Home' Aurora : Aurora November 2013 Contents A long time back I went on an eight-day directed retreat.
I don't remember much of it except for the quiet reading,
sleeping and long talks over meals with my Capuchin
spiritual director. What stands out was a line he used
almost every day. It's become something of a mantra. As
you move forward in life, he said, after every episode of
challenge or significance, ask yourself, 'What have I learnt
and what have I become?'
The last three years have been a period of political
significance and challenge. It's only right that we ask
ourselves, 'What have we learnt and what have we
Let's deal first with perhaps one of the more distressing
aspects of the last three years. Was Australia ready for
its first female Prime Minister? What should we make of
the hostility that greeted Julia Gillard's rise and remained
throughout her leadership? Gillard was routinely and
regularly disparaged by sexist slogans and rants now all
too familiar and well- documented. Chants of 'dump the
witch' and 'Juliar' mixed in with claims by talkback hosts
that women were 'wrecking the joint' became regular
political fare. The attacks on social media were even more
Some have blamed the nature of Gillard's political
ascendancy for prompting the animosity that came her
way. After all, hadn't she taken Rudd down in a back
room coup d'état? Leaving aside the annoying fact that
Australian Prime Ministers are not made at the ballot box,
would Wayne Swan or any other Labor frontbencher have
fared as poorly, had they done the same as Gillard? When
Keating replaced Hawke or McMahon replaced Gorton,
did anyone question their legitimacy?
It seems ambition is expected in our male politicians
but derided in our female leaders. Peter Costello never
challenged for the leadership in the dying days of the
Howard era. He's been criticised at times for his lack of
political courage. Would anyone have questioned his
legitimacy if he had challenged?
Gillard of course played into the nonsense when in the
months between deposing Rudd and the 2010 election
she refused to occupy The Lodge, signalling that she too
doubted her own right to govern. Perhaps she was poorly
advised. Nevertheless when Gillard does no more than
countless men before her have done, she is denounced as
a ruthless schemer beholden to faceless men. This says at
least as much about us as it does about her.
In the aftermath of the election it is hard to avoid this sad
commentary on our civic maturity; sexism and misogyny
have played a leading part in our recent political life. This is
a sorry admission when one considers that New Zealand,
whom we often like to unfairly disparage as some kind
of country cousin, has had two female Prime Ministers;
Jenny Shipley (1997-1999) followed by Helen Clark who
stayed in office for nine years until 2008. Little misogynist
rancour could be heard from across the ditch.
Perhaps it was Julia Gillard's poor fortune to face off
against one of the most successful opposition leaders
in Australian history. Tony Abbott's energy, his constant
campaigning, his ability to distil the issue of the day into
short, sharp slogans that cut through the political white
noise, combined to make a fearsome opponent.
The electorate has given Abbott a chance to show he is
BY MICHAEL ELPHICK
Playing the post-
capable of dealing with the complexities of government
and prove he is bigger than the negativity and gainsaying
that characterised his leadership in opposition.
Should it not concern us though, that our newly-minted
Prime Minister has spent much of his time since the
election apologising to our Asian neighbours for the very
style of leadership that won him government? Is it good
enough to laugh off the ugliness of the last three years
with a smile and a grin, claiming that's how we play our
politics? What does this say about him -- and what does it
say about us -- that we have rewarded such tactics?
Commentators have remarked that 'election mode
Abbott' was speaking to a domestic audience; that these
comments were not geared for foreign consumption.
But shouldn't we be concerned by a style of political
campaigning that says one thing to one audience while
crafting a different message to another? Are not the
contradictions inherent in such campaigning the very
opposite of integrity?
What role did the media play in all of this? Over three years
of minority government and later in the 2013 campaign,
the Murdoch press broke new ground in partisan political
reporting. Murdoch's The Australian, described by
academic Robert Manne as a 'remorseless campaigning
paper',1 relentlessly pursued Labor, the Greens and
anything you might describe as progressive politics. A
Commonwealth Parliamentary Library study of political
coverage in The Australian undertaken over twelve years
of editorials (2000 to 2011) identified five that were positive
towards politics of the left and 188 that portrayed them
With front-page banner headlines declaring "Kick this
Mob Out"3 and portrayals of the Labor leadership as a
comedy ensemble from "Hogan's Heroes",4 the tactics
of Murdoch's Daily Telegraph would dwarf even the The
Australian during the 2013 campaign.
Australian print media frequently endorse political parties
and candidates. This normally takes place on editorial
pages or on opinion pages. The Murdoch press however
has departed from this routine and acceptable practice
to embed its political bias within its news coverage. To
select and shape content to advance a political argument
is to enter the political debate not as an honest broker
but as a propagandist. When you consider the reach
and dominance of the Murdoch media machine, this is a
Regardless of the change in government, the critical
issues of Australian politics have not gone away. Third
World citizens continue to seek refuge from both political
and economic hardship. The climate will continue to warm.
State schools remain underfunded. The National Disability
Insurance Scheme is not bedded down. Infrastructure is
ageing. Housing affordability in our cities is at an all-time
low. Income inequality is rising. The benefits of our mining
wealth are not shared equally. Will the new government
respond to these issues with a focus on the common
good -- or with an eye to protecting status quo interests?
What have we learnt and what have we become?
Michael Elphick is a consultant and a freelance writer.
He welcomes comments on his writing at
References: 1 Manne, Robert "Bad News, Murdoch's Australian and the
Shaping of the Nation." Quarterly Essay No. 43 2011, 3 • 2 Ibid, 101 • 3
Daily Telegraph, 5 August, 2013 • 4 Daily Telegraph, 9 August, 2013
www.mn.catholic.org.au Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle
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