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Australia decides: Who would vote for Izzy?

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Expert
10th May, 2019
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Here’s a thought: when Australians go to vote on who should be our prime minister for the next three years next weekend, we should also vote on whether Israel Folau should be allowed to continue his rugby career with the Wallabies and Waratahs for the next three and a half.

Australia decides. Don’t let the three-person independent panel decide his future.

Most of the country want to have their say. Let the fair-minded population make their adjudication.

It would require just one more voting slip to fill out. Tick the box ‘yes’ if you believe Folau deserves to be sacked for what the panel deemed was a “high-level breach” of his Rugby Australia contract for his “Hell Awaits” social media posts.

Tick the box ‘no’ if you believe he deserves some leniency – despite it being his second infraction – and a fine and/or suspension would suffice.

It would be tempting to add another option of ticking whether Izzy should play at fullback or on the wing just to put that dilemma to bed, but that might be taking the mickey.

Let’s be honest: many if not most Australians would spend more time deliberating over the Folau vote than whether Scott Morrison or Bill Shorten should lead the country.

Israel Folau Wallabies Australia Rugby Union 2017

(Paul Kane/Getty Images)

In fact, so pervasive has the Folau issue been that ScoMo and Shorten were even asked for their opinion on the saga during the third leaders’ debate on Wednesday night.

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Neither called for Folau to be booted, but both touched on the insensitivity of his comments.

“On one hand, I think Israel Folau is entitled to his views and he shouldn’t suffer an employment penalty for it, so I’m uneasy about that part of it,” said Shorten, before adding that public figures such as Folau needed to be wary of the hurt that their public comments could cause.

Morrison noted that free speech should be exercised “responsibly… in a society such as ours with civility and due care and consideration to others.” The prime minister also pointed out that Folau was subject to contractual obligations.

So what would the verdict be in a Folau vote?

The result would give us a solid guide as to what Australians think of freedom of speech in the workplace and freedom to practice their religion in the workplace. These themes have been central to the debate over the rights of Folau to circulate his opinions.

So many have already aired their reactions to Folau’s views – Will Genia, Nick Phipps, Bernard Foley, Nick Farr-Jones, Alan Jones, Mark Latham, Anthony Mundine, Peter FitzSimons, Drew Mitchell, Stephen Hoiles.

So many more that aren’t current Wallabies, former Wallabies, media big-swingers or quotable types have given their opinions on social media.

This immediate, inclusive and interactive aspect to social media is its great upside, and it’s given many the opportunity to understandably deride and lay into Folau. His popularity and influence has meant the backlash has been speedy and brutal.

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Israel Folau

(Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

While the condemnation of his comments has been strong, there’s much more contention over the sanction that Folau should face.

Of all the opinions on social media, it feels like there’s a decent level of sentiment that to sack Folau would be over the top.

Few agree with his “Hell Awaits” judgement. The posts were generally regarded as insensitive and in poor taste. But few seem adamant that his Rugby Australia contract should be torn up.

Fair enough, too. The comments were uncalled for, but it’s also important to note that Folau didn’t aim to incite earthly violence or assault against any of the so-called “sinners”.

He just offered where he thinks they might end up in the afterlife.

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A decent chunk of the problem is that people are unable to separate Israel Folau the Wallabies star at work and Israel Folau the devout and conservative Christian away from rugby.

The two personas can’t be separated for many, and so Folau is effectively a Rugby Australia, Wallabies and Waratahs representative every hour of the day.

It can be assumed that he finds this tough to come to terms with and suffocating, and probably contributed to him rebelling against RA.

Folau needs to be pulled into line, and a fine and three-game ban – which has already been served – would be an appropriate punishment.

If Australians did get to vote on Folau’s case next weekend, I’d be confident that’s what the majority of his compatriots would decide is fair and reasonable.

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