This has been an awful week for Australian politics. An awful week that follows an even more awful three years. In between the lacklustre debate happening between our major parties and the ongoing race to the bottom to ‘stop the boats’, the most newsworthy election topic has been a series of gaffes by the Opposition Leader.
Early last week Tony Abbott made the mistake of confusing the words ‘repository’ and ‘suppository’ when criticising Kevin Rudd’s use of notes in the leaders debate. The very next day, he referred to the ‘sex appeal’ of one of his candidates amongst other supposed compliments. This was followed by a radio interview in which he stated marriage equality was a ‘fashion of the moment’ and a ‘radical change’.
Not to be outdone, this morning he again put his foot in it. Following a female candidate’s answer at media conference, he said she was ‘not just a pretty face’. Yes, this was the very same candidate he had earlier said had ‘sex appeal’.
For a man who knows how to stick to a script (‘Stop the Boats’, ‘Axe the Tax’), his comments this morning can only be read as being made deliberately. And hey, when he knew his ‘sex appeal’ comment had played well last week, why not try it again?
It might seem bizarre, but many Australians appear to be ok with a future Prime Minister commenting on a candidate’s ‘sex appeal’. The saddest part of this sorry saga is that this can be acceptable in 2013.
Abbott’s strategy may just be the natural end to three years of increasingly bitter political attacks. A political discourse that has been accepting of gendered attacks on the Prime Minister; where senior members of the Opposition can compare marriage equality with bestiality and senators can catcall the Finance Minister.
Or perhaps it has its genesis in a longer war. Where the Left has well and truly lost the Culture War: political incorrectness is ok and a potential Prime Minister can come to believe that sexist remarks aren’t just acceptable, they’re also election-winning strategies. Whatever the reason, we’re all losers.
When Julia Gillard asked Australians to look at her treatment as our first female Prime Minister in ‘sophisticated way’, it was perhaps right to think we might have a respite from the sexism that dogged her. Tony Abbott’s remarks this morning indicate the complete opposite. If anything, Gillard’s removal has only intensified the attack on women.
This is the real gender war. Like a gift from a distant relative that makes you cringe, Gillard and her remarks have been cast aside into the political abyss. With Abbott as Prime Minister, this is only likely to get worse.
Welcome then, to the new normal. Where basic equality for gay Australians is ‘radical’ and a ‘fashion of the moment’ and sexism is so acceptable that it can become an election-winning strategy.