AUSTRALIA

New low in Australian discourse as radio DJ asks Gillard is partner gay

Insulting quizzing of Australian PM Gillard on whether her live-in partner is gay adds another chapter to dire discourse in lead-up to poll

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 June, 2013, 2:47am
AFP

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A menu at a conservative political fundraiser likens a dish to Prime Minister Julia Gillard's intimate anatomy. A radio host asks her on-air if her partner is gay.

Mud-slinging is nothing new in politics, but a no-holds-barred election campaign in Australia is plumbing depths seldom seen.

Here we are yet again ...  We see a pattern of behavious. It doesn't go away
JULIA GILLARD, PRIME MINISTER

After a week of headlines filled with sexual innuendo and squalid attacks, The Australian Financial Review harrumphed: "We deserve better than this."

Voters are used to colourful language Down Under. After all, former Labor Party leader Mark Latham publicly called then Prime Minister John Howard an "arselicker" of the US president.

But the campaign pitting Gillard and Labor against Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's Liberals has the chattering classes howling at the dire level of discourse. Some hoped the arrival of the nation's first woman leader would drain the swamp of debate, political analysts noted. Fat chance, judging by recent events.

When Gillard, who has accused Abbott of misogyny, dared to raise accusations of sexism again this week, she was howled down by opponents. Then the viciously degrading dinner menu for a fundraiser for one of Abbott's candidates surfaced. One dish was "Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail: Small Breasts and Huge Thighs and A Big Red Box".

Gillard branded it "grossly sexist and offensive". Could anyone argue?

The dish was intended for a dinner for Mal Brough, a former minister and an opposition candidate for the September 14 elections. Opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey was guest of honour.

"I've certainly been very clear on my view about Mr Abbott," Gillard announced, alluding to her parliamentary tirade against misogyny last year, which went viral online and won global acclaim. "Here we are yet again, Mr Abbott saying that he condemns behaviour, but we see a pattern of behaviour. It doesn't go away."

The menu emerged a day after Gillard reignited the gender war with a feisty speech alleging the opposition would set back abortion law and "banish women's voices from the core of our political life" if, as widely predicted, it sweeps the elections. The government would be dominated by "men in blue ties". That generated much mirth.

"It's always possible for Australian political debate to get even sillier. But these are surely new lows in stupidity," said Review columnist Jennifer Hewett.

The opposition called the Gillard comments a "crude political ploy" and demanded apologies.

Abbott, dubbed the "mad monk" after he considered the priesthood in his youth, has pledged not to alter abortion law, but agreed the menu went too far. "I think we should all be bigger and better than that," he said

Could the tone go any lower?

Step forward Perth shock jock Howard Sattler to bombard Gillard with blunt questions about her partner's sexuality.

Tim Mathieson, known as Australia's "first bloke", is an ex-hairdresser. Sattler inferred that must mean he is gay, despite the long-standing boyfriend living with the prime minister in her official residence.

"Tim's gay," Sattler queried on his radio show. "But that's absurd," Gillard parried. "But you hear it - he must be gay, he's a hairdresser," Sattler insisted, before prying again and again.

Outrage duly followed and 6PR radio first suspended then sacked Sattler yesterday.

Australian National University politics professor Marian Sawer said: "Since the founding of New South Wales as a British convict colony in 1788, its public life has had a reputation for being rowdy and rambunctious."

Has it really got worse? "Well I don't think it's improved. People hoped the arrival of more women into politics would bring an improvement. But it hasn't."