An epic takedown

In the United States, we joke that the sure cure for insomnia is to watch C-SPAN, the channel that airs live footage from the Senate and House chambers. That stuff is boring beyond belief because nothing actually happens in chambers. All of our politics takes place outside chambers, where the lobbyists and back room dealers can push their influence. (It used to be a lot more interesting — we even had fistfights and one near-fatal cane whipping back in the old days, but those days are long gone.)

So we’re always amazed at footage from nations that have robust parliamentary systems, where stuff does happen in chambers, and it’s often great drama. I’ve watched quite a few speeches from the British Parliament where I had no idea what was going on, but it was good fun all the same. (There’s nothing quite like insults being tossed back and forth in surface-polite, formal language.)

But what just came out of the Australian House of Representatives is surely going to go down in history as one of the most epic takedowns of all time. For fifteen riveting minutes, Prime Minister Julia Gillard rips Tony Abbot, the leader of the opposition, up one side and down the other on his blatant hypocrisy, his misogyny and his sexism. It’s beautiful to watch — not just her steady, devastating attack, complete with quotes and dates, but also his facial and body language, which starts out dismissive and gradually loses all color.

There is of course quite a backstory, and I’ve summarized it below the video for those who are interested. But you don’t need to know the details to appreciate the pure theater of this no-holds-barred takedown, by a prime minister who has just made herself heard around the world.

Backstory:

Julia Gillard’s coalition holds a razor-thin majority, and one of those votes is a minister named Peter Slipper. Originally in Tony Abbot’s party, at which point they were such good friends that Abbot attended Slipper’s wedding, Slipper left the party and became an independent in order to accept the post of Speaker, a position offered by Gillard. Suddenly he and Abbot weren’t such good friends anymore.

Slipper is clearly a slimeball. He’s already been involved in an expense scandal, but the kicker was the sexual harassment suit lodged by one of his advisors, an openly gay man, in April of this year. Slipper stood down from his Speaker post, allowing the Deputy Speaker to take over, but did not resign. If this was an attempt to hunker down until things blew over, it failed when the harassment suit resulted in hundreds of Slipper’s text messages being made public. In several of them, he seems to have had a particular revulsion for female genitalia, likening them to mussels (I do wonder what his wife thought of these texts), and referred to a female minister as “an ignorant botch,” apparently not proofreading before he hit Send.

Former friend Tony Abbot jumped on these texts as a means of getting rid of Slipper (and his vote) for good by introducing a motion condemning his sexism and misogyny, and forcing him out. This is the motion Gillard is responding to. She certainly can’t defend Slipper’s texts, and states that she is offended by them as well. But the sheer hypocrisy of Abbot introducing this motion — a man reeking of sexism and misogyny himself, and who has directed much of his sexist vitriol against Gillard — appears to have trod her last nerve.

An additional bit of backstory: at a recent fundraiser for Abbot’s party, Australia’s version of Rush Limbaugh provided entertainment and said that Julia Gillard’s father, who had died just a week previously, “died of shame” due to her policies. Abbot distanced himself from those comments but then used the exact same wording in his motion calling for Gillard to fire Slipper: “another day of shame for a government that has already died of shame.” If he meant to drive a dagger into her heart, it appears he miscalculated. The dagger was turned back on him.

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About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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14 Responses to An epic takedown

  1. Carys says:

    Wow – thank you! I had no idea that Australia politicians could be such dinosaurs. It’s amazing that he can get elected given that he apparently dismisses half the electorate. Shades of Romney?

    • oregon expat says:

      Australia does have a reputation for being a bit, shall we say, Jurassic when it comes to sexism. And yet this nation elected a female, atheist Prime Minister — two things the US has not yet managed and probably won’t for quite some time. (Though I can see Americans electing a female President looooong before an atheist even gets a major party nomination.)

  2. M. says:

    Wow. I want this woman to be a Prime Minister in my country. Now! 😀

  3. Golan Trevize says:

    No comment on your country’s desire to return to the dark ages of Bush? According to the lattest polls that’s what it appears.

    • Power Wench says:

      Wait a minute! I object! You’re ignoring the fact that nearly half of the polled electorate want to stay with the current leader. So it’s not our country’s desire, but rather a narrow majority opinion.

    • oregon expat says:

      Actually I’m pulling my jacket over my head and hiding my eyes when it comes to the US presidential election. The fact that a bot like Romney has any chance at all, much less a good one, is proof that a large percentage of the country will vote for a short-circuited toaster so long as it gets the Republican nomination — because no matter how incompetent that toaster is, it’s still not a Democrat.

    • xenatuba says:

      I think that the desire is not as much for a non-democratic president as it is deeply rooted racism to not have a black president. I was sorely disappointed last election cycle that Obama and Hilary Clinton were rivals, because I would have MUCH preferred to see the first female president (gender bias here, yes indeed), although I was just as delighted to have the first black president. I devoutly hope the polls are wrong, and that common sense will win out over the idiocy that is the current republican platform and candidate.

      And that was an AWESOME takedown!

  4. CoolNik says:

    Just to correct your comments about Australia electing a female, atheist Prime Minister, Julia was not elected rather she became PM following a successful internal party leadership challenge to a first term PM
    Kevin Rudd. At the time, there was a huge public outcry because not only was she a female and an atheist, she was a unmarried, childless female, living with her boyfriend!!
    In Australia, as in most Commonwealth countries, it is the political party that is elected not the person, so changes to political party leadership mean changes to the PM or the Leader of the Opposition.
    It is a credit to Julia that the media has finally stopped their constant commenting on her clothing – she caused a stir when she met the Queen (of England etc. and the Head of the Commonwealth) in a trouser-suit rather than a skirt or dress!!

    • oregon expat says:

      Thank you for the clarification. I took a shortcut in saying she was elected (having watched Portuguese politics, I’ve learned about the people electing a party and not a person), but did not know that she was not the leader of her party at the time of election. I thought the Australians put Labor in power knowing full well that she’d be Prime Minister. Dang, it was so much more impressive that way.

      Good for her for finally putting down the clothing brouhaha. Sheesh, it’s not like she attended a formal military dedication wearing jeans and an open-necked shirt…

    • Robyn says:

      Actually, she is an elected PM. A few months after she took over from Rudd, she led the party into the 2010 election. It resulted in a hung Parliament. She was able to form a minority government by gaining the support of three independent members of Parliament and one member of the Greens. And yes, she has voted against same-sex marriage; she did, however, allow members of her party their own vote – Abbott insisted members of the Opposition vote along party lines, i.e. against it. There’s no doubt she can be ruthless, as those who sided with Rudd against her discovered after she became PM. Abbott is no different in that respect.

  5. Astrid says:

    Thanks for sharing this video. I watched it right to the end and boy, is she good 🙂

  6. Caelyn says:

    Also just wanted to point out that Julia Gillard gutlessly chose to vote no on the recent same sex marriage bill that was in front of the Australian parliament. She’s more interested in power than actual standing up for what is right.

    • Jason Cleaver says:

      All politicians are only interested in power. They could give a damn about what’s right, unless giving (or not giving) a damn will mean they get voted back in

      • oregon expat says:

        At the national level, I think you’re right. Though local politicians can actually be genuine public servants, it seems that once the stakes get higher, the understanding of who is serving whom gets a bit backward.

        Being disappointed in our politicians is one of the few truly universal human experiences.

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