Peter Smith

Girl Talk

Overheard by an intrepid reporter was this conversation in the parliamentary quadrangle. It can’t be exactly verified, but someone told me of someone who had apparently been told by someone else that it had taken place.

“Oh yes, he’s alright dealing with weak incapable women, but not with women like us, Nicola.”

“Exactly, Tanya, my very thought.”

“All those dreadful stay-at-home mums and factory workers and shop assistants and secretaries and office bods. I mean he’s probably in his element with them.”

 “And waitresses too,  Nicola, don’t forget them.”

“My goodness, Tanya,  how we must intimidate him! I positively swoon at the thought of how capable we are.”

“Nicola, is Julia capable like us?”

There’s the rub. Whatever you think of the Wilson-Blewitt-AWU affair there is no way of constructing things which has the PM looking the least bit capable. Medicare Gold, BER waste, the fiascos surrounding Thompson and Slipper start to make sense. If she were not PM she would be exactly the kind of woman that Tony Abbott would get on with, I assume.

Abbott clearly has to lift his game when dealing with powerful and/or capable women. He might look to Peter van Onselen as a role model.

Paul Kelly on SKY’s Australian Agenda had just finished resolutely probing the PM on whether she had been forced to resign from Slater & Gordon when a squeak was heard: “I believe you — that you did nothing wrong.” It was touching. Onselen was like a besotted son to a mother accused of being caught in flagrante delicto with the milkman. This is the kind of deference and respect that Abbott needs to cultivate when dealing with superior women; women above the common herd. Capable women like Tanya Plibersek and Nicola Roxon.

Exactly how did Abbott blot his copybook this time? Well he took exception to the PM suggesting he would gut public schools. He said it was a lie. Acting speaker, and capable woman, Anna Burke asked him to withdraw the remark without qualification. He did so but added that it was untrue. That earned him banishment. He left without ado. I too feel as though he should have genuflected at the point of leaving the chamber. Abbott I am afraid has much to learn from Onselen.

He later suggested that the PM was addicted to lying: “it was just another lie from Julia Gillard”. What could possibly have prompted that? Was his animosity towards powerful women coming out yet again? Or was he simply stating the obvious?

Let’s see, in no particular order, and without trying to be exhaustive, Gillard says that the carbon tax was forced on her as a substitute for an ETS which she would have otherwise introduced. Yet we were all here when she went to the election with everything up in the air and in the hands of soon-to-be-established citizens’ assembly. Accused of reneging on a deal with Rudd, she took refuge in confidentiality; as she did to hide the blatantly obvious fact that she’d never spoken to Rudd about the government “losing its way”. She denied saying in cabinet that “elderly people don’t vote labour”. All of a sudden confidentiality was dispensable; as it was when she tried to explain away reports of her opposition to paid maternity leave in cabinet by saying that she was just applying rigorous scrutiny. She left the impression that the replacement of the RSPT with her cobbled-together MRRT would reduce revenue by only $1.5 billion, without telling us that Treasury had in the interim substantially increased projected resource prices. She let the “Dili solution” run as a concrete proposal until it came under scrutiny and then took refuge in the fine print of her announcement. Unbelievably, she said that she couldn’t recall seeing polling results immediately before challenging Rudd, and knew nothing of her staff preparing a victory speech two weeks before. She said that a report of the offer of a senate seat and the foreign affairs ministry to Bob Carr was “completely untrue”; before we found out that it was true. Even the deferential man himself, Peter van Onselen, in The Australian (“Excuse me miss, but the Prime Minister’s cheating”, 24 July, 2010), called into question her honesty in effectively claiming credit for particular educational advances which were none of her doing.

Gillard leaves a nasty impression of someone willing to bury the truth to save her political skin; disquietingly, even when the truth is bound to emerge. On this occasion, therefore, I think Abbott should be given a pass. But in future I expect to see him more solicitous of capable women – women of quality above the ordinary like Tanya and Nicola. Come on, Tony, lift your game.

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