About that 15-minute speech on misogyny by Australian PM Julia Gillard

New York tabloid blog Jezebel has officially awarded Australian prime minister Julia Gillard the title of ‘badass motherfucker,’ after Gillard spent 15 minutes in Australia’s House of Representatives on Tuesday calling out Coalition leader Tony Abbott for misogyny in the wake of a scandal that saw the House speaker resign after admitting to using inappropriate language about women in text messages. 

It’s really the most amazing video out of Australian politics since someone uploaded that ‘Happy Vegemite’ video of former prime minister Kevin Rudd going ballistic.

It’s playing to rave reviews around the English-speaking world — and that’s rare for anything in Australian politics.  Australia is one of the rare countries to have a parliamentary system, but two-party politics.  Gillard, whose Labor party was elected under Rudd in 2007, became prime minister in 2010 after an internal revolt over Rudd’s temperament led to Rudd’s resignation.  Abbott heads the Coalition, which since 1922, has been a coalition of a number of center-right Australian parties, most notably the Liberal and National parties.  Interestingly, Gillard remains more unpopular than Rudd and Abbott remains much less popular than former Coalition leader Malcolm Turnbull.

What’s most interesting is the distinction between how the speech played in Australia and how it’s playing for a global audience, though.  Much of the U.S. and British media commentary is universally glowing — The New Yorker even said Democratic U.S. president Barack Obama, who is widely seen to have turned in a subdued performance in last week’s U.S. presidential debate against Republican Mitt Romney could take some tips from Gillard.  But back in Australia, where Gillard is treading water after finally putting to rest (only temporarily, I assure you) an internal struggle with Rudd earlier in February, in advance of federal elections expected later in 2013, it played to decidedly mixed reviews:

Julia Gillard confronted a stark choice yesterday – the political defence of her parliamentary numbers, or the defence of the principle of respect for women.

She chose to defend her numbers. She chose power over principle. It was the wrong choice. It was an unprincipled decision and turned out not to be pragmatic either. The Prime Minister gained nothing and lost a great deal.

Some of the choice quotes:

And then of course, I was offended too by the sexism, by the misogyny of the Leader of the Opposition catcalling across this table at me as I sit here as Prime Minister, “If the Prime Minister wants to, politically speaking, make an honest woman of herself…”, something that would never have been said to any man sitting in this chair. I was offended when the Leader of the Opposition went outside in the front of Parliament and stood next to a sign that said “Ditch the witch.”

I was offended when the Leader of the Opposition stood next to a sign that described me as a man’s bitch. I was offended by those things. Misogyny, sexism, every day from this Leader of the Opposition. Every day in every way, across the time the Leader of the Opposition has sat in that chair and I’ve sat in this chair, that is all we have heard from him….

I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man, I will not. And the government will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. Not now, not ever. The leader of the opposition says that people who hold sexist views and who are misogynists are not appropriate for high office. Well, I hope the leader of the opposition has got a piece of paper and he is writing out his resignation. Because if he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn’t need a motion in the house of representatives, he needs a mirror.

Strong, strong language.

So what caused such a ruckus?  In short, the speaker of the House of Representatives, Peter Slipper, resigned after lewd and misogynist texts came to light earlier this year, although he narrowly survived a vote of no confidence in which Gillard and Labor supported the speaker. It was during that debate that Gillard so brutally (or eloquently) attacked Abbott.

Given the global blowback largely in favor of Gillard, however, it’s difficult to see how this is anything less than a draw at worst for Gillard — it certainly will quiet Abbott and the Coalition on the issue going forward.  But in a world where Australians have the full context of an often dysfunctional Labor government and a prime minister now behind in the polls for 2013, it’s equally difficult to see this having much of an impact on Australian politics in the long term, either.

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