Saturday, October 13, 2012


Today is my Sabbath but since the episode referred to below has attracted international attention,  I have decided that I should reproduce here a response that first appeared  on my   AUSTRALIAN POLITICS blog.

Australian Prime Minister's cheap shots in defence of a low-life

After the offensive statements about women from MP Peter Slipper came to light, PM Gillard defended him!  But she did so only by attacking past statements from the conservative leader (Tony Abbott) in which he expressed standard conservative views about the differing abilities of men and women.  She falsely equated such statements with misogyny in order to defend a real misogynist!

She is always verbally fluent so it was a good example of defence by attack but at the expense of revealing her own internal moral vacuum.  A prominent female Leftist defending a disgusting misogynist with no respect for women?  It not only happened in Australia but was admired by Leftists around the word  -- thus again exposing the fact that for the Left anger and abuse is far more admirable than principles or rational argument

It left her immediate audience confused however  -- confused about what the rules are according to her and her party.  Even her own party members -- who had been vocally condemning Slipper -- were left confused.  Is everything now permissible or is nothing permissible?  And can there ever be any more such a thing as a private remark?

Comments from a long-time Australian political observer below.  Jack Waterford AM is Editor-at-Large of the Canberra Times.

Julia Gillard went impressively ballistic on Coalition misogyny this week. Her words echoed around the world, someone even suggesting that Barack Obama adopt her "I'm not gonna cop this any more" style to his encounters with Mitt Romney.

But as the moment reverberated around Parliament, was played and replayed on radio, social media and television, including overseas, and became an international discussion point, her immediate audience was not impressed.

The press gallery, regularly accused of being anti-Abbott, may have some sympathy to charges of sexist campaigns, but could not miss the irony of the occasion. And her colleagues felt somewhat humiliated about having to climb down from the moral grandstand they had enjoyed for a week to defend (as Gillard herself, to a point was doing) crude and misogynist comments made privately by a Speaker [Peter Slipper] already a corpse obviously swinging in the breeze.

Perhaps Gillard's outburst took some attention away from her defence of what she had admitted to be indefensible. But the contradiction was underlined when the Speaker, told by independents if not Gillard that the jig was up, resigned within a few hours of Gillard's speech.

A new supposedly anti-sexist principle became established as a rule. A private remark with a sexist edge is no longer permissible anywhere, perhaps even in comedy. No jokes, if anyone could possibly take offence.

Slipper had sent a text to a staffer making a derisive comparison of the pudenda and women generally, to the appearance of an unshelled mussel. It was misogynist - if of an ilk heard mostly from an unusual subset of gay men who seemed threatened by women.

Lesbians, too, have a vocabulary of dismissal of men by reference to their genitalia, and also of heterosexual women, or "breeders", and their noisome children or "crotchfruit".

Public figures caught using such phrases, or who use any number of other profane combinations, can now expect little mercy. But there is the world of difference between saying it in a conversation with one other person and saying it to an audience of young Liberals, or middle-aged builders labourers.

Slipper was stupid for committing his view of the world to writing, and to one of his employees. No one should be called to defend such remarks by others. But for the Alan Jones affair, it might have seemed that it was Abbott, rather than Gillard, who was seeking to create the new standard, by which the audience was irrelevant.

John Howard, I fancy, would have said, grumpily but effectively, that all sorts of people said all sorts of deplorable things, but that he did not feel himself obliged to deliver running rebukes.

The new rule has nothing much to do with preventing misogyny or disrespectful words or manners. It will bite people on all sides - Labor particularly I expect - before it is abandoned as unworkable. One hopes that this abandonment does not lead to an immediate outbreak of epic misogynist nastiness, simply so as to celebrate what some writers of the authoritarian right will call the demise of political correctness.

It all reminds of the publicity once given to a consciously teasing talk to law students by eminent Tory judge Roddy Meagher. He commented that in this politically correct age, one was no longer able to use the word "nigger". He personally had never used it and would not dream of doing so, since it seemed a bit hurtful, but he would like to feel that he could if he wanted. He much enjoyed the entirely predictable screams from what Howard might have called the usual suspects.

Close-quarter criticism of Gillard did not come from her complaints of sexism, or her putting some of it at the door of Abbott. It was because Slipper was her own own goal - a piece of cheap and nasty political cleverness at the expense of political principle, that had done Labor and her more harm than good. Another of her chickens home to roost. This was not just because Slipper had proven to be a rogue - although that had been predictable enough

It was clever, up to a point. And it did give her a bit of political leeway - in effect by increasing her majority to two. She used this to betray Andrew Wilkie, made pledges she no longer had the courage to keep - a point that further damaged her credibility. Like so many political tricks and coups, it also excited a degree of political admiration - not least for its poke in the eye of Abbott.

But it also linked Slipper's fate to her own, Slipper's reputation (known and unknown) to her own, and made her look grubby and unprincipled. In this respect, indeed, perhaps it rather more resembled Gough Whitlam's seduction of Vince Gair in 1974, than it did Howard's of Colston.

Gillard has over-egged the pudding in claiming to be a victim of sexism in politics. Certainly she is subjected to sexist abuse - particularly in social media - but it is hardly at the root of her political problems with voters. Yet one cannot blame her for making a big deal of her annoyance, refusing to take it any longer, or the professionalism with which she whacked Abbott between the eyes when he gave her the opportunity.

But even as women generally, or Labor women in particular, rejoice that she is standing up to sexism, they should be careful not to think that she has suddenly found judgment or now knows what she is doing, where she is going or how she will get there.

As Saint John Henry Newman might put it, the night is dark and she is far from home.


Abbott's response

TONY Abbott has refused to take a backward step in the pitched political battle now being called "the gender wars"

FIRING his own broadside at Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who had branded him a serial misogynist during a devastating parliamentary smack-down on Tuesday, Mr Abbott accused her of playing the sexism card to intimidate those wanting to criticise her.

Ms Gillard was unmoved and vowed to continue calling out sexism wherever she encountered it.

Her 15-minute parliamentary speech, ostensibly defending former speaker Peter Slipper, but which wound up as a barrage of rhetoric against Tony Abbott's alleged sexism, yesterday went viral.

Well-known mastheads such as the London Daily Telegraph, and The New Yorker carried positive stories of the feisty Aussie PM slamming sexism, while editorials and opinion writers cast her as a hero to women.

A feminist website praised her as a "bad-ass motherf . . . . .", while a more mainstream journal suggested President Barack Obama should adopt her straight-talking style.

But in Australia - where voters know the background of the issues in play, including the disgusting nature of the Slipper text messages - Ms Gillard's defence of Mr Slipper is seen differently.

Voters here viewed it as just more self-serving vitriol from a political culture that has become long on personal argument and short of substantive policy debate.

Tony Abbott called on people to simply move on from the sexism row and - rightly or wrongly - many voters are likely to agree.


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