Yet again, Julia Gillard has played the gender card to distract voters from Labor’s policy challenges and the continuing speculation about her leadership, and to set up a phony dichotomy with Tony Abbott.
In doing so, the Prime Minister confirmed she has a tin ear for understanding the mainstream of Australian politics. Before an enthusiastic audience of Labor women on Tuesday, Gillard launched Women for Gillard - a fundraising vehicle seeking to exploit her attempt to manipulate a gender divide in the community. Yet the poorly scripted speech, replete with an absurd reference to men who wear blue ties, confirms how detached Gillard is from mainstream voters.
It is understandable that Australia’s first female Prime Minister wants to make women’s issues a focus of her government, but her words would have greater authority if she had not supported a man for Speaker who had sent text messages describing women in vulgar terms.
Gillard described the election as “a decision about whether, once again, we banish women’s voices from our political life”. Voters looking for facts to substantiate this assertion will search in vain. Labor cannot win re-election by mounting a case based on straw-man assumptions or personal attacks. Gillard argued that a Coalition government would make abortion “a political plaything of men who think they know better”. In reality, the Opposition Leader has pledged to make no changes to abortion laws and to leave decisions about the RU486 abortion pill to the independent regulator. And under a Coalition government, several women will sit around the cabinet table, including deputy leader Julie Bishop.
The discovery of a tawdry menu depicting Gillard in sexist terms at a Coalition fundraiser undermined the Coalition’s rebuttal of Gillard’s gender war - at least until the revelation last night that it had not been distributed.
Yet her jarring rhetoric has not been welcomed by several well-known feminists who would normally be in her corner. Eva Cox said it was a shallow attempt to appeal to female voters. Jane Caro said it was clumsy and manipulative.
The Australian, Sydney