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Leading article Australia

Misogynist Australia?

10 November 2012

9:00 AM

10 November 2012

9:00 AM

It’s one thing for Julia Gillard to use parliamentary privilege to defame her political opponent. Tony Abbott is man enough, as it were, to cope with strong language. He can dish it out, and he can take it. But the Prime Minister’s ‘misogyny’ speech has damaged far more than just Mr Abbott’s pride. Now, she is trashing the international standing of Australia.

‘The president of France congratulated me on the speech, as did the prime minister of Denmark, and some other leaders, just casually as I’ve moved around, have also mentioned it to me,’ Ms Gillard told rapt ABC radio listeners this week, speaking after attending the Asia Europe summit in Laos.

Leaving aside the amusing irony of a French politician commenting on matters of sexist behaviour, what Ms Gillard has done is unprecedented in Australian politics: she has defined herself, and by extension our country, by demonising the democratically elected Leader of the Opposition. How are these leaders expected to treat Mr Abbott — still the likely next Prime Minister, according to opinion polls — believing he was elected despite being known to hate women?

Given the global popularity of the Prime Minister’s speech, and the widespread and uncritical publicity it received, surely all Australian males, CEOs and business leaders now risk being tainted by association with the impossible-to-disprove ‘misogynist’ tag.

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‘I’m taking it all with a bit of a wry smile,’ Ms Gillard said, flaunting her new-found ‘feminist’ fame in the current issue of Marie Claire, in which she disingenuously attempts to portray the speech as off-the-cuff and unplanned. ‘I had no notice I was going to give it. I scribbled out some handwritten notes as [Abbott] was speaking,’ she maintains, before admitting: ‘I did have access to quotes and various things that Tony Abbott has said, which I used.’ Clearly, her ‘unscripted’ speech had the sweaty fingerprints of John McTernan all over it. Not quite so spontaneous after all, then.

Ms Gillard may find it all wryly amusing. But it isn’t a joke. Not only are the charges of misogyny slanderous and unsubstantiated. More importantly, the context of the speech is meaningless to overseas audiences, who have no knowledge of the entire grubby Slipper affair. Would the French president and Danish prime minister be equally sanguine about Ms Gillard’s reluctance to condemn Mr Slipper’s ‘shell-less mussels’ and ‘salty c—ts in brine’?

In retrospect, the mistake Tony Abbott made was not to instantly reply to the disgusting slur upon him — as bad as calling him a racist — and angrily demand an apology for himself, his family and those Australians who support him. But then again, he’s probably too much of a gentleman to do that.

It’s not the economy, stupid

With Barack Obama returned to the Oval Office for another four years of spiralling debt and what amounts to nothing more than printing money in the world’s most important economy, what are the lessons for our own spendthrift government?

Bruce Springsteen springs to mind. Wayne Swan’s inspirational mentor was the final superstar to perform on the eve of the election, giving Mr Obama his full-throated support, despite the fact that the Boss’s beloved blue-collar workers have struggled over the past four years, with 23 million people unemployed and nearly 47 million on food stamps under Obama. In his Wisconsin rally, Springsteen spoke passionately in support of hope, of financial regulation, of subsidies for the automobile industry, of Civil Rights, the Peace Movement, the Woman’s Movement, the end of apartheid, the winds of change, healthcare, wars, the disparity of wealth (a subject he is particularly familiar with), and those who are rich, poor, black, brown, white, gay and straight.

The economy never rated a mention. Nor did the deficit. Nor did unemployment. In the 2012 election, it is clear America opted for the spin of wishful thinking and the audacity of denial rather than face up to economic realities. But the excitement and euphoria surrounding the President’s win are unlikely to last much longer than the streamers and confetti.

Over three gruelling debates and many months of campaigning, Obama never really offered up a convincing solution to America’s precarious fiscal position. As we now head into our own election year, with a rapidly disappearing surplus, $143 billion of net government debt and unemployment on the rise, Wayne Swan and Julia Gillard will heave a deep sigh of relief that it isn’t always the economy, after all, that concentrates the minds of the electorate.

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