PM Gillard: Her Rights at Work

Her Rights at Work (R-rated version)
The Political Persecution of Australia’s First Female Prime Minister

By Anne Summers AO Ph.D

2012 Human Rights and Social Justice Lecture
“Good afternoon everyone and thank you for coming along to hear me. It is a great honour for me to have been invited to deliver the 2012 Human Rights and Social Justice Lecture to the University of Newcastle.It is also a great opportunity for me to be able to share with you some ideas and research that I have been developing for some months now. The invitation to deliver this lecture acted as something of a catalyst and also as a deadline to bring this work to a form that could be shared.

Of course, I had no idea when I nominated “the political persecution of Australia’s first female prime minister” as my subject that it would become so topical. However events of the past couple of weeks have underscored the need to really shine a light on the way in which her fellow citizens are treating our prime minister.

In this lecture I want to examine what I contend is the sexist and discriminatory treatment of Australia’s first female prime minister by the Opposition and by some elements in Australian society.

And I must issue a warning that I will be using sexually-based language and, in the accompanying PowerPoint presentation, showing some images that some people are bound to find offensive. If you think you might be offended maybe you should not read any further.

ON 24 JUNE 2010 Julia Eileen Gillard became Australia’s first female prime minister. She had served as deputy prime minister to Kevin Rudd in the Labor government that was elected on 24 November 2007. As DPM she had enjoyed enormous popularity and although the means by which Gillard assumed the top job was controversial – and became more so over the course of time – initially her elevation was greeted with widespread enthusiasm. There was a palpable sense of history in the media coverage, with most outlets treating Gillard’s ascension as an important event, to be taken seriously. The public seemed pretty pleased as well. Her popularity rating was high. Women and girls, especially, were thrilled at this milestone having been reached.

Gillard has said that women who were just so happy to see a woman running our country sent her gifts, often jewellery. Gillard said that she always tried to wear these pieces of jewellery at least once, and at an event where she would be photographed, so that the giver could see how much she appreciated the gesture.

Just a few weeks into the job, Gillard called an election, seeking to legitimize her position through the validation of a popular vote. The election, held on 21 August 2010, failed to deliver her an outright majority. However she was able to form a government by negotiating agreements with the Greens and three Independents.

In order to secure a deal with the Greens, Gillard had to agree to introduce a price on carbon and thereby break a commitment she had made during the campaign that there would be “no carbon tax under a government that I lead”.

Other prime ministers have changed policies or gone back on promises. Paul Keating did not proceed with the L-A-W tax cuts. John Howard introduced a GST. Both were accused of backflips and of breaking promises. Neither was ever called a “liar”.

The term “Juliar” seems to have been coined by broadcaster Alan Jones and quickly adopted by opponents of Gillard. It featured prominently on banners at a rally protesting the carbon tax that took place in Canberra in March 2011.

The so-called Convoy of No Confidence rally in Canberra was the first time that many of us were exposed to the virulence of the attacks that were beginning to be made against Gillard.

It was the first time we saw her referred to as “Bob Brown’s bitch” and it was the first time we saw the slogan, “Ditch the Witch”.

Little did we know that this was just the beginning.

Over the past two years Tony Abbott has relentlessly used Gillard’s backflip on the carbon tax to depict her as unreliable, as untrustworthy and as a liar. The notion that the prime minister is a “liar” has now been firmly planted in the public mind.

Journalists have commented on Tony Abbott’s practice of heckling Julia Gillard across the dispatch box whenever she is speaking in Parliament.[1] Normally he does it sotto voce so that only she can hear, but on August 20 the Deputy Speaker heard him referring to the prime minister as a “liar” and demanded he withdraw. It is “unparliamentary” to call someone a “liar”.

As you probably recall, Abbott’s withdrawal was qualified, so much so that he was thrown out of Parliament for an hour, becoming the first Leader of the Opposition to be ejected from the House since the mid-1980s.

This might all be part of the normal cut and thrust of politics. Most observers of Canberra today agree that the current political environment has become especially toxic. The hung parliament, and the expectation on the part of the Opposition that it is just one lost vote on the floor of the House away from government has raised the stakes to levels not previously seen in Australian politics.

As a result we are experiencing an era in politics where there is very little civility. The overall temperature of discussion and debate is torrid and people use language towards and about each other that even a few years ago would have been considered totally out of line. This, sadly, is the new norm.”
Later Anne records videos on line

“For instance, in one such video, called – creatively – ‘Julia Gillard: the world’s biggest slut’ a young man who does not even have the guts to show his face, but has a scarf covering his features, says – among many other offensive things:

Hey just a guess, you also do not like Julia the lying bitch…. One has to remember that Julia has the rags on once a month. “WHY” Because she deserves it… (That was posted in June 2012.)

But what is NOT normal is the way in which the prime minister is attacked, vilified or demeaned in ways that are specifically related to her sex (or, if you like, her gender).

Calling her a “liar” might not be gender-specific, although as I have pointed out, it was not a term used against back-flipping male prime ministers.”

(I now give some excerpts and without the graphics…I have the link to the full article later you can read).
Further Anne Summers argues

“IN MY REMARKS today I want to focus on depictions and comments about Julia Gillard that are utterly and undeniably sexist.

What I want to establish is the extent to which the prime minister is being treated unfairly as a woman and because she’s a woman.

I want to identify ways in which Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female prime minister, is being persecuted both because she is a woman AND in ways that would be impossible to apply to a man.”

“And what makes Facebook different from email, or from the hate-filled comments from cyber trolls that appear under online opinion pieces in newspapers or on the ABC, is that Facebook users are much more likely to use their real names and their photographs – so we know who they are.

The other thing about Facebook is that we can measure what is going on.

For instance, the Facebook page “Julia Gillard – Worst PM in Australian History” had 15,686 “Likes” and 43,265 people were “talking about” it on 22 August this year. By August 28 – in just six days – this had grown to 18,051 likes with 45,760 talking about it.

(Fortunately this is way short on the 132,000 people who “like” Julia Gillard on her official Facebook page).

Facebook has given us new ways to intimidate, bully, harass and defame on a remarkable and previously unimaginable scale. There was another very famous Facebook page that has since been taken down.

It was part of the Alf Stewart meme – a series of extremely crude FaceBook pages that have taken over the persona of a character in the soapie Home and Away and used him to promote some pretty disgusting notions. You will not be surprised to hear that most of these denigrate women and some of them actually glorify rape.

The one to which I am referring shows Alf saying: “Julz you fucking slut” on top of a photo of Gillard which has superimposed over it the words: “Smash my box Alf”. Under that is another photo of Alf, and the words: “If I wanted a greasy red box I’d go to KFC ya slut”.

This little graphic had been “liked” 43,253 times by the time it had been taken down. Perhaps just as alarming was the fact that it had been “shared” by 2,099 people. If each of those people who shared it with their friends had 100 Facebook friends, this image has potentially been distributed to over 200,000 people. (That’s more than one-third of the population of Newcastle).

It must be very hard being Julia Gillard and knowing this stuff is out there.”

Later Anne Summers argues how PM Gillard like a CEO of a major corporation has rights at work and how the sexist comments are in breach of Australia’s basic laws: again just some examples here.

“I will now take you through your responsibilities and obligations as shareholders and directors to the CEO you have employed to run your company.

There are laws passed by the Commonwealth Parliament that set the standard for conduct in the workplace as accepted by the general Australian community. They reflect the norms and expected behavior within the vast majority of workplaces.

One such law is the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984.[7]

Section 5 of this Act defines direct sex discrimination as “less favourable treatment” of a woman compared with a man in the same circumstances.[8]

Section 14 of the Act covers the place of employment as the area where such discrimination has occurred. [9]

I think we can easily conclude that any discrimination against Gillard on the grounds of her sex has occurred in the course of her “employment” as CEO of Australia. What needs to be established is whether she has been subjected to any form of less favourable treatment relating to her employment because of her gender.

I believe that we can clearly make the case that she has been treated less favourably because of her sex.

Let me give three examples where she has, in the course of her employment, been subject to comments that are both offensive per se and which relate specifically only to women. In other words, these same things could not and would not have been said of a man.

First, let’s recall the comments of Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan in 2007 who said, speaking of Julia Gillard, that “anyone who chooses to deliberately remain barren … they’ve got no idea what life’s about”. [10]

We do not describe men who do not have children as “barren”; its usage relates only to women and thus these remarks are a clear example of sex discrimination in employment.

My second example comes from former Leader of the Labor Party, Mark Latham, who said only last year: “Choice in Gillard’s case is very, very specific. Particularly because she’s on the public record saying she made a deliberate choice not to have children to further her parliamentary career”.

“I think having children is the great loving experience of any lifetime. And by definition you haven’t got as much love in your life if you make that particular choice,” he told ABC radio.
“One would have thought to experience the greatest loving experience in life – having children – you wouldn’t particularly make that choice”.[11]

I do not think that men are called upon to make choices about paternity in order to pursue careers. This is, again, a sex-specific situation and an example of a person being disadvantaged in her employment because of her sex. Can we think of any instances where a man has been asked about such choices? Both the original question to Gillard and the use put to it by a so-called commentator constitute less favourable treatment.

My third example is from the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, who in February 2011 demanded that Gillard “make an honest woman of herself” by taking the carbon tax to an election.[12]
The expression of course implies dishonesty and “make an honest woman of” refers only to women, so is inherently sexist, but more pertinently, its normal use is in relation to single women.
“To make an honest woman” of someone usually entails a man marrying a woman who is pregnant. The use of this term in relation to Gillard was a non-too-subtle reminder to voters of the CEO’s single status. There could perhaps even be a case here on the grounds of marital status under the Sex Discrimination Act.

There are many more examples I could cite, such as:

the comment made in July by a Kevin Rudd backer about the time it was taking to bring Gillard down: “We need her to bleed out”, as this person charmingly put it[13]; or
the recent description by David Farley, CEO of the Australian Agricultural Company, of Julia Gillard as “an unproductive old cow” [14] – you would not call a man “a cow”
but I think I have made my case.

No male CEO of Australia has ever been subjected to the same treatment.

The federal magistrates court has found that an Aboriginal man who was subjected to constant derogatory comments about his race had been discriminated against on the grounds of race.[15] I suggest that were such a case to be brought forward based on what Julia Gillard has had to endure, that there would be a finding of sex discrimination.

This then creates obligations for you, the board of directors, to rectify the situation and remove the discrimination or be held liable for the damage done to her – both her reputation and her emotional wellbeing.

I think we can also make the case that the CEO has been subject to sexual harassment in her employment as set out by sections 28A and 28B of the Sex Discrimination Act.[16]

It is well accepted under the Act that the sending of sexually explicit material via email or text to a person constitutes sexual harassment.[17] The definition also covers accessing sexually explicit Internet sites.

Interestingly, a recent test case under the Sex Discrimination Act as to whether exposing a worker to pornography at work constituted sex discrimination (as opposed to sexual harassment) was settled out of court.[18]

The creating of sexually explicit Internet sites or contributing to ones on Facebook that I have described would easily fall within the definition of sexual harassment.

I have already shown you an example from the loathsome Larry Pickering.

Larry Pickering has suddenly become very famous – if not infamous – after being identified by the CEO in her press conference on Thursday 23 August as someone who publishes “a vile and sexist website”. Gillard said: “for many, many months now I have been the subject of a very sexist smear campaign from people for whom I have no respect”.

What she did not say is that for many months now Pickering has bombarded not just her but every member of federal parliament and every senator on almost a daily basis with emails containing hate-filled commentary about Gillard. Often these commentaries have been accompanied by cartoons, many of which – like the one I have shown – depict Gillard naked and wearing a huge strap-on dildo.”

Cartoon image provided. And more…

Later Anne Summers continues …

“It says something about our country and about us that we could subject our leader to such vile abuse. It is even worse that we somehow think it is OK and even funny to demean her sexually in such crude and disgusting ways. What has happened to us?

How can we account for these levels of vitriol, for this hatred?

Can it really be the case that a tax – a carbon tax – could really spur so many people to such levels of hatred? I find that impossible to believe, so I have to conclude that the persecution of Julia Gillard has to be about something else.

Is it just the simple fact that she is a woman?”

I think that by shining a light on what is out there, on the ways in which our country’s leader is being demeaned and destabilized, and our country and its population is degrading itself, we might be able to shame the more decent among us into not going along with it any more.

We have to do this because I am alarmed that we have created a climate of misogyny that is widespread and contagious.

It taints all of us, makes all women vulnerable and it is likely to act as a deterrent to young women thinking about a career in politics. Why would anyone want to step up for such treatment?

And more

Read the whole lecture here and distribute it and take some action.


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2 Responses to PM Gillard: Her Rights at Work

  1. jan hubrechsen September 10, 2012 at 1:37 am #

    It’s ugly and it’s sexist and it’s cowardly the ceaseless slurs made against a patently brilliant prime minister who happens to be a woman. Drag yourselves out of the C19th boys, and honour a woman as brave as any man is purported to be!

  2. jan hubrechsen September 10, 2012 at 1:38 am #