This piece was going to start with how Julia Gillard had lost the plot with her remarks about gender and abortion yesterday, that it was a desperate effort to return to the misogyny debate that had served her well last year in the hope that she could shift talk away from ex-PM Kevin Rudd and return the focus to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s weakness on gender issues.

That piece is rather harder to write after former Queensland MP Mal Brough’s menu emerged with its grossly sexist and offensive description of the Prime Minister, as if to demonstrate that a contempt for women indeed lurks among some on the conservative side of politics.

Menu -- Mal Brough fundraiser

The source of the menu shot, on Twitter as @chef09876, had copied it from the Facebook page of the executive chef of the restaurant where a Brough fundraiser, featuring shadow treasurer Joe Hockey, was held on March 28. Despite the timing, a link to the ALP or the Prime Minister’s Office isn’t clear, although the tweeter is clearly an ALP supporter.

Abbott this morning criticised the menu and put it in the same league as the comedian, hired by the CFMEU, who made a “joke” about Abbott and his chief of staff in front of Treasurer Wayne Swan and other Labor figures last year, a rather arguable comparison. He also said it would have no impact on the preselection of Mal Brough. Hockey also condemned it, saying he never saw it — a claim far more plausible than Brough’s similar excuse.

The menu was the sort of s-xist garbage that Gillard has endured since she became Prime Minister. All female politicians, of whatever stripe, endure a double standard and constant focus on their appearance and family circumstances, but as Prime Minister Gillard has been attacked in the most vile and offensive terms by the lunatic fringe of the Right, talkback radio hosts, Coalition MPs and by News Ltd outlets like The Daily Telegraph and The Australian.

It was only yesterday that Essential Research showed that far more women than men — 61% to 42% — think sexism is a problem in Australia. It’s not a “problem” for men, of course, because they aren’t routinely subjected to this kind of garbage — the demeaning comments about their bodies, the reduction of their entire worth to their physical attractiveness, and the constant need to demand that people behave with a modicum of respect toward each other.

Gillard’s comments yesterday were also unexceptionable up to a point. She was correct to note that the defeat of her government — whether by the Coalition in September or by Kevin Rudd before then — will result in a marked diminution of female participation at the highest levels of politics. But she then leapt from that to the issue of abortion — despite Abbott’s personal history, there is no evidence of a Coalition threat to reproductive rights. It was clearly an effort by the Prime Minister to shunt debate away from Kevin Rudd and back to an issue on which Gillard is perceived to have an edge on Abbott. That was the point at which a significant misjudgment was made, either by the PM herself or by her brains trust and communications director John McTernan.

That, however, has now been overshadowed by an altogether vaster misjudgment by Mal Brough. Brough, despite not even being in Parliament, has demonstrated a colossal capacity for misjudgment, not just in the view of journalists or commentators or political opponents within and beyond his party, but in the view of a Federal Court judge, in the Slipper-Ashby case. Even assuming purely for the sake of argument that Brough is the sort of “man” who would find the menu amusing or appropriate, to entertain the shadow treasurer and allow it suggests a complete lack of political understanding, or a similar lack on the part of his staff if we accept his claim that he was unaware of material being distributed at his own fundraiser. Hockey must be mortified. The net result is that a moment that might have indicated that Gillard had lost her judgment has blown up for the Coalition.

And it’s unclear exactly what Mal Brough has to do before the LNP works out that his return to federal politics will pose a substantial risk to his party.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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