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Issue #1598      June 19, 2013

Gutter politics

Highlights need for alternative

Australian politics sank to new lows last week with a radio shock jock questioning the Prime Minister Julia Gillard about her partner’s sexuality, the “bad-taste” menu at a Liberal Party fundraiser and the PM’s “Women For Gillard” speech declaring war on male politicians. Gillard’s speech sealed her fate as a future Labor leader. What masquerades as parliamentary debate is little more than personal, point-scoring attacks, between two parties with highly discredited policies and leaders.

“Women for Gillard” – image via Julia Gillard’s Twitter account.

The appalling lack of respect for women was not confined to the political sphere. The Socceroos coach and senior military officers were also caught out in their denigration of women. The media described it as “men behaving badly”, while they irresponsibly sensationalised and exploited the tawdry details of every twist and turn in events.

The shift to the right in Australian politics by both Labor and Liberal extends beyond the economic sphere into every facet of life. It brings forth the most backward of ideas, which serve capitalism well to create divisions within the working class and divert attention from capitalism’s failures. During the Howard years “political correctness” was mocked, with a return to more explicit forms of sexism and racism in the media, by advertisers and politicians.

The recent ABC TV series, Paper Giants: Magazine Wars, showed how irresponsible gossip and sleaze sell copy and make profits as well as dragging down community values.

The government’s decision not to rescue the bodies of more than 50 asylum seekers floating in the sea was another example of racism and rank opportunism appealing to the most base elements in society.

The publication of the printed menu for a Liberal National Party fundraiser for Mal Brough with the name of a dish making derogatory references to the Prime Minister’s anatomy are indicative of how low some Liberal Party forces and supporters have sunk. An embarrassed Liberal leadership was quick to condemn the menu. Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey and Brough, who were at the dinner, could not recollect seeing it. Then the owner of the restaurant came to the rescue claiming it was not distributed, but just a joke with his son.

Brough is standing in Fisher, the seat held by Peter Slipper, former Speaker of the House. The Federal Court last year found Brough was involved in actions to discredit Slipper.

Just how low sections of the media have sunk was demonstrated by Perth radio host Howard Sattler who asked the PM if her partner Tim Mathieson was gay. He was giving her a chance to dispel “myths, rumours, snide jokes and innuendo”! “But you hear it – he must be gay, he’s a hairdresser”, Sattler said.

Where else in the world would a radio interview with a Prime Minister pry into such personal and irrelevant matters, designed to deter homophobic voters. It is completely out of order and should not have been allowed. Why didn’t the radio station press the button on Sattler at the first hint of the appalling nature of the interview. Were his questions pre-approved? Why is the station still allowed to broadcast? These are the issues the mass media should be taking up if it had an ounce of morality.

The outrage was so great that Radio 6PR was forced into damage control and sacked Sattler. The Liberals dropped him as the host for an upcoming Liberal Party fundraiser.

Sattler has a reputation for his right-wing and controversial views. He hit the headlines some years ago when he made the comment “good riddance to bad rubbish” in response to hearing about the deaths of three Indigenous youths who stole a car. He was also caught up in the cash-for-comment scandal when the Australian Broadcasting Authority looked into deals he had with Optus, Qantas and Mitsubishi.

Earlier in the week, the Prime Minister addressed the launch of a new group, “Women For Gillard”. Even the title of the group was narrow and personalised, attempting to lock in her leadership. Why not “Women For Labor”?

“ … very importantly, we don’t want to live in an Australia where abortion again becomes the political plaything of men who think they know better,” said Gillard, trying to turn abortion into Labor’s political plaything for the September 14 federal elections.

Was she being dishonest trying to pit women against men or just exposing her ignorance? Opposition to a woman’s right to choose is not gender-based. The Catholic “Right to Lifers”, for example, are both male and female. Her own caucus were horrified. It was not the issue to win votes.

Gillard took another equally unconvincing pitch at the male species by presenting the elections as “a decision about whether, once again, we will banish women’s voices from our political life.” She raised the spectre of a “prime minister – a man in a blue tie – who goes on holidays to be replaced by a man in a blue tie.

“A treasurer, who delivers a budget wearing a blue tie, to be supported by a finance minister – another man in a blue tie. Women once again banished from the centre of Australia’s political life.”

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was seen the next day on the campaign trail replacing his red tie with a blue one. No doubt he was conscious that the message being delivered was not just directed at Abbott.

Gillard’s speech showed just how out of touch she is with the issues troubling women – including jobs, job security, low wages, poor working conditions, climate change, public transport, housing, public schools, university fees, unemployment benefits, single parent payments, childcare and health services. Not men in blue ties.

The economy is facing a crash landing. Ford, Target, the banks, manufacturers, universities, TAFE colleges, state and federal governments, Medicare, and other employers are sacking workers. Where is the access to training and education? Where is the plan for job creation?

How can single parents survive with a cut of $100 in their payments? The callous and criminal treatment of asylum seekers. Australian women wanted to hear policies to address these and the other burning issues where Labor has failed.

The “Women for Gillard” address was an opportunistic and transparent attempt to play on Abbott’s poor record on women’s issues. It backfired badly. The Australian Financial Review/Nielsen poll, suggests last week’s events did not hurt the Liberals. They did hit Labor hard, with male support down seven percent compared with last month and a one percent increase in female support. Labor’s likely primary vote was down from 32 percent to 29 percent.

Labor is on the nose, and Gillard seems to be digging a hole for herself. No wonder desperate Labor MPs are shifting their support towards the more popular Kevin Rudd who might be able to reduce the massacre. The Liberals look set to romp in by default as the electorate turfs Labor out.

The media’s coverage of personal slanging matches between politicians covers up the failure of the Liberal Party. Politics is presented as being about personalities, and coverage of the parliamentary scrum replaces real commentary and serious debate about alternative policies such as those offered by the Greens and the Communist Party. Policies that are in the interests of working women and men.

The Greens have maintained a principled approach and have many progressive policies; pro-people, pro-planet policies, but have not convinced the majority of voters of their credibility as an alternative government.

There is a growing danger that as Labor remains on the outer in the coming period and workers are subjected to the Liberal/National agenda – including a renamed WorkChoices on steroids – the extreme right, neo-fascist forces will make gains. The rapid rise of New Dawn in Greece and other neo-fascist parties in Europe is a phenomenon that could develop in Australia.

This makes the task of building a broad left and progressive movement even more important and urgent. In the forthcoming elections, there is the possibility of the Greens winning enough Senate seats to prevent the Coalition from gaining an absolute majority in both Houses. It is hoped that other progressive and left candidates will stand in September from trade unions and community organisations as well as from left parties.   

Next article – Editorial – Job creation remains a priority

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