Woman up, Ms Gillard!

20 Sep


We shall not be moved

As soon as she took office, Julia Gillard signalled that she intended to take a hard line on the off shore processing of asylum seekers who arrive here by boat. The new Prime Minister announced a processing centre (sounds a bit like a fish canning enterprise) in East Timor without, it subsequently emerged, first having properly consulted with that country as to its willingness to partner with Australia in the venture.

As we know, the East Timor proposition came to nought, and served to position the new Prime Minister as a woman who perhaps spoke too soon, and incautiously. This cast early doubt on her capacity for tough. She’s had to work hard to dispel this initial doubt because everyone knows a woman who seeks high political office has to be twice as tough, twice as hard and twice as mean as any man. Unless she wants stay on the backbench for her entire career and be of no interest to anyone other than her electorate.

The Malaysian “solution” has also thus far come to nought, not because that country declined to co-operate with Gillard’s tough plans to expel boat arrivals including unaccompanied children, a new benchmark in tough that left me gob smacked and tearful, how female of me, but because the High Court of Australia found the current Migration Act incompatible with the government’s tough policy. In a

After having petulantly (unwise choice, petulance erodes tough) attacked the full bench as activist judges who were missing an opportunity to stop the boats (an ignorant response from a lawyer: as if it is the High Court’s job to stop the boats) Gillard has now proposed amendments to the Act that will grant an immigration minister unfettered control over the expulsion of asylum seekers to any country he or she decides is suitable, should he or she deem that to be in the national interest. The amendment will ensure there can be no further legal challenges to such a ministerial declaration.

Never underestimate the power of a woman.

Theoretically, this amendment could lead to asylum seekers being refouled, that is sent back to the countries from which they have fled. The UN Refugee Convention proscribes this course of action. The Convention does allow us to relocate asylum seekers to a third country for assessment, however that third country ideally would also be a signatory, and certainly would offer protection of asylum seekers’ human rights, including non refoulement.

We have now strayed so far from the Convention that the only reasons for us to continue as signatories are that we would look like very bad (if tough) international citizens if we withdrew, and withdrawal would undoubtedly put the kybosh on our aspirations to a seat on the UN Security Council. So we will maintain our status as signatories, whilst abandoning pretence to anything other than minimal observance of the Convention. Amending the Migration Act will legitimise our hypocrisy. Not only has a woman proved she is better at tough than the men, she’s also surpassed them in the hypocrisy stakes.

Qué viva liberación de la mujer!

I just love how that sounds in Spanish.

I am woman hear me roar

The fact that Gillard chose to announce her East Timor “solution” hours after taking office indicates that she was determined to position herself from the start as a woman who is capable of great tough, especially on asylum seekers, that hapless and motley collection of human vulnerability who, one could be forgiven for concluding, exist primarily for Australian politicians to use as a yardstick for their implacability capability. Tough implacability apparently being the sole measure of strength in this brutalized country’s brutalized politics, formerly epitomized by Liberals John Howard, Philip Ruddock, Peter Reith, Alexander Downer, et al.

In a bold and successful tilt at gender equality, Gillard has now proved beyond question that a woman can be much better at tough than a man. We have the extraordinary vision of Abbott refusing to co-operate with Gillard’s proposed amendment on the grounds that it strips asylum seekers of all human rights protections, including those written into the Act by his predecessor John Howard who we thought was tough at the time, but who now looks like a little bitty pussycat.

In other words, Abbott has voluntarily relinquished his inherited title of sovereign head of the continent of Tough to Gillard, because worrying about asylum seekers’ human rights is so not tough that he might find he’s stranded himself off shore in the very leaky boat of mercurial public opinion. It could viciously turn, public opinion could, and drive Tony, soon to be despised as a bleeding heart if he’s not careful, past the shores of need to the reefs of greed, through the squalls of hate.* Who knows where he might make landfall? Maybe Malaysia.

Who would ever have thought it?

Gillard’s off shore processing stance was adopted in response to focus groups who want rid of boat arrivals like a good householder wants rid of rats and cockroaches, having learned from Pauline Hanson and John Howard that asylum seekers are a threat to the very fabric of the Australian way of life, and quite likely terrorists to boot. Focus groups aren’t going to put their weight behind any politician who can’t show them some tough, and kick the bastard refugees out as soon as they disembark from their bastard cobbled-together boats. If they sink and die it serves the importunate bastards right, is pretty much the attitude of focus groups the government consults.

The people of the focus groups found their natural leader in Gillard. She, like Pauline Hanson, validated them and gave them a voice. You aren’t racists, she told them. If you worry about border security and our nation’s sovereignty you are not racists, and their hearts swelled with gratitude at this Prime Ministerial liberation from the burdensome slur of bogan racism laid upon them by middle class tosser academics, soy milk latte sipping left wing inner city über cool arty farty wankers, and maybe that nerdy egg head Kevin Rudd as well, even if he did try to hide it. Julia speaks their language, she has the right accent; she makes it OK to hate boat arrivals and call it border protection, and she’s tough. What more could a focus group want?

 A victory for women

Julia Gillard is unquestionably the mistress of the politics of tough, and the blokes she’s bulldozed in her single-minded pursuit of the title can only lie trashed and spent in the gutter, marvelling at her prodigious talent.  In the patriarchal culture of hegemonic masculinity Gillard has proved herself to be more skilled and adept than any bloke. Suck it up, chaps. You should have tried harder to keep us pregnant and barefoot.

Julia is a role model for our female young, demonstrating how a woman can indeed be harder, more mean, and infinitely more tough than a man by honing her skills on powerless asylum seekers. There’s no issue in Australian politics that comes anywhere near providing the same opportunities for the performance of tough. Climate change you might protest, but that doesn’t yet have the human element essential to modelling first class tough. Derogatory remarks about the legitimacy of a photograph of one polar bear looking desperate on a melting ice floe can’t compare with the opportunity to send unaccompanied minors to a country where they might get caned, just for being in it.

Here’s the rub

However. Here’s the rub. If it was your desire to see a change in the monotonous political culture of “how thoroughly can I trash somebody to show how tough hard and mean I am,” if it was your hope that women might introduce an alternative to the tough, hard and mean meme that can only ever be maintained at the expense of others because it is founded on being tough hard and mean to somebody, you’re likely to be feeling a bit disillusioned.

If women in high political office are going to be the same as men and worse, why do we want them there, you might be asking? Why do we need anymore mean tough and hard politicians, and especially why do we need women politicians who think they have to up the stakes and be even meaner, tougher and harder than the men?

Why do we value and reward the mean, the tough and the hard in politics above all other characteristics in the first place, whether they manifest in a man or a woman?

Julia Gillard is living proof that the qualities required for political office in Australia are un-gendered. She is the living proof that women can do anything a man can do and more, in that world. She’s living proof that women are capable of the same oppressive and repressive patriarchal attitudes and behaviours that in other contexts feminists have vigorously protested and fought to liberate us from for decades, only to have our first female leader head right back into the brutal bloodied heart of the patriarchy’s savaging body, and prove that not only can we equal them in their dark arts, we can outdo them.

Woman up, Ms Gillard, and stop copying the blokes. It’s not yet too late. Things can’t get much worse for you, so if you’re going down, do it in a blaze of female glory by being tough enough to change your mind, because very soon Tony Abbott’s going to start looking better at pretending to be humane than you are, and that’s just going to mess with everybody’s heads, possibly terminally. Then you’ll find yourself and your party cast into the wilderness for a good few decades, while the rest of us have to find ways of staying alive under a coalition government led by a failed seminarian who likes going round mostly naked, and has a bad and unreconstructed attitude to women.

From one woman to another this heartfelt plea: have mercy, Julia. Have mercy.

*Leonard Cohen, Democracy.

13 Responses to “Woman up, Ms Gillard!”

  1. Sam Jandwich September 20, 2011 at 8:46 am #

    You know, I caught myself singing “Bound for Botany Bay” yesterday evening, but then it occurred to me, that song’s probably socially unacceptable these days. What a blatant, unforgivable faux pas! Are primary school teachers even allowed to teach it to the kids any more??


    • Jennifer Wilson September 20, 2011 at 8:56 am #

      No, it’s abusive and gender biased and probably offensive to mariners


  2. paul walter September 20, 2011 at 10:10 pm #

    And drunks.
    The only thing I’d cavill with is perhaps that Gillard, in doing “hard” here, is any worse than her predecessors.The system and its focus on the electoral cycle and the media’s twenty four hour cycle, seem to obviate much concern with policy based on principle and rationality.
    I still blame the opposition since 2007; so much of what is contructive could have come from a less delinquent approach and mindset. Instead of clearing out the reactionaries by electing Turnbull in 2007, they became the locus for all that is negative in our politics, starting with asylum seekers.
    Which is not to absolve Rudd and then Gillard. Rudd for choking when he was in front and Gillard for defeatism- there have been alternatives to the big stick approach to people movements. With the disillusion has come in the realisation that these were not above the peasant level cunning of Howard and Abbott, as to consciousness, as we’d hoped.
    They specifically avoided taking on conservative and neoliberal memes and paradigms that capture the masses minds, so the refusal of a cultural and social critique has left them without any realisation of what their goals should be or where to begin; they no more have an idea of what to do than the other lot, less in fact because at least the other lot know who their masters are and faithfully follow their reasoning (Murdoch, Banks, minerals corporations).
    What impacts negatively are two factors. Firstly, the tabloid media which happily destroyed good policy initiatives created by those with some sort of consciousness, through slander and innuendo as to personalities.Secondly, the near illiteracy of some sections of Labor itself, eg Farrell, Bill Ludwig, Arbib and co, with their anti intellectualism and opportunism; their willingness to climb into bed with capital, against the public interest, as has shown up with the Timber industry and Mining and propensity to peddle socially conservative repressive legislation against the same small sub groups of people as the Hansonists dislike, as well as anti social economic policies.
    Nothing has been more pathetic to watch in Queensland than another woman people had high hopes for, Anna Bligh, resisting justice for Mulrunji Doomagee, contraception reform and-significantly- her embrace of privatisation.
    I hoped Gillard would be our Helen Clark but she seems captured in the role of Mag Thatcher. Idont envy gillard either. I don’t beleive she’s without scruples or morals, justy hasn’t come to terms with the new (real) world yet, as with many other Australians. Abbott is probably similar, a prey to the atavistic remnants of his upbringing, which makes him inflexible and intolerant also.
    Both are unfinished business yet to comeout inthe wash.The best that could happen is a change of heart from both or even one of them but I suspect not, which means we’ll follow Britain from indecisive Labor to Cameronist (Abbottist) Toryism, I suppose.


    • Jennifer Wilson September 21, 2011 at 6:05 pm #

      I don’t believe that Gillard has scruples or morals. I really, really do not believe that. I think she is entirely driven by personal and political ambition and that she will do anything she feels she needs to do in order to further those goals. That isn’t scrupulous or moral. I don’t think Abbott is any different.
      What goes largely unremarked is that the government actually is getting some things done. She doesn’t even attempt to sell what they are achieving, she is obsessed and consumed by her egotistical wars with Abbott to the degree that even if she does talk about anything else, nobody can bloody hear her.
      If she’s got anything honourable in her I’m buggered if I can see it.


  3. Marilyn September 21, 2011 at 4:27 pm #

    None of you listened to her though, none of you got in the room with the woman who hates refugees with a passion and says so at every opportunity.

    Her position has always been the channelling of all the racists in the white Australia policy because she is racist to the core.

    Her position stated in 2002 is that we must STOP REFUGEES IN THEIR SOURCE COUNTRIES.

    Which shows she has no clue what she is on about.

    Chris Bowen will have fun though when his kids say “daddy what do you do” and he can proudly announce that he tries to do dirty deals to break the law and sell children.

    Won’t their little hearts swell with pride.


  4. Policeman MacCrusikeen September 23, 2011 at 8:35 am #

    Thanks Jennifer for this article especially as it brings focus on a psychodynamic understanding of politics. Racism, and the anxiety that underpins, it are at the core of the national psyche. Your claim that Gillard makes the scaredy wee racists feel better is spot on.


    • Jennifer Wilson September 23, 2011 at 9:54 am #

      I think Hockey added weight to your comment about racism, Policeman, in his bizarre contempt for the ethnicities of those finance ministers who won the Euromoney gong prior to Swan.


  5. patriciawa September 26, 2011 at 12:24 pm #

    I’d better start my comment by saying that your opinion on Julia Gillard is entirely differerent from my own.I don’t think that she is ‘copying the blokes’ as you put it. I think she is out-performing them in holding both this government and her party together against all the odds and all expectations. If allowed to I believe she could prove right even on the much maligned Malaysian Solution. Asking her to ‘woman up’ on the issue suggests to me that you have failed to understand how she has brought both compassion, which you don’t credit her with, and intelligence as well as her capacity for honest compromise to bear on this issue. I think Chris Bowen, a man who doesn’t deserve Marilyn’s appalling jibe, in trying to fulfil his ministerial role as conscientiously as an honest man can, came to her with this scheme suggested to him by departmental advisors. I can see why she thought it worth working on.

    The UN Convention on Refugees was designed and agreed to by the international community some sixty years ago to meet the exigencies of the Cold War era. The world has changed dramatically since then and that Convention has become somewhat anachronistic. Conventions, like laws, don’t always achieve what they set out to achieve. They need amendment and revision to meet the needs of different times and circumstances.

    The Prime Minister is not seeking to flout, or to ‘compromise’ the spirit of the Refugee Convention, rather she and Chris Bowen have been trying achieve its aims for as many asylum seekers as is practically possible, while at the same time managing the political realities of Australia.

    What is the UN Convention of Refugees worth if a venal government will sign it to satisfy the letter of its laws to accommodate the ambitions of a particular politician? Nauru no more believes in the UN convention than Iran or other like signatories.

    Aside from the politics of the receiving countries to which asylum seekers flee, the vast majority of refugees are poor and without the resources to do other than stay for years in increasingly crowded camps in poor countries adjacent to war zones. Exceptions to that are those who are more mobile because of a capacity to pay for passage to countries of their choice, with Australia, Canada, the UK and other European countries their preferred options.

    There is an obvious need for some modification to a sixty year old Convention which places an unfair burden for reception of refugees on less affluent countries like Kenya and Malaysia while permitting a ‘priveleged’ few the opportunity for solid and speedy settlement in more distant but wealthy countries via an expensive but well organised people smuggling system.

    This current stand-off here is being watched with interest because it is an opportunity for the UNHCR to work with Australia and Malaysia and other neighbouring countries to pioneer a regional solution which could serve as a model for other parts of the world where refugee numbers are reaching unmanageable proportions.

    Were you aware of this radio interview by Julia Baird with Erika Feller, UNHCR Commissioner, in which Feller says, among other things,

    “No,, we have never condemned the concept of offshore processing in its entirety, but we have said that it has to be fully embedded in a regional cooperation framework and it must ensure two things; it must lead to fair adjudication of claims, it must be based on effective protection being available where that processing would take place and it must be linked to the availability of solutions. Solutions such as resettlement, solutions such as returns, solutions such as local stay and proper conditions.”


    • Jennifer Wilson September 26, 2011 at 3:08 pm #

      Hello, patriciawa, and welcome!
      I very much appreciate your clear statement of a view that is very different from my own.
      I’m very much in favour of regional processing, however I want to see it done well, and I didn’t see the Malaysian arrangements as safe or satisfactory, or as fulfilling Erika Feller’s outline of a successful off-shore processing plan.
      I think the obvious place for a regional centre is Australia, however if things were organised as Feller describes, Malaysia is a possibility.
      Several months ago I wrote a piece for On Line Opinion in which I argued that we ought to withdraw from the Refugee Convention if we were to stay congruous with our actions, and I still think that. Of course, we won’t withdraw. A review of the Convention doesn’t seem likely either, though I agree it would be a good idea.
      On Ms Gillard, we will have to agree to disagree – my friend David Horton who visits here from time to time also disagrees with me about Julia, and I think would be more aligned with your opinions.


  6. patriciawa September 26, 2011 at 12:26 pm #

    Sorry! Forgot the link! http://www.abc.net.au/sundayprofile/stories/3314682.htm?site=sydney


  7. Marilyn September 27, 2011 at 4:15 pm #

    Oh Patricia you have been peddling the 60 years nonsense all over the place – you are still wrong.

    The Magna Carta is over 800 years old, do you suggest we screw it up too and have a world without laws?

    Or the Australian constitution that is just over 100 years old or those old books people claim are about their gods?

    Do grow up.


  8. paul walter September 27, 2011 at 10:14 pm #

    Marilyn, it is a difficult argument for her (Pat) to have to put up. The nub of her point revolves around the politics; getting things done against the background of an ignorant public’s fears exploited by the right and Murdoch. The question is, is Gillard massaging public opinion and if so, what are her motives?
    Is she trying to work toward a better public understanding of the issues and the distress of refugees, or has she abandoned the high ground, whilst trying to win back a ceded nationalist imperative; a driving political force in our politics seized andnow driven by Abbott.
    Don’t forget, many will say we have no obligation to releive the distress of the global distressed, others caused the wars and imposed the disastrous economy that rules the world onto it. Let them fix it.
    But it ignores the fact that we are part of an empire established by conquest that we are as much beneficiaries of as any one in our world, generally speaking, certainly as much beneficiaries as billions in the third world are historical victims.
    Now, to offshore v onshore processing. I personally dont think it matters so long as the processing system is functional, humane and rational.
    I thought Labor realised that, too, back in 2007. It was going to clean things up and end the worst of the discomfort during processing, but has remained captive to DIMA and its hard line approach.It failed in its beleif in itself, in not taking on right wing mythologies at the right time and is now suffering the consequences, which means many offshore as well as local aussies alike, may find a Cameronist style future less inviting than it might otherwise have been.


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