Op-Ed: The Witch Trials of Moira Deeming

Flying home from Canberra last week, I finished listening to The Witch Trials of JK Rowling, a podcast exploring how a beloved author, abuse survivor and lifelong left-wing feminist came to be bombarded with death threats, rape threats and defamation by left-wing activists.

Rowling’s “crime” was to speak out against so-called “inclusive” policies and language which undermine women’s rights and safety. Specifically, she has criticised the placement of male rapists in women’s prison, and the demeaning replacement of the word ‘woman’ with “people who menstruate”.

For this, she has suffered horrendous threats and abuse, while being vilified by the media as a bigot, a Nazi, and for associating with the far-right. Sound familiar, Victoria?

One of the most Orwellian aspects of the demonisation of Rowling by the media is that none of those who confidently accuse her of transphobia and bigotry are able to substantiate those claims with reference to anything Rowling has actually said. Next time you hear someone claim Rowling is a bigot, ask them for a direct quote from Rowling that proves their assertion. You won’t get one.

In Australia, media and politicians have for weeks aggressively prosecuted a witch trial against Moira Deeming for speaking at a women’s rights event. She has been suspended from the Victorian Liberal opposition party room for doing so.

The overlap between the hyperbolic and illiberal attacks against Rowling and Deeming are worth exploring. I find it deeply chilling, as a woman in the Liberal Party, that Opposition Leader John Pesutto has chosen to punish Deeming in a pointless attempt to please an authoritarian mob.

As is the case with Rowling, the attacks on Deeming rely on completely ignoring what she has actually said. How many of the journalists and politicians denouncing Deeming for attending the Let Women Speak event have reported that a key component of her speech at that rally was reading a letter from a Muslim friend about the impact of losing single-sex facilities and spaces?

This fact alone is enough to completely discredit the attempt to affiliate her with racism. Pesutto and Daniel Andrews, leading the prosecution together, haven’t mentioned it. Their case against Deeming has relied on guilt by multiple degrees of association.

Rowling lives in Scotland, where left-wing First Minister Nicola Sturgeon recently resigned after it emerged that her policies had allowed a violent male rapist to identify into women’s prison. Deeming lives in Victoria, where a dangerous offender who spent six years in a German men’s prison for sexually abusing his own daughter was placed in a women’s prison after committing a violent sexual assault in Melbourne.

This appalling case and the Andrews Government’s handling of it deserves relentless scrutiny by the Opposition. In addition to the obvious risk vulnerable women in prison are being exposed to, this case serves as proof that even in the most abhorrent circumstances, governments will prioritise self-ID policies above the safety of women.

Pesutto has instead chosen to suspend from his own party room a woman who has tried courageously to draw attention to this case.

He and his supporters have openly backgrounded the craven argument that ‘voters don’t want us talking about this stuff’. What kind of leadership is this? The suggestion that women in the Liberal Party can only talk about women’s rights if it will help get Pesutto into power is utterly unprincipled.

Deeming and Rowling have now both been forced to speak about the abuse they have experienced in the past to explain why they are so passionate about defending the need for single-sex spaces for women. It’s disgraceful that Deeming had to do this as a direct result of the attempt to expel her from the Liberal party room.

Pesutto has, at times, claimed his actions are not based on trying to gain a political win by distancing himself from Deeming’s views, but rather they are a reaction to how she went about it. Any sensible leader would have taken a moment to realise that even Rowling – a left-wing feminist and one of the most skilled users of the English language in the world -- is still accused of being “far-right”, no matter how carefully she explains her position.

If Rowling can’t pass the left-wing mob’s test for being allowed to talk about these issues, then nobody can – which, of course, is precisely the situation these authoritarian activists and their supporters in the media wish to create. There can be no doubt that Pesutto’s actions have given this authoritarian mindset a huge leg-up.