June 29, 2013


Since Wednesday I've been feeling rather sad.

Not because I agreed with Julia Gillard's policies necessarily. Or because I found her simp├ítica. Or because I know there won't be another female prime minister in Australia for a long time. Or because until this week it was largely overlooked how much legislation her minority government managed to pass, against the odds, during her three-year tenure. Or because I acknowledge that it was necessary for her to be replaced in order that Labor stand a better chance of winning the federal election. Or because I regret the emphasis placed upon her political ambition rather than her commitment to the Australian Labor movement and her country.

No, it's because there is something deeply disturbing and debilitating about the way she has been treated as prime minister over the last three years, and the fact that most Aussie women just let it happen. I have heard very few of them even complain about it. They certainly didn't stand up and shout about it. Far, far worse, however; they let their men folk get away with it. They heard the comments in their friends' backyards while they stood cosily around the barbecue. They waved their 'Ditch the Witch' placards at Tony Abbott's anti-carbon-tax rally. What they should have have been doing was worrying deeply about the terrible example being set to their sons and daughters, but especially their sons.

Aussie women just got on with it... with life. That's what you do here. In the face of adversity, you get on with it. As Julia Gillard did, many many times, until last October when Tony Abbott sank to new depths of hypocrisy and the cork shot out of the bottle*. Her speech went global within hours, but it took the Aussie press at least a week to cotton on to the fundamental issues provoked by the Prime Minister's impassioned outburst.

The issues have been raised again now she is gone, not only from political office but from political life. Now everyone is condemning political vilification and the denigration of politics in Australian society. Babies and bathwater, stable doors and bolting horses come to mind. It's no good bemoaning the fact that male blue-collar workers in the cities and rednecks in the bush just aren't ready for a female prime minister. You've missed the opportunity to celebrate Australian's first woman leader. Which isn't to say she shouldn't have been criticised if she didn't do a good job, had that been the case**. Whatever your political persuasion, that fact should have been a cause for celebration in a mature democracy.

For a hundred years this nation has wanted to punch above its weight on the world stage. Many factors contribute to such entitlement: articulate, reasoned people in positions of political power; care and support for all members of society; respect for and action on global issues; scientific excellence; guardianship of the planet; and the protection of an individual's rights.

Kevin Rudd's tribute to Gillard as 'a standard bearer for women in our country' sounded rather hollow to me. I have been appalled by the antics of politicians and the language used in the chambers of government in this country since the last election. Unless the people rise up and change this sad state of affairs then it is a truism that they get the leaders they deserve. The people's lack of engagement has in part contributed to a few outstanding members in the last parliament hanging up their hats.

Australia a liberal, progressive society? Some way to go, I think.

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