Wednesday, 10 October 2012 

If the last grisly month of politics has shown anything, it is that these days the left is much better at launching personal attacks than the right. The decay of the progressive social movements of the 1960s and 1970s into the current realm of the personal with its victims, the easily offended and enforcers of politically correct etiquette, provide a far more conducive platform from which to launch personal attacks than the right’s out-dated social mores.

However, what this month has also shown, especially yesterday, is that while political correctness provides a good base from which to personally attack another, it’s a lousy one for restoring one’s own authority.

It has been entirely fitting that the two most important political events in the media in the last month occurred in student politics. The self-absorption of student politics, especially in Australia, where it tends to be detached from the student body, let alone the rest of society, is not only the perfect training ground for future politicians but a suitable forum for today’s politicians as well.

It all kicked of with David Marr’s Quarterly Essay on Abbott. Marr was reportedly surprised at the way his latest round of psycho-babble posing as political analysis took off. Yet if he had focussed on actually looking at the political situation today, rather than wasting his time trying to second-guess Abbott’s psychological make-up, he shouldn’t have been surprised at all. It plopped perfectly into the stew cooked up by the current government that knows however unpopular it may be, they have one thing going for it, the unpopularity of Tony Abbott.

This can cover up a lot. Take one low in a month full of them, Barrie Cassidy’s interview with the Attorney General on Sunday. Here is the first law officer in the land who has just been handed down a judgement that is the biggest blow to the way national security is used to justify the toughness of Australia’s immigration laws since the Haneef affair. Yet instead, the interview spent more time on how rude Tony Abbott was to her by swearing to her and turning his back on her while she is talking in Parliament (as has every other opposition leader on their swivel chair).

Barrie Cassidy’s interview reflects the way the media uncritically thinks that personal relations between Roxon and Tony Abbott could possibly be of interest to anyone else. But it is hardly the media leading this. It is the political class that is in the driving seat. It is not just in the way that the government prefers to focus on the personal attribute of Abbott and his behaviour, but the way on so many important issues these days the differences between both sides simply melt away.

Abbott and Roxon may differ fiercely over whether he is a misogynist, but on the issue as to whether ASIO has the right to force indefinite detention without even letting the detainee know why, there is perfect harmony. As Roxon said, both parties will be working together to make arguably the toughest immigration laws even tougher still, without even the partial political disagreement that accompanied the Haneef affair.

What we are seeing here is a continuation of the trend from the Haneef affair, and the previous ruling on the Malaysian solution: the increasing challenge by the judiciary on the political class’s wide-ranging discretion powers enshrined in the Migration Act. The response by the political class is an increasingly unanimous one – to reassert their discretionary powers. In the middle of this tussle between the judiciary and an insecure political class, of course, is the fate of hapless asylum seekers but that hardly matters here. It is not even about getting votes, although presumably Roxon avoided Labor’s boycott on Alan Jones so at least she can go on there and assure him and his listeners that the job is still being done.

But we went even further down yesterday. It’s quite clear what the opposition was trying to do. After dragging poor old Margaret out to join in the fray, the Coalition was going to use the text messages of Slipper to try and deflect the government’s charge against Tony Abbott of sexism. There were no other principles involved and, to protect the Speaker and its majority, Labor had no principle to defend. So instead Gillard used the occasion to raise the level of personal attack against Abbott.

Jones’s nasty over-reach was to be expected from a culture war bore whose over-inflated sense of own importance is shared by others, ignoring his spectacular failure to mobilise any sign of it. Gillard had received praise for not responding to his comments (even if she presumably OK’ed her ministers to do so) but this rule was broken yesterday. Abbott’s bizarrely tactless use of “died of shame” was an opportunity to directly do what government ministers had been trying to do all week, link him to Jones’s words and make a full frontal charge of misogyny.

Sexism’s social impact is easy to see. Despite the fabulousness of having a female Governor-general, Prime Minster and now Speaker, there is still a gender pay gap of around 17% that has barely moved in 20 years. Arguably its sharpest point is with single mothers where social expectations of women’s role in child-rearing collide with lesser opportunities in the workplace to ensure that single mothers, making up almost 90% of lone parents, are one of the most disadvantaged sections of the community.

How delightful is the timing then that on the very day that Gillard was complaining about sexism against her, her government was passing legislation that targets single mothers in what is likely to be the start of wide-ranging assault on welfare benefits. As Howard side-kick Arthur Sinodinos noted in the Senate, this marks the picking-up of the Welfare to Work reforms started under Howard but without even the grand-fathering benefits of Howard’s attack. Again this time there is total agreement compared to Labor’s opposition to Howard’s changes. It marks an historical change in the relationship between society and the state that has been around since before the 1930s, especially significant for the party most associated with it. Nevertheless, it is wonderful to see such bipartisanship at work in our Parliament behind the personal attacks.

Finally, what seems to have been also missed is that attacks on Abbott’s sexism may put him on the defensive but it hardly does much good to the women making them. Listening to an Attorney General complaining of someone being rude to her makes her look pathetic. For Gillard the impact is even worse. Gillard’s gender isn’t under attack, her authority is; sexism is just one of many tools to do it. Her authority problems stem from being put in by Labor power brokers with no agenda other than a faux Howard parody that assumes everyone listens to 2GB. It was an attempt to “relate” to the electorate that led her to target asylum seekers from day one and loll around for the Women’s Weekly in a way that hardly added to authority. Similarly turning herself into an offended victim of misogyny may put Abbott on the defensive, and thrill a media that gets off on personal argy-bargy, but it hardly restores her authority either. But then, given what she is doing with it, who really gives a damn?

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 10 October 2012.

Filed under Political figures

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21 responses to “Degeneration”

  1. DM on 11th October 2012 12:12 am

    It’s ghastly to look at what the ALP has become. It’s the party of the unimaginative status quo, nothing to say about the future of the country except for some empty platitudes defending the decisions of a Prime Minister who has demonstrated to have the worst judgement of any political leader this country has seen in the last 40 years. If the Liberals somehow managed to get over their obsession with watering down employee’s rights in Industrial Relations there truly would be no need for the ALP to exist anymore. The only reason why those 30 per cent hang on is because they are scared of what a Liberal government would mean for their rights and conditions at work.

  2. Craig on 11th October 2012 4:45 am

    Ironically Gillard recently asked the public to judge her and her government on their vision for the future of Australia.

    NBN aside, what vision is that?

    Strategically this government should least want to be judged on vision. They have none. They limp from crisis to crisis, never able to lift their heads to the horizon to foresee and plan for the nation.

    The Coalition under Abbott is no different. Their future vision is simply a rehash of the 1950s.

    The only party with a real vision for Australia’s future are the Greens – which is a vision they are constantly judged on as many do not agree with it.

    Perhaps that is why the major parties have no vision, it is not an electoral asset. It is also why Gillard and Labor should be judged on record, not vision and Abbott on policy (not abuse).

    Our political parties are all failing Australia. However the system is biased towards it.

  3. Marilyn on 11th October 2012 5:30 am

    Yes, yes and yes. I find it bizarre and pathetic that these younger women whine about sexism while beating up on other women.

    Bi-partisan torture of women and kids is what we have come to.

    Yet the asylum seekers they seek to persecute are not afraid of them, they see through their pathetic posturing.

    I am embarrassed by and ashamed of those silly little girls in parliament today.

  4. dedalus on 11th October 2012 7:59 pm

    Sorry Pipe, but your depiction of someone “.. turning herself into an offended victim ..” doesn’t marry at all with the obvious sincerity and impassionedness of Gillard’s anti-Abbott speech in parliament. Yours is far too jaded an interpretation. I’ve seen enough scripted speeches in my time to know the real mcCoy when I see it.

    Craig, how many visions do you want. NBN will do me for starters.

    Marilyn, you’re conflating two different issues. Plus you’re beating up on girls.

  5. The Piping Shrike on 11th October 2012 10:09 pm

    Don’t think being an offended victim meant that it wasn’t sincere. Actually I thought there was a lot that was sincere in the speech, especially on her father (let’s hope so).

    But the “Abbott has a problem with women” attack has been going on for a while from the government front bench, and I think we can safely say it has been mostly tactics and the speech fitted in with that. I also would have thought that Gillard would be one of the least vulnerable to personal sledging of the MPs in Parliament, but who knows.

    What we can definitely say was bogus was the “offence” shown by Labor MPs to a comedian at a union dinner last night that made a crude joke about Abbott’s female Chief of Staff. Either that or it was a huge coincidence that the first time we hear of such a principled reaction by Labor MPs was just one day after the speech. Fancy that!

  6. Azrael the Cat on 12th October 2012 4:44 am

    A very minor note in the context of your article, but there’s a glaring error early in your piece and it bears correcting.

    It has been many many decades since student politics was encouraged by the parties as ‘good training’ for real politics. I say this as an ALP member who was both a student politics state factional convener, a two-time National Union of Students state officer bearer, NUS state president, and factional president in one of the most dominant of the ALP-linked student political factions – all during the late 90s, so much later than Abbott/Gillard, but not that far off when Stott-Despoja operiated as a student factional leader.

    There are three reasons for this being the case:
    – student political factions are divided into various ALP-linked factions, mostly divided by ALP faction, but some within the same faction, causing no end of animosity within their young ALP relations, while forging working relations almost exclusively with allies OUTSIDE the ALP (e.g. the alliance between Student Unity, the ALP right, and the liberals, and between whichever faction smoozes them that year and the far left conglomerate of the day (they called themselves the National Broad Left in my day). The senior party shakes its head in disbelief at the inability of its student politicians to understand who the real enemy is v who is going to be handing out their how to vote cards in the future.

    2. The all-consuming black hole of student politics distracts its practitioners from doing things the parties would prefer them to be doing – like actually going to branch meetings, working in party offices, helping with party campaigning and doing the real preparatory work of a future politician.

    3. MOST IMPORTANTLY, and I have heard this from numerous sitting MPs, student politics is devastating to folks’ political instincts. In student politics you can – and inevitably do – hate with the kind of passion that can only be sustained when you only have to work with someone for 3 years tops. Time and time again, the senior party complains that student politicians emerge from uni with hatreds so vicious that they can no longer work productively with members of their own party. Intraparty cross-factional hatred is normal to politics, but the reason the senior parties now dissuade their youth from heavy involvement in student politics is because they need people who can hold vicious factional disagreements and yet retain the temperament to be able to work with their factional opponents across a time-period of decades, rather than the length of a degree.

    The importance of student politics to real politics reached its height in the days of Tony Abbott. Now it is merely a distraction that the parties would rather their youth didn’t get so involved in.

  7. Marilyn on 12th October 2012 7:58 pm

    Why because I am a woman do I have to defend other women playing poor widdle victims.

  8. Graeme on 12th October 2012 10:55 pm

    Major party politics tody is the Narcissism of Small Differences. Run through an echo chamber of online media (MSM and (anti)social) interested only in prurience in the nme of ‘character’.

    But whilst its undeniable that rancour – contrary Gillard’s fans – only reinforces Abbott’s thug-in-the-street spoiler strategy; Shrike, to claim the ‘left”, a lavender force in Australia for twenty years, is some kind of personal hit squad, is bewildering.

    What is more intriguing in recent years is the retreat of conservatism from politesse to street-brawling. It’s precisely the source of Labor’s resentment of Abbott’s blokey-ness. Labor – as you used to argue – is more baseless than the present Liberal Party – and it is that testosterone deficiency it resents, rather than gender politics per se (on which you only need to have seen the retiring Lib Senator from Qld’s parting critique of her own party late last week to know is a simmering issue all round).

  9. Riccardo on 13th October 2012 8:59 am

    Bring back PJK. I want them thundering in Parliament, none of this Prissy Pyning for politesse.

    PJK gave’em what for.

    Can we get Gough out of his nursing home for one more whitty jab.He knew where the enemy were in parliament, in front not behind.

    How would our pollies cope today with a Mao or a Stalin or whatever at some peace conference, if they can’t even fight there opponents in Parliament.

  10. No Crap App: w/b 8 Oct 2012 « No Crap App on 13th October 2012 10:04 am

    […] Piping Shrike: Degeneration […]

  11. dedalus on 13th October 2012 10:28 pm

    One dimension of this gender thing is the way some old-media right-wing apologists and conservative politicians have been bending and twisting the meanings of key terms, even going so far as dragging out the official “definitions” from their old editions of the oxford and other dictionaries. While most of us know quite well how to decode a critique built around the word “misogyny”, these blokes and sheilas of the fourth estate and the opposition benches reckon if a complaint against their oppositionsfuhrer doesn’t pass the literal test then it doesn’t have any meaning at all. It’s void because of incorrect usage. Mike Seccombe (“Word of the Day”) ridiculed this attitude recently, quoting William Safire on the subject of word-usage.

  12. Anonymous on 13th October 2012 11:06 pm

    […] course blogger @Piping_Shrike is right objecting that this does not resolve sexism’s social impact. “That despite the fabulousness of having a female Governor-general, Prime Minster and now […]

  13. Thomas Paine on 15th October 2012 11:26 pm

    How precious it was Gillard in a debate to defend a dirty personal case of misogyny by her Speaker does it by self righteously accusing another of misogyny.

    Gillard’s standard is that misogynists that help maintain power are perfectly OK and are to be defended.

    Roxon and Gillard whining/implying that they are being treated badly because they are women is dishonest, pathetic but unsurprising given how low Labor has develoved under her ‘leadership’.

    Gillard is breathlessly looking for every lowest common denominator with which to stir up votes. Indeed, it is most difficult to tell the difference between Gillard Labor and Abbott Liberals, because there is little difference.

    It would be better for the political landscape if Labor shattered, less this relentless moving to the right by Gillard ends up with her being the female equivalent of Barnaby Joyce, and the center of Aussie politics somewhere near Mussolini ( and there are some current and former Labor hacks who think he wasn’t so bad)

    Australian politics like US politics is plumbing lows never before thought possible.

  14. Marilyn on 16th October 2012 5:51 pm

    Nothing Slipper said or did had anything to do with hating women, for heavens’ sake.

    I am a woman and was not offended at all and nor were any of the other women I know.

    Hating women is a very harsh and rare thing but just as many women really hate men and so what?

    Gillard though did defend the legal operation of the parliament, for once.

  15. Michael (the other one who occasionally comments here) on 16th October 2012 7:32 pm

    Marilyn hints at a reason for the apparent disparity between the gallery’s and the public’s reaction to the events of that day. One that’s gone largely unexplored.

    I’m not the only person who doesn’t give a rat’s what Peter Slipper said *in private* to his *own (male) staffer* about women – or the intimate parts of their anatomy – generally and that loon Sophie Mirabella in particular. It’s the same reason I don’t care whether Margie Abbott loves her husband (let alone find it newsworthy). As opposed to … oh, what Tony Abbott has said *in public* on all those occasions the Prime Minister catalogued for us.

  16. dedalus on 20th October 2012 8:45 am

    The main point of relevence concerning sexism (or misogyny or whatever other term you want to use) to this blog is simply this:

    Is being a woman a net liability in terms of attracting votes from the general population?

    If your answer if yes, sexism is an issue.

    If no, it’s not.

  17. dedalus on 20th October 2012 8:47 am

    FWIW, IMHO it is.

  18. F on 23rd October 2012 12:33 pm

    Seems like your analysis is rather off Shrike, given that Julia seems to have become much more popular, not to mention achieving a certain global celebrity, as result of her speech? Maybe you are right that the Left is better at attacks than the right? Or maybe the Right is just easier to attack?

  19. Thomas Paine on 28th October 2012 9:28 pm

    In what way is this a Labor govt or party? Gillard Labor looks awfully akin to Howard/Abbott Liberals.

    And I don’t think she just does it to get redneck votes and votes of the intolerant and selfish…. I think she really believes some of awful positions she takes.

    Really it time for a party split, over due indeed.

  20. j-boy57 on 18th November 2012 11:55 am

    Will “Son of Santa”manage to divide the Liberal Party the way his mentor managed to split the ALP… we can only pray..

  21. Riccardo on 18th November 2012 8:34 pm

    Latham called him ‘Santa’s little helper’

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