It was the best of speeches, it was the worst of speeches, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.
Such was the Dickensian day in federal Parliament yesterday, where two grand narratives competed for our attention.
The first narrative was arguably a win for Julia Gillard — and for women in politics. Gillard delivered a stinging attack on Tony Abbott over misogyny in politics. She spoke passionately and with authority. She spoke her mind in a way she has not done on this subject before. Abbott squirmed. The world listened.
Coming as it does in the wake of months of debate on women in politics, this speech may prove to be a step change in Australian politics. Have we finally been forced to normalise and accept a woman at the top? Will we be less tolerant of s-xism in the future?
The second narrative was a loss for Gillard. She offered this speech in the context of defending a man for gross s-xism — for texting the kind of comment many women would slap a man in the face for. Even Peter Slipper recognised he could not go on as speaker.
What a waste of breath and scarce political capital the 11-month Slipper farce has been for Labor. Gillard’s decision to court Slipper has been shown up for what it was: stupidity, unnecessary risk and poor judgment. The latter is Gillard’s Achilles heel. Good policies are a great start, but poor political judgment is hard to overcome.
So it was indeed the best of speeches on the worst of days, as history waits to judge this country’s first female Prime Minister. Whether she can avoid a Dickensian end to her political narrative remains to be seen.