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Best of 2013: 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. This article was originally published on 19 June 2013.

Protest image from Shutterstock

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



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Existing comments

Thank you Moira. It was so good to re read this article in the light of more recent events. I am ashamed of what the nation did to Julia Gillard. Sadly Australia's disgusting politics continue though with the very personal attacks on our current democratically elected PM. Terms like "mad monk" and Pell's boy are simply appalling and demonstrate that few on either side of politics have learned anything from the dreadful attacks on Julia.The hatred that has filled the political air for so long is actually harming this country. We need the opportunity to dream and debate without foul, discrimatory and inflammatory language destroying any semblance of decency. People must be free to hold and to express differing points of view without fear of personal attacks on their life styles, faiths, appearances or whatever if we are to progress as a civilised nation. If the behaviour in parliament is any indication of the health of relationships in Australia in general we must surely be a desperately sexist, bigotted and violent place where bullies and the duplicitous reign.

Martin Loney | 07 January 2014  

Now that some time has elapsed since Gillard was PM it is sobering and still disappointing to think about the outrageous abuse aimed to personally wound her. I would expect Gillard still feels anger, and hurt, about this aspect of her time in high office. Hopefully, things will be easier for the next female PM.

Pam | 07 January 2014  

There but for the grace of God, goes the faith of all Australian women!

Alex Njoo | 07 January 2014  

The former Prime Minister Julia did not lose the support of her ALP colleagues in the Federal Parliament because she was female. She lost it because was incompetent and untrustworthy,]. Has Moira forgotten already miss Gillard's promise:-- " There will be no carbon tax under a Govetrnment i lead?".

Bill Barry | 07 January 2014  

Julia may have received a fair bit, much more than a lady should. However she certainly was very capable of giving a fair bit. Politicians can do a lot of good, gender shouldn't be an issue.

Brian Goodall | 07 January 2014  

I agree with the sentiment of this article. It is also bemusing that people such as Bill Barry's comment demonstrate that he obviously did not read and understand the article. The real issue is that the ALP has a history of being anti-feminist. The ALP has never treated women equally and with respect. I also believe that most Australian public and private institutions do not treat women equally. People should look at the patronising attitude of male colleagues shown to women parliamentarians such as Susan Ryan, Ros Kelly, Cheryl Kernot, Carmen Lawrence, Joan Kirner, Trish Crossin and Julia Gillard. Kevin Rudd never accepted the caucus decision to replace him as prime minister and spent most of his time between 2010 and 2013 lobbying to be reinstalled. I also believe that Julia Gillard could have done more to promote feminist philosophy and encourage all men and women to read and discuss classical feminist literature such as Simone de Beauvoir's 'The Second Sex' and Germaine Greer's 'The Female Eunuch'.

Mark Doyle | 09 January 2014  

Encourage all men and women to read and discuss classical feminist literature such as Simone de Beauvoir's 'The Second Sex' and Germaine Greer's 'The Female Eunuch'? I read both these books when I was 15 years old. Though TODAY as a grown woman, I admire the words and actions of Melinda Gates who with her husband Bill Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, gave away $3.4 billion last year, the vast majority to global health programs, and has made more than $26 billion in grant commitments since the Foundation's 2000 founding.

Elle Sapiensa | 10 January 2014  

Moira, you have written noted so many of my feelings in this article. The disappointment I and my two daughters feel (who are in their early twenties), is so much more than I would have expected in Australia in 2013. Disolutioned and battered we fight on for fairness, equality and respect. Mr Abbott talks about a respectful parliament after his disgusting behaviour, but actions are the measure of a person's character, not words.

Cate | 13 January 2014  

Thank you Moira. I was shocked when I saw how few women were in our current Federal parliament. To say they did not have as much experience as others was not an acceptable excuse. It reflects a long term lack of nurturing of women in a party and perhaps an arrogance that seems to be evident in other policy areas too.

Kerry Holland | 20 January 2014  

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