I was reminded of this newspaper article by Charles Waterstreet on Julia Gillard’s powerful speech against misogyny in the Australian House of Representatives in October 2012. An excerpt:
Some men have been in too many scrums, too many boxing matches, have beaten their heads against too many walls. Of all the words in the whole wide world, Tony Abbott chose – deliberately, it would seem – to use the word ”shame” in his speech on the motion to sack Peter Slipper as speaker. Shame, with all the connotations Alan Jones wrapped around it clumsily weeks earlier, when referring to the Prime Minister’s dead father. Abbott’s use of ”shame” made Slipper’s description of women’s private parts look positively eloquent.
When Abbott said this Parliament was covered in shame, he had both feet in his mouth and led with his glass jaw because people who throw punches or stones should not live in glass parliament houses. And the word was snatched from his mouth by Julia Gillard and shoved down his throat on Tuesday, in the most riveting, exhilarating, exhorting speech delivered in the house since Paul Keating hammered Hewson and Howard into submission on a daily basis. Gillard’s speech channelled Margaret Thatcher, Germaine Greer and Martin Luther King jnr with the punch of Muhammad Ali.
Gillard rose from the ashes of the Slipper affair with her head glowing red, full of fire and ire, her big guns blazing and every bullet went into the head and heart of Abbott. On hearing the Opposition Leader say, ”Standing in this Parliament to defend this Speaker will be another day of shame … another day of shame for a government which should already have died of shame”, Gillard sensed blood. Maybe the blood on the knuckle of Abbott’s left and right fists after they pounded the wall around the head of a frightened Barbara Ramjan, who had just licked him in a fair fight for presidency of the Students Representative Council at Sydney University in 1977.
The Prime Minister delivered the fatal one-two punches to the hapless jaw of Abbott. ”The government is not dying of shame, my father did not die of shame. What the Leader of the Opposition should be ashamed of is his performance in this Parliament and the sexism he brings with it.”
Abbott does not choose his female opponents very well. By using the word shame in Parliament this week, he belittled himself and empowered the Prime Minister. When he picked on Ramjan – ”within an inch of my nose and punched the wall on either side of my head” – he again chose the wrong woman to intimidate. We have all been idiots, done idiotic things, had temper tantrums when outwitted by a woman one-third our size.
In 1977, Abbott’s mission was to bring the SRC down by attempting to get himself elected and then preside over its self-destruction.
Ramjan had an enormous constituency in the humanities, in the arts, in the sciences. Abbott’s army of meatheads from engineering were outgunned and he was fuming. Character is bred in a person’s bones and displayed in conduct. It is grace under pressure, not clenched fists in fury.
Ramjan exudes character from every pore of her body. She commits herself, on a daily basis, in every job she has undertaken, to preserve the dignity of the oppressed, repressed, downtrodden, disabled, mentally challenged and underdogs and disadvantaged.
She is a woman of the highest distinction. Her work has been to bring her power of administration and intelligence to improve the lot of all Australians, especially those with special needs, physical and mental disabilities, children without parents, tortured sufferers of schizophrenia, those sad souls to whom life has delivered higher hurdles.
Abbott entered power politics, rising on the shoulders of those before him and building a big picture that contained him at the centre. His spin is not confined to bicycles. Like little George Bush said, swaggering is Texan for walking. Abbott swaggers. Not like a swagman but a bagman for big business.
Abbott likes women around him, so do I. They are smarter. Like Ramjan, they are more generous, kinder and emotionally honest. Ramjan built houses of bricks in her career, Abbott a house of sticks.
In law, good character means, among other things, that what such a person says about a matter is more likely to be believed. If Ramjan says she was intimidated, surrounded by fists, then I believe her. If Abbott could not recall it, then I would have believed that, too. When he changed his mind and said it did not happen, I believe Barbara.
The Prime Minister nailed Abbott to the wall this week. We have all done stupid things. Men of character apologise and move on. They don’t hide from the fog of the past and suddenly remember.
. . .
Abbott could not laugh when Gillard stripped him of all his emperor penguin’s clothes in the chamber. One thing he could do is get dressed, get on his bicycle and cycle down to Barbara Ramjan’s house and apologise.
The full article is here.