An appeal for decency

Comment by Barry Tucker                    5 July, 2013

The Victorian Women’s Trust today ran full page newspaper ads critical of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and certain sections of the mainstream news media (MSM) for their attitude and behaviour towards Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.

The ad said the 2010 election delivered a hung parliament, but one that governed full-term and effectively with the support of two key independents.

“However, from the outset, and despite its democratic legitimacy, the Gillard-led minority government sparked an unheralded series of hostile reactions from different quarters across the country.

“An Opposition Leader, stung by being denied what he saw as his due, proceeded to launch a ‘seek and destroy’ mission centred on opportunistic appeals to people’s prejudices and fears. A deposed Prime Minister, stung from being removed so decisively by a Caucus that had lost faith in his capacity, spent the next three years currying allies on a parallel treacherous
‘seek and destroy’ mission – with Prime Minister Gillard squarely in his sights.

“Significant sections of the mainstream media fuelled these separate but powerful agendas by refusing to accept the legitimacy of the minority government with Julia Gillard at the helm. Her many achievements went largely unproclaimed while her mistakes were amplified — and continually referenced. Instead of delivering dispassionate reporting, seasoned journalists and broadcasters became players in the game.”

The sentiment contained in the ad is one of the neatest summaries of the past three years that I have read. It concludes with an appeal for a return to decency in Australian society.

Read the advertisement in full. The ad may appear as a .pdf file and it may not. It takes about two minutes to download and your browser may time out. I’ve reproduced the text of the ad below.*

Mary Crooks AO, is executive director of Victorian Women’s Trust and author of A Switch in Time — restoring respect to Australian politics, which you can download here.

Biased news reporting in action

Incidentally, the ABC News Radio report on the advertisements gives observers of news media a chance to see cherry picking, spin and bias in action. If you read the advertisement first and then read the ABC story you can clearly see what the reporter has done.

1. Criticism of the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, is used for the introduction of the story, although the advertisement is equally critical of the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, and the MSM.

2. The phrase “seek and destroy” is used in relation to Mr Rudd although, in the advertisement, it is first used against Mr Abbott. The ABC story does not say this phrase was also applied to Mr Abbott.

3. References to biased and unbalanced reporting by the MSM, of which the ABC is part, is pushed further down in the story than it is in the advertisement.

4. The ABC story begins and ends with references to Mr Rudd.

The main fact of the story — the full page newspaper ads — is news. The criticism of Rudd, Abbott and the MSM is nothing new. As a journalist, I would have made more of the advertisement’s appeal for a return to decency in Australian society. That is the news — that is where, hopefully, we are headed.

*A copy of the ad.

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Credit where credit is due

WE HAVE all witnessed something
extraordinary in Australian politics over
the past three years.
The 43rd parliament came to a close with the
removal of Julia Gillard as the nation’s first
female Prime Minister: the first woman ever to
hold the position after one hundred and ten years
of federal political leadership that saw 26 male
Prime Ministers elevated to the highest office.
The frenzy of the forthcoming federal election
campaign will change the nation’s focus. Before
it’s too late, we want to pay public tribute to those
who made this period of democratic minority
government a successful one – against the odds.
The federal election of 2010 delivered a hung
parliament. Prime Minister Gillard successfully
negotiated and formed a minority government,
the fourteenth in our history. This coalition of
the ALP, Independents and the Greens, opted to
provide careful, thoughtful, stable government
for a full term, so that our national government
could get on with the business of governing in
the national interest. And it did just that.
However, from the outset, and despite its
democratic legitimacy, the Gillard-led minority
government sparked an unheralded series of
hostile reactions from different quarters across
the country.
An Opposition Leader, stung by being denied
what he saw as his due, proceeded to launch
a ‘seek and destroy’ mission centred on
opportunistic appeals to people’s prejudices and
fears. A deposed Prime Minister, stung from
being removed so decisively by a Caucus that
had lost faith in his capacity, spent the next three
years currying allies on a parallel treacherous
‘seek and destroy’ mission – with Prime Minister
Gillard squarely in his sights.
Significant sections of the mainstream media
fuelled these separate but powerful agendas by
refusing to accept the legitimacy of the minority
government with Julia Gillard at the helm. Her
many achievements went largely unproclaimed

while her mistakes were amplified – and
continually referenced. Instead of delivering
dispassionate reporting, seasoned journalists
and broadcasters became players in the game.
Low showing in opinion polls was attributed to
her poor communication and her government’s
performance, without factoring in the damaging
impact of the on-going duplicity within her
own party. The very day in March this year that
Prime Minister Gillard delivered a majestic
Sorry speech on forced adoptions, a speech that
belongs to the store of great national oratory, she
had to contend with yet another destabilising
leadership meeting at which her opponent failed
to declare himself.

The ensuing toxic political discourse
surrounding the Prime Minister and the
minority government gave public licence
across the community, online and elsewhere,
for an unprecedented campaign of sexist
and chauvinist abuse, denigration, double
standards, gross disrespect for the office of
Prime Minister and gross disrespect for her as
a person.
It has been a fraught political environment
and we remain baffled by several of the Gillard
government’s policies – on immigration and
asylum seekers, reducing economic support for
single parents and the Prime Minister’s position
on same–sex marriage. By and large, however,
she has displayed an enormous capacity and
style of effective leadership rarely seen in
parliamentary leaders across the political
spectrum. She oversaw the introduction of a
raft of impressive and far-reaching legislation,
showing high-order negotiation skill, sharp
intelligence and a great ability to command
strategy and detail across complex issues.
Much of this legislation is nation-building,
addressing our common future as Australians
– the introduction of a carbon price, the roll
out of a National Broadband Network, The
Murray-Darling Basin Plan, a ground-breaking
National Disability Insurance Scheme, a much
more equitable model for funding primary and
secondary education, a national paid parental
leave scheme, and the establishment of the
Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse.
There were many more reforms. Achievements
in foreign policy, including Prime Minister
Gillard negotiating the basis for future high
level discussions with China, were notable and
more far-reaching than those of her recent
predecessors.

On her watch as the nation’s Prime Minister,
our growing economy has been the envy of the
world – low unemployment, low interest rates,
low inflation and triple-A credit ratings.
We salute former Prime Minister Julia Gillard
for getting on with the business of governing
for us, the people; for the skilful negotiation,
resolve and the leadership required to maintain
the confidence of the Lower House; for steering
the government through a full term; for enabling
close to 500 pieces of legislation to be passed; for
introducing significant and visionary reforms
that will deliver great benefit to the Australian
people in the time to come; and for remaining
strong and poised when everything bar the
kitchen sink was thrown at her.
We pay tribute to those male and female
colleagues who worked with her on the nation’s
behalf, respected her capacity and gave her the
loyalty she deserved.

We pay tribute to retiring Independents Tony
Windsor and Rob Oakeshott for their true
independence, their courage and hard work in
upholding democratic values; and for enduring
with dignity, the threatening abuse aimed at
them, their partners and staff.
The success of this minority government has
come at a significant cost.
The past three years have led to a great loss
of civility and common decency, a poisonous
political discourse and a downturn in respect
for our leaders. We now have a climate in which
people willingly and disrespectfully attack
one another in anonymous and often vitriolic
commentary that is no substitute for mature
democratic debate. There is a jaded cynicism
and a sense of deep despair and powerlessness
across much of the community.
With men now back in their perceived ‘rightful
place’ as political leaders of both the government
and Opposition there will be little gendered
attack in political circles. But the seams of
aggressive contempt and sexist abuse that lay
beneath everyday life and which surfaced with
Julia Gillard’s elevation as Prime Minister, have
not gone away.

We have just lost our very first woman Prime
Minister – a woman with a great sense of
purpose and skill, a true reformer. Julia Gillard’s
final observation, in a speech of supreme grace,
was that her experience as the country’s first
female Prime Minister will make it easier for the
next woman, and the next and the next. If this
proves to be the case, she will deserve further
recognition and gratitude.
Smoother passage for the generations of younger
women coming through the ranks will only come
about with more commitment – changes within
political parties themselves, a greater focus on
the benefits to be gained from gender equality,
cultural change that reduces violent abuse and
sexism and social action at many levels of our
society.
The truly ugly aspect of our national life revealed
by the past three years should give cause for us
all to reflect on what else is required to restore
and maintain respect, civility, common decency
and a fair go for women – in our society and in
our democratic politics.

Mary Crooks AO                  Diana Batzias
Executive Director                 Acting Convenor
Victorian Women’s Trust      Victorian Women’s Trust
Author of A Switch in Time
http://www.vwt.org.au

The Board and staff of the Victorian Women’s
Trust wish to thank the generous and thoughtful
women who provided us with the funds to place
this statement on the public record – without
the privilege of tax deductibility

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