As the Misogyny Wars continued to rage across the nation in the dying days of 2012, few emerged unscathed.
Bloodied and bruised were both Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard as they retreated to the beaches to lick their wounds and plan new strategies. For the Prime Minister, the re-emergence of the Slater & Gordon scandal in November was a frantic salvo that reversed many of the gains Labor made during the year.
For several weeks Tony Abbott wisely chose to let his deputy lead the charge. Because of either his pride, his warrior instinct or the white feather with which the PM taunted him across the chamber, in the last desperate moments of the year Abbott chose to emerge from the trenches and hurl himself straight at his opponent. Unwisely.
Of all the combatants, it was only Julie Bishop who emerged from the muddy ‘slush funds’ affray with her reputation enhanced and her dignity intact. With sniper-like precision Bishop focused on two precise targets: Julia Gillard’s competence as a lawyer and integrity as a business partner.
Day by day, Julie Bishop impressively prosecuted her case against the Prime Minister with the tedious attention to detail that is to be expected of a commercial litigation solicitor. In doing so, she somehow managed to survive the ferocity of the Prime Minister’s counter-attack, simply by sticking to known facts and relying on intricate details to untangle the spin.
The contrast between the former Julie Gillion and Julia Gillard could not have been greater. From one, a seemingly endless set of mind-numbingly pedantic questions. From the other, dramatic gestures, snide retorts, cheap quips played to the gallery and endless evasion. Rational versus emotional. Detail versus broad strokes. Science versus art. Perry Mason versus Denny Crane.
But Slushgate is only a peripheral skirmish. Labor’s grand plan to win the 14 September election relies on a relentless prosecution of the Misogyny Wars; using gender to deflect Coalition attacks or criticism of the performances of not only Gillard, but Plibersek, Roxon, Wong, Macklin et al. And on any policy areas — such as Gonski or the NDIS — that can be spun as ‘women’s issues’.
The ‘misogyny’ strategy worked beyond Labor’s wildest dreams, thanks to Gillard’s best-ever acting performance and John McTernan’s swift seeding of the YouTube clip onto ‘cool’ US websites where — devoid of context — the tedious tirade titillated the sisterhood.
On the home front, most respected commentators were unimpressed by Gillard’s dishonest and nasty spray.
‘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,’ wrote Paul Kelly the morning after.
Dennis Shanahan concurred. ‘A strategy aimed at sexism and misogyny… is limited in its appeal.’
But therein lies the ‘evil genius’ of the plan. Misogyny is impossible to disprove. You take flak if you respond, you look guilty if you don’t.
Abbott now finds himself preparing for an eight-month campaign knowing every potshot he takes at the opinions or abilities of Gillard’s ‘handbag hitsquad’ has the potential to misfire.
Wiser feminists are fully aware of the dynamite Labor is recklessly toying with. Eva Cox, Anne Summers and Pru Goward have all expressed disquiet at the ‘misogynist’ strategy. Not that Labor care. Whatever it takes, and all that.
So over the summer we saw Health Minister Tanya Plibersek attempt to reignite outrage at Abbott over RU486. Roxon attacked the Peta Credlin IVF story, twisting it as proof of Abbott’s ‘problem with women’. (Huh?) When Leigh Sales put it to Penny Wong that Hillary Clinton held precisely the same position on abortion as Tony Abbott, the Senator asserted — with no evidence — that their positions are entirely different. Simply because Hillary is a woman.
Which brings us back to Julie Bishop. Despite a few wobbles early on, she has grown in stature in the shadow Foreign Affairs portfolio, with precisely targeted attacks on her opponents built on strong conservative principles.
On Carr: ‘It is a sign of Julia Gillard’s nonexistent authority within her party that she has not sacked or demoted Bob Carr for his blatantly disloyal conduct.’
On Mike Kelly’s bizarre and hypocritical attack on Robert Menzies: ‘Mr Kelly also failed to mention the growing support within the Labor union movement for the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. More than 20 unions are reported to have joined it and senior union officials have been involved in demonstrations against Israeli interests.’
On Gillard: ‘As things stand, every nation must be aware that the Australian Prime Minister cannot guarantee the passage of her own foreign policy commitments through her cabinet.’
It’s a shame the Foreign Minister languishes in the Senate — it would be good to see the two debate in the House of Reps; Carr’s pompous theatricality and empty spin versus Bishop’s pedantic precision.
As hostilities resume, Slushgate is already back in the news; with Grace Collier pointing out in the Financial Review that the interviewing of Olivia Palmer suggests ‘the Prime Minister could be caught up in a criminal investigation’. If it does flare up again, no doubt Ms Bishop will lead the charge. But why stop there?
Julie Bishop has already proven she is one of Tony Abbott’s best weapons. Playing by Labor’s own rules, her gender gives her an automatic shield against ‘misogyny’ and ‘sexism’. Her ability to focus, laser-like, on a single-minded principle and prosecute her case, undeterred by personal attacks, is formidable. Her famous ‘headlight eyes’ are an apt metaphor, and a telling contrast to the narrow, restless, ever-shifting gaze of the Prime Minister.
As deputy leader of the Opposition as well as shadow Foreign Minister, Bishop is uniquely positioned to take the fight to the government on any number of critical issues.
From Roxon’s and Plibersek’s nanny-statism through to Wong’s share of financial mismanagement, there are plenty of opportunities for Bishop to employ her litigator’s forensic techniques to expose spin and hypocrisy.
Strong, forthright and independent, Julie Bishop is far more representative of the majority of hard-working, self-assured Aussie women than the smug, patronising Gillard-Plibersek-Roxon style of inner-city, carping ‘feminists’.