Eggboy raises troubling questions about politician access

Senator Fraser Anning. Photo: AAP
Senator Fraser Anning. Photo: AAP

AUSTRALIAN politicians get out in public every single day without guards, bulletproof vests or guns.

It’s how Aussies like their politicians – approachable and available.

The egging of Senator Fraser Anning by a 17-year-old now known as Eggboy has sparked a conversation in political circles about which protests go too far and which ones are fine.

The case for and against #Eggboy

Large numbers of Australians gleefully supported the egging of a senator who wants to return to the White Australia policy – a position Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week said was “white supremacy”.

But a group of high profile people thought it was a bad look.

“The young man who egged him, that was a mug thing to do. You don’t get your message out by coming up and crunching an egg on someone, it’s just stupid,” Labor leader Bill Shorten said.

High-profile comedians and TV presenters also called for protesters to use wit and cleverness rather than eggs to make their point.

And the concern across all sides of politics is the egging escalates to the next attack, which could be a knife or a rock instead of a breakfast food.

The last political egging, however, didn’t spark an escalation in attacks.

Perth man Enrico Robert Von Felten missed his target when he hurled an egg at then-prime minister Julia Gillard in 2010 but missed and hit a female protection officer instead.

Julia Gillard was the subject of an attempted egging in 2010. Photo: Getty

In the nine years between the eggings, the only assault on a politician appears to be a headbutt on Tony Abbott in Hobart in 2017 which left the former prime minister with a slightly swollen lip and a scathing assessment that his attacker “wasn’t very good at it”.

But as much as public figures don’t want to make themselves targets, there is also a recognition that what happened to Anning was just a boy cracking an egg.

It wasn’t painful or particularly violent, it was instead humiliating for a man who wants to appear strong.

It elicited a violent reaction from Senator Anning, who slapped the boy twice, and violent overreactions from his colleagues.

The Australian political commitment to non-violent debate assumes everyone is operating in good faith, arguing over values and ideas but with a baseline of respect.

Senator Anning promotes ideas most in mainstream Australia disagree with, including a return to the White Australia policy, and blaming Muslims for the Christchurch massacre.

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He has met with convicted criminals in Australia’s far-right wing groups, using taxpayer money to fly to Melbourne for rallies.

So when someone is using the Australian political system to promote hate among people he is meant to represent, what is a mainly harmless egging?

In World War II Australia’s soldiers fought in part to stop the kind of ideology that drove the Christchurch massacre.

But then the argument in political circles goes – who gets to decide who cops the egg?

Does Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton get splashed with bolognese sauce because left-wing protesters object to his offshore detention policies?

Peter Dutton. Photo: AAP

Does Morrison, who travels with armed guards, get a curry to the noggin because he’s not doing enough on climate change?

Australians like the low-key nature of politics and politicians who can take a joke and don’t need 24-hour security to go outside.

The Perth Magistrates Court heard Von Felten, then 55, wanted to protest Gillard’s small business policies.

Gillard laughed off the egg attack, instead of hitting the assailant twice in the head like Senator Anning did.

And there’s the rub. Was Von Felten’s attack justified? Would it have received worldwide attention and a shoutout on NBA star Ben Simmons’ shoes?

Abbott’s attacker was jailed, Gillard’s was fined. Anning’s egger won’t be charged.

There is space for nuance and context in this debate. Hard and fast rules may not necessarily apply to every situation.

As one Liberal put it this week: “Maybe it’s just different when it’s Nazis.”

– AAP