Senator Cory Bernardi, I know him well .... Photo: Andrew Meares
In the political vacuum that constitutes the Australian post-Christmas torpor, it has been open season on Liberal senator Cory Bernardi, who has shot up to be public enemy No.1 among large sections of the media commentariat.
And while some of his erstwhile political friends have also been on holidays, I am not going to walk away from the fact that I know Bernardi and I like him.
I don't agree with everything he says, and I won't agree with everything he is going to say. For starters, he's a Liberal and I'm a National. But there are some wider issues here.
We constantly hear from the left that we need a clean and robust debate, but when anyone puts a different, even controversial point of view, they go spare. What the left really appears to be saying is that they want everyone to say they agree with their ever-moving agenda.
The media lefties get knocked off their balsa wood raft because someone does not follow the script they check, follow, breathe and recheck with the audience applauding on cue from the flashing prompt. To cite one example: for thousands of years, in every culture and every country, marriage has been between a man and a woman, but at 30 seconds to midnight on the clock of civilisation a completely novel approach to marriage has been proposed. Fair enough, but is it also reasonable that those (most probably the majority of the population) who hold to the now supposedly antiquated opposite approach are suddenly labelled as bigots?
Australia's political debate tends to be narrow, and people who speak their minds get labelled cowboys or loonies. In larger democracies, Bernardi's views would not be considered extreme. Take Vladimir Putin's radically progressive policies to lift Russia's flagging birth rate, for example.
The worst insult you could possibly be afflicted with is that you are boring. Overweight, you can lose weight. Old, you were once young. But boring, you have probably been born with that curse and it will never wither. People who are not boring challenge you, they confront you, they get you out of your predictable coffee-with-friends zone conversation.
Bernardi doesn't fit into the boring category. He is interesting and he has courage. He is entitled to his view and, as a senator, he represents a constituency that has as much right to have their views ventilated as that of Greens senator Lee Rhiannon, who, in my view, is Parliament's representative of the Communist Party. But give Rhiannon a seat next to me on the plane to Moree any day.
It is actually a good thing to meet people who slap you in the face and challenge your truths. It could be the person in the pub who calls you for who you really are in front of your friends. Other times it is the novel whose knave shares all your sins, or the priest who suggests the sins you forgot to mention. On the issue of single mothers, they have to raise their children with double the responsibilities and half the income and support. Single mothers mostly do an incredible job in difficult circumstances.
However, I don't think many single mothers would say this was the lifestyle they originally envisaged. Who actually says, ''I'm seeking to get married or to have a long-term partner in order to get separated later on''?
No one is suggesting you should not have empathy for single mothers who have been abandoned, who walked away from a violent relationship, who were widowed or who have chosen to keep a child they never expected to have on their own. I'm sure many of those women think this is not the best their kids could have, but it is the best of a real-life situation and they work with the cards they have been dealt.
But for our society a mum-and-dad family is the predominantly but not exclusively best insurance against a lot of bad outcomes. More widely, the family is the best law-and-order policy, the best aged-care policy, the best healthcare policy.
The overwhelming desire of the vast majority of people is for children to have a mum and a dad, and for the family to remain intact. So why should we be embarrassed to say this?
It goes without saying that not all families are perfect. Show me someone who has the perfect relationship and I will show you someone who is dreaming or a liar. But this reality should not diminish the desire to strive for the best outcome.
Barnaby Joyce is the federal Agriculture Minister and the deputy leader of the Nationals.