Tuesday, Oct. 09 2012
It’s been a lively few days in the Australian Parliament, punctuated by fiery speeches, lewd texts and one weepy resignation. It’s enough to make even the U.S. presidential election look sleepy, as well as serve as a reminder that insulting female genitalia is bound to get you in trouble, which seems self-evident to nearly everyone but politicians who keep hitting send on the most lascivious e-mails and text messages.
Let’s start there, with the Speaker of the House, Peter Slipper, who tearfully resigned after theaforementioned texts became public when a former staffer filed a sexual harassment complaint against him. In the texts, for which Slipper earlier apologized, he makes insulting comments about women, and as The Age reports, referred to female genitalia as “shell-less mussels.”
Of course, opposition leader Tony Abbott jumped to demand Slipper’s resignation and made a motion in the House of Representatives to summarily fire him – which seemed rather justified, given that the Speaker’s role is to maintain decorum and dignity in Parliament. (His motion was defeated, though plans for Slipper’s resignation were already in the works, the Age reports.)
But what’s really attracting Internet attention is the barn-burner of a speech Prime Minister Julia Gillard gave in the House of Representatives, in which she details Abbott’s past instances of, what she calls, “misogyny and sexism.” This includes referring to abortion as the “easy way out.” And, previously, telling the Prime Minister to “make an honest woman out of herself.”
“That would never have been said to any man sitting in this chair,” she says, her voice rising in fury. In the speech, which is now all over the Web, she describes how Abbott stood outside Parliament beside signs that said “ditch the witch” and referred to her as a man’s “bitch.”
Responding to Abbott’s point that people with “sexist views” weren’t “appropriate for high office,” she said: “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.”
Abbott, shown often in camera on the speech, is gamely smiling at the beginning, but soon sitting stone-faced (one blogger suggested he was“shrinking with embarrassment “) throughout the Prime Minister’s barrage of words, while a few of his MPs try to shout down Gillard, who never loses her stride for a full 15-minutes.
Jezebel declared it “the best thing you’ll see all day.” The Herald Sun is taking a tally of international reaction, noting that a blogger at the New Statesmen had compared Gillard to the Incredible Hulk, using the line, “The Australian PM is angry. You wouldn’t like her when she’s angry.”
As the Telegraph rightly observed, it was a smart political move, to shift the focus away from Slipper’s misdeed, but that doesn’t make it any less riveting as political theatre goes, mostly because the camera kept shifting to Abbott, squirming in his seat.