Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Media Got It Wrong

I'm just going to say it. I think the media - or a large spread of media - has misread the events of yesterday.

It was an incredible day in Australian politics, set against layer upon layer of complexity: backstories overlapping, issues colliding, priorities conflicting until the unexpected climax: Peter Slipper's tearful resignation from his beleaguered tenure as Speaker of the House.

Context hummed and fizzed all day yesterday like political white noise until Opposition Leader Tony Abbott stood and moved a motion to remove Mr Slipper from his role as Speaker. Various pollies took their turn to speak: Julie Bishop, Christopher Pyne, Anthony Albanese, but it was Tony Abbott's unbelievable gall in using the words "died of shame" - the very same words uttered by Alan Jones that ignited the current crisis at 2GB - which set the tone for Question Time.

What followed was a withering response from the Prime Minister, in which she finally called Mr Abbott to account for years of misogynistic abuse. No amount loving testimonials from Tony Abbott's wife Margie and family could undo what Ms Gillard achieved in under fifteen minutes. Judith Ireland and Jessica Wright described it like this in yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald.

Ms Gillard said Mr Abbott should apologise to Parliament for the vile and sexist conduct of members of his own political party rather than using today's Slipper motion as a political battering ram.

She said she was personally offended when, as health minister, he said abortion was the "easy way out" and when he raised her unmarried status and when he stood beside the "Ditch the Witch" placards at anti-carbon tax rallies.

"I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man [Mr Abbott], not now, not ever," she told the house.

"The Leader of the Opposition says that people who hold sexist views are not appropriate for high office. Well I hope the Leader of the Opposition has got a piece of paper and he is writing out his resignation."

The Prime Minister, who had earlier condemned the content of the Slipper text messages, said the appropriate thing was to wait for the Slipper court case to reach its conclusion.

"People will then have an opportunity to make up their mind [about Mr Slipper] with the fullest information available to them," she said.

Ms Gillard asked Mr Abbott whether he had taken responsibility over the "died of shame" comments Sydney shock jock Alan Jones made about her father.

"Has he taken any responsibility of the conduct of his political party?" she asked."Who apparently when the most vile things were being said about my family raised no voice of objection."

But Peter Hartcher also branded today as a failure for Ms Gillard and her Government. With Peter Slipper now operating as an independent and Anna Burke appointed as the new Speaker, Labor's grasp on government is far more fragile than it was this time yesterday morning; that's obvious.

What's less obvious, at least to many in the media, including Peter Hartcher, The Australan's Chris Kenny, Sky's Peter van Onselen, 2UE's Paul Murray, 3AW's Neil Mitchell and probably Alan Jones himself is the effect of context. All this talk about Ms Gillard's efforts to protect Peter Slipper, and hence her own slim power base, is twaddle if viewed without reference to context.

JULIA GILLARD confronted a stark choice yesterday - the political defence of her parliamentary numbers, or the defence of the principle of respect for women.

She chose to defend her numbers. She chose power over principle. It was the wrong choice. It was an unprincipled decision and turned out not to be pragmatic either. The Prime Minister gained nothing and lost a great deal.

Despite months of rumours and revelations and even documentary proof, Mr Slipper has not been convicted. It's unlikely that many still believe he is innocent, particularly after details emerged yesterday of the crude content of the text messages. Aside from the obvious political benefit of keeping the parliamentary status quo, the Prime Minister's stance today was that the legal process must be allowed to proceed.

But none of that made anyone spontaneously cheer out loud, applaud, phone their mothers or their daughters or their best friends, shed tears of relief. Ms Gillard's acknowledgment of the completely unacceptable way that she - and women in general - have been treated by Mr Abbott and his cronies did have that effect.

Yesterday's drama in federal parliament took place against a backdrop of Destroying the Joint. What started weeks ago as a way to draw attention to the unacceptable conduct of one radio shock jock has altered the political context too. Ms Gillard's response to Tony Abbott today was not an isolated spat between political foes. It was part of a national dialogue that is telling us all that this generation of women is still fighting for respect, and that includes our Prime Minister.

That's what much of the media has missed. We all know Tony Abbott doesn't rate well with women. The polls confirm it, and last week's Margie's Greatest Hits tour of a media outlet near you proves that Abbott's team knows it too. Today, the PM fought back, with the support of Australia's women. She declared solidarity with us, and for all but the most devout extremists at either end of the spectrum, the Sisterhood outranks political affiliation. Our Prime Minister stood with us.

I promise that when when the women are chatting in the office, catching up for coffee, gossiping over the fence, if politics gets a run at all, they won't be talking about Peter Slipper being scum, or even about Julie Bishop's pink and cream suit. They'll be talking about the day Julia stood up in parliament and shamed Tony Abbott, his party and his high profile supporters. Julia destroyed the joint.

Or, as @Mischa76 tweeted: "Shorter Peter Hartcher: ‘Those uppity women!’

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