This time, the MSM got it right

Photo by Alex Ellinghausen

Before I get to the substance of this post, I’d like to provide some context. I’m a former Liberal staffer. The last time I was employed as a political staffer was in 1993, and I’ve never worked for the Liberal Party since, nor am I member of any party. I do not vote, and have not done so for the past two ACT and federal elections. I will not be party to any vote that results in Tony Abbott becoming Prime Minister.

I like Julia Gillard. She is a gutsy, intelligent and compassionate woman who I consider to be a formidable role model for all Australian girls and women. But I will not vote for her party either.

I provide this background in the hope that readers will accept that I have no political axe to grind when I say that the MSM’s coverage of yesterday’s political events is more perceptive than they are being given credit for, and that there seems to be a number of people using social media who are deluding themselves as to what actually happened.

Let’s revisit the event. After asking the Prime Minister in Question Time whether she continued to have full confidence in the Speaker and, if not, what steps she would take to remove him from the position, Tony Abbott then moved a motion to remove the Speaker due to him not being fit for office.

Abbott specifically used only the content of Slipper’s texts, which are in the public domain and uncontested, to craft his accusation against Slipper. Building upon the growing sentiment in the community against misogynist views and language demonstrated by the #destroythejoint movement, Abbott painted Slipper as a man who spoke of women generally, and one female Liberal MP specifically, in derogatory terms. He argued that a person with such objectionable views about women and who clearly had a bias against at least one MP was not fit for the non-partisan office of Speaker.

Abbott accused Slipper of being unfit for office based on the texts, not Ashby’s allegations which are still before the courts. In avoiding use of the Ashby allegations, Abbott denied the Government any grounds upon which to avoid the question of Slipper’s fitness for office, particularly that of needing to follow due process.

Nevertheless, due process was the Government’s chosen shield.

In fact, the Government had little else with which to defend itself. Having invested considerable political capital, in the form of senior female ministers, to raise and maintain concerns over Tony Abbott’s problems with female voters, the Prime Minister became wedged by Abbott’s motion. Abbott’s speech drew a clear connection between the Prime Minister’s fitness for office and Slipper’s, thereby making the motion about her judgement in recruiting him to bolster the Government’s numbers.

The PM was faced with a stark choice: oppose the motion and be seen to be defending the Speaker, or support it in the knowledge that this would be seen as a concession of ill-judgement on her part. Any such concession would also cast a shadow over the PM’s judgement in related decisions such as the formation of minority government with the independents and the Greens.

So the stakes were high when Abbott moved his motion. I initially misunderstood his reason for doing so, thinking that its purpose was to remove the Speaker. In fact, the purpose of the motion was to wedge the Prime Minister into having to oppose it, defend her own judgement, and by association, that of Slipper’s too. It does not matter that Julia Gillard said not one word in defence of Slipper during her speech: Abbott expected that her opposition to the motion would be damning enough.

What Abbott did not expect was the damning words that the PM levelled at him during her speech; a speech which appears to have divided Labor supporters due to its visceral content and emotive delivery. Some voiced concern that the speech was not befitting of a Prime Minister and that it might be seen by casual political observers as an intemperate outburst.

Conversely, the PM’s speech was embraced by the people who have recently formed a front line against misogyny, chauvinism and disrespect against women in public discourse. The coincidental timeliness of the PM’s rousing words raised the spirits of those now experiencing and witnessing a withering backlash against the #destroythejoint movement.

And what of those not involved in or supportive of the DTJ campaign? It is important to look outside that bubble to really understand how yesterday’s events are being interpreted.

For those much less engaged in politics than us – and let’s accept that there are many of them – the event played out thus: Slipper sent texts that were derogatory of women and Abbott claimed a person that held such views was not fit to be Speaker. In opposing Abbott’s motion to remove the Speaker (read: defending the Speaker), the Prime Minister unleashed a tirade against Abbott recounting the many sexist views leveled against her personally, or women generally, which he had never withdrawn or denounced.

In base political terms, Abbott won the day: he wedged the Prime Minister into supporting the Speaker, and was unintentionally rewarded with Slipper’s scalp later that evening. Abbott has however set a dangerous precedent for judging an MP’s character based on their private text messages.

Perhaps the Prime Minister’s impassioned speech compelled some concerned female voters away from Tony Abbott and towards her. Maybe, if they are prepared to overlook her refusal to see Slipper’s texts as evidence that he was unfit to be Speaker. And maybe, if they are also comfortable with the PM delivering highly emotive attacks in Parliament.

Looking at it this way, it is understandable why the media may interpret yesterday’s events as being a potential setback for the Government. Sometimes we need to take a step back to see the whole picture.

Author: Drag0nista

Political columnist at The New Daily | Editor of Despatches & AusVotes 2019 | Author of On Merit, a book on the Liberals' *women problem*. Former Liberal staffer and industry lobbyist. Studying the entrails of federal politics since 1989.

21 thoughts on “This time, the MSM got it right”

  1. Julia’s speech was the best she has given in a long time, and from my perspective, right on the money with respect to Abbott. Painted him for what he is — sexist and nasty. The closest one can come to a like individual in Labor was Mark Latham — another dangerous little beasty who thankfully never got to be PM.
    The frightening thing is that Abbott is likely to end up as PM by default and sadly the MSM are more interested in hoo ha and sensationalism than in helping to give Australia good governance.
    Main Stream Media? More like Main Stream Mediocrity I’m afraid.

  2. Perhaps Abbott should have moved a vote of no confidence before trying to just sack Slipper, because the manner in which he did move his motion was actually an abuse of process, irrespective of any court case. The Parliament cannot just vote to sack someone, they need to go through a process first. Tony just got too smart for himself, and gave the PM an out, which she used to devastating effect.

  3. There is an interesting parallel conversation going on over yesterday’s debate. One side sees it as the inevitable result of a grubby number crunching exercise coming home to roost, the other as a shining moment where a put upon female PM called out a sexist bully, with both sides dismissing the other’s point of view as the sideshow. I think both positions are right as the Slipper matter was always likely to end this way but the perception that Abbott is sexist is not going away.

    As to your central point I think the MSM have erred in dismissing the impact of the PM’s speech, just as much as many of the PM’s supporters are erring by glossing over the Slipper mess and the PM’s responsibility.

    Yes the purpose of the motion was to merely to bind the PM tighter to Slipper in the light of the recently released texts as the chances of all the Independents supporting the motion was slim, especially with Katter abstaining. Obviously if it had been a serious move the motion would’ve been the 1st order of business for the day and not the surprise move it was. That said the Government’s support of Slipper was only ever going to be a temporary measure to ensure his vote when he eventually stepped down to the cross benches. Unless the Ashby case was summarily thrown out Slipper was unlikely to survive it as Speaker, these additional texts had only made that outcome more certain. The historical connections between Slipper and the LNP (in all its various guises) are telling but i think that boat has sailed.

    I was in the public gallery yesterday and saw the whole thing, including the interjections, the whispered conversations behind the Chair and the number crunching on the floor throughout the debate. All fascinating stuff. To be honest I thought the Opposition’s approach was odd as going straight to the texts and focussing on the salacious and sexist content was always going to invite the response it did and the ‘died of shame’ reference was particularly ill-considered, given recent commentary.

    Abbott could’ve opened referring to the need for the Speaker to retain the confidence of the House, both in terms of behaviour and performance, leaving JBishop to comment in detail on the offensive nature of the texts and how it would be hard for her to maintain respect for the Speaker, something she did well in her contribution. Truss, after also going on about the content of the texts actually touched on a key issue that seemed to get lost. In one of the texts Slipper apparently admits to s94’ing Mirrabella just because he just doesn’t like her, in other words, not in an impartial manner. That admission, and the likelihood of other instances of partiality should’ve been enough to make a case for his removal that the Independents might’ve seriously considered. This approach would’ve enabled the Opposition to side step any charge of ‘rushing to judgement’ or stunting as they could separate it from the case but this doesn’t get you the faux ‘shocked, appalled and shocked’ that they wanted as they bound the PM ever tighter to Slipper.

    For what it’s worth I thought the PM was impassioned rather than shrill but that’s more a matter of taste really. I also don’t think Abbott is a true ‘woman hater’ but an argument can made that he does have a problem with women in positions of power and also that he does express some fairly outmoded thinking on the role of women in society. Sadly though he is not alone in this. Judging the validity of a person’s contribution based on their gender, race etc is the easy and all too prevalent approach in our society.

    To sum up (and aren’t you glad I’m doing that :-)). The Govt looks bad but if I’m glad the issue of sexism is being discussed.

    1. Enjoyed your insider’s view of yesterday’s events, however it’s amazing/frustrating that media and commentators appear to have missed, or choose to overlook, Tony Abbott’s deliberate referencing by repeating Alan Jones’s despicable remarks that were cruelly targeted to inflict severe emotional pain on the Prime Minister when she was made vulnerable by her grief at the loss of her beloved father – and that both these grubs did so to advance the Abbott-led LNP agenda at any cost with no holds barred and no concern for compassion and basic decency for the newly bereaved. THAT is why many more people now loathe – not merely dislike – Abbott and would not consider voting LNP unless the classier Malcolm Turnbull takes the reins before the next election. Abbott has chosen to closely align himself with Jones and they share a hostility to women that spews out of their mouths and reveals their contempt. Social media, and now the PM and her colleagues, are standing up to it – which sociopathic egotists Jones & Abbott don’t like, yet (typically) avoid taking any responsibility for, instead blaming the so-called ‘Handbag Hit Squad’ of which I’m proud to be a member.

  4. Your analysis makes sense. Perhaps the PM also had an eye to Slipper’s future voting support. In any case many will feel Abbott deserved all he got for using the “died of shame” expression.

  5. Thank you kind lady. It was a brilliant day to be in the House but as for me doing a blog I think Possum Comitatus said it best back in Jan (see my favourites) ‘This country needs more middle class, white males giving political commentary’ :-).

      1. That compassionate Gillard and her female gaggle forced through legislation yesterday to deport and exile refugee women and kids to rot in illegal prisons in the malaria infested swamp of Manus Island and forced through other legislation to turn single parents into paupers so she has the money to illegally deport and exile refugee women to Manus Island.

        Anyone who thinks that Gillard is compassionate towards anyone but the face in the mirror she sees each day they live in la la land and crying sexism day in and day out when behaving like cruel and racist cowards does not do anything much for anyone.

  6. Australia`s Parliament went Viral Today
    Was it for some great plan to nation-build, reduce poverty, improve the place for everyone, remove `free-trade` bullshit that puts Aussie workers competing with 10cents/hour Asian Slave Labor Wages, the same `free-trade` bullshit that unregulated foreign companies gain advantage over local business by getting around Laws on environment, safety and duty of care of various types.?
    No, none of that.
    Just a sledging match as we could see in any kindergarten.

  7. Washington Republicans Cheer
    As Australian`s sledging match in Parliament went World-Wide today, there was great relief felt by Karl Rove and his strategy team. Tea-Bag philosophy is now unstoppable, as the worlds most difficult market, the Australian Parliament, has been cracked wide open. There is now nowhere in the world safe from Tea-Bag philosophy, where all rules of intelligent debate can be reduced to the nonsense usually reserved for right wing commentators.

  8. Interesting post D, and Welcome to the sick of the duopoly club.

    The embedded media got it right.?
    Really, all that happened was Parliament was recorded, which supplied the embedded media with content for the farm.

    Who got it right.? Paul Sheehan.?
    Did the video of Joolya blasting Mr-Rabbit really need a so-called Journalist to provide `context` or anything else that is blatantly obvious, and I don`t mean the mindless cheer-Leading stuff. What value-add did the embedded media provide,? other than channels of distribution.?

    1. I do believe that on this occasion the MSM did value-add by explaining the political context within which the speech took place. Did the MSM go too far in yet again calling it like a horse race? Probably. But political analysis of Slipper’s removal is generally missing from the glowing reports of the PM’s speech.

      1. ” political analysis of Slipper’s removal ”

        came from a single angle (I supplied 2 others)
        which rapidly became moot once Oakshot got on LatelineLand and explained clearly that, he and Windsor did the actual work with Slipper towards his resignation while, the Leaders of the duopoly screeched at each other for a World-Wide audience.

        We will be sick to death of this video by next election.

  9. I’ve seen very little sense in the Mainstream Media, but a great deal of cutting material to fit a narrative already decided on & more than the usual amount of nonsense, like Paul Sheehan’s truly bizarre piece. Thankfully, it’s working less and less effectively now that on the net we can simply go to the originals. Unfortunately, people don’t always have the time or inclination to do that and so I still wish the MSM were more objective, accurate or even show some basic intelligence. Even some of the international articles already have people making comments based on that forced narrative rather than the raw material.

    I hoped the detailed quotes of Julia Gillard’s speech would help to show that misogyny doesn’t need to be ‘I hate women’, but often exists more subtly in the patronising, patriarchal attitudes whose subtext is that males are superior. I’ve been gratified that so many men understand that and frankly stunned that so many women don’t. Christopher Pyne in QT yesterday thought he was being clever, but just illustrated how little he comprehends – but if Julie Bishop really means what she says in support of her leader, she has no clue either – and presumably doesn’t object to being called ‘a girl’. Does she call Tony Abbott ‘a boy’?

    Anything that impacts so heavily on the perceived power and ability of the Prime Minister and distracts so much from real bsuiness is worth a speech – and the Opposition started the misogyny line. Ugly as the texts were, I don’t think his opinion of genitalia is even relevant, let alone sexist, which means treating someone differently on account of their gender. Tony Abbott made the mistake of leaning on a concept he just doesn’t have a handle on.

    I wonder why it’s left to non-MSM to clarify the points about process – Bob Katter’s views and reasons for abstention would be far more interesting than another ‘shrill speech’ ‘article’.

  10. Hi Dragonista
    There has been some commentary around today (spin doctors on ABC local radio w Linda Mottram) that Slipper’s resignation was already in the bag and the whole speech was about whether Labour (read Gillard and Albo) were going to let Abbott have a win. Apparently there is some tactical conference that can be seen in the footage. Is there anything to that?
    Also, the PM publicly condemned the texts in the morning prior to the day in parliament (apparently, I didn’t see it) and felt she had a leg to stand on regarding due process in this debate. So, is it different to actually defending Slipper, whatever the metrics of perception are?
    The MSM for my mind is mostly Abbott camp (New Ltd) or Rudd camp (Hartcher, Grattan) anyway – Gillard loses almost everyday because of this – what she got to do yesterday was give Abbott a lashing which the public got to see in more than the regular 3 second grab. That alone will last longer in the memory than all of this commentary so I think it’s just about whether the public, as a whole, will enjoy the memory of Abbott getting a whooping in the long term… I thought he had it coming and I bet I’m not the only one

    1. Yes, I think those reports that you mention are pretty consistent with how I saw it all playing out. Abbott’s motion was about wedging Gillard to defend Slipper. By linking Gillard’s judgement with Slipper’s in his speech, Abbott knew that Gillard would be forced to oppose the motion and thereby be seen to support/defend Slipper.

      I dont see Fairfax as being anywhere as pro Rudd as NewsLtd is pro Abbott. Hartcher stands out as being a Rudd campaigner, but I wouldnt tar other Fairfax journos with the same brush.

      At the end of the day, I’m a political observer, and in my real life I work as a strategist, so I always try to look at the big picture, how things fit together and influence each other. So the tactics and how they played out were of more interest to me. Also whether the PM’s speech will make a jot of difference on election day.

  11. Oops, I just voted for this post as “Average.” I meant to put it as just one click below excellent. Sorry about that. I could argue with some of your points but I think this is a really good contribution to the discussion. A contribution that broadens our thinking rather than focussing on predetermined points of view.



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