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Sexist abuse of PM fits a general deterioration in political discourse

Gender did not prevent her succeeding Kevin Rudd nor did it work against her in the subsequent elections ... Julia Gillard.

Gender did not prevent her succeeding Kevin Rudd nor did it work against her in the subsequent elections ... Julia Gillard. Photo: Justin McManus

Media focus before today's budget turned on the Gillard government's intention to bring down a surplus. However, the real impact of this year's budget - in both economic and political terms - is that it will enshrine a carbon tax leading to an emissions trading scheme.

Budget surpluses and deficits will come and go. But the scheme is intended by Labor to remain forever.

The available empirical data indicates Labor began losing support, and Julia Gillard her authority, following the decision announced in February last year to introduce a carbon tax. The tax was unpopular in itself - especially since neither the US nor Canada has gone down the emissions trading scheme road. More seriously, the decision represented the most significant breaking of an election promise in recent memory.

The Prime Minister's political problems begin and end with this broken promise. She did relatively well in leading Labor to a break-even result in the August 2010 election and successfully negotiated a minority government with three independents and one Greens MP.

Gillard's problems are political and not related to her sex. Gender did not prevent her succeeding Kevin Rudd in late June 2010, nor did it work against her in the subsequent election or the political negotiations that came after. But you would not know this following much of the political commentary.

At the weekend, Jonathan Green interviewed Wendy Harmer, the editor-in-chief of The Hoopla, on his ABC Radio National Sunday Extra program. Harmer referred to her compilation of the "ugly top 10" barbs directed at Gillard over the past couple of years and specifically named such right-of-centre types as George Brandis, Bill Heffernan, Sophie Mirabella, Janet Albrechtsen and Grahame Morris. She made no reference to various "ugly" comments that have been made against the Prime Minister by such left-of-centre types as Bob Ellis, Mark Latham and Dr Germaine Greer - although her original piece mentioned the latter two.

Harmer's thesis turned on an implied suggestion of rampant sexism. Green opined that "there's maybe not sexism so much as misogyny". Maybe. What is more likely is that the criticisms of Gillard merely reflect a deterioration in the political debate, in Australia and elsewhere, which demonstrates the bad manners of the internet age.

Green should be the last to lecture about bad language, or indeed, misogyny. As editor of the ABC's The Drum website, Green allowed Marieke Hardy in September 2010 to describe the Liberal MP Christopher Pyne as a "douchebag in many ways". This was withdrawn by the ABC management. In January last year, Green ran a piece by Ellis on The Drum in which Ellis referred to the NSW Liberal MP Jillian Skinner as "like a long-detested nagging landlady with four dead husbands and hairy shoulders". Barry O'Farrell was also abused.

Once upon a time, the ABC regarded itself as an arbiter of good taste. Not any more, it appears. In private correspondence, the ABC managing director, Mark Scott, defended Ellis's misogynistic attack on Skinner as merely "colourful" and "particularly robust". That's all. The episode suggests that, to the likes of Green, misogyny is in the (political) eye of the beholder.

It's true the Prime Minister is the victim of undue personal criticism. This was evident again at the weekend when The Saturday Age announced the Cambridge-based expatriate Greer would become a weekly columnist. Greer used the occasion to declare that Gillard "looks as if she's wearing clothes that don't belong to her, like an organ-grinder's monkey".

There is reason to respect the office of both the prime minister and the alternative prime minister. Sure Gillard is, at times, the victim of misogyny. But Tony Abbott is, at times, the victim of anti-Catholic sectarianism along with personal mockery for his sporting attire. Last week, for example, The Age ran a cartoon by Dan Boermans of an erect Abbott clad in budgie smugglers, having his confession heard by an excited and perspiring Catholic priest. Enough said.

The electorate is mainly interested in policy outcomes that affect the cost of living. It is unlikely voters will be influenced by misogyny or religious sectarianism at the next election.

Labor's problems under Gillard primarily stem from the broken promise that led to the carbon tax. Rightly or wrongly, many voters in the suburbs and regional centres associate the Prime Minister with rising power bills. The former NSW Labor premier Kristina Keneally is correct in stating that the government needs a "game-changer" and this should lead to "ameliorating further or cancelling the carbon tax".

This, however, would require a new budget beyond that which Wayne Swan will announce today.

Gerard Henderson is the executive director of The Sydney Institute.

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322 comments

  • But Gerard, the opposition and the media are happy to use the sexist approach to stifle any rational analysis of the policies.
    If we had a rational debate intead of hysterical screams of Ju-liar, we wouldn't have to wait until July to see the benefits of the policy and we would understand that the sky isn't going to fall. But that wouldn't suit your agenda would it?

    Commenter
    Steve
    Date and time
    May 08, 2012, 7:52AM
    • Steve, those who oppose the carbon tax do not think the sky will fall in. It will simply damage our economy unnecessarily, whilst global emissions continue to rise and our trade competitiveness goes backward. I was under the impression that the reason we needed the "carbon tax" was because without it, the sky would fall in. It turns out however, that the carbon tax won't stop the sky from falling in, nor will it reduce global emissions.

      Commenter
      liklik
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      May 08, 2012, 9:42AM
    • Steve, The phrase Ju-liar has nothing whatsoever to do with her sex, it is to do with majority electorate perceptions. We have seen many here constantly call Howard a liar, be it true or not, and that seems to be OK, it is just a shame for her that her name allows puns. Also the other thing that will happen on July 1, when the wealth re-distribution tax, lied to us as an environmental policy, comes into effect is that there will be no reductions in emissions either.

      Commenter
      Michael
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 08, 2012, 9:48AM
    • "the opposition and the media are happy to use the sexist approach to stifle any rational analysis of the policies."

      Take the CO2 tax for instance....

      Man made emissions = 0.00012% of the CO2 in the atmosphere.

      Australia's emissions are 1.5% of those emissions

      So our total emissions constitute 0.0000018% of all man made emissions.

      Even if climate change is true (which its not), the Carbon Tax will only eliminate 0.0000018% of annual man made emissions (that's if we get our emissions down to 0)

      Given that life on Earth has a fairly high tolerance for CO2, this amount is miniscule. How can a 0.0000018% decrease in emissions make any difference to climate change. It won't. But the Left want to destroy our economy over this.

      How can you consider this to be 'rational'?

      LOL

      Commenter
      Norman
      Date and time
      May 08, 2012, 10:07AM
    • Liklik,
      again another distortion of the Co2 debate; the idea of the emissions trading scheme is two-fold (please try to follow carefully).
      1. To reduce (not decrease, stay the same) the expotential growth of CO2 emissions such that the temperature rises will be less than 2 deg.
      2. To introduce small costs now as we run out of low cost energy sources so that in 50 years time we don't smash our GDP growth later and suffer greater austerity measures. i.e a transition phase.
      You cannot defend or deny an ETS in simple 3 word logans, it doesn't work.
      But the most important point is that the LNP also want to reduce CO2 emissions but by paying from consolidated revenue to plant trees with a green army and to pay large CO2 producers to stop polluting.
      Please explain what would be the better policy now?

      Commenter
      Econorat
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 08, 2012, 10:13AM
    • Michael,
      Why woulda tax on the largest 500 emitters not cause them to reduce their CO2 emissions if it was cheaper than paying the tax? i.e. In order not to pay $23/tonne and pass the cost on, they elect to pay for technology to reduce CO2 emissions at a cost of (say $12/tonne) and therefore only pass on $12/tonne and beat their competitors in pricing?
      See how it works? It is not so much about the end user but the producer reducing CO2. This is where the economies of scale operate, less so at the end user.

      Commenter
      Econorat
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 08, 2012, 10:28AM
    • Hey Norman, I was looking at the ocean horizon the other day and you know what? I thought I saw a little curve. Not much of a curve, about 00000.18% of a degree according to my instruments. I'm not sure, but I'm thinking the earth might not be flat.

      Commenter
      distopia
      Date and time
      May 08, 2012, 10:36AM
    • Steve - You're totally missing the point. Yes GH agrees there are ongoing sexist comments towards JG, however he also outlines there are ongoing and relentless barbs at her political opponent. Neither justifies the other but there it is. Don't make out like it's one way traffic.
      As for the Ju-lier, while childish I'll admit, the lie was a beauty. And even if, as I'm sure you'll hope, all is sweetness and light after implementation from July onwards re the CT, the blatant lie remains.

      Commenter
      wennicks
      Date and time
      May 08, 2012, 10:44AM
    • Econorat, For the simple reason that the users, who are the ones who will drive the changes are given a rebate for their bills so, from a cost point they are buffered from the increases. The second point is that there is no limit, or penalty, placed on the amount that the polluters are able to emit, in fact as long as they pay the tax and the users are rebated, they can actually increase their emissions. See how it works, or not!

      Commenter
      Michael
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 08, 2012, 10:46AM
    • LOL,
      Alan Jones been coaching you again. You can distort anything with stats. Try starting with the fact that CO2 emissions and absorptions by nature are relatively in balance. i.e sum total about zero percent change. Then start adding 2-3% extra emissions every year for the 200 years where thos extra emissions cannot be absorbed as fast as they are being produced.
      This is something similar to a 2-3% growth rate on GDP which would see a doubling of GDP every 50 years. i.e. a kin to a doubling of the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere every 50 years or about a 4 fold increase in 200 years.
      Now do you get it?

      Commenter
      Econorat
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 08, 2012, 10:51AM

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