July 1, 2013

Editor’s Note

July 2013 Editor’s Note

By John van Tiggelen

This is not the first time we have sent the magazine to press and, in the ten days it takes to hit the shelves, seen Julia Gillard’s leadership pushed to the brink. In fact, it has happened rather a lot.

This time, at long last, they tipped her over. Labor’s resurrected leader is the man whom up to 80% of caucus members lost respect for in 2010, and whose vengeful leaking cruelled the party’s subsequent election campaign and resulted in a hung parliament. Gillard’s compromise with the Greens necessarily included a carbon tax, earning her the lasting opprobrium of the Murdoch press, which had declared from the outset that its mission was to “destroy” the Greens and now, it seemed, by association, the government.

The hung parliament meant something else, too. Labor could not afford to lose or expel any members. It created the perfect conditions for a single MP to hold the party to ransom. Not only did Kevin Rudd demand the foreign ministry and get it, he undermined the party for three years and got away with it. His refusal to be a team player, to show any measure of grace, stoked the media’s indecent lust for popularity polls and leadership stories, thus drowning out the steady stream of social and economic achievements of the Labor government.

Rudd was not the only factor far more serious than the government’s own (not inconsiderable) missteps in selling its messages. The messengers have been woeful: the press gallery lost its bearings; the Murdoch press was rabid; and, as for Fairfax, if anyone needed further confirmation of its slow slide into irrelevance (as documented by Eric Beecher in this issue), there was the Age’s recent cry for attention, in the form of a front-page editorial pleading for Gillard’s dumping so that political discussion might return to policy matters. (Really? So why commission those fortnightly preferred-PM polls, then? As the company’s editorial director, Garry Linnell, told Media Watch earlier this year: “A leadership contest will generally be more read as it appeals to a wider readership than a policy story ... This is not new.”)

But there was a third factor. Anna Goldsworthy, in her excellent Quarterly Essay, lays it bare: this is a sexist nation, or at the very least one that indulges sexism. Sexists won’t have a bar of it, of course. They will resort to their default defence, that this is “playing the gender card”. They will say the same of Rachel Nolan, a former Queensland politician who immediately penned a fine response to Gillard’s outgoing request for the nation to quietly reflect on the impact of gender on her tenure. And it’s how they slapped Gillard down, time and again, whenever she dared stand up to the unprecedented abuse that kept coming her way.

Julia Gillard’s three-year term showed up this country in a way that its inward-looking political commentators, shock jocks and voters seem to be utterly clueless about. The reality is that Borgen, the Danish hit TV show about a successful female prime minister with human failings, could never have been set here. Instead we got At Home with Julia. The stereotype lives; this country isn’t ready for a female prime minister. We’ll only accept shortcomings in a man. Whether that man is Tony Abbott or Kevin Rudd, we don’t deserve better.

John van Tiggelen

John van Tiggelen is a freelance writer and the author of Mango Country.

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