Her Rights at Work: The Political Persecution of Australia's First Female Prime Minister

Article excerpt

Editor's Comment: In 2012 there was an unprecedented escalation of attack on Australia's first woman Prime Minister. Inside Parliament this consisted of baiting and character smearing; outside, in rallies, radio talk-back and print and social media, it included incitements to violence and sexually explicit cartooning that was graphic and degrading. In Parliament on 9 October, the Prime Minister confronted this behaviour, naming it misogyny. Soon after, the Macquarie Dictionary announced that it had widened the definition of the term beyond '[pathologicajl hatred of women', to reflect common usage since the 1980s, to refer to 'entrenched prejudice against women'. Just previously, on 31 August, in the 2012 Human Rights and Social Justice Lecture at the University of Newcastle, Australian author, historian and political scientist Dr Summers had documented the material in circulation and analysed it against standards of rights and justice. Dr Summers has published this documentation and analysis in 'vanilla' and 'R-rated' versions, and has been invited to speak on it in other forums, including at the University of New South Wales on 7 October 2012. What follows is a heavily edited-down version of her article. Its purpose is to draw out one theme of Dr Summers' analysis--that of parliament as an exemplary workplace. In the context of notions of'rights at work' and 'fair work', the following condensed extract from Dr Summers' speech explores recent standards of Parliamentary debate and 'national conversation', in the light of workplace rights to freedom from discrimination, harassment and bullying. She argues for a campaign in which individuals refuse to receive sexist comments by saying, 'It stops with me'.


On 24 June 2010 Julia Eileen Gillard became Australia's first female prime minister. She had served as deputy prime minister to Kevin Rudd in the Labor government that was elected on 24 November 2007. As deputy prime minister she had enjoyed great popularity and although the means by which Gillard assumed the top job was controversial--and became more so over the course of time--initially her elevation was greeted with widespread enthusiasm. There was a palpable sense of history in the media coverage, with most outlets treat ing Gillard's ascension as an important event, to be taken seriously. The public seemed pretty pleased as well. Her popularity rating was high. Many women and girls, especially, were thrilled at this milestone having been reached. A few weeks into the job, Gillard called an election, seeking to legitimise her position through the validation of a popular vote. The election, held on 21 August 2010, failed to deliver her an outright majority. However she was able to form a government by negotiating agreements with the Greens and three Independents.

In order to secure a deal with the Greens, Gillard had to agree to introduce a price on carbon and thereby break a commitment she had made during the campaign that there would be 'no carbon tax under a government that I lead. Other prime ministers have changed policies or gone back on promises. Paul Keating did not proceed with the L-A-W tax cuts. John Howard introduced a GST. Both were accused of backflips and of breaking promises. Neither was ever called a 'liar'. The term 'Juliar' seems to have been coined by broadcaster Alan Jones and quickly adopted by opponents of Gillard. It featured prominently on banners at a rally protesting the carbon tax that took place in Canberra in March 2011.

The so-called Convoy of No Confidence rally in Canberra was the first time that many of us were exposed to the virulence of the attacks that were beginning to be made against Gillard. It was the first time we saw her referred to as 'Bob Brown's bitch' (Brown was Greens leader at the time) and it was the first time we saw the slogan, 'Ditch the Witch'. Little did we know that this was just the beginning. Over the past two years opposition leader Tony Abbott has relentlessly used Gillard's backflip on the carbon tax to depict her as unreliable, as untrustworthy and as a liar. …


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