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The misogyny of Australia’s elite politicians

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Vile abuse aimed at prime minister Julia Gillard reflects a deeper sexism in society that politicians are not challenging, writes Amy Thomas
Issue 2358

Sexism runs rampant on the Australian right, including the Liberal Party that heads the parliamentary opposition.

This was made blatant with the publicaton of the offensive spoof menu from a party fundraiser last week. 

One course was “Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail—small breasts, huge thighs and a big red box”.

Only days after that story broke, shock jock Howard Sattler interviewed Gillard on the radio and questioned her about whether her partner was gay. Thankfully, Sattler is now out of a job.

Right wing radio hosts and media commentators act as attack dogs for opposition leader Tony Abbott’s Coalition, which brings together the Liberal and National parties.

Recently Abbott has personally been careful not to do anything to encourage his reputation as a backward sexist, but the links are clear.

Shock jock Alan Jones—a personal friend of Abbott’s—made a speech last year at a Liberal dinner declaring that Julia Gillard’s recently-deceased father “died of shame”.

Abbott later referenced this in a speech of his own. 

In the 2010 election, Abbott was asked if he would debate Gillard again after she had previously declined—and responded, “Are you suggesting when it comes from Julia, no doesn’t mean no?”

As health minister under the previous Liberal government, Abbott campaigned against access to the abortion drug RU486. He has called virginity “a precious gift”.

The sexism directed at Gillard reflects the wider sexism in society and the attitudes of those at the top.


But Gillard herself has only recently addressed the issue. Her Labor Party is headed for electoral wipeout at the hands of the Coalition in the parliamentary election on 14 September.

In this context Gillard has launched Women For Gillard, declaring that under an Abbott government abortion will become “the political plaything of men”. 

This follows her headline-generating “misogyny speech” in October 2012 where she attacked Abbott’s sexism.

The idea of Gillard as a feminist fighter, however, is hard to swallow. As feminist Eva Cox put it, Gillard has “conveniently overlooked many failings on her own watch that have affected women”.

The day of her misogyny speech parliament passed legislation forcing people off single parent benefit and onto unemployment benefit when their youngest child turns eight. 

Some 90 percent of single parents are women. Meanwhile, Labor has backed away from plans to seriously tax the super profits of the mega-rich mining companies.

Abortion is still in the criminal code in some Australian states, but Gillard has never done anything to push for legalisation. 

She said nothing in 2008 when Queensland charged a woman for procuring a medial abortion.

She ensured the defeat of same-sex marriage legislation by making it a vote of conscience. She justified her own opposition with references to “traditional marriage”.

And as part of its cruel “Pacific Solution” the government has been sending women and children asylum seekers to an offshore detention centre, without processing their claims. 

Gillard has faced sexism, but her own policies have also encouraged it and given working class women—and men—little cause for enthusiasm.

Amy Thomas is in the socialist group Solidarity

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