I like Andrew Denton and always have.
He is a funny, intelligent interviewer with a bucket load of insight and compassion.
A high point for me was an episode of his program, The Money or the Gun, in 1990.
I was at University then and doing what most of us did before the internet. Quietly grinding our teeth in my own corner of the world against everyday ableism. Little patronising comments and attitudes such as people talking down like you were like a child. Getting “special” treatment when that was the last thing you wanted.
The Money or the Gun was must see TV for the 90’s undergrad as we sat poised to see who would deliver an unlikely rendering of Led Zeppelins classic, Stairway to Heaven – the programs trademark sign off.
So here in our program was Denton stripping it bare in an episode called “The Year of the Patronising Bastard”. He talked to people with disability about comments made to us on the street. He challenged assumptions. He talked to people in chairs on our level. He spoofed patronising comments. He even mentioned that people with disability might have sex.
Years before Stella Young exploded onto our scene Andrew Denton nailed ableism in front of millions of people in prime time on the ABC. For an hour – he made Australia “get it”.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was damn good – like a breeze into a musty room.
That is one of the reasons why Andrews speech to the Wheeler Centre leaves me bereft. He dismisses as an afterthought the disability rights critique of euthanasia with the conclusion that “using the disabled and the elderly as the spearhead of a campaign against assisted dying is politics at its most brutal”.
I want to grab the sharp but empathic guy I saw in 1990 and have him interview the Andrew Denton of today. “But can’t you get it? Can you see why people are terrified of this?”, he might ask.
You see Andrew, for people with disability, the money has become inseparable from the gun that’s held to our heads.
Society loaded it when they left the barriers in – despite the DDA that was passed two years after your show – and they took the safety catch off when they forgot to provide universal care and support for those of us who have a disability through the gene lottery.
They pulled the trigger by accepting our deaths with casual ease. The murder of a child with a disability being described as an ‘an act of love’ by a Judge and the perpetrator walking straight into a paid interview. Or the carefree attitudes of some in the medical profession to our lifespans brilliantly described by Stella Young. You may see “doctors doing what they believe is best, depending on their moral view of the universe”, but we have reason to believe we’re not in the universe they see.
Money? It is everywhere in the conversation about us.
Take this week’s national banner headline in The Australian which screams “Disability – a $17 billion burden to Australia”.
What do most people do with a burden? Offload it, cash it out or – on a farm – shoot it. Quick smart before it eats any more. Euthanasia will also be about money and finite resources in the health and service system.
Andrew says he sees people with disability being used as a spearhead for the anti-euthanasia campaign as politics at its most “brutal”.
But right now the brutality feels like it’s being directed at us, not by us.
Andrew misses that key insight. He thinks he understands what we are concerned about but doesn’t ask why. It’s an awful sidewards glance by glance someone who has a vast ability as an interviewer to step into the shoes of other people and try them on.
YouTube just about any episode of Enough Rope and you’ll see it – that knack for getting into other people’s point of view and allowing them to say what they think when they don’t want to.
That’s why watching Denton offer the perfect carrot to allow John Laws to share his true feelings on Alan Jones by reading a mock endorsement was unmissable television.
Our point of view is simple even if the arguments aren’t. We are worried about euthanasia in a world that sees us a waste of space and our lives as holding diminished value. That’s not a side issue. It’s not irrelevant. Why not acknowledge it?
Where Denton see’s choices, I see money closing them off or distorting them. I see people with newly acquired disability awakening to the shock of Australia’s dreadful disability employment rate and seeing their savings slip away with no steady income in sight. I see people after a vehicle accident wondering what they will use to buy a lifetime of continence gear. I see an NDIS and NIIS that hasn’t arrived for many and may never arrive for those with disability over 65 years of age.
The choices I want to discuss aren’t about people with disability choosing the end of a rope, they are about Australia choosing the resources, the jobs, the safety net and a society free of ableism where we can be proud in our skins.
In the end, Andrew Denton is wrong about us.
In 2015 we are no one’s tools and we spearhead our own politics. We’re not climbing the stairway to heaven, we’re wanting to pull the stairs down.
And saddest of all, by suggesting that we are gullible victims ready to be “used”, Denton has inched closer to those patronising bastards he brilliantly derided 25 years ago.
Craig Wallace is a marketing manager and project coordinator with Nican a national community organisation and has been a community leader with various organisations for more than a decade. He is the President of People with Disability Australia, a leading cross disability rights organisation in Australia and is a member of the ACT BLITS business group.