return to letters list

Further press commentary on the events of last week suggest that most of the Canberra Press Gallery and other journalists remain highly critical of the handling by Gillard and co. As some have pointed out, while her strategy (or rather that advised by McTernan, a former “dirt” adviser to Tony Blair) has included an attempt to attract international support by sending to various sympathetic overseas media a video of Gillard’s “misogynist” address, there are no votes there. Favourable responses appear to have come from expected quarters, such as an editorial in the Guardian. In Australia even Tingle has to admit Gillard had a pyrrhic victory (Michelle Grattan did not contribute to today’s Age).

Various reports suggest that, behind the scenes, some Labor MPs are letting journos know that they are “worried” about the reaction. If the Labor’s polling drops, which seems likely, Gillard will have to resign.

In the articles/commentary below the emphases are mine.

Des Moore


Labor is chasing its left flank into cyberspace

Editorial, The Australian, October 13, 2012

EVEN this far out from the election, we can make the call: Julia Gillard will increase Labor's majority in the constituency of Twitter.

The pity for the Prime Minister is that the social media platform is not an official electorate and does not return a single member in the 150-seat House of Representatives. An even greater shame for the government is how the focus of its MPs and strategists on playing to the Twitter audience has helped drag it off course, further from the voters in the real seats it needs to win.

Ms Gillard's passionate, articulate and -- it must be said -- ultimately hypocritical parliamentary spray at Tony Abbott was a hit online. So popular, the Labor strategists privately boasted, that it went viral (with a bit of help from them) overseas. Yes, a feisty female national leader berating a man was popular among young activists unaware of the context. The Prime Minister's attack was made in defence of (or, perhaps more correctly, in order to distract from her defence of) her hand-chosen Speaker, who had been exposed for sending offensively sexist messages to his staff. Ms Gillard chose to assume victim status for herself when the real victims were a female opposition MP and women in general. And the Prime Minister tried to prosecute her opponent as a misogynist on questionable evidence, while standing by a discredited Peter Slipper, who had undermined the dignity and authority of the Speaker's chair with bilious comments about women. Yet on Twitter, people such as journalism lecturer Julie Posetti boasted about the popularity of the "landmark feminist speech" calling it "utterly historic". The twitterati are, of course, entitled to their views but the government's problem is that it dips into this leftist, activist echo chamber and seeks its validation, encouraging itself down a futile path.

Labor was wrong to cry victim to media bias last year and launch an attack on the so-called hate media. The Prime Minister's Office was wrong to seek to exploit racial divisions by fomenting indigenous resentment on Australia Day. The government was wrong to justify its revenue measures by declaring class warfare against the nation's mining magnates. Even when it sensibly decided to differentiate from its Greens alliance partners, it chose to do so through an attack strategy rather than policy distinctions. And now it has been wrong to initiate a gender war.

Apart from revealing a government preoccupied with its own political self-interest rather than unifying the nation behind a plan, Labor's phoney wars have exposed a high degree of hypocrisy. After flicking the switch to meltdown in response to radio broadcaster Alan Jones's tasteless after-dinner jibe about the Prime Minister's father, the government has been left to explain a sexist slur by a comedian against the Opposition Leader and his chief of staff, at a dinner attended by the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and other frontbenchers. This is the ridiculous standard Labor's antics have delivered -- a standard it can't even hope to live up to, especially when its traditional blue-collar union base is likely to be less precious about blue jokes than federal parliament's "handbag hit-squad" who have graduated from the febrile feminism of student politics. Before long, we may need a joint standing committee on politically correct after-dinner speechmaking. There has been enough combat. It must be time to get back to running the country.

Both sides of politics have much to prove. As we noted during the week, it is as though the nation has ended up with two opposition leaders, when what we really need is a leader prepared to flatter the intelligence of the electorate, and engage in a debate and program of much-needed economic reform.

Australian politics, as this newspaper consistently reminds our politicians, should be a contest for the middle ground -- between the centre-left and the centre-right. If the outer flank of the Right is overrepresented in Jones's 2GB radio audience, then Twitter tends to reflect the opposite extreme. It would be an unwise and misguided national leader who set his or her compass to either group -- or allowed either group to shape their policies. They should be viewed more as the port and starboard lights, ensuring the ship remains in the channel between them. In electoral terms, following the jejune fashions of social media might help Labor win the inner-city seats of Melbourne or Sydney -- but to remain in government it must hold urban seats such as Lindsay, Rankin, Corangamite and Kingston. Ms Gillard can ill-afford to waste time and political capital shoring up her left flank when it is Labor's right flank that is bleeding to the Coalition. And quite apart from the interests of the ALP, the mainstream is exactly where the nation needs its federal government to focus its attention and resources.

While the young activists who advise Labor -- and whose politics is more akin to the Greens than mainstream Labor -- encourage the government to play to a feminist, animal rights, gay marriage or Abbott-bashing cheer squad on social media, the mainstream is still yearning for competent and trustworthy government. Instead of seeing Ms Gillard feted by an ill-informed editorial in The Guardian over her "splendid diatribe" directed at the "Mad Monk", voters might prefer to hear her explain how she will pay for her education plans, fund her disability scheme, secure our borders and return the budget to surplus. Confronted with that task, we fear her advisers might ask: "Is there an app for that?"


Gillard reveals true nature in playing gender card

SMH, October 10, 2012, Paul Sheehan, Sydney Morning Herald columnist

In this fiery speech that has been reported around the word , Julia Gillard accuses Opposition Leader Tony Abbott of sexism and misogyny.

The dictionary defines misogyny as "hatred of women". It is an ugly word, an ugly accusation and an ugly fact of life. It is now the word that has driven Australian politics to its lowest point in decades. Yesterday, the mask fell away, the curtain dropped, the real driver of the politics of personal abuse was revealed.

After sending out two attack dogs, Gutter and Sewer, to do the dirty work, after hiding behind two political zombies, Insufferable and Unspeakable, to stay in power, after using the Minister for Innuendo and the Compromise-General to play the gender card, the mask has finally dropped away to reveal the driver of the politics of hate in Australia.

The mask fell at exactly 2.42pm in the House of Representatives. Looking on were the member for Gutter, Anthony Albanese, the member for Sewer, Wayne Swan, the Minister for Innuendo, Tanya Plibersek, and the Compromise-General, Nicola Roxon, and the independents who will do anything to avoid facing their electorates, Mr Insufferable, Robert Oakeshott, and his fellow regional zombie, Mr Unspeakable, Tony Windsor.

Someone had to set Gutter and Sewer loose. Someone directed Innuendo and Compromise to play the gender card. Someone paid the bill for Insufferable and Unspeakable. Someone's authority still rests on the vote of Craig Thomson. And someone had to approve making Peter Slipper the Speaker despite his being manifestly disrespected by either side of the house, a low point of political opportunism.

At 2.42 pm on Tuesday that someone rose to speak. The mask fell away. Julia Gillard came out snarling. The Parliament had before it a great issue, the dignity of the house itself, which had been traduced by the scandal that had attached itself to Slipper.

Instead of directly addressing the issue of a discredited speakership which had become engulfed in an expensive and degrading legal action that did no credit to anyone involved, least of all the Attorney-General, the Prime Minister wasted no timing in using misdirection and personal abuse.

She even invoked the name of dead father: "My father did not die of shame!" she thundered across the dispatch box.

No one in the Parliament ever said he did. Tony Abbott had said exactly the opposite when he spoke of her father.

Why tip a bucket of bilgewater into a fierce wind? Why invoke the accusation of misogyny, hatred of women, against an Opposition Leader whose chief of staff, Peta Credlin, is famously one of the most formidable woman in politics, whose mostly female staff is devoted to their boss and who has raised three daughters?

But then why did she mislead the Australian people before the last election on the carbon tax? Why did she leave her law firm under a cloud? Why did she shaft her own leader? Why did she depose a prime minister who had a mandate from the people? Why has she methodically deployed the politics of personal abuse?

The answer was manifest in her speech, recorded in Hansard. Here are some highlights:

"I hope the Leader of the Opposition has a piece of paper and he is writing out his resignation, because 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…"

"I was offended when the Leader of the Opposition went outside the front of the Parliament and stood next to a sign that said 'Ditch the witch'. I was offended when the Leader of the Opposition stood next to a sign that described me as a 'man's bitch'. I was offended by those things.

"It is misogyny, sexism, every day from this Leader of the Opposition. Every day, in every way, across the time the Leader of the Opposition has sat in that chair and I have sat in this chair, that is all we have heard from him

"I indicate to the Leader of the Opposition that the government is not dying of shame — and my father did not die of shame. What the Leader of the Opposition should be ashamed of is his performance in this Parliament and the sexism he brings with it …"

"This Parliament should today reject this motion, and the Leader of the Opposition should think seriously about the role of women in public life and in Australian society — because we are entitled to a better standard than this."

Yes we are.

Editors Note: This story was changed post-publication and, in the 9th paragraph, a reference to the Prime Minister was deleted.


PM's speech goes from bad-ass to bad

Denis Shanahan, Political Editor, The Australian, October 13, 2012

JULIA Gillard's viral success of more than 100,000 internet hits on the video of her parliamentary attack on Tony Abbott has soured as people argue over the substance of her speech.

After positive comments on websites from New York to London, the Prime Minister's defence on Tuesday of ex-Speaker Peter Slipper has attracted criticism for double standards, not protecting an alleged victim of sexual harassment and undermining feminist principles.

People have started to ask "Why are we celebrating this?" and complaining Labor has cut support to single mothers.

On Wednesday, Ms Gillard's advisers pointed to the global interest in the 15-minute video and positive international response to balance criticism of the speech in the Australian media.

The ABC's YouTube clip of Ms Gillard was viewed more than 120,000 times by 6pm Wednesday and was picked up by blogs such as Jezebel and the websites of The New Yorker and London's Daily Telegraph.

Jezebel's coverage began saying: "Australia's prime minister Julia Gillard is one badass motherf . . ker. In an impassioned 15-minute smackdown in front of the House of Representatives, the country's first female leader gave a scathing speech calling out opposition leader Tony Abbott's extremely misogynistic comments, actions, views on abortion and single women, all while pointing in his face. She basically ripped him a new asshole," the blog said.

It was "fun", "political theatre" and Ms Gillard could teach US President Barack Obama a lesson.

While the Prime Minister's office claimed a success for Ms Gillard on the international coverage, some Labor MPs believed there was too much emphasis on Twitter and blog sites and not enough on domestic media reaction.

On Thursday, John Chalmers, group communications manager at Buzz-Numbers, warned that while the Australian public had largely lauded the Prime Minister's attack, on Twitter, Facebook and other sites, "our analysis suggests support for Gillard may change as the public connects Gillard's contradictory stance".

As the tone of the commentary changed, Jezebel started a debate on double standards.

"Gypsydoe" asked "Why is Gillard defending a person who may have sexually harassed a man? Why are we celebrating this? I'm confused."

An angry male said that: "A woman unhinged, losing the plot and throwing an irrelevant hissy fit in parliament is not 'an impassioned speech'."

A female commentator said: "No, Julia, nobody should be lecturing your government on sexism. Nobody at all. It just seems odd that, no matter who's in power, it always seems to be poor and working class women hit first and hardest when the 'austerity' cosh gets pulled out."

On the Daily Telegraph's website, Brendan O'Neill, editor of online magazine Spiked, sparked a run of critical remarks from Australians living in London. O'Neill said the speech was "essentially a gratuitously ostentatious display of Gillard's own emotional sensitivity to certain words and ideas".

"The speech was basically a big, massive offence-fest, a public display of Gillard's ability and willingness to take offence, both personal offence and proxy offence on behalf of the women of Australia, at every slight or slur that she overhears," he said.


Tussle over mystery file on AWU slush fund

Hedley Thomas, The Australian, October 13, 2012

A SENSITIVE file at the heart of a union fraud scandal that caused top partners in the legal firm of Slater & Gordon to lose trust and confidence in their colleague, Julia Gillard, is the subject of a new tug-of-war over whether its contents can ever be disclosed -- if they can even be found.

The file's documents would relate to the legal advice, notes and correspondence produced by Ms Gillard in her role, as a solicitor at the firm, in the 1992 establishment of the controversial Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association.

This "slush fund", as Ms Gillard has since termed it, was used by her then boyfriend, AWU official Bruce Wilson, and his friend, union bagman Ralph Blewitt, to allegedly defraud companies of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

About $100,000 from the slush fund went towards the purchase in Mr Blewitt's name of a fashionable Melbourne terrace house in Fitzroy in which Mr Wilson lived. Slater & Gordon handled the conveyancing and helped to manage a loan to Mr Blewitt to complete the purchase. The firm has denied it knew at the time that union funds were improperly used. Ms Gillard, who has repeatedly and strenuously denied any wrongdoing, said in an impromptu media conference in August that she "provided advice, as the association was established. I then knew absolutely nothing about its workings until allegations about its workings became the subject of discussion within the AWU and then more broadly."

The Weekend Australian can reveal that Mr Blewitt, who was Ms Gillard's client at the time and the person authorised to apply to incorporate the association in Western Australia, has been unable to inspect or obtain the file from Slater & Gordon. The firm has released to Mr Blewitt a separate file for the conveyancing in the Fitzroy property purchase.

Mr Blewitt's lawyers have made several requests to the firm seeking the controversial file. Slater & Gordon has asked one of Australia's most prestigious law firms, Arnold Bloch Leibler, to manage the matter.

That firm's senior partner, Leon Zwier, said last month: "Our client can only provide documents which are the property of Mr Blewett (sic). It is not sufficient to claim that any documents we hold concerning (the association) belong to your client simply because he was at some point an office holder of the association."

But last night Slater & Gordon head Andrew Grech told The Weekend Australian: "We have undertaken a thorough search through our archives and failed to locate a 'file' in relation to the AWU Workplace Reform Association. In the event that Mr Blewitt or his lawyers are able to provide us with information which enables us to establish that there are in fact such a file or documentary records to which he is entitled, we will of course, use our best endeavours to assist him in obtaining those documents from third parties, if they exist . . . Any suggestion that we are withholding information from former clients to protect the Office of the Prime Minister is both highly defamatory and demonstrably wrong." He said the firm had provided what information and documents it could "directly to the former clients who have requested it and we will continue to do so".

Mr Blewitt has told The Australian he was involved in fraud and now wants immunity from prosecution before he talks to the authorities. However, Mr Wilson has declined to discuss the matters and is understood to be concerned about being prosecuted.

A retired Melbourne lawyer and union historian who is helping Mr Blewitt piece together the history, Harry Nowicki, said yesterday that as the slush fund was used to perpetrate allegedly criminal conduct, "the legal file underpinning it is important evidence and must be produced".

"This file is very important to establish the purpose and bona fides of the association and whether it was legitimate about workplace reform," he said.

The file's existence was a particularly sensitive matter for Slater & Gordon in 1995 as Ms Gillard neither disclosed to her partners the work that she had done to establish the "slush fund", nor opened a file on the firm's system.

After the partners became aware of the file and the circumstances surrounding it, Ms Gillard's relationship with the partners "fractured, and trust and confidence evaporated", according to a statement by senior partner Peter Gordon.

Ms Gillard abruptly left the firm amid an internal probe and after a September, 1995 interview in which Mr Gordon had questioned her closely about her role, the purchase of the house for Mr Wilson and Mr Blewitt, renovations to her own house, and the establishment of the slush fund.

The association, which was formally registered by the WA government, purported to be dedicated to promoting workplace safety. However, Ms Gillard confirmed to Mr Gordon in the interview that it was a slush fund for the election of union officials. A spokesman for the Prime Minister again declined to answer questions from The Weekend Australian yesterday.

Burke gets equal treatment by Abbott

AFR 13 Oct 2012, Sophie Morris and James Massola

The new Speaker of the federal parliament Anna Burke says Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has treated her with the same respect as her male predecessors, contradicting claims from senior Labor MPs.

But Ms Burke said there was sexism in Parliament, as in other workplaces, and that the elevation of Julia Gillard to the prime ministership had brought out the worst in some people.

“There have been a lot of people – not just in Parliament but across the board – who have found it difficult to deal with a female prime minister,” Ms Burke told the Weekend AFR, after a week of acrimonious debate about gender politics and double standards.

Labor MP John Murphy said on Friday he believed “the Prime Minister was entitled to express her views” in her “sexism and misogyny” speech against Tony Abbott on Tuesday.

“But we need to draw a line under this and get on with the job that we were elected to do,” Mr Murphy said.

Another Labor MP feared a possible backlash against Ms Gillard’s anti-sexism crusade. “The 12-year-old geniuses in her office are probably going to say we really need to typecast Abbott so we can marginalise him with female voters. Some of that may stick but I think it will be substantially outweighed by people who just want her to get on with the job of running the country” the Labor MP said.

Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop said on Friday that Ms Gillard’s speech was “very offensive” and should be withdrawn.

But Ms Burke praised Ms Gillard’s speech, describing it in a radio interview as “spot on”. However, when asked whether Mr Abbott had ever responded differently to her when she was in the Speaker’s chair than he would to a male, Ms Burke emphatically rejected this. “He hasn’t,” she said.

Labor frontbenchers including Anthony Albanese and Tanya Plibersek have claimed that Mr Abbott showed less respect to Ms Burke than to male Speakers. Labor has argued that Mr Abbott is not comfortable with capable women.

Ms Burke has been acting Speaker since Peter Slipper, who is being sued by a male staffer for alleged sexual harassment, stood aside from the role in April. She was elected as only the second female speaker late Tuesday after the resignation of Mr Slipper.

She said it was time to move on from the debate about personalities and gender and focus on issues that mattered to the community.

Ms Bishop accused Treasurer Wayne Swan of effectively endorsing an “offensive and tasteless” joke made about Mr Abbott and his chief of staff, Peta Credlin, at a CFMEU dinner on Wednesday, because Mr Swan remained in the room and did not object to the joke.

Mr Swan, keynote speaker at the event, has since conceded he should have objected to the joke by a comedian at the time but did not want to give it a further airing.

Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Nadine Flood, who attended the event, said she found the comedian’s comments “sexist and highly offensive”,.

But added she added that “I’m not sure it’s reasonable to hold the CFMEU responsible for the content of a comedian’s routine.”

“I think it’s difficult to expect the deputy Prime Minister, there to deliver a serious speech about resources and the economy, to be responding to what a comedian has said earlier in the night.”

The Australian Financial Review


Gillard lets slip her chance to lead

AFR 13 Oct 2012, Geoff Kitney

Julia Gillard this week did her own political version of Helen Reddy’s feminist movement anthem “I am woman, hear me roar”. In doing so, she reversed the old adage “actions speak louder then words”.

Gillard spoke with such passion and, at times, venom about Tony Abbott’s attitude to women that a whole lot of people who should have known better ignored the fact that she missed arguably the best chance of her prime ministership to appeal to the whole electorate rather than excite her feminist support base.

Two golden political opportunities slipped through Gillard’s hands as she rose to deliver the most forceful speech of her political career in reply to the opposition’s attempt to force the resignation of Speaker Peter Slipper.

If he had been following the events of the day, former prime minister John Howard would have immediately recognised a potential parallel with his own career.

In 1996, not long after he became prime minister, Howard saw and seized a chance to transform himself into a leader for all of the nation, not just his partisan supporters.

Against his own instincts and the strong views of many conservative voters, Howard moved to introduce tough anti-gun laws in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre.

In one policy action, Howard rallied the nation and forced his critics to reappraise long-held prejudices about him. It was Howard’s redefining moment.

When Gillard arrived at work last Tuesday morning, her own redefining moment was there for her taking.

She knew that the opposition was ready to use the first parliamentary opportunity it would have later that day to move against Slipper.

The revelations in court proceedings the previous week of the mucky content of email conversations between Slipper and his then media adviser James Ashby had brought back to centre stage the question of whether Slipper was a fit person to occupy the position of Speaker.

The content of the emails was ugly and unacceptable.

One of the surprising things about the events of this week is how readily some commentators who have backed the way Gillard handled the issue on Tuesday have so airily dismissed this content, arguing that it was a distant second in importance to the ugly attitudes to women of Tony Abbott.

But here’s a test: if what Slipper had said about female genitalia had been said by Abbott, which of those commentators would not have been campaigning for him to be removed as opposition leader?

Indeed, if Abbott had said what Slipper said, he would have been forced to resign immediately.

That Slipper was not an appropriate person to hold the office of Speaker was utterly beyond question.

But there is another dimension to this, ignored in the debate that has raged this week.

The language of Slipper’s private conversations was just one example of a slide into the gutter of the nation’s political dialogue.

Gillard’s supporters are correct.

A major influence on the descent into ugliness has been the appalling treatment of Gillard by a phalanx of right-wing commentators, some of it going beyond political name-calling into ugly personal vitriol.

Gillard is not the first prime minister to be subjected to ugly personal attack or to become a hated figure. Gough Whitlam came close to being torn to pieces by a crowd of farmers in Perth in 1974 seething with anger and hatred. Paul Keating and John Howard were both the targets of terribly personal campaigns, in Howard’s case for many years.

As the nation’s first female prime minister, a new dimension has been added to the hate agenda. Gillard’s gender offers rich pickings for ugly minds.

Unlike her ill-treated predecessors, Gillard has to deal with the new phenomenon of social media and the opportunities it provides for unrestrained abuse.

Gillard’s supporters have willed her to fight back against the ugliness and, until Tuesday, like Howard, she had resisted dignifying her attackers by responding to them.

Whether it was ever going to be wise to come out fighting in the way Gillard did on Tuesday is a moot point. The reaction of professional and politically aware women who are her strongest support base will surely have reassured Gillard that she was right to do what she did.

But, in my view, a better way to respond to the toxicity of unrestrained personal vitriol now deeply infecting national politics is to rise above it.

The Slipper affair offered Gillard the means to do this. Gillard could have gone into Parliament and made a speech, with similar towering rhetoric and passion to the one she gave attacking Abbott and defending herself, by arguing that “enough is enough” of the ugliness at every level, not just the sexist one.

And she could have backed her words with a symbolic action – declaring that Speaker Slipper had lost the confidence of the government.

If she had done this, she would have seized the second golden opportunity. She would have shown a side of herself which critics say she is incapable of – a willingness to admit error and to set aside self-interest in the national interest.

History now shows that it was Slipper, not Gillard, who finally had the good grace to recognise what should be his fate and act.

Gillard’s words understandably thrilled her loyal supporters.

But her actions fell short of those the situation required and that better leaders might have taken.

Those who saw Tuesday’s speech as a great moment in the history of Australia’s sexual politics only saw what they wanted to see. But there was a bigger picture and a greater responsibility and Gillard failed to rise to it.

The Australian Financial Review


Gillardís pyrrhic victory

AFR 13 Oct 2012, Laura Tingle Political editor

Julia Gillard sent a shock wave around the globe this week with her spectacular slap-down of Tony Abbott. But for all the elation her comments created in cyberspace, there was a conspicuous lack of high fives in the government.

The speech might have been an assertion of authority over the Opposition Leader that Labor supporters have been craving for months. For women whose careers have played out against the ambient background noise of sexist and misogynistic remarks it might have been a dream moment.

For MPs, Gillard’s attack on Abbott may have been long overdue and necessary. But it was part of a reversion to ugly politics they believe Labor can do without – a pause from what had finally been a sense of momentum and clear air to focus on a Labor agenda – and part of a series of events which has again cloaked the government in uncertainty over its control of Parliament.

The Prime Minister’s “I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man” speech was a rare moment of genuine political electricity which played directly to thousands of people watching outside Parliament. Hundreds of thousands of people have subsequently watched it elsewhere in the world. But they don’t vote.

Back at the business end of politics, pollsters say field tracking showed it was not a vote changer.

“Politicians screeching at each other . . . it was just too sordid,” one says.

Those who admire the Prime Minister, or want to admire her, were buoyed by the speech. Those who have an intractable loathing of her only had it reinforced.

It was important among female voters – who have been coming back to the Prime Minister – but had little impact among blokes.

Longer term, it may have strengthened the image that Labor wants to build on of Gillard as gutsy, feisty fighter who will never surrender, who you might not like but who you admire or, as one pollster says, “someone like the Aussie battler housewife who has to put up with a deadbeat bloke”.

But the MPs who were going back to their electorates for the weekend, anxious that the nastiness of Parliament this week – from the push to remove Speaker Peter Slipper, to Tony Abbott’s use of the “died of shame” comment in attacking the Prime Minister, through to revelations the Coalition had been seeking Craig Thomson’s vote and offensive jokes about Abbott’s chief of staff.

All this overshadowed the continuing vulnerability of a Coalition that seems stuck in an inescapable groove of political attack on the carbon tax. It blew up on Abbott in Parliament this week when the sloppiest of work saw him base an attack on a pensioner’s electricity bill and it fell to pieces on the first bit of close examination, leaving him looking like a liar.

No one is sure how this will all wash up in the polls. But in the practice of daily politics, the ugliness of this week has set some very unnerving precedents.

There is also the immediate question of how the government can lift itself and the Parliament back out of the sordid and onto more solid ground – where surely we need it to go as a jump in the unemployment rate this week once again points to a slowing economy.

The unnerving precedents and the question of how the government can lift itself again all revolve around Peter Slipper.

Slipper may have a potty mouth and – based on his text messages – some strange obsessions, but in the eyes of MPs who liked him despite his eccentricities, he has now been hounded out of office largely through a trial by media. The sexual harassment case against him hasn’t even got to court yet. The matter currently before the courts is one about abuse of process.

He now finds himself alone, with legal bills of $250,000 already and facing the sexual harassment allegations after the government settled with his accuser James Ashby. If this can happen to Slipper, many MPs ask themselves, why can’t it happen to them?

The tensions in the government about Slipper’s position are intense. They reflect the concern of many MPs about the former speaker’s welfare. But they also reflect the fact that many senior government figures had made commitments to Slipper that he would not be left out hanging in the breeze.

Some parliamentarians were aghast at the original decision not to fund Slipper’s defence of the sexual harassment case – when the understanding was that past such cases have been funded by the department for which an MP or minister worked.

There were quiet representations made to Maurice Blackburn, the Labor law firm that was representing him, to try to reduce his costs.

But even those who always believed it was politically difficult for the government to agree to fund Slipper’s case were truly astonished by the announcement a couple of weeks ago that the Commonwealth had settled with Ashby for a paltry $50,000, leaving Slipper to face the case by himself. Normal process would see any such settlement made to cover both the Commonwealth and its officials.

Just who made the decision is unclear. Attorney-General Nicola Roxon argued it was a decision taken with the taxpayers’ interests in mind – to cap a legal bill that already amounted to over $700,000.

But some suggest it was a stuff-up rather than a calculated political decision: that somewhere in the legal chain, someone decided to make what appeared a derisory offer, assuming that Ashby and his team would reject it, and received a sharp surprise when they didn’t.

The upshot, though, is that a group of senior Labor ministers and MPs made an exceptionally hollow promise to the former speaker. While much is made of politicians breaking their promises, they really don’t like doing it. And certainly not personal promises.

And these broken promises have political implications. Slipper has now gone to the crossbenches and Labor must rely on his vote. MPs from both sides of politics rallied around him on Tuesday night offering their support and concern for his well-being.

But as the weeks go past, Slipper may well come to feel he has been as ill-used by Labor as he feels he has been by his former colleagues in the Queensland Liberal National Party. His vote becomes less certain.

There remains the possibility that he could resign, forcing a byelection which, it is assumed, would be won by Slipper’s nemesis, Mal Brough, and result in Labor losing its numbers in the house.

From the government’s perspective, the roles that fellow independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott played have put them back into play more than it would like. Labor reluctantly sees that it is in their debt for helping to persuade Slipper to resign.

All this means the sense of uncertainty surrounding minority government, which had dissipated somewhat in recent months, has come roaring back and, with it, a resurgence of “try anything” tactics to undermine the legitimacy and credibility of the government by the Coalition.

The House of Representatives doesn’t sit again until the end of the month and then there are only two single weeks of House sittings – one at the end of this month and one at the end of November.

At some point in the next month, the government will release its midyear review of the budget – though probably at a time when Parliament isn’t sitting – which will bring the debate back to the economy.

It also wants to introduce legislation for its Gonski school funding recommendations before the year is out, though without any expectation of getting it debated.

So it is not clear the government will be in a position to use Parliament to look statesmanlike. (There is also a sitting of the Senate estimates committee which will no doubt be trawling for some dirt)

Amid all this noise, the debate this week has largely been about the Prime Minister, not Tony Abbott.

Some Labor figures argue that this is good but the majority don’t.

The government had finally vacated the field enough to allow some pressure and light to be put on the Opposition Leader.

That also all came to a stop this week – even as the wheat marketing bill that has caused so much internal division in the Coalition was being debated in the House.

An alarming headline number on unemployment, which jumped sharply to a 29-month high of 5.4 per cent – even contained the germs of political opportunity for the government.

For they contained the worst plunge in Queensland employment since 1995, backing Labor’s argument that Campbell Newman’s government provided a view of the future under an Abbott government in Canberra.

Gillard made the point potently in Parliament. But it was lost in all the noise and dross into which the House had descended.

The Australian Financial Review


Misogyny tactic will backfire

Paul Kelly, Editor-at-Large, The Australian October 13, 2012

THIS is a dangerous moment for Julia Gillard and Labor. The risk is that her defence of former Speaker Peter Slipper by depicting Tony Abbott as a misogynist becomes a defining metaphor for her government.

That metaphor is the blame game. Labor has become the master of blaming other people for its own blunders. Its blame-game politics have now reached an implausible, almost farcical extreme unworthy of our first woman Prime Minister.

The list of people to blame for Labor's blunders continues to mount - the greedy mining barons, the biased media, the "relentlessly negative Tony Abbott", and now the Opposition Leader as misogynist.

Labor has played the class card and now it plays the misogynist card. The narrative is entrenched: Labor thinks it can survive only by demonisation, with Abbott as demon-in-chief. Just as Abbott ruined Gillard on broken trust, Gillard now seeks to ruin Abbott on personal character.

This week's events are likely to have a contradictory impact: projecting passion and authenticity will help Gillard's personal ratings but her government is reduced to a soap opera with a Prime Minister invoking a gender war sure to diminish Labor and cast more doubt on her judgment.

Labor's euphoria about Gillard as hero of feminists and social media activists should ring the alarm: history shows when the "true believers" are turned on, a majority of Australians usually tune out.

There are two reflections on this week's drama. The first is that Gillard was being authentic. She unleashed a torrent of hostility and frustration that has been "bottling up" for many months, and such passion, because it is genuine, strikes a public response.

The second is that depicting "Abbott as misogynist" is a deliberate tactic. Gillard's evidence that Abbott hates women was a series of his old-fashioned and sexist comments. Yes, they are unacceptable. It is equally obvious they do not constitute misogyny.

This is not to deny Abbott has a women problem. But this performance will only accentuate Gillard's men problem. Beneath her passion Gillard was desperate. In truth, this was a passionate speech for an unworthy cause. Gillard's effort to keep Slipper as Speaker had no intellectual or moral foundation.

Depicting herself as a woman unfairly treated by misogynists has some truth but it risks casting Gillard as a PM recruiting implausible excuses for her political failures.

It was obvious to most observers that morning that Slipper's comments meant he could not survive as Speaker. This was a no-brainer to everybody except Labor. If Labor is so anxious about misogyny, how come it missed the most obvious misogyny?

The answer is that the misogynist card is just another tactic. Gillard's support for Slipper and condemnation of Abbott proves the point. The joke here is on the social media activists who think the political reporters missed the story. They're wrong. The reporters got it right because the real story is that Labor exploits misogyny as a tactic for its own self-interest. The real story was Gillard's hypocrisy. It was on brilliant display.


Gillard's hypocrisy stripped bare by her defence of demonstrable misogyny

Chris Kenny, The Australian, October 13, 2012

WHILE Labor wages its gender war, the simple, ugly truth is that if Tony Abbott had not moved his motion to dismiss the Speaker then Peter Slipper would still hold the job. He would be taking more than $300,000 annually, plus perks, and would now be leading a two-week parliamentary delegation to Canada and Argentina.

His text messages about a female Liberal MP being an "ignorant botch" (sic) and describing the genitalia of all women in a disgusting and derogatory fashion would have remained part of the public debate, and no doubt would be making the media in Buenos Aires and Ottawa as he represented Australia.

Slipper would be doing this with the support and confidence of our first female Prime Minister. This is Julia Gillard's hypocrisy stripped bare. She rails against what she calls misogyny, yet for base political reasons she has staunchly defended a discredited MP who has displayed women-hating sentiments. By wedging herself on sexism in this fashion, the Prime Minister only adds to her trust deficit.

In a spectacular display of defensiveness, she spoke in parliament in vitriolic terms about what she described as misogynist attacks from Abbott. The PM did this as she marshalled her parliamentary numbers to vote against Abbott's motion on the Speaker. Gillard did all she could to save Slipper.

Her shrill attack drew a moral equivalency between arguable - even tenuous - claims of sexism against Abbott and the rancid and uncontested messages of Slipper.

She made over-the-top allegations of misogyny in order to defend demonstrable misogyny.

It was only through the opposition's motion that all this was put on display. By bringing the issue to the fulcrum of a question time motion, Abbott demonstrated that Slipper's position was untenable. Gillard still couldn't see it. Slipper eventually did.

While independent MPs had urged Slipper to consider his position before the parliamentary debate, it seems obvious that without it, and with Gillard's support, the Speaker would have dug in. Otherwise the government would have pushed for it sooner.

So when the Speaker resigned we saw an apparent misogynist take stronger action against his own misogyny than the Prime Minister.

This own-goal is the culmination of Labor's deliberate gender war strategy which, as revealed in this column last week, has been implemented by the PM's communications chief, John McTernan.

Once a spinner for former British Labour prime minister Tony Blair, McTernan has searched desperately for an angle to trigger a Gillard government resurgence. The carbon tax is poison, border protection is a running sore and economic management is perilous because by dumping Kevin Rudd and trashing his reputation Labor has robbed itself of the ability to trumpet its management through the global financial crisis. So Labor has decided, for now, to run on gender.

It is disingenuous to say that Gillard's gender doesn't matter. Even those who were not enthused about her politics were happy to recognise the historic achievement of a woman leading the nation.

It was perhaps similar, in a less dramatic way, to the US in 2008, when many of those who campaigned strongly against Barack Obama's platform were caught up in the understandable emotion of his electoral victory. For a moment you could look beyond the politics to celebrate the historic culmination of a journey from slavery to the White House.

For Gillard, there was similar goodwill, although it was tempered by the manner of her ascension. We didn't elect our first female prime minister - she tore down a first-term incumbent. And then, when she rushed to the polls, the PM failed to receive a clear endorsement - rather than win a majority, she lost one.

Still, while another woman will be feted one day as our first popularly elected female prime minister, Gillard had the tenacity and wherewithal to cobble together a government.

In the job for more than two years now, Gillard has chosen, belatedly, to define her prime ministership through gender. Last week, when this column said "Labor wants to portray conservative criticism of Gillard as attacks on women", we could not have foreseen the level to which this debate has descended.

It appears to be a major mistake - a classic case of political overreach. We have not seen prime ministers previously take to the despatch box and complain about criticism levelled against them. Labor under Gillard has broken two of the standard rules of politics: don't complain about the media or attacks against you.

We know politicians are subjected to vicious attacks, regardless of gender. Undoubtedly, some of the ire directed at Gillard has been sexist, even offensively so. Yet it has been her choice to shift this unseemly fringe of political life to centre stage.

Just as US voters didn't elect Obama to govern for African Americans, Gillard is not charged with crusading against misogyny - especially jibes directed at her. She is expected to govern for the nation and focus on the needs of voters.

There is, of course, another school of thought, particularly popular on Twitter and with social media types. According to this meme, Gillard's powerful rant against sexism has lifted her standing and won over voters. They cite favourable reports in overseas media and the popularity of the speech on YouTube.

This theory forgets overseas web surfers can't vote in our elections, that the last Australian political clip to go viral was Rudd eating his ear wax, and that McTernan generated much of the overseas coverage through British contacts and other networks. Still, Labor thinks this "external validation" of our Prime Minister will count for something.

The applause from some quarters is understandable - Gillard's speech was a powerful admonition of perceived sexism. But in domestic politics it can't be divorced from the hypocrisy of its purpose or the exaggeration against its target.

At best, it might have helped Gillard consolidate a part of her base. Labor insiders claim it bolstered her leadership standing, but in the mainstream it is more likely to prove underwhelming for voters who already worry the PM is not up to the job.

Where the Labor strategists do have a point is that the Slipper uproar unpicked what they saw as an effective intervention by Margie Abbott at the end of last week. The successful attempt by the Opposition Leader to soften his image via his wife is now ancient history, after the aggression and histrionics of this week.

But in the end the public see a desperate government deliberately being divisive. For years we have seen Labor cry racism over border protection rather than tackle the problem.

Then, under McTernan's influence, it has resorted to an assault against the media and class warfare to justify the mining tax. Earlier this year we even had the PM's office involved in fomenting racial divisions around Abbott, leading to a violent protest that backfired on Gillard.

Now it is the gender war. Misogyny is an ugly slur to level at anyone. Like the racist charge, there is no acceptable response. To be reduced to declaring "I am not a misogynist" is to be taken hostage by the smear.

The gender war is one of the most demeaning political tactics we have seen, and Australians are likely to see through it.

return to letters list