Julia Gillard triggers storm by calling opposition's Tony Abbott 'sexist'

Australian PM hailed by US feminists after outburst against opposition leader, but her domestic audience not so impressed by fallout

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 October, 2012, 3:38am

A blistering attack by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard in which she labelled the opposition leader a misogynist has gained attention and praise worldwide, but the domestic reaction has been mixed.

Prominent US feminist website Jezebel called her a "badass". Another American media outlet, The Daily Beast, said "Margaret Thatcher must be smiling", while The New Yorker said US President Barack Obama could learn debating tips from Gillard, whose voice quaked with emotion as she tore into Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott, accusing him of a litany of sexist behaviour.

In Australia, the focus was on the political upheaval that served as a precursor to Labor leader Gillard's speech on Tuesday, namely the behaviour of parliamentary Speaker Peter Slipper amid a lurid text-messaging scandal. Gillard refused to fire him, but Slipper resigned later in the day.

Gillard, the nation's first woman leader, was incensed when Abbott said she should sack Slipper for the sexism in the messages to a gay male aide, in which Slipper referenced female genitalia in a vulgar fashion.

Gillard accused Abbott of hypocrisy, saying she had been offended by many of his remarks and would not be "lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man".

She said: "The leader of the opposition says that people who hold sexist views and who are misogynist are not appropriate for high office. Well I hope the leader of the opposition has got a piece of paper and he is writing out his resignation."

The unmarried Gillard cited a pattern of behaviour by Abbott that she categorised as sexist, including suggesting that she make "an honest woman of herself" and standing next to protesters carrying placards describing her as "a man's bitch".

Abbott had also claimed Labor should have "died of shame" for its performance in governing. His words echoed those of Alan Jones, a critic of Gillard, after the Sydney-based radio host claimed at a recent Liberal Party fundraiser that the prime minister's father, who passed away last month, had "died of shame".

"The government is not dying of shame," Gillard said. "My father did not die of shame. What the leader of the opposition should be ashamed of is his performance in this parliament and the sexism he brings with it."

Jezebel, posted the video of Gillard's speech, titling it "the best thing you'll see all day".

In a lengthy opinion piece, The New Yorker's news desk opined that supporters of Barack Obama "might be wishing their man would take a lesson from Australia", as they watched Gillard "cut through the disingenuousness and feigned moral outrage of her opponent".

But back in Australia, Gillard's decision to defend dissident Liberal MP Slipper, who she was instrumental in appointing to bolster Labor's voting numbers, while at the same time criticising Abbott, was slammed by some.

The Sydney Morning Herald said Gillard faced the stark choice of defending her parliamentary numbers, or defending respect for women.

"She chose to defend her numbers," said the newspaper's political editor, Peter Hartcher.

"She chose power over principles. It was the wrong choice. The prime minister gained nothing and lost a great deal."

Abbott also weighed in, saying it was time "everyone in this parliament moved on from the gender card which so many members of the government have been playing".

Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg