return to letters list

Arising from the debate centred around Slipper and Gillard’s handling of the issue, the Coalition has returned to questions/comments about her past behavior. This has inspired further commentary by Larry Pickering.

Almost all of the main journalists remain critical of Gillard’s handling of the Slipper issue and her attack on Abbott, the main exception being Laura Tingle’s AFR article.

The Australian’s editorial is particularly damning. Importantly also , The Australian has also brought leading journalist, Hedley Thomas, back into its commentary on past behavior and relevant newly released documents.

Also of some significance is the (forced) revelation that Attorney General Roxon (and hence Gillard) had knowledge of the text messages exchanged by Slipper and Ashby well before the debate started by Abbott’s motion to sack Slipper. Yet the criticism by Gillard of Slipper’s messages did not occur until after Slipper resigned.

Some respondents have asked whether any of this affects Gillard’s leadership or the timing of the next election. One issue here relates to polling. If Labor’s polling goes further down again, Gillard will find it difficult to sustain her leadership. What then?

The emphases in articles/commentary below are mine.


George Brandis attacks Gillard over AWU file failure

Milanda Rout and Ben Packham, The Australian, October 12, 2012

LIBERAL frontbencher George Brandis has used parliamentary privilege to attack Julia Gillard over the union fraud scandal, saying her decision as a young lawyer not to create a legal file or tell her bosses was "highly irregular" and "only consistent with deliberate concealment".

Senator Brandis - the opposition legal affairs spokesman and a barrister - questioned in the Senate why the Prime Minister did not tell the partners of Slater & Gordon that she had helped to establish a legal entity for her then boyfriend and Australian Workers Union official Bruce Wilson when she worked there in the 1990s.

Called the AWU Workplace Reform Association, the entity was reportedly created for the purpose of achieving safe workplaces, but was later allegedly used by Mr Wilson and union bagman Ralph Blewitt to perpetrate fraud.

During an internal investigation into the fraud allegations three years later by the partners of Slater & Gordon, Ms Gillard admitted it was a "slush fund" to raise cash for the re-election of union officials. But she has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and says she "knew absolutely nothing about its workings".

Senator Brandis said in parliament yesterday that anyone working in a law firm would know Ms Gillard's decision not to tell her bosses that she helped form the entity was not standard practice.

"I am not saying that Ms Gillard was a party to a fraud," he said. "What I am saying is this: every aspect of this transaction - whether the power of attorney, whether the securitisation of the transaction with the loan through Slater & Gordon, whether the conveyance of the property - was documented and conducted as a solicitor by Ms Julia Gillard.

"It was done by Ms Julia Gillard on behalf of her then partner in circumstances in which the entire transaction was concealed from her partners."

Senator Brandis's comments came as Ms Gillard was forced to fend off questions in the House of Representatives as to why she did not speak to police about the alleged fraud linked to Mr Wilson.

The Prime Minister was tackled after her assertion in the chamber on Wednesday that "anybody who has an allegation of dishonest conduct should take it to the appropriate authority to be dealt with".

Julie Bishop, also a solicitor, asked why Ms Gillard "didn't inform the appropriate authority of Mr Wilson's fraud when she became aware of it?"

Ms Gillard said that "the appropriate authorities were engaged in this matter".

Ms Gillard's office was contacted last night about Senator Brandis's comments in the Senate but she was en route to Bali.

Roxon debate gagged

AFR 12 Oct 2012, Pamela Williams and Marcus Priest

The opposition mounted a two-pronged attack on Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Nicola Roxon on Thursday with questions over when the government new about former Speaker Peter Slipper’s text messages and revived allegations over the misuse of union funds by Ms Gillard’s former boyfriend.

The federal government shut down debate in Parliament about when Attorney-General Nicola Roxon learnt what was in the crude texts sent by former speaker Peter Slipper.

The opposition claimed a cover-up to stop the text messages being made public was behind the government’s decision to settle its case with Mr Slipper’s former aide, James Ashby, who alleged sexual harassment.

The Australian Financial Review revealed this week that an affidavit and exhibits of Mr Ashby’s phone messages were sent to the Australian Government Solicitor and to Mr Slipper’s lawyers on May 28.

Ms Roxon told Parliament she was aware of the text message material before it was publicly released this week. “That material was with the government’s solicitors,” she said. “I had been briefed on that material and I really can’t provide further information.”

The government and Mr Slipper used some of the messages when they subsequently brought actions against Mr Ashby for abuse of process. The government settled its action with Mr Ashby at the end of September. A judge has reserved his decision in Mr Slipper’s action.

Yesterday, a senior industrial relations lawyer argued that Ms Roxon would need to have read the text-message evidence before instructing government lawyers to attempt to have the sexual harassment case struck out. Gerard Phillips, a partner at Middleton’s, said Ms Roxon’s explanation to the Parliament – that she could not say what date she had seen the text messages because this evidence was legally privileged – was incorrect.

“Reading this evidence is not privileged,” he said. “The advice regarding it is. Also, the bar is exceedingly high to prove abuse of process. It’s exceedingly difficult. You’d need to be pretty sure of the evidence you’ve got.

“She would have had to have read the evidence, or been advised about it, to enable herself to give proper instructions.”

A senior counsel, who declined to be named due to the likelihood of working for the government, said it was impossible to believe that Ms Roxon had not read the evidence before instructing lawyers to seek to strike out the case. She had publicly commented on the case, implying a familiarity with the evidence.

“Who gave the instructions to try to strike out the case? And what material had they viewed beforehand? It’s impossible to believe she hadn’t read it. If she hadn’t read it, how had she formed the view that the case by Ashby was vexatious?” he said.

The messages were posted online by the Federal Court this week. Mr Slipper quit the speakership the next day.

The opposition mounted a two-pronged attack on Ms Roxon and Prime Minister Julia Gillard – both lawyers – yesterday. It raised allegations revived from the 1990s over the misuse of union funds by Ms Gillard’s former boyfriend, Bruce Wilson, formerly an official with the Australian Workers Union.

Invoking a statement this week by the Ms Gillard that anyone with allegations of dishonest conduct should take them to the appropriate authorities, Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop asked: “Did she also inform the appropriate authority of Mr Wilson’s misappropriation of union funds?”

Ms Gillard said the appropriate authorities examined the case.

Ms Bishop said the text messages from Mr Ashby’s phone were provided by his lawyers to the government in May and Ms Roxon had selectively used some to support her claims that the former adviser’s case was an abuse of process.

“Knowing the content of the rest of the test messages, which weren’t about the case but were about Mr Slipper’s attitude towards women, the Attorney-General was saying it was an abuse of process and vexatious,” Ms Bishop said. “They would have assumed that these vile text messages would not have become public until the trial next year. Once they were attached to an affidavit on 3 September, then the government realised that they could become public and immediately sought to settle the action.

“The Attorney-General says they settled the case because of legal costs but that breaches their own guidelines, which unambiguously state that just saving costs is not of itself a sufficient reason to settle a case.”

The Australian Financial Review

Union boss paid $100k in cash towards house

Hedley Thomas, The Australian, October 11, 2012

A UNION official with a modest salary and a big mortgage on his house suddenly produced about $100,000 in cash in 1993 to buy a $230,000 property in Melbourne for Julia Gillard's then boyfriend, the allegedly corrupt union boss Bruce Wilson.

Newly released documents from the legal file for the Australian Workers Union official, Ralph Blewitt, show that in March 1993 a firm of Perth accountants told the Slater & Gordon law firm, where the Prime Minister then worked as a salaried partner, that his gross salary that year was $51,801.

Mr Blewitt's financial capacity from his personal assets and salary was severely constrained at the time. Property searches show that he had bought a house for his family in Western Australia five years earlier for $78,000, and he had a mortgage of almost $75,000. His commitments and income meant he could not have legitimately afforded a property in Melbourne's Kerr Street, Fitzroy.

The documents in the conveyancing file, which was released by Slater & Gordon to Mr Blewitt last month, contain no evidence of any inquiries to determine how Mr Blewitt could afford the Melbourne property. Yet the firm ensured he received a $150,000 loan under the firm's mortgage-lending scheme.

The documents in the file include a number of direct references to Ms Gillard, who was giving legal advice to Mr Blewitt, the AWU and its Victorian head, Mr Wilson, while in an intimate relationship with Mr Wilson that began in late 1991.

Documents show that Ms Gillard went to the early 1993 auction at which Mr Wilson successfully bid on the property, and that she formally witnessed documents that gave him power of attorney over Mr Blewitt to complete the transaction.

Documents show that Ms Gillard, then a solicitor in the "industrial unit" of the firm, helped on aspects of the property purchase and sought information from the Commonwealth Bank about insurance for the property. After Mr Wilson moved into the terrace house, Ms Gillard often visited him there.

Subsequent investigations by police and the AWU's then national head, Ian Cambridge, show that Mr Blewitt raised the $100,000 to put towards the Melbourne property from an entity called the AWU Workplace Reform Association Inc.

Ms Gillard had given legal advice to help establish the association, which was registered in WA. The entity, which purported to be dedicated to workplace safety, was a secret union election fund that improperly raised hundreds of thousands of dollars with invoices for bogus work for the large construction company Thiess.

Ms Gillard, who has repeatedly and strenuously denied wrongdoing, has said she broke off her 3 1/2-year relationship with Mr Wilson when she became aware of his alleged fraudulent behaviour, which became the subject of police investigations in two states amid calls by Mr Cambridge for a royal commission. Six weeks ago, Ms Gillard held an impromptu media conference to respond to the matters after The Australian revealed new facts, including that she left her job at Slater & Gordon after the firm's concerns about her conduct. She hit out at what she described as "misogynists and nutjobs" on the internet, and repeatedly insisted that she had done nothing wrong.

In September 1995, in a tape-recorded interview with Slater & Gordon's senior partner, Peter Gordon, during a secret internal probe into her actions, Ms Gillard described the association that she had helped establish as a "slush fund".

The transcript shows that Mr Gordon asked her: "Did you ever make inquiries as to the source of those funds from (Mr Blewitt's) point of view?"

Ms Gillard: "No, I just, from the discussions I had an understanding that he was going to put a deposit on and that he was interested in then having a negative-gearing arrangement for the rest so that he would get a tax break, so he was, I mean like one ordinarily does, he was going to have a deposit and a mortgage. To the extent that I thought about it, I hadn't made careful inquiry about his financial circumstances, he's a middle-aged man, he's on his second marriage. From what he says it's apparent his first marriage ended in circumstances where he didn't have much by way of ongoing relationship with the children and I understood that to be in the maintenance sense as well as the access sense . . . His wife worked. So, you know, they weren't Mr and Mrs Onassis but they were relatively well-positioned."

Mr Blewitt has told The Australian he never had the personal funds to buy the Melbourne property and he would disclose all he knew in return for an immunity from prosecution. "I could face criminal charges," he said.

The scandal has dogged Ms Gillard's political career amid repeated attacks in state and federal parliament on her legal advice and actions, her connection to the players in the alleged fraud and her close relationship with the AWU's then up-and-coming Mr Wilson at the time Ms Gillard was seeking a political career for herself.

A spokesman for Ms Gillard did not answer questions from The Australian yesterday, saying: "I refer you to the many, many previous answers and statements from the Prime Minister."

OUR PRIME MINISTER IS A CROOK Part IX...and now itís time to go (From Pickering Post)

The Opposition is finally asking questions of Gillard in Parliament regarding Slater & Gordon and Wilson.

“Why didn’t you go to the police when you discovered Bruce Wilson had misappropriated union funds?”, asked Julie Bishop. “This matter has been covered exhaustively in my recent press conference,” replied Gillard.

Julie Bishop in a supplementary question asked essentially the same again. Gillard again replied in exactly the same way.

Bishop’s question is ominous and a precursor to what will be later questions regarding Gillard’s recent statement that, “Not one dollar of union funds must go unaccounted for...”.

Ralph Blewitt is speaking to Michael Smith on tape about Gillard’s involvement in the AWU fraud.

It is apparent that Gillard witnessed Ralph Blewitt’s signature when Blewitt was 3,000 miles away in Perth. Gillard can never practise as a solicitor again nor should she be practising as a Prime Minister now.

Gillard can waste her breath calling me a misogynistic, sexist nutjob all she likes, it does not resolve the issues she and a delinquent media will sooner or later need to face.

Massive fraud involves Wilson, Gillard, and Thiess Contractors. Gillard and Wilson conspired to steal almost $1 million from the AWU’s "Goldfields Fatal Accident and Death Fund". This money was donated from union members to financially assist bereaved families of union members killed in the course of employment. No-one knows where this money went.

The scam wasn’t discovered until the incoming AWU boss, Tim Daly, noticed payments made to purchase two holiday units. Tim Daly called in the police but no-one was prepared to testify.

Wilson “extorted” hundreds of thousands from Thiess Contractors in WA and Vic. Thiess WA informed police by letter that they would not cooperate in the investigation and would not lay a complaint. [When the FOI letter was posted on Facebook it promptly disappeared.]

Thiess’ WA Manager, Joe Trio, is Wilson’s brother-in-law. Listed as a director of Thiess is the ALP’s feminist stalwart, Ros Kelly, former wife of News Ltd’s Paul Kelly. It starts to smell.

The odour becomes stronger when Bill Shorten and his lover Nicola Roxon enter stage Left. The money Wilson and Gillard defrauded from the Vic AWU sent union bosses Kernohan, joint national secretary, Ian Cambridge, and even Qld’s Bill Ludwig into a frenzy. They wanted the money back.

Shorten (later to become AWU national secretary) was adamant that the Union should not prefer charges. He demanded the whole affair be buried for the sake of the AWU and all involved. At the time he wrote a letter to that effect to Ludwig [we do not have a copy].

The AWU and Slater & Gordon have since refused to cooperate with police with Slater & Gordon claiming privilege.

Ian Cambridge demanded a Royal Commission and wrote a damning affidavit with the assistance of Rob McClelland. But Cambridge backed away from his claims after he was assured of future reward.

Kernohan stuck to his guns on behalf of his members and has been suffering ever since. He has been constantly threatened, mercilessly bashed and sent bullets in the mail. To this day he is still in hiding.

Co-conspirator in the fraud and equity partner in Slater & Gordon, Bernard Murphy, hurriedly departed the firm, at the same time as Gillard was sacked, and shifted to the other Left wing lawyers, Maurice Blackburn, taking Gillard’s file with him.

The file was left in the safe care of Nicola Roxon. Roxon and Shorten were working at Maurice Blackburn at the same time.

Ralph Blewitt confirms Bernard Murphy’s complicity in the fraud.

Gillard remained unemployed for almost six months eventually allowing her practising certificate to lapse.

After many attempts, Gillard won pre-selection for the safe Labor seat of Lalor in 1998. In 2001 she was elevated to a shadow portfolio. She became deputy PM after Kevin Rudd’s victory in 2007.

But Rudd was always on borrowed time. Gillard was of the socialist Left and backroom deals were done with the NSW Right faction well ahead of the hated Rudd’s knifing. Incredibly, she was now Australia’s first female PM in waiting.

In her excitement she made the fatal error of telling her staff what was about to happen. They promptly started on her acceptance speech which gave lie to her claim that she knew nothing of the coup until that fateful night.

Gillard now had a problem. Her dirty past needed burying and she needed to shore up her position with favours.

Bernard Murphy was promoted to a Judge of the Federal Court. Bill Shorten was promoted to Industrial Relations, Mark Abib and Stephen Conroy (both of whom arranged for her to shift from the socialist Left faction) were promoted to Cabinet. Bill Ludwig’s son, Joe Ludwig, was promoted in the Senate. Ian Cambridge was promoted, unqualified, to a judge on the Bench of FWA. So, all was in place...

Except for traitor Rob McClelland. Aha, he presented Gillard with the final solution. Attorney General, Rob McClelland, a Queen’s Council had to go to make way for the pedestrian and rather dimwitted lawyer, Nicola Roxon.

Now, all the ducks were in order for Gillard’s tenure as PM.


As Robert Burns once said, “The best laid plans of mice and men oft’ go astray”.

Gillard’s brutal and bloody rise has gone astray for want of rewarding three people. Blewitt, Kernohan and McLelland. They weren’t on Gillard’s payroll... they refused to be.

All three have suffered and are ensuring Gillard also suffers in the final few moves of what is now an end game Gillard will not survive.

Double standards a stunning display

Dennis Shanahan, Political editor, The Australian, October 12, 2012

THE Gillard government is continuing to gag debate and stifle attempts to air the issues surrounding the commonwealth's decision to settle its dispute over sexual harassment with Peter Slipper's former staffer James Ashby.

While Nicola Roxon seems to have pulled in her horns as Attorney-General after overstepping the mark as the first law officer in siding with one litigant in a civil case of harassment, the government continues to throw a blanket of spurious excuses over parliamentary debate of her behaviour.

In yet another breathtaking display of double standards in relation to Slipper's position as Speaker, the government is pretending nothing can be said about the case despite Roxon's own repeated public interventions.

Yesterday, it simply used the gag as a tactic to kill debate on Roxon's "abuse of process" and political manipulation.

In her first full day as Speaker, Anna Burke demonstrated a solid understanding of parliamentary principles and the separation of powers, as well as a willingness not to be bullied by Anthony Albanese as leader of the house.

For days, the government has argued that it can't talk about the texts Slipper sent Ashby - all now on the public record and the basis of Slipper's resignation as Speaker - because a judge had reserved his decision in the case between Ashby and his former employer.

Yesterday, there were outraged cries of "sub judice" directed at Julie Bishop, when she asked Roxon questions and then moved a motion to force the Attorney-General to speak.

Blithely ignoring Roxon's public outbursts and favouring of Slipper in court last week, Albanese argued the matter was before the courts and could not be aired in parliament.

Burke, recognising that a judge can't be influenced and the primacy of parliament, correctly ruled that the motion could be put.

Labor's response was to gag the debate, knowing that it would lose.

After supporting and defending Slipper for months, protecting his job even after he knew he was gone and ignoring Roxon's own inappropriate behaviour, Labor tactically killed the debate to limit political damage.

PM's gender war ends in a spectacular self-wedge

Dennis Shanahan, Political Editor, The Australian, October 12, 2012

AFTER starting the class war denigrating mining bosses and billionaires, the Gillard government has launched a gender war and Julia Gillard has appointed herself the gender-general and commander-in-chief.

The Prime Minister has become the political arbiter of sexist and misogynist behaviour and offers judgments and condemnation accordingly. Embarrassingly, Gillard has already discovered that means being held to your own standards and being forced to condemn your own side.

Explaining the reasons behind her furious attack on Tony Abbott as a misogynist during her parliamentary defence of Peter Slipper's position as Speaker, Gillard said: "The motivation for my speech on Monday was, I'm just going to call out sexism and misogyny where I see it."

Gillard and her ministers were desperately fending off charges of double standards, accusing the Opposition Leader of being a misogynist while refusing to support the motion to remove Slipper as Speaker after the exposure of a trove of degrading texts that he conceded had ended his career as Speaker.

Being caught without a strategy to deal with the unravelling of Slipper's position and determined to protect Slipper to get his vote on key legislation later, the government resorted to attacking Abbott.

Without any knowledge of the Coalition's plans to try to remove the Speaker or any hint independent MPs Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott were going to try to force him to resign, Labor framed a case of misogyny and sexism against Abbott on Tuesday. Leader of the house Anthony Albanese called a press conference minutes before question time and set out a charge sheet for Abbott. This is the case according to Albanese: "I want to give just a select four quotes that Tony Abbott made as either a minister or as Leader of the Opposition. In 1998, Tony Abbott, then a government frontbencher in the Howard government, did a very revealing round table that included Michael Costa, then a minister from NSW. Tony Abbott said this: 'If it's true ... that men have more power, generally speaking, than women, is that a bad thing?' "

Albanese continued: "Abbott: 'what if men are by physiology or temperament more adapted to exercise authority or to issue commands?' Tony Abbott then went on of course to be the health minister. And in March 2004, when a minister in the Howard government, he had this to say: 'Abortion is the easy way out.' Tony Abbott, of course, in more recent times as Opposition Leader, has assumed that housewives are the people who do the ironing. In his attitude towards the Prime Minister, he said on 25 February, 2011: 'I think if the Prime Minister wants to make, politically speaking, an honest woman of herself'."

This was Albanese's case, picked up by Gillard in parliament and prosecuted by Jenny Macklin, Tanya Plibersek and Penny Wong. Based on this argument, Macklin said on radio that Abbott - the father of three daughters - did "hate" women and girls. When asked, "So he has a hatred or dislike of women or girls?", Macklin said: "Well, all of the way that he behaves shows that that's true."

Plibersek said Abbott's "language" was the same as Slipper's - who grossly referred to women's genitalia in text messages - and said he should do what Slipper had done and resign.

Wong said: "I think Mr Slipper has done the right thing in standing down ... but I would say he's had the decency to do a couple of things Tony Abbott has failed to do, and that is apologise for his sexist comments and take responsibility for them by resigning."

This is the government's case; its judgment and sentence on Abbott, and Gillard's own defence for keeping Slipper in his job after even he decided it was untenable.

By equating Abbott's transgressions with Slipper's, the government was attempting to justify its decision to oppose the Coalition's motion to remove the Speaker because Abbott hadn't done the decent thing and resigned. It would seem too that the charge of hating women is probably too extreme to carry the day, particularly since Slipper said he thought Abbott was a man of good character and former Labor minister Con Sciacca thinks "it's just not right".

The strategy was also to continue to harp on Abbott's "problem with women" and associate him with slurs and despicable comments others had made about Gillard - notably Alan Jones's notorious remark that her father had died of shame.

It was also designed to inoculate Gillard from criticism so that anyone who criticised her would be lumped in with the "misogynists and cranks" who anonymously libelled and reviled the Prime Minister online.

Gillard's feisty defence of Labor's position propping up Slipper was designed to fit into the frame Albanese had set before question time on Tuesday and was then buttressed by Macklin, Plibersek and Wong.

In parliamentary terms, Gillard's performance was one of her best; it had controlled anger, emotion and conviction as well as her trademark withering put-downs and ripostes.

But the judgment among Labor MPs is mixed. The Prime Minister's office believes pursuing the line attacking Abbott as a misogynist, encouraging social media to debate the issue and getting international exposure for a video clip will attract female voters to Labor and entrench opposition to Abbott.

Others believe there is an overemphasis on social media, a preoccupation with a gender war that does not appeal to all voters or indeed all women, and that Labor's real difficulty is Gillard's problem with blue-collar working men.

Prime ministerial advisers were cock-a-hoop, boasting that it was the first time an Aussie PM's video clip had gone viral. In fact, working families would be more interested in the rise in unemployment yesterday, but in any case it's not the first time an Australian leader has "gone viral".

Kevin Rudd's video clips went viral twice and actually made prime-time television - the first was Rudd on the backbench picking his ear wax and appearing to eat it and the second was a leaked video of Rudd as prime minister in an expletive-ridden explosion trying to record a Chinese script.

Judgment has yet to be passed on whether the week's events will be a plus or minus for Abbott but it's clear some Labor MPs think this week has been another disaster for Gillard and that a viral video is no compensation.

A somewhat typical Albanese ploy. When the government perceives itself to be on thin ice where a motion for debate is concerned the policy is to attack Tony Abbott and to hell with the actual motion before the House. For Albanese to liken Abbott's transgressions such as ironing and power with the obscene and degrading texts by Peter Slipper is in itself an obscene simile and Albanese should apologise to Mr Abbott for such a statement. Accolades for the PM for her vitriolic speech against Tony Abbott just indicate an ignorance of those journalists concerning the situation and psyche of the Australian electorate.

Her gender or her judgment

Editorial The Australian, October 12, 2012

TWO explanations have been offered for Julia Gillard's torrid political week. One is that she is suffering for her gender under the onslaught of a sexist, misogynistic campaign led by an unreconstructed Tony Abbott. The second, more plausible, interpretation is that she is making a hash of the job, and is being held to account for poor political judgment exemplified by her defence of ex-Speaker Peter Slipper when it was plain to everyone else that his text message manner disqualified him from office.

The Prime Minister's claim to be the victim of sexism is unconvincing, unwise and unbecoming. When the Prime Minister accuses the Opposition Leader of showing disrespect to her as a woman by looking at his watch, the argument has gone beyond the absurd. Fair-minded people will have trouble recognising Ms Gillard as a "victim" of anything or anybody: her power is not unfettered, but she does occupy the most senior political office in the land. To resort to the politics of finger wagging demeans her office and diminishes her authority.

The tactic should be seen for what it is: a crude attempt to put Ms Gillard beyond scrutiny by casting her critics as chauvinists. Indeed, to follow the logic of Finance Minister Penny Wong, to challenge an allegation of sexism is, in itself, sexism. Senator Wong told the ABC's 7.30 on Wednesday: "These are all tactics to silence women when we speak out about what is really happening." We can assure the minister that it is not out of any conscious prejudice against those of either sex that we declare Labor's parliamentary tactics since the 2010 election deeply and fundamentally flawed. We recommended then that the Prime Minister should defy her party's delicate majority and govern boldly in the interests of the nation. Good policy and strong leadership draw their own support. Instead, the Gillard government has been obsessed with political tactics on the floor of the house, playing myopic, small-time, sectional politics with the unambitious goal of staying in power. It was manipulation of the minutiae that put Mr Slipper in the Speaker's chair in the first place, and it was the same Lilliputian manoeuvring that caused Ms Gillard to cling to Mr Slipper when it was plain his time was up.

Previous prime ministers have eschewed the politics of division, attempting instead to govern for the whole nation from the centre. In contrast, Ms Gillard, egged on by Wayne Swan, has gone to war with much of the nation. They have declared war on the rich, on the residents of Sydney's North Shore. Lately they have snubbed the listeners of Alan Jones's popular radio show. Now Ms Gillard has declared war on men in general, attacking Mr Abbott for what most reasonable people would see as minor breaches of gender etiquette. If an aversion to ironing is now to be considered prima facie evidence of sexism, then Mr Abbott will not be alone in the dock. Such trivial arguments ridicule the genuine cause of gender equality for which many committed social reformers have fought long and hard.

When Ms Gillard became leader of her party, her status as our first female Prime Minister was acknowledged, but only in passing, since it seemed the most natural development in the world. Ms Gillard and her supporters are right to assert that she should not face additional scrutiny simply because she is a woman. Neither, however, should she expect there to be any less. And that, if she will pardon the expression, might require the Prime Minister on occasions to muscle up. Australian politics, whether practised by men or women, is not for the faint-hearted.

Misogyny war has no winner

The Age October 12, 2012, Michelle Grattan, Political editor

The PM may have made a hero of herself to some feminists but she did the wrong thing in trying to protect the sexist Peter Slipper.

JOHN Howard had his history and culture wars. Now Julia Gillard has the gender war. Or the ''misogyny wars'' as the extraordinary, bitter, unedifying clash is being dubbed.

Although the fighting has been building, this week's intensity was a shock. The government operates on the basis that Tony Abbott's weak point is his ''woman problem'', which shows in polling. Many female voters find his style excessively aggressive and some of his attitudes (such as on abortion) unacceptable.

But it took the brawl over Peter Slipper to turn conventional battle into nuclear conflict. In Slipper we do seem to have a model misogynist. His offensive description of female genitalia and other unsavory messages reek with contempt for women.

Abbott used the revelation of Slipper's texts to launch a parliamentary attempt to remove him as Speaker. The motion failed; opposing it, the government essentially said the sexism issue was less important or urgent than observing due legal process. But for country independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, the tipping point had been reached. While the debate was on, they twisted Slipper's arm: they wouldn't humiliate him in the House but he had to quit immediately afterwards.

The political demise of the little-respected Slipper is not so surprising. But Gillard's speech in the debate about his future was a seminal moment.

Rarely do we see a leader so genuinely unleashed in excoriating an opposition leader. ''I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man … Not now, not ever … If he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he does not need a motion in the House of Representatives - he needs a mirror,'' she said, in a performance full of anger.

Two things were going on here, one full of personal emotion, the other calculatingly political.

Gillard has recently lost her much-loved father, a dreadful time in the life of anyone close to a parent. Coping is made more difficult for a leader in the public eye, let alone having to endure the odious comment of Alan Jones (Tony Abbott's friend) that her father died of shame because of his lying daughter.

Gillard was ready to unload her misogyny tirade whatever Abbott said in Tuesday's debate, but she wouldn't have expected his echo of Jones, when he referred (he swears without thinking) to ''another day of shame for a government which should already have died of shame''.

The PM's outburst against Abbott reflects her fury at the often-disgusting sexist campaign against her in parts of the blogosphere.

But labelling Abbott a ''misogynist' - defined as hater of women, therefore a dramatic step up from the milder ''sexist'' tag - also has a deliberate political edge. Jones' crassness and the huge social media backlash against him gave the government an opportunity to twist further the latest knife it had put into Abbott after the story appeared about his alleged intimidatory behaviour (that he denies) towards a woman at Sydney University.

Gillard's speech has gone viral internationally, struck a chord locally, and divided commentators and women. Feminist Anne Summers lambasted press gallery journalists who criticised it, saying they were totally ''out of kilter with how so many of the rest of us reacted''.

Why the divide? It's partly because the commentators judged Gillard's performance on broad criteria, and placed greater weight on the PM's contradiction of protecting the sexist Slipper (on whatever ground) while accusing Abbott of misogyny.

But feminists and a portion of female voters were applauding what they saw as a feisty woman finally hitting back at her tormenters. (Summers recently gave a lecture about the sexist campaign against the PM.)

Some believe (I think wrongly) it is totally appropriate to toss Abbott in with the serious misogyny nasties. For some women who have experienced severe sexism, Abbott may have become a surrogate for the men who have treated them badly.

Measurement of how Gillard's outburst has played awaits the polls. A few in the Rudd camp were trying to stir leadership speculation based on her ''lack of judgment'', but there was no evidence it was translating into a shift to Kevin Rudd.

Wind back one week and Margie Abbott was out defending her husband against allegations of his ''woman problem''. It remains to be seen whether bringing Mrs Abbott onto the stage will have given Abbott some inoculation against the misogyny onslaught or highlighted his problem. Abbott says he won't allow Gillard's attack to force him to stop muscling up. But he's aware he must be careful. A word or two, literally, out of place can magnify into a political storm.

Gillard might be cheered and flattered by New Yorker managing editor Amelia Lester writing that ''After his performance last week, supporters of President Obama, watching Gillard cut through the disingenuousness and feigned moral outrage of her opponent to call him out for his own personal prejudice, hypocrisy, and aversion to facts, might be wishing their man would take a lesson from Australia.'' (The article became the most popular on the website.)

But the fact remains that Gillard did the wrong thing in embracing Slipper last year and again in resisting his ditching. She might have made a hero of herself to some feminists by flailing Abbott, but she betrayed feminism in trying to protect Slipper (that she condemned his messages is not enough mitigation). The clarion call that so appealed to those praising her was another confusing message for many who find her hard to read.

As Gillard and Abbott flew off late yesterday to today's Bali commemoration, each must have been unsettled by this week in the political gutter. It's hard for anyone to keep a foothold when walking in so much muck.

Complicated Canberra: drama compels, numbers count

AFR 12 Oct 2012, Laura Tingle

‘Look at it this way,” one Labor figure muses. “It is quite something to stand up to defend the indefensible and turn it into a stunning victory for feminism.”

Everyone in the universe appears to have a view about the Prime Minister’s speech on Tuesday. You either loved her sashimi-chef job on Tony Abbott, his views on women and his attacks on her, or you loathed them.

But the questions in Canberra – on both sides of politics – about the drama of Tuesday concern the events which were the platform for the speech, rather than the speech.

The social media raged that the Canberra press gallery “missed the point” on Tuesday by focusing on the drama surrounding the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Peter Slipper, rather than understanding the PM’s speech was a “defining” moment in history.

Well, the speech is out there for all to see and enjoy. But dismissing the events that surrounded it ignores the fact that the words were but part of the political and human drama of a government trying to hold on to its numbers, and MPs trying to protect a fragile human being.

There is nothing pretty or inspiring about such dramas. Voters see all the manoeuvring as a circus of the macabre, replete with infighting, petty corruption and moral laxity, and are turned off.

But such events also have the potential to affect who holds the numbers in the House of Representatives and, therefore, government.

And those events, and how people on both sides of politics responded to them, told us as much about our political leaders, and about the boundaries of politics these days, as Julia Gillard’s stand on misogyny.

In an environment where we have few serious policy debates, federal politics has taken on the tone of a soap opera. Personal lives, personal behaviour and personal histories have become the subjects of dispute.

And for the second time in five months federal parliamentarians were quietly banding together to support one of their own, with the fear of suicide palpable in the air.

Craig Thomson threw the issue out there for all to see when he addressed the House in May on allegations he was facing from his time as Health Services Union national secretary.

“Go cut your wrists or, better still, hang yourself,” he began his speech, reading out some of the messages he, his family and staff had received.

This week, the danger of suicide, the view that the Parliament risked becoming a kangaroo court and more pragmatic considerations of looking after the numbers all became mashed up in a complex knot of motivation swirling around the future of Peter Slipper.

Slipper stood down in April from the job he had wanted all his life because he was accused of sexually harassing a male staffer. But by this week the allegation he faced had morphed into one of a bad attitude towards women which made him unsuitable for the job.

From Slipper’s perspective, the accusations he has faced, and the devastating consequences they have had on him and his family, are part of a political conspiracy by his political rivals in Queensland.

As a result, according to one source, “the idea he would just tap the mat without a catalyst is just horse shit”.

From the perspective of senior figures in the government, and on the crossbenches, it was clear Slipper could never return to the chair. But Slipper had been elected by the Parliament. It was not as if the government could quietly dispense with him.

Carried by a sense of being wronged, of being set up, Slipper’s head was not in any place that – even on Tuesday when new text messages were published – recognised the political realities, or even that it might be a good idea to curtail an ambitious diary of international travels as Speaker.

Apart from anything else, the selective use of the texts only created a new reason for anger.

For example, it was reported on Tuesday that Slipper had called a female Liberal MP, Sophie Mirabella, “an ignorant botch”.

The record of text messages on James Ashby’s phone filed in the Federal Court shows that it was Ashby who used the wrongly typed phrase in a discussion about why the Coalition had lost the vote on the introduction of a carbon price last year, at a time Slipper was still a Coalition MP – but sitting as deputy speaker – and had “sinbinned” Mirabella, who could then not take part in the vote.

Ashby says: “I know there’s a job to be done, it just seemed like the most important day we’ve seen in parliament for a very long time.”

“She should have behaved,” Slipper says.

“Yes I agree she did push it too far. But did she do it because you’re mates or she’s just an ignorant botch?” Ashby says.

Slipper: “Bright, though she loses the plot! Perhaps as you say ‘an ignorant botch’.”

In context, it looks more like Slipper making a joke about Ashby’s bad typing than a nasty thought of his own.

So while Gillard used the opportunity given to her by Abbott – his use of the phrase “died of shame” in speaking to his motion that Slipper be sacked – the Leader of the House, Anthony Albanese and crossbench MPs Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott camped in Slipper’s office trying to make him understand what confronted him.

Both the government and the crossbench MPs who voted against Abbott’s motion argue that to have sacked Slipper – who would have had no chance to defend himself – would be a dangerous precedent that imperilled future speakers.

After Slipper finally gave a gracious speech of resignation to the House, a flow of MPs from both sides of politics came to his office to offer their support.

While the general presumption in Canberra has been that Slipper will not leave Parliament, some who spoke to him on Tuesday night say he canvassed the idea, though perhaps was constrained by his hatred of Mal Brough, and the thought that Brough might win the seat he left.

A usually reasonable blogger commented yesterday that “when the gallery patronise the public by saying ‘you have to understand the context’, they miss the point. We understand. We just don’t care.”

Well somebody has to. Politics and human beings are more complex than any headline can ever convey. A long-overdue stand for women for many is a product of many conflicting pressures for some. The Prime Minister may have defended the indefensible this week but may have done so for utterly defensible reasons.

For the rest of the country, it was a week about Julia Gillard finally hitting back. In Canberra, it was much more complicated.

Laura Tingle is the AFR’s political editor.

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