do unfortunately live in a world where discrimination of all kinds exists and people’s existences are made miserable as a result.
But just how far do we need to go to legislate on the issue?
Mr Mathieson’s faux pas has demonstrated the dangers in not only whipping up confected outrage, as the PM has tried to do in her “sexism” campaign against Mr Abbott, but also that its proposed legislation has some fairly hefty flaws.
It was a stupid joke, but should that comment – or something similar – really be deemed to have broken the law?
We need to talk about this. After all, it is our freedom of speech being debated.