Bob Carr has not mentioned his sexual pecadilloes!

Weekend Australian November 3-4, 2012 – Greg Hunt (pictured) – This is his take on the Jones saga

THIS is a dangerous piece to write. But here we go. It concerns the search for both a higher discourse in public life and the use of selective outrage for advancing particular political causes.

In that context, Alan Jones’s comments about Julia Gillard were wrong and offensive. Clearly, absolutely, unequivocally.

However, the response has also exposed a clear set of double standards in certain sections of the media and the ALP.

Let me lay this out at three levels. First, the ALP has been consistently silent about the language of hate and abuse from various left-wing commentators.

Journalist Mungo MacCallum declared John Howard to be unflushable faecal material, only in blunter terms. No criticism from the ALP here.

ABC First Tuesday Book Club panellist Marieke Hardy went much further, however, and wrote of Brendan Nelson, “glass the c . . .’s wife and their children because they don’t deserve to procreate and have any children themselves“.

This was accompanied by a demand for the genital mutilation of Tony Abbott and a piece published on ABC’s The Drum calling for Christopher Pyne to be raped by a dog. I am not sure the ALP or others who support them have spent much time denouncing these extraordinary comments.

After appearing on the ABC’s Q&A, left-wing writer Catherine Deveny tweeted of a Coalition frontbencher and family man who appeared on the same panel,“he has the face of a rapist”. About as offensive as it gets. But silence from the ALP.

At the second level, there are the comments from ALP frontbenchers themselves.

On March 11 last year, the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Secretary, Mark Dreyfus, wrote an opinion piece for The Sydney Morning Herald comparing Abbott to a Nazi war criminalThe SMH not only published the piece without criticism, it took the comparison of Goebbels and celebrated it in the newspaper’s headline.

To date I have yet to see one criticism from within the ALP of a scripted comparison with a Nazi war criminal by the Prime Minister’s own Cabinet Secretary.

In question time recently, the Prime Minister compared Abbott to Jack the Ripper, a homicidal sexual predator. Any criticism there? Not to my knowledge.

Bob Carr MPAt the highest level, arguably the most significant recent breach of decent conduct has been the ministerial attack against an alleged sexual harassment victim. The Foreign Minister, Bob Carr (pictured), recently said of James Ashby’s claims of sexual harassment against Peter Slipper that they were “more rehearsed than a kabuki actor”.

This was interference in a legal case. This was a direct attack on someone claiming sexual harassment. This was arguably intimidation of a witness and a claimant. Without commenting on the merits of the substantive matter, it is not surprising the commonwealth has now had to spend taxpayers’ funds in a payment to Ashby, which includes the release of claims against Carr.

Again I may have missed it, but I am yet to see either an apology from Carr or criticism from within the ALP.

So does any of this excuse Jones’s comments? No. But is there a clear double standard where the ALP and those closest to it can say almost anything without censure? Yes.

Ultimately, then, our standards of discourse can be better, my own included, having been far from perfect myself. But the path to a higher debate begins with standards that apply to all, not just to our political opponents.

And it ends with the sense of mutual respect that as custodians of public debate we recognise we are also custodians of public standards, whether we are elected representatives, journalists or commentators.

Greg Hunt: is the opposition spokesman for climate action, environment and heritage.