Restoring respect in our politics…

'I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a King of England too.' : Queen Elizabeth 1 when England was under attack by Spain in 1588

 An excellent booklet titled A Switch in Time has been published by the Victorian Women's Trust (Sept.2012); it can be read or down-loaded at www.vwt.org.au.   Written by Mary Crooks, this book, which is subtitled 'restoring respect to Australian politics,' sets down the ways in which our political discourse and democratic system is being systematically weakened by the unceasing attacks on the Prime Minister solely because she is a woman, and particularly as it's the first time since Federation that a woman has been elected Prime Minister by a large majority of the ruling party.

I won't attempt to summarise the book but there are some great comparisons so just a few examples:

•  Constant references are made to her government as 'illegitimate' because it's a minority government governing with the support of four independents.  But as the book points out, coalition governments are not at all uncommon and Australia has had fourteen (14) since Federation.  Minority governments have been led by prime ministers Barton, Deakin, Watson, Reid, Fisher, Scullin, Menzies, Fadden, Curtin and Gillard.  Nobody ever called the Menzies or Curtin minority governments illegitimate, why this one?  The Prime Minister even signed an 'Agreement for a Better Parliament' with the Independents which set forth desirable reforms of the way the parliament works which have since been implemented.

•  Constant references to her minority government as 'utterly dysfunctional' along with self-interested demands for an early election, are quoted side by side with a list of 20 of the more important of the over 300 pieces of legislation that have been passed by her government in the last years; hardly 'utterly dysfunctional'.

•  The biased, sexist and misogynistic way the Media have constantly attacked and referred to the Prime Minister is itemised and shown up for what it is; unconsciously or not, the Media have treated the Prime Minister in a grossly unfair way that they would never do if the PM were a man. 

•  The constant assertion that Ms Gillard 'assasinated' Kevin Rudd when the Labor Party changed leaders just before the last election is contrasted with a detailed and sane examination by Laurie Oakes of what actually happened at that time.  Similar 'changes' brought about by men over the last 30 years are listed, none of which have attracted the same constant opprobrium and sniping.  There have been at least 26 similar leadership ballots and changes in both parties over the last 50 years; why pick on this one?

•    The statement before the election that there would be no carbon tax if she were elected, constantly referred to as a 'lie,' is contrasted with similar statements by Menzies, Hawke, Keating and Howard where later volte-face changes were accepted by the public.  Howard's 'never-ever' pledge about the introduction of the GST was not subjected to the constant cry of Johnliar was it?  It happens, circumstances change and politicians change their minds, but none of the men quoted were ever hounded the way this Prime Minister has been.

•   Most shocking is a page of quotes, mostly anonymous, about the Prime Minister from Pagebook and similar places that are disturbing and abusive, all couched in violent sexist language, all aided and abetted by shock jocks like Alan Jones.  These comments walk a fine line on inciting the sort of violence and regular attempts to kill political leaders that happens in the USA.  I'm absolutely appalled at such sick, violent and abusive language.  If these com-ments are allowed to continue it will, over time, totally undermine all the good and proper values of our ordered and democratic society, and lessens us all. 

•  I don't by any means always agree with the Prime Minister as readers will know, but whether one agrees or not, no civilised man would want his partner or daughters treated the way the Prime Minister has been and is being treated.  It sends out discouraging messages to young women that this is how you will be treated if you compete in the real world of business, politics and the professions.  Fortunately the Prime Minister is tough and that quote from Queen Elizabeth at the head of this article could well be paraphrased;
Julia Gillard may be a woman but she's tough and has' the heart and stomach of a very Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia'!

• The final section of 'A Switch in Time' deals with the way the very serious matter of climate change has been trivialised by the Leader of the Opposition and others as 'one great big tax on everything'.  Serious scientific results delivered by thousands of serous scientists, matters that have been properly questioned and peer reviewed are treated on the same level as the opinions of journalists and pop climate change deniers making hay for political advantage, without any questioning of their unverified assertions.  As the report says:

The contributions and deliberations of these thousands of scientists have produced strong consensus-- global temperatures are rising as a consequence of excessive levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere ….  How breathtakingly reckless is this campaign against, when the body of global science is now sounding even more ominous warning about the rate of climate change and consequences for the planet?

Malcom Turnbull is quoted saying that 'the denigration of science is a real threat.  If scientists are mocked and derided, then soon we will have the total triumph of 'know nothing.' 

It will be to our ultimate peril as a nation if we keep on treating this matter simply as a game of political football.

• A Switch in Time was published by the Victorian Women's Trust so I expect to get a few, 'Well they would say that, wouldn't they?'  Well no they wouldn't, not without some evidence. That reaction is on the same level as the putting down remarks about the Prime Minister because she is a woman, or ignoring the evidence on climate change and belittling and trivialising the problem by only talking about a great big tax on everything.

I don't want a dumbed down political system without inspiration or higher endeavour, or to be governed by nothing but narrow self-interest.  Like me this group simply wants a more respectful, policy oriented democratic government that treats women equally with men. It's not much to ask and it's also necessary. It's only by fully enrolling 100% of the workforce to the limits of the capabilities of all the men and women in it that our small country is going to survive in a dangerous world of great powers and competing economies, a world that's getting hotter and will be even hotter if we do nothing about it.  We have to restore respect in Australian politics, argue and work together, rather than see it degraded by the current antics in parliament. 

There's a story I like that on one occasion when the parliamentary term was over, Bob Menzies walked around to Ben Chifley's office with a bottle of whiskey and locked the door behind him!  They were fierce opponents in the House, after all Chifley had tried to nationalise the banks and Menzies had tried to ban the communist party, both the subject of referenda that were lost.  But none of that stopped them having respect for one another, they liked having a yarn and sharing an uninterrupted drink together. 

I urge you to read this sane and outspoken breath of fresh air.

Don Gazzard FRAIA
January 2013

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