EDITORIAL TUESDAY 24.02.09.
The Houses of Parliament are filled with pots who cannot resist calling kettles black. It happens all the time as politicians indulge in petty and puerile sledging contests which they refer to as “debate”. Sometimes the insults can be witty weapons which become memorable and entertaining media grabs and live on long after the parliamentary careers of those who perpetrated them in the first place. Sometimes too they land well wide of the mark, especially when ill considered remarks cross over from the grey area of robust rhetoric into the dark zone of offensive and obnoxious behavior. But where exactly is the line?
Every government in living memory has made solemn promises to raise the standards of parliamentary behavior, to put an end to personal attacks and restore some dignity to the House by debating the policies not the personalities. Of course, it never happens. Personalities are so much a part of politics it is almost impossible to achieve such a promise. But it does become somewhat frustrating for Australians battling against the real challenges in the real world to be constantly subjected to the circus of politicians belittling each other rather than getting on with running the country.
It is often remarked that if school children behaved as politicians do they would be sent to the principal’s office to be disciplined. While that may be true, it is also worth considering that there is a battle in schools to overcome bullying. We are spending time, money and personal effort trying to teach our kids to respect each other, and then we have politicians acting as if the way to win an argument is to denigrate each other.
Now the question is raised once again with the remarks made by Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard comparing Christopher Pyne to a poodle. In observing that perhaps Tony Abbott would have been a better choice for the position of Manager of Opposition Business, Ms. Gillard said: “In a choice between macho and mincing, I would have gone for macho myself. And obviously the Leader of the Opposition, faced with the choice of a Doberman or a poodle, has gone for the poodle.” She also suggested that Mr. Pyne prefers Abba to Cold Chisel, whatever that is supposed to imply.
While it might all sound somewhat frivolous and harmless, the truth is that if you or I were to make such remarks which could be construed as calling into question the sexual orientation of a colleague we could be accused of discrimination, vilification, and harassment. If the roles had been reversed and it was a member of the opposition making the very same remarks about the Deputy Prime Minister there would have been an uproar. It is hypocritical coming from the very same woman who demanded and received an apology after being described as “barren.” And quite simply it is a standard of personal attack which should be beneath the leaders of our country.
It also begs the question, if Tony Abbott is a Doberman and Chris Pyne is a poodle, just what kind of dog is Julia Gillard?