Our state member of parliament, Michael Pengilly, has been in trouble for the last few days because he called the prime minister a dog.
Anyone who uses Twitter is a twit. It is too easy to put thoughts out there which, however instantly regretted, cannnot be taken back. Twitter posts are too short to allow for any context or explanation. So I suggest leaving Twitter to ABC staff and Labor party members.
The outrage which has followed Mr Pengilly’s comment has been entertaining, to say the least.
I admit that I would prefer that public discourse in Australia showed a little more respect for the office of the Prime Minister.
But there are a few things to keep in mind.
First, Julia Gillard is a leading competitor for the title of Australia’s worst ever Prime Minister. She and Kevin Rudd have lead the most spectacularly inept and irresponsible government since federation.
Their ‘compassionate’ policies on illegal immigration have lured hundreds of people to their deaths as rusty boats have sunk or been dashed against rocks.
Their plan for a fast broadband network is going to cost every Australian household over $6000 in taxes whether they want it or not. Most people don’t want it – take up rates have been less than 20% – and by the time it is fully installed, it will have been overtaken by newer technology, or would have except that Telstra and Optus have been forced to sign ‘won’t compete’ agreements.
Then there are bungled insulation plans, bungled foreign policy, bungled education spending, and to top it all off, at the time of the world’s worst financial crisis since the 1930s, two taxes (the minerals rent tax and the carbon tax) that will slow Australia’s domestic economy and make us less competitive in every export market – resources, food, and manufactured goods.
All this from a government that obtained less than fifty percent of the vote, and survives only by indulging the brownies at the bottom of the garden, along with Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, both traitors to their own electorates and to the Australian people.
And then there is Mr Slipper. Julia Gillard dumped Harry Jenkins and made Peter Slipper Speaker.
Daily newspapers around Australia portrayed Mr Slipper as a rat. Photos were doctored to give him big ears and a tail. This is in clear contravention of parliamentary convention, which is that photos taken inside parliament should not be used for satire or to ridicule members.
But no one is complaining about Mr Slipper being called a rat, despite the fact that as much respect should be shown to the office of Speaker as to that of Prime Minister.
I am not complaining either. He has sold out his own electorate, stabbed his Liberal party colleagues in the back, abused the trust of Australian taxpayers through (allegedly) consistently outrageous expense claims, and put his own interests ahead of the public’s by entrenching a government the vast majority of Australians want to see the end of as soon as possible.
But if Peter Slipper can be called a rat, an animal most people find repulsive, and if Julia Gillard is the organiser, the plotter, the implementer of the scheme to bolster her government by removing a fair-minded and honourable man from the Speaker’s chair and putting in, well, Peter Slipper, then why is unreasonable to call her a dog?
Except perhaps that fox, snake or weasel might have been more appropriate.
If the Prime Minister wants to act like a dog or a snake, there is no reason he should not be called a dog or a snake.
Australian Prime Ministers have been called much worse. Think of comments by Paul Keating or Mark Latham about Liberal Party leaders, or Noel Pearson’s description of John Howard as a ‘moral cockroach’ (because Mr Howard held views about aboriginal health and welfare ten years ago that Noel apparently holds now).
The difference is, Julia is a girl.
Calling her names apparently makes Mr Pengilly a meany, if not worse. He was told sternly by our local paper, The Islander, that ‘not all abuse is physical.’
It is simply inconceivable that this comment would have been made had he called Kevin Foley a dog instead of Julia Gillard.
It isn’t sexist or abusive or evidence of an unsatisfactory attitude to women that Mr Pengilly called the Prime Minister a name.
It is sexist that what would be considered normal, if robust, dialogue between parliamentarians of different parties suddenly becomes abuse if one of the parties is female.
This whole brouhaha reminds of a newspaper story I read when I was a teenager. A woman sued her local baseball club, claiming she was as good a player as most of the men, and had been excluded simply because of her gender. The court agreed this was unfair, and ordered the club to put her in a team
Next season she was back in court. She had been hit and injured by a fastball. She was now complaining that the club had failed to take reasonable care for her health and safety, because it had not made allowance for the fact that she was a woman and therefore had slower reaction times. Pitches to her should have been slower.
In politics as in baseball, players should anticipate a few fastballs.
If people want to be treated as equals, they should not complain when people treat them equally.