In Parliament today Tony Abbott attacked on Gillard for her support for the Speaker in the context of the Peter Slipper affair---- the claims of sexual harassment brought against him by James Ashby---- and the crude private text messages that compared a woman's vagina to shell fish (mussels). The federal court judge has reserved his judgment on the civil case before the court.
Abbott had moved a motion that called for the Government to remove Peter Slipper as Speaker under section 35 of the constitution, which states that the Speaker can be removed by a vote in the House of Representatives. Abbott argued that Peter Slipper is not a fit and proper person to be Speaker of the House of Representatives because he is a misogynist.
He said that the Gillard government is desperate and unethical, and appointing Mr Slipper proves it. Gillard is a running a protection racket. Its "another day of shame for this parliament, another day of shame for a govt which should have already died of shame."
In one of the most extraordinarily passionate parliamentary performance of her career Gillard was on fire with white, hot anger. She changed the debate from being one solely about Slipper as a sleaze bag who was no longer a fit and proper person to uphold the dignity of the Parliament--- to one about sexism and misogyny in political life, and its systematic use by the Liberal Party as a political tactic. It lanced a festering boil on the body politic.
The motion to remove Mr Slipper was defeated by 70 votes to 69 with the Gillard Government supported by Independent MPs Craig Thomson, Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor and Greens MP Adam Bandt. Andrew Wilkie voted with the Coalition.
It was the right decision. Given the separation of powers in the Australian Constitution (ie., (the separation of the executive, legislative and judicial powers) Parliament shouldn't do anything until the federal court makes its ruling with respect to the claims of sexual harassment brought against Slipper by James Ashby. If Parliament dumped Slipper before that ruling, then its acting as a de facto kangaroo court.
The High Court is the pre-eminent interpreter of the Constitution and defining the nature of the separation of powers in Australia. It has defined a separation of the judicial power from the executive and legislative powers, says (ie., the Mason Court) that that it not only interprets the law but also ‘makes’ the law; and shifted our understanding of the separation of powers doctrine towards a more American conception of institutional checks and balances to help to protect individual liberty.
the distinction between the judicial and the executive powers of government in particular continues to be jealously guarded in the federal sphere16 and operates in "full vigour"....in a Federal system, the absolute independence of the Judiciary is the bulwark of the Constitution against encroachment whether by the Legislature or by the Executive....legislators and members of the Executive Government have accepted - although often reluctantly - that in a federal system the courts must have power to declare invalid purported exercises of legislative power invalid. As a result, courts have often invalidated legislation that gives effect to major platforms of political parties.
The Coalition was on shaky legal ground with its motion that called for the Government to remove Peter Slipper as Speaker under section 35 of the constitution, prior to the courts deciding the sexual harassment case.
Slipper has resigned as the Speaker of the House of Representatives. He remains a member of Parliament as an independent backbencher. He finally got the message that he'd outlived his usefulness and that his position had become untenable. The Independents pulled the plug.
The Australian's columnists are out in force today defending Abbott. Their general line of attack is that Labor has egg on their collective faces because of its double standards. Peter Van Onselen, for instance, says:
The motion failed by the narrowest of margins, but not before Tony Abbott was directly accused of being a sexist and a misogynist himself. Not by an attack-dog minister mind you - by the Prime Minister herself. happened after the Opposition Leader had already engaged in a little rhetorical overreach of his own. He said that the government should have "died of shame": words eerily similar to Alan Jones's now infamous (and condemned) comments. But rhetorical errors by Abbott pale into insignificance alongside the government's attempts to defend Slipper, especially on the back of the moral outrage they have expressed about Abbott's attitude to women.
There is no mention of the extensive history of the use of sexism and misogyny by the conservative movement as a tactic to attack and damage Gillard. That too, presumably, is a little rhetorical overreach.
In my judgement what we have here is a strategy on the Right to up the ante on political conflict -- to increase the temperature, the tension and the stakes. They want blood--and they will keep battering Gillard non stop to bring her down, and then to ensure the blood flows. That strategy is obvious and one dimensional.
What is puzzling, though, is why those journalists in the Canberra Press Gallery who are not on the Right --eg., those on the ABC, such as Leigh Sales and Emma Alberici ----uncritically repeated the Right's spin and talking points of this event. For them it was a flawed Gillard who was in the dock. Why this interpretation? Why not something different? An interpretation that was their own? Where was the political context of the event for these oh so savvy insiders who pride themselves on their professionalism?
I do think that the credibility and the authority of the Canberra Press and Media Gallery and its gatekeepers has taken a severe knock from this event. The ground has shifted under them. We now watch Parliament, we trust our own judgements, we publish them in social media, we evaluate other interpretations of events, and we critically judge them for their plausibility.
| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 3:27 PM | Permalink