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Delahunty on Gillard – how she really felt about ‘Ditch the Witch’

Something dirty happened in Australian politics in March, 2011: a line was crossed that stained our political culture. Public decency in public debate was trashed that autumn day in Canberra when sexually demeaning signs about the nation’s Prime Minister were held high and prominent before the cameras - Ditch the Witch, JuLiar, Bob Brown’s Bitch. The then opposition leader Tony Abbott and two senior female Liberal MPs stood on the dais in front of the crude placards.

In a new book, Gravity, by Gold Walkley award-winning journalist and former Victorian government minister Mary Delahunty, Julia Gillard speaks frankly for the first time about the significance of these gendered attacks on her authority as PM, and reveals her hurt and surprise that so many commentators and citizens stayed silent. This extract gives an insight into how the scenario impacted her.

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In the swamps of offended opinion the question of authority took on a dark and gendered blaze as those crude signs were held high, capturing the camera and intruding into public consciousness through television. If decent Australians felt a line had been crossed in the vitriol of this political contest, most stayed silent.

Gillard herself was taken aback. She had thought about it deeply and in the calm of her private suite, cups of peppermint tea in Wedgwood china before us, she told me frankly:

The anti-carbon tax campaign very visibly brought together images of women and misogyny ‘nut jobs’ with a community campaign. Abbott was appealing to absolutely mainstream instincts about your cost of living under pressure, you could lose your job and she didn’t tell you the truth about it. Mainstream things and a political attack around them that would’ve happened to a man in my position.

But it got locked in, as he called for a people’s revolt, it got locked in to this really visceral, ugly anti-woman fringe thing, which ended up with ‘Ditch the Witch’ and all the rest of it.

‘Were you shocked by that?’ I asked her. ‘Yeah I was a bit.’

Julia Gillard shifted in her easy chair and her voice softened. She had never revealed this before. Here in her private suite the pause seemed to echo. This topic was edging perilously close to the personal, a place Julia Gillard PM usually steered away from. The black handbag and spare pair of heels sitting on the carpet next to the big desk spoke of a different form of leadership, definitely lonelier. I was wondering about the bruises those crude placards had left on the woman, but the prime minister protected herself with analysis.

‘I wasn’t shocked that some people had those sentiments, not shocked by that, but shocked that it was so visibly called forth into the public debate and that it didn’t get the sort of odium from mainstream commentators that it should have,’ she said.

I was nodding vigorously, feeling a reprise of the astonishment and anger that Australians put up with this smut in public with little more than a nervous murmur.

It got some criticism but not the blitzkrieg that it should have. If you put it in the context of race, if I’d been the first Indigenous person to do this job and Tony Abbott stood in front of signs saying, ‘Ditch the Black Bastard’ I think that would have been the end of Tony Abbott as a viable candidate in public life and it would be the subject of community outrage that would have lasted for months and months. Yet it didn’t have that same effect.

Her voice was as even as her neat jacket, betraying no hurt, though her response to my next question revealed an injury.

When I asked was she surprised that women politicians (Liberals Bronwyn Bishop and Sophie Mirabella) stood on the podium with Abbott in front of those signs, her answer was firm and fast ‘NO’ accompanied by a low, hard laugh.

Running through anti-carbon tax rallies and other campaigns—including the lurid allegations that as a solicitor two decades prior she was involved in an Australian Workers Union slush fund organised by a former lover—was the implied smear that she was an illegitimate prime minister, that she had no morality and somehow her immorality was linked to her gender.

Lancing a leader by calling her a liar is designed to destroy trust. Trust is crucial currency for any politician. ‘Liar’ is regarded as such a damaging word that its use is forbidden in parliament.

 

 

 

 

 

Gravity: Inside the PM’s office during her last year and final days by Mary Delahunty (Hardie Grant) is available now through all good bookstores and online.

 

 

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  • 1
    fractious
    Posted Tuesday, 1 July 2014 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    2011 and what followed was, above all, a media witch-hunt - the Murdoch-dominated print media landscape called the shots, and the likes of Jones, Hadley, Laws and co provided the cheer squad. Yes, there were sexist elements throughout the whole thing, but IMO that wasn’t the major “cause” that NewsCorpse, Macquarie Radio etc. were championing. What they hated above all else and wanted destroyed above all else was the (necessary) coalition of an ALP minority government with the Greens and Independents (Oakeshott and Windsor), and they latched onto even the most minor of indiscretions and sleights of hand with the dedication of a tropical leech. Given that, it’s no wonder there appeared to be a less than overwhelming rejection of Abbott’s antics at that event in 2011; anyone with two brain cells to rub together may well have objected in the strongest terms, but NewsCorpse, Macquarie radio and their like were never EVER going to even acknowledge that protest, let alone publish it.

  • 2
    leon knight
    Posted Wednesday, 2 July 2014 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    The entire Abbott experience has been a terrible lowering of political standards in this country - I don’t think Australia will ever fully recover from it.
    Gillard, Windsor, and Oakeshott were shining examples of decent behaviour during a dark meriod that is still steadily growing darker…Abbott and his henchmen and apologists have no remorse.

  • 3
    Helen Williams
    Posted Thursday, 3 July 2014 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Julia Gillard wrongly tries to deflect blame about her dismissal by her own party and public discontent re her many policy incompetences, onto her gender.She was not liked for many reasons (investigations into her background, the carbon tax lie, her dodging and weaving on the AWU-WRA matter, dismantling of border protection policy that led to more then 1,000 lives lost at sea and helped put our country into debt we now have to pay back) but gender wasn’t anything to do with her unpopularity. Particularly amongst women who felt disgusted that JG saw fit to ignore the foul descriptions of women’s genitalia by the man who she so desperately needed in order to keep her powerful position.
    Recently Julia Gillard took the stage before representatives of the Arab Emirates, conveniently failing to take the opportunity to point out their very own misogynistic attitudes towards females. This lady is a hypocrite. Her gender and class wars divided our country in ways never before witnessed. I sense that what is yet to come may finally cause her to exit stage left - for good.

  • 4
    katas
    Posted Thursday, 3 July 2014 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    Abbott’s silent endorsement of the disgusting attacks on M.s Gillard took our country back to real red neck territory and every one is the poorer for his inaction.
    Live by it die by it Mr Abbott, it was your call.

  • 5
    Ken Lambert
    Posted Saturday, 5 July 2014 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Hear Hear Helen Williams….could not have put it better myself….ooops…maybe this try from 26FEB13 could suffice:

    Entitled “The Road to Rooty Hill”:

    The designer OPSM glasses have not worked. Rather than a comely headmistress, PM Gillard is looking more like Bambi in the gun sights of a body politic itching to squeeze the trigger.

    The trail of droppings leading to Rooty Hill each have a distinctive shape, yet common stench of political hubris and acrid incompetence.

    They say you can’t polish a turd. What could you do with a whole field of spoor like these? The mining non-tax, the Slipper debacle, the Thompson scumbag, a load like Swan’s deficit, people smugglers galore, Nauru & Manus trots, the Malaysian ring of fire, Wilkie from a great height, the AWU boys from Fitzroy, the live cattle steamer, and the Rudd dump.

    In the series of media stunts which pass for political discourse in our fair land - the road to Rooty Hill is we pray - Gillard’s last ride.”

    Not far out I would have thought.

  • 6
    Barney Backfore
    Posted Thursday, 10 July 2014 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    Helen Williams, you look at life through a very strange prism indeed, do I also detect misdirected anger? What’s really causing all that bitterness?

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