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Australia's disgusting politics


Julia Gillard looks reflectiveAustralians' disgust with their elected representatives has never been higher, or better deserved. The last ten days have exposed the worst public behaviour of self-described 'leaders' to the rest of the world. My cup runneth over.

First I was amazed that two wonderful feminists, who didn't find the PM's speech (or the bits that the TV cameras chose to show) to her women-for-Gillard support group convincing, chose to criticise it, and criticise Gillard for it.

One told me Fairfax asked her and she had to tell the truth. Really? As a destructively-truth-addicted person myself I can still act on the advice that my dear old mum used to give that, 'If you can't find anything nice to say, say nothing.' And when I remonstrated gently with the other, she only said, 'Et tu, Brute?'

It also gave the go-ahead to a couple of ALP backbenchers and even senators for more personal criticism of Gillard over not only her speech and the 'feminist card' she supposedly played, but also over men's secret hurt that women have a special point of view, which such men bizarrely viewed as privilege.

And Rudd's head has been popping up for grabs, its occupant clearly relishing the prospect of another last-minute leadership change that might give him back his squandered status, and humiliate his many enemies.

Online trolls have been blaming the victim for 'provoking' her own abuse, or not being entitled to be offended, when a man who has been a Perth shock-jock for nearly 30 years sexually harassed the current Australian PM about her sexual relationship with her partner.

The bottom has been scraped.

Just so it's clear, 'sexual harassment' is unlawful throughout Australia. It has been since 1984. This includes in employment, delivery of goods and services and access to places. And even the Prime Minister is entitled not to be subjected to it in a radio interview or in public discourse.

Sexual 'harassment' is not sexIST but sexUAL if a person is subjected to unwanted sexual conduct, including questions, images, jokes and comments 'unintentionally' sexual, which makes that person feel threatened, intimidated, humiliated or embarrassed.

No reasonable person would claim that Gillard was unembarrassed by the Sattler questions, or the insinuations of Piers Akerman, that unpleasant guest on last Sunday's Insiders. To ask a person about their sexuality or that of their acknowledged partner falls right into the 30-year-old law.

Gillard is the most prominent woman in our country. She has been repeatedly humiliated, disparaged and ridiculed for that very reason. Of course we may criticise her decisions, but always aware of the context, which is dangerously toxic. She has become a target and if I were her security staff I would be very worried.

Her courage under pressure is astonishing. I have and will continue to be critical about some of her policy choices but at this time I can only despair at her party which is willing itself into annihilation by adding more poison.

Senator Trish Crossin was, in 2012, a co-convenor of Emily's List, a non-ALP group which provides support and mentoring to endorsed ALP women candidates. She was dreadfully angry and hurt when Gillard favoured the preselection of an Aboriginal woman, Nova Peris, to the seat she has occupied since 1998.

Trish not only gave Gillard a massive serve in her farewell speech in the Senate last Tuesday, and was visibly hurting, but evoked an extraordinary dance of elephantine wrath from Senator Kim Carr who used the pretext of sympathy for Trish's deprivation of sinecure to attack Emily's List as 'involving itself in pre-selections'.

No, it doesn't. But it is a voice for women in a men-dominated political environment. How can these self-righteous men publicly rail against the injustice of the leader of their own party backing a fresh new face to the Senate team, with an election in the wings? Only by putting their personal feelings and preferences ahead of their party's.

I was disgusted. I am sure many women and men are disgusted with the whole mess.

I confidently predict that when invited to add a third tier of elected officials from local government to the rank of constitutional recognition, most of us are going to say, 'No thanks.'

The bloody wounds that have opened through these 'gender wars' have been self-harm, which as any psychologist knows, is a sign of a frustrated wish for power. But what I saw last Tuesday night in the Senate was the first throat-slitting of a modern-day Masada-like self slaughter.

Moira Rayner headshot

Moira Rayner is a barrister and writer.

Protest image from Shutterstock

Topic tags: Moira Rayner, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, sexism, feminism



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A feminist lambasted because she dared to honestly share her views with Fairfax. So, any male criticising Abbott and/or a speech he has given has equally let the "team" down? Come off it. Or does Moira really expect that we should only read comments favourable to a Prime Minister, male or female?And Rudd " ... clearly relishing the prospect of another last-minute leadership change ...". Wrong! What Rudd is relishing is creating absolute mayhem. Much more fun than leading the divided party to electoral defeat. No fun in that, and therefore, not what he wants. Moira's complete misreading of Rudd's destabilising antics must call into question the veracity of the other points she makes. C'mon editors, Eureka Street readers deserve better. Analysis, not rants.

Tony from Northbridge | 19 June 2013  

Really Moira, Crossin is entitled to be disgusted at her treatment and is perfectly entitled to express that disgust. It was not a throat slitting, it was refreshing honesty. And Gillard has not been subjected to any more abuse than anyone else and a good deal less than most. The most disgusting thing this week was Gillard declaring she was rushing off to Indonesia to again force them to keep refugees out of Australia. Really, it's not about gender, it's about Gillards politics.

Marilyn | 20 June 2013  

There may be toxic elements in our society but the opposition and Julia's opponents have been remarkably restrained. The comparison with the attacks on Mr Abbott made by the Prime Minister and her Ministers could not be more striking. I highly recommend Paul Sheehan's SMH article in October 2012 which details the abuse Mr Abbott has received in Hansard.

Peter | 20 June 2013  

I am not a Gillard supporter however I wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Rayner's view that there is a total lack of any morals being shown by all sections of the media and our politicians from both sides of the house towards the Prime Minister of this country. Male or female, the level of sexual harassment and verbal abuse against our country's leader (like her or not) is a disgrace and has done nothing but reduce the political debate in this country to its lowest level I have ever witnessed as a voter of over 40 years

FE | 20 June 2013  

I'm frankly appalled by the media coverage of JG: no allowance made for hung parliament; no credit given for progressive policies delivered on; masses of hurtful and irrelevant personal commentary which she weathers with steely self-respect. Ok, some policy directions (asylum seekers; reducing Uni funds to fund Gonski; badly implemented mining tax) are appalling, but give credit where due. And why did Age get away with front page story on Tim M's bush shack? Where's the feminist commentariat when you need them? The younger (often feminism-disavowing) ones too need to be take responsibility and be heard! Misogyny a huge issue in Oz. Go, Moira.

Frances | 20 June 2013  

Like Moira Rainer my cup runneth over with despair. Every day my respect for the strength of our PM as a woman grows, while I still question some of her policy positions.

Anne Rawson | 20 June 2013  

Julia Gillard has been accused, repeatedly, of 'playing the gender card', of 'playing the victim.' What I saw played out before my eyes between Gillard and the Perth shock-jock was the female Prime Minister of our country being subjected to a sort of humiliation never delivered before to a previous Prime Minister (all males). Whatever anyone thinks of her politics, Gillard's grace under pressure was impressive, as befits a PM...and the shock jock behaved as befits....a shock jock (with ethical and gender issues).

Pam | 20 June 2013  

It is interesting that Howard Sattler, after he was sacked, claimed his atrocious conduct was due to Alzheimer's. Piers Ackerman, when he repeated the nonsense, was ridiculed by the other two panelists on Insiders. I think the Labor Party, sadly, seems in the process of self-destructing. Gillard, I believe, is a flawed leader. More flawed than Rudd? Um, that's a difficult question. I think a lot of what has come up is really the result of the Labor Party not defanging the unions. It's not about sexism, though that may come into it, sadly, but about the Party's inward-looking policy forming processes and actions which fall flat in Middle Australia.

Edward F | 20 June 2013  

To disgust add saddened that this is the model we give to young people. Moira did not rant. She stated her anger that this is how we treat some people. It has been an orchestrated attack for three years and yes Julia Gillard's grace under pressure has been incredible. We are all judged by the way we treat others.

jorie | 20 June 2013  

Moira, Thank you. Men truly are the weaker sex judging by our recent actions, words and manipulation of the mass-media-political messages.

Emanuele | 20 June 2013  

I, too, despair of the vitriol that is engulfing our media. I feel as though there are mighty forces telling us all how to think, who to hate, who to ridicule and how to do it. My only hope is that there are enough of us able to think for ourselves, to look outside mainstream media for our information and to vote accordingly. How could I care about the private life of our PM when we have mining magnates bleeding us ordinary people dry, withholding taxes that should be going to education and welfare, when we have our ally, the USA, moving us towards yet another disastrous war that will produce yet more millions of asylum seekers, a miniscule number of whom will try to come here only to be denigrated and imprisoned. In the meantime, wherever I go lately I hear people talking about their latest visit to "the doctor" and the details of their surgery, medications etc. Seems in the face of all this we are burying our heads in our own fundaments.

Janet | 20 June 2013  

I'm afraid this article only heaps more coals on Julia Gillard's head. No stranger to the offensive sexual slur herself, she once referred in parliament to happily married father-of-four Christopher Pyne as a "mincing poodle". Moreover, Gillard is perfectly happy to flaunt her associations with low-life sexists like Kyle Sandilands, in an ever more desperate attempt to milk the youth vote. Where is the proportionate outrage from the lefties in the media on Gillard's double standards? And on the fact that Malcolm Farr, who vigorously challenged Akerman on Sunday's "Insiders" to name the names of the journos that circulated the Mathieson allegation, has himself made this very allegation in print? Or about the truly despicable comments twittered by Labour speechwriter Bob Ellis on the late Christopher Pearson? Left outrage these days is pure confection.

HH | 20 June 2013  

Generalisations are always dangerous. Remember when the paradigm: "All swans are white. I'm told this bird in the bag is a swan, therefore, it will be white." I This was considered true until black swans were discovered. And what beautiful swans they were. So too are generalisations about politicians. Politics has always been a tough gig. After all it is concerned with the pursuit and exercise of power. Boxing is a tough gig too, but where it differs from politics is that the reporters and commentators have little or not influence on the fight and its outcome. But in politics? Moira Rayner has shown that politics cannot be fought wiithin Marquis of Queensberry rules because the referee(s) is (are) the electorate, And the electorate is made up of broken human beings about which I shall resist generalising..

Uncle Pat | 20 June 2013  

It has been an appalling week in public life and I am disgusted. Moira put it well. Julia Gillard shows true grit; I haven't seen it in Rudd or his supporters. No person let alone a policitican should be denigrated so personally as Gillard has been.

Barbara | 20 June 2013  

Moira Thank you for your articulate and moving defence of Julia...at last words have been written by you that should shame the naysayers. My heart is with any moves you make to shame persons into reason and truth from Annetine Forell thank you for being who you are

annetine forell | 20 June 2013  

An important contribution, thanks, Moira. I can think of no other explanation than a cultural sexist bias for the treatment of a PM who has achieved much in a lot of important and difficult policy areas despite heading a minority government. But Moira, why the gratuitous and irrelevant shot at the local government referendum, a separate complex policy initiative warranting serious consideration in the interests of community responsibility.

Peter Johnstone | 20 June 2013  

Any day now I expect to hear the word sheila used for the PM. Two years of relentless negativity by Abbott and Pyne have earned them the rest they are taking now in the hope that we will forget. The one bright spot last week was Barry Cassidy's prompt and accurate retort to Akerman.

Frank | 20 June 2013  

The Perth "shock-jock" was appalling, and should be sacked...but oh, he was! Gillard has poor sense of political timing and sensitivity; this recent gender-jingoism was awful on both counts. I am appalled that she has a live-in "first-bloke", which I believe demeans her and the country (me), while at the same time affirming her belief in traditional marriage! She should be sacked....but oh, she will be.

Eugene | 20 June 2013  

Julia Gillard’s handling of abuse directed at her person reminds me somewhat of Barack Obama’s handling of the same. Anyone who stood for President of the United States and was African American knew beforehand that he would have to handle any amount of hatred and fear, just for being African American. He goes into the situation knowing that. It’s a ground rule, it’s the scene. You have to play it cool, all the time. Ditto, it seems, a woman who is prepared to be Prime Minister of Australia. One of the reasons she is able to handle so much of this abuse is she has had to deal with it for years, in our society and in our politics. Before she ever became Prime Minister, Julia Gillard would have known what kind of shit was going to go down. The scale of the abuse is massive and ugly, and brings disgrace on Australia as a nation.


We have actually 2 different issues before us. I am sure that we all can agree that the interview about the sexuality of Julia Gillard's partner was stupid and out of touch with community expectations. She deserves a lot of respect for remaining cool and not react to the provocation. The issue of playing the race and sex card in politics is also reprehensible. Julia Gillard had done a far better job for Australia then Kevin Rudd with his permanent fake smile. She started getting respect for her firm stand against the criminal people smuggling industry. I think it was bad advice to use the sex card in trying to copy the Woman for Obama campaign. In Australia most people are treated equally and race and sex is no longer an issue. It becomes an issue if somebody tries to exploit race or sex for their own good.

Beat Odermatt | 20 June 2013  

Thanks, Moira. Yes, Australia's politics are thoroughly disgusting and toxic. Even the most imaginative person couldn’t come up with such depravity. You are right: 'the bottom has been scraped', but the claws are still out.

Libby Hart | 20 June 2013  

I couldn't agree more Moira. I am appalled at the open hostility shown to our elected PM. I don't agree with every decision this government has made but I despair that its successes of are never reported, nor the admirable way that Gillard has managed a hung parliament for a full term to get things done, but every time Rudd shows his head its breaking news - ALL DAY! And I refused, as a feminist, to be silenced by being told I can't speak about gender in this country.

Helen | 20 June 2013  

"And Gillard has not been subjected to any more abuse than anyone else and a good deal less than most." Really? When was the last time somebody asked a PM if their partner was gay? 'Disgusting' is a mild way of putting it.

Rachel Bloul | 20 June 2013  

As a parent I often have to work through fights b/w my children. Often I will hear: " but they started it" I try to teach them not to act inappropriately in dealing with the complaint. I do this because I hope that in the future they will be able to show integrity in their conduct with others in conflict. At the moment both sides of parliament are in a destructive cycle of brutal, vicious, and deeply person vilification of each leader. Someone has to show integrity and say: I do not care who started this, but enough is enough!" Someone needs to show integrity with their actions and change the cycle, even if they believe they are in the right. I believe it will continue on both sides, the PM or Kevin Rudd will continue to viciously attack Abbotts character. Abbot will do the same. But for the sake of this country someone needs to stand up and show integrity. Tell us why you they should be elected. Take responsibility for their own actions, rather than this gutless politics. Someone needs to say "enough is enough, I am going to change this" I can not see it happening though

Nich | 20 June 2013  

Eureka Street is blessed to have such writers as Moira Rayner and cartoonists like Fiona Katauskas. They highlight how much hate, vitriol and spite there is out there in the political world. Why, if we're not careful, our animosity for our political opponents will reach such depths that we will end toasting their deaths!

MJ | 20 June 2013  

"Left outrage these days is pure confection." says HH, wrong again. In the draft Hansard of the WA Legislative Council of last Tuesday, you can find this, from a Liberal member of parliament, about a cartoon of Julia Gillard in our local paper - "I mix with a wide variety of people. Many raised the issue with me, speaking of the disgust they felt. There were as many men as women, so it was not just a women’s issue. I am Liberal through and through and I cannot wait for the federal election to see the Liberals installed in Canberra. For me to be offended on the Labor Prime Minister’s behalf says a lot about what I saw and what I felt. The office of the Prime Minister should be treated with the respect that it deserves. This then gives rise to the notion that the Prime Minister, the actual person who holds that office, should be given respect ... I would like to apologise to the Prime Minister for her having to look at that particular cartoon while she was in Perth."

Russell | 20 June 2013  

what is so hard to understand than the perfectly obvious that in a power structure, when it is under some sort of perceived threat, the most threatened elements will fight back. Look at the way Rudd supporters have undermined and prevaricated, twisted the truth and insinuted through this whole process, and how there has been a deafening silence from non-labour women. I don'r agree with all of the PM's policy positions - some of them have been subservient to the power structure of patriarchy she is challenging by occupying her position. but she is a principled in most cases except marriage equallity, and I have no doubt about her leadership credentials in most cases and her toughness and resilience. Perhaps a few less of those Gen Y advisers and a few more of us old hands might be useful. We might have learned from a few of our mistakes that look remarkably similar to the mistakes she has made, and steer a more successful coure. If I were advising the PM I would advise her to take the most radical and differentiating positions she can On marriage equality and refugees, on children's education, and institutional child abuse, and make Abbott and rudd pull back toward the centre where the election will be won or lost

JIm Hyde | 20 June 2013  

I am disgusted with the "Filth" and Lies that almost daily come across my computer from otherwise "Good Catholics" about our Prime Minister.

john m costigan | 20 June 2013  

I'm getting tired of these banal discussion of what is sexist/homophobic/racist. The test should be whether something is offensive/rude or not. If a close friend or acqaintance asked me in private if I was gay, it would be different to being asked on national radio. It's not sexist - just inappropriate - like asking someone if they shave their armpits or trim their pubic hair -it's all about context. (Have we Australians lost our ability to socialise?)

AURELIUS | 20 June 2013  

There's never a problem disagreeing with policies. But the media has always played the personal card with the PM. All Labor women have been treated with particular ferocity. The focus must remain on policies. By the way, have you seen any from the Coalition, lately? Never mind, all will be desclosed after the election, isn't it so?

Name | 20 June 2013  

I agree with you Moira! It's been awful these last days, here in Canberra. I totally disagree with Marilyn. Trish was set aside and felt hurt. Granted. But why not be more gracious about the Aboriginal woman and helpingher?

Nathalie | 20 June 2013  

absolutely agree with your comments re julia gillard I think the majority of male members of parliament have acted On both sides without respect for our lady prime minister Are we really surprised!!!! ?????

helen gibson | 20 June 2013  

Agree with every word. No wonder men's support is dropping. Once you reduce a woman to her body parts, she is not a person to be respected but a [sexualised] lump of meat.

Kim Power | 20 June 2013  

AS "Gillard" is our Prime Minister she should be referred to as such. "Ms" would also be OK however to have the medias constant use of her surname only is degrading to her as a person and as the holder of the national Prime Ministership. It is a desease in our society which when removed would go some way to repairing the status of our leaders. Perhaps you agree.

Chris Ellis | 20 June 2013  

If Australian politics is indeed "disgusting" surely it is the practitioners who have made it so! And if indeed "Gillard is the most prominent woman in our country" where does that leave the Governor General, Quentin Bryce, the Head of State, Prof Fiona Stanley AC, Dr Fiona Wood, Gail Kelly of Westpac, our recent Nobel Prize winner in Medicine, or the likes of Nicole Kidman and Kathy Freeman? Haven't heard any of them screaming complaints of misogeny and other gender abuses across the public domain.Gilliard is not in the same paddock as any of these

john frawley | 20 June 2013  

What Moira doesn't seem to understand, due to her obvious Labor bias, is that Gillard is not connecting with the majority of people - and it has nothing to do with her being a woman. Christine Keneally was head of one of the most despised parties in Australia's history yet she was never subjected to the same lack of respect as Gillard. The bottom line is Gillard has no moral backbone.She left the elected leader of her own party and of the country blubbering on the stairs. She got into power by lying to the Australian people. She is does not believe in God or marriage and yet is supposed to be someone young girls can look up to. Whenever she gets attacked she acuses everyone of being mysogonist. She can dish out the insults but cries "sexist" when they are directed at her. She brought up the abortion issue and even left wing feminists saw through it as an act of diversion and desperation. Remember, its not about gender,its about charachter.

Ronald | 20 June 2013  

Moira's article lacks any analysis of the issues or any evidence to support her assertions. Such a partisan and shallow article is not worthy of Eureka Street. How does Moira explain the Prime Minister's continual decline in her personal support among both men and women since she became Prime Minister. Have Australians become sexist or have they judged the Prime Minister's performance. Her errors, inconsistencies and double standards have become clearly apparent and destroyed her own credibility. Prime Ministers cannot blame Leaders of the Opposition for their own mistakes. The Prime Minister and her Ministers have made sustained and relentless personal attacks on Mr Abbott by ministers and the Prime minister. " He is a bully. A thug. A snake oil salesman. A poster child for vile bully-boy values. He has repulsive double standards. He hates women. He stands for nothing. He has unhealthy obsessions. He is nuts....The level of personal insult has been on an industrial scale." Paul Sheehan 'Abbott suffering a Labor Party Stoning' Sydney Morning herald 15 October 2012

Peter | 20 June 2013  

The complaint that Ms Gillard has been unfairly treated due to her sex, raises the question, "Well how can anyone criticise a female PM without it being seen as sexist?" It reminds me of when, as small children, my brothers and I used to play wrestling games - it was never fair, they knew that if they hurt me, they would get in trouble, because I was a girl. So I knew I had the advantage. Ms Gillard is the same. She knows that any and all criticism can be packaged as 'sexism or misogyny' ... she plays the game to her advantage. Well she HAS, but now everyone is just tired of it. I personally believe she has survived way beyond what she would have, had she been a male. The symbolism of her being the first female PM has given her a teflon coating up until now. As a woman, my greatest concern is that Ms Gillard has in fact set back women's credibility as leaders, a century. Her lauded 'strength' and 'single-mindedness', has in fact been a character flaw, better described as 'tunnel vision', 'tin ear', 'bloody mindedness'. It is time to elect someone who represents and leads for all.

Micah | 21 June 2013  

As the et tu Brute quoter I out myself because I believe we should separate our manifest disgust of the vile sexist behavior of many, from our ability to criticise her performance as PM. Equality must mean I can express the same criticisms I would make of her male equivalent so I did. I want her policies to be better on eg cutting sole parents. So if I offer her blind loyalty because of her sex, I am being sexist and condoning an unjust policy with feminist overtones! Abbott is a worse option but her social policies are often seriously flawed, so her support for them needs to be criticised.

eva cox | 21 June 2013  

Russell, how does a fine speech by a non-Leftist against a sexist cartoon rebut my evidence-based case (above) that the Left never attacks the sexism of its own?

HH | 21 June 2013  

'If you can't find anything nice to say, say nothing.' Anyone else that having approvingly intoned her mother's sage advice, Moira spends a few hundred words hitting it for six?

HH | 22 June 2013  

I'm an ALP supporter through and through, although not greatly fond of PM Gillard. Whilst I agree with some of Moira's arguments, I don't believe K Rudd is deliberately popping up everywhere, just for his own interests. I think the Press - the Media - is pushing this element of the ALP's cause. Rudd is just trying to promote his Party, which is what it so much needs, and which he is very good at - better than any of them, especially PM Gillard. The Media is just everywhere he is.

Louw | 22 June 2013  

Well put, Moira. Your piece reflects the opinions and feelings of many of us who have been similarly appalled by the treatment of Julia Gillard during her term as PM.

Christine Nagel | 28 June 2013  

Thank you Moira. One of the negatives about this week is how it has highlighted the reduction of politics to a spectacle, (as an antidote to boredom). The value of detached observation, as in the Cardign Method of the Young Christian Worker group entails resistance to this presumptuous state of affairs. Our Church's role in this reality is interesting. I wish to campaign against Sermon-as-entertainment/parishioner as consumer of religious palaver. Christ is too important for this, our human nature is in need of the dispassionate and detached attention of one who is calmly able to accept their reality as a recipient of the holy gift of power. Everyone can access it. It is the volitional control we have to create an artwork, to make food for others and oneself, and to attend to the human heart's desire for love. We need to receive love. Yet receptivity is aided by sweet sounds, and destroyed by constant tensions and strife. Yet a child wants to hear her mother reply with confidence to unjust claims. I want to live in a Church and in a world which respects the need for truth, and applauds the increase in life through Jesus the Way.

Louise O'Brien | 30 June 2013  

#1 Politics is a Contact Sport #2 Stick and stones may .... #3 Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the press is HARD ! #4 Are the rules for comments/questions different for men and women?

Bruce Bodner | 08 July 2013  

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