Tag Archives: Philip Ruddock

Ruddock: The man who called a refugee child “it”

23 Nov

Philip Ruddock

 

In August 2001, 6 year-old Shayan Badraie, an Iranian asylum seeker who arrived by boat in Australia with his family, became seriously ill with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder after spending seventeen months in the Woomera and Villawood  detention centres.

During the time he was detained with his family, Shayan witnessed suicide attempts, and great unrest within the Woomera prison. A letter I received from an asylum seeker described the conditions thus:

I see hundreds of people begging and crying, and I see people dehydrating in the sun. I see people with sewn lips and buried in the ground ’cause that’s what they did. I see people slash up and cut their throats and arms.

Shayan refused to eat, drink, and walk. After his plight was exposed in an ABC TV investigation of Australia’s detention centres, public outrage was focused on the Immigration Minister at that time, Philip Ruddock.

Ruddock claimed Shayan’s illness had nothing to do with his experiences in the detention centres. If the child was ill, Ruddock claimed in an interview with Kerry O’Brien on ABC TV’s 7.30 Report, it was because “it was not a natural child of the mother, it’s a stepchild.”

Ruddock referred to Shayan as “it” throughout the interview.

Philip Ruddock is an enthusiastic stamp collector. As Immigration Minister, he took the stamps from letters he received from people all over the world, requesting asylum, and requesting information about loved ones in Australian detention camps. Letters forwarded to him by Amnesty International, of which organisation he was a member, and whose badge he wore with pride. Amnesty eventually attempted to distance themselves from Ruddock’s inhumane policies by publicly requesting that he not wear their badge, as did his daughter, who was so distressed by her father’s position on indefinite detention, especially of children, that she left the country to work for an aid organisation.

Ruddock’s wife gave him a Chinese cabinet with many drawers, in which to store his stamps. He joked that it was one of the good things about getting so many letters from Amnesty, a growing stash of stamps for him to sort in his retirement.

With what hopes were those stamps bought, what fears, what dreams? Stamps on envelopes containing stories that might break your heart. In a chilling act of appallingly twisted appropriation, Ruddock took the stamps for his hobby, while simultaneously writing into history a narrative that transformed asylum seekers into criminals, terrorists and potential murderers of their own children:

 

Philip Ruddock has just been appointed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to chair a panel tasked with reviewing religious protections, perceived by the right-wing as threatened after the recent marriage equality YES vote. As John Howard’s Attorney-General in 2004, Ruddock introduced the bill that prevented marriage equality by changing the wording of the Marriage Act to describe the institution as legal between a man and a woman only.

Here is a piece I wrote on Tuesday for Independent Australia on the separation of church and state, increasingly threatened by demands from conservatives for laws that protect their “religious freedoms.” When I wrote the post, I had no idea of Ruddock’s new role.

Australia has been torturing refugees who arrived by boat for seventeen years. Ruddock was an essential part of the early and illegal inhumanity during his time as Immigration Minister.

These people have attempted to invade our sovereign territory, he said of the waterborne asylum seekers. They have jumped the queue of legitimate refugees legally attempting to achieve asylum in this country. They have broken our laws. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Marriage Act: what is it good for?

30 Jun

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In 2004, the Howard LNP government amended the Marriage Act of 1961 to read as follows:

Marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.
Certain unions are not marriages. A union solemnised in a foreign country between: (a) a man and another man; or (b) a woman and another woman; must not be recognised as a marriage in Australia.

Then federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock introduced the amendment in order to prevent any legal challenges to the concept of marriage as a solely heterosexual institution.

It would be useful if religious organisations opposing marriage equality took note of the origins of this amendment. It did not come from god. It was authored by Philip Ruddock and John Howard.

Then Greens leader Bob Brown described the amendment as “the straight Australia policy.”

There was no plebiscite held on the amendment, and no referendum.

I have yet to be convinced that the state has any role at all to play in the voluntary unions of its citizens, and would prefer to get rid of the Marriage Act altogether rather than just the 2004 amendment.

As it stands, the Act is discriminatory and has no place in a just society. It privileges traditional heterosexual marriage, an institution that functions more in its idealisation than its reality, and whose many and massive failings remain largely unexamined.

We do not need the state to define and control our expressions of love. Of all the situations in which we ought to be able to act with agency and autonomy, this must surely be the most fundamental. All citizens are entitled to enjoy this agency and autonomy, regardless of whom we love.

The fight for marriage equality is also the fight for everyone’s freedom, and our right to live without state intrusion, definition  and control of the most deeply intimate aspects of human life.

Do you really want politicians deciding what marriage is?

 

 

The government you have when you don’t have a government

16 Feb

I woke up this morning thinking that I don’t feel as if we actually have a real government, or a real Prime Minster.

Tony Abbott seems to be increasingly decompensating under the stress of discovering he’s so unpopular with his party he had to face the prospect of a spill motion without even a challenger for his leadership, and that must be a rare political event just about anywhere.

(Decompensation, psychology: the inability to maintain defense mechanisms in response to stress, resulting in personality disturbance or psychological imbalance.)

After the acute trauma of the spill motion passed, everyone involved needed a little time to collect themselves, pass around the talking stick, and begin the process of healing. Instead, Abbott went right out and sacked Philip Ruddock as his Chief Government Whip, on the grounds that Ruddock had not adequately warned him of growing backbench discontent.

This is amazing. The rest of us knew all about it, but the PM’s office didn’t?

I’ve had doubts about the efficiency of this office for quite some time, after all, they’re supposed to be there for Tony yet every day since he took office things for him have traveled increasingly south. At first blush, it appears the PM’s staff are incompetent on a Monty Python scale.

Perhaps their secret agenda is to ruin him, or I have been watching too much In the thick of it. Either way he should sack somebody in that office and hire Malcolm Tucker, but instead he went after Ruddock.

I don’t care much what happens to Ruddock: I will never forget his days as Immigration Minister in the Howard government during which he instigated a powerfully successful campaign to demonise and criminalise asylum seekers arriving by boat, largely through the use of language he adopted from Nazi anti semitic propaganda of the 1930’s. Without Ruddock we would have no Morrison. He might look like a hurt old man, but I’m not fooled.

Then there were Abbott’s belligerent attacks on President of the Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, after the Commission’s report on children in detention was tabled in Parliament on Wednesday. In a typical conservative shoot the messenger and make so much noise that everybody will forget the message tactic, Abbott railed long and hard about Professor Triggs, while entirely disregarding the appalling findings of her report.

With the stubborn determination of the utterly cloth-eared stupid, Abbott keeps the three-word slogans hiccoughing off his far too evident, lizard-like tongue: boats, mining tax, carbon tax, boats, carbon tax, mining tax; we are open for business but not for boats, carbon tax, mining tax. I wonder to myself, does he or anyone in his office really think there are still people out here even listening to this drivel?

It is a measure of the collective desperation of Abbott and his staff that they continue to cling to this cringe-worthy robotic recitation: they have totally failed to come up with anything new, for all the millions of tax payer dollars we’ve spent on them.

The zeitgeist as far as I can tell is one of trembling, panicked uncertainty: what will their leader say next, how much longer can this go on, how can they make it better without looking like the ALP. This latter possibility seems to be the very worst thing they fear could happen to them.

It isn’t, though. Worse things are happening every time their leader opens his mouth and puts both feet in it. But hey, it’s good for the ALP.

There’s been a cute white rabbit appearing in our garden for the last few days, and like Alice in the wonderland, I’m thinking of drinking the potion to make me oh so tiny, then I can follow White Rabbit down his hole.

But wait! I’m already there!

The final straw is the sudden wheeling out of Margie. You know he’s a dead man walking when he rolls out the wife.

Tony & Margie Abbott

 

 

 

 

From Woomera to Manus: 12 years of state brutality in exchange for votes

2 May

I have beside me on my desk the transcript of ABC Four Corners, May 19 2003. This is the link to ABC Four Corners, April 29 2013

The transcript I’m currently reading is that of reporter Debbie Whitmont’s investigation into the secrecy surrounding the conditions at the Woomera Detention Centre.

Whitmont is also the reporter on the April 29 programme, an investigation into the secrecy and the conditions at the Manus Island Detention Centre.

Excerpts, 2003 transcript

80% of those detained [in Woomera] were found to be genuine refugees and given temporary visas. Many who worked at the centre say they were pressured to stay silent about what they saw and did. It is only now that the full story is starting to be told.

Alley Crace, Welfare Officer [at Woomera] 1999-2001: Just basically, I see the compound all the time. I see hundreds and hundreds of people begging and crying, and I see people dehydrating in the sun. I see people with sewn lips and buried in the ground, cause that’s what they did. I see people slashed up and cut their throats and their arms.

Phillip Ruddock, Minister for Immigration (Howard Government): It is not a holiday camp nor should it be seen as one.

After a riot at Woomera, detainees were put in lock down. Psychiatric nurse Peter Ostarek-Gammon, who worked at Woomera during 2000-2001 and witnessed the aftermath of the riot:

Yeah, well, there was a lot of anger from the officers and the management, a lot of anger directed towards the detainees. In fact, some of them were not just locked into their dongas, but they were drilled in. The doors were drilled closed. I did see that, yeah. Another nurse and myself actually had to visit one of those guys one day and they had to get an electric drill to open the cabin. 

Debbie Whitmont: Four Corners has obtained the computer records of thousands of official reports written by Australian Correctional Management (ACM) [who ran the centre at the time] and given daily to the Department of Immigration. They document the relentlessness of hundreds and hundreds of self-harms and suicide attempts. Like this boy, who smashed his own head with a rock. And this fourteen-year-old girl who saw him do it cut herself and told staff she was frustrated with the Department of Immigration.

After repeated attempts by staff to assist and protect a 12 year-old Iranian boy who was being sexually assaulted, Alley Crace tells Whitmont:

At that stage, I was told that because the people had no identity and that they weren’t actual people in Australia, there was no need, or necessities to report to Family and Community Services – as in FACS.

During the time of the Four Corners investigation, some detainees were on a hunger strike. Whitmont spoke to one of them:

He tries to explain that the detainees have nothing left to use but their bodies to plead their desperation.

Man: We are crying, we are screaming. And we are all “What to do?” We have nothing. This is what you want? This is Australia say to us? Please help us and listen as we are suffering inside. We don’t want to make any rampage. We don’t want any things to do this. (Sobs) We all came from bad condition. We want help.

Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday 13 May, 2003

Children locked up in Australia’s immigration centres have the highest rate of mental illness ever recorded in modern medical literature, according to a new study. 

The study found each of the 20 children surveyed had at least one psychiatric illness with more than half suffering major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder…

Dr Zachary Steel, [from the University of NSW’s School of Psychiatry] said the findings showed detention centre were not the place for children. 

The above events took place during the Coalition government of John Howard. Since then, we’ve had a change of government. Now identical events are taking place under the Labor government of Julia Gillard, this time off-shore, more secretly and less accessibly.

Politicians of both major parties have continued to brutalise, scapegoat  and illegally detain, in shocking conditions, those who have arrived here by boat, requesting asylum.

Communicate with your local member and let her or him know this is unacceptable to you. The only way this will change is if politicians believe there are more votes in behaving humanely, than there are in brutally abusing arrivals.

This is what it boils down to. Votes. This is a very frightening comment on the type of people who run this country, no matter what their political allegiance.

Dear ALP

16 Apr

kevin07-kevin-ruddDear ALP

Lately, I have been thinking back to election night, 2007. I was in Brisbane that night. I’d gone up because I had an early flight to the US next morning, and things being as they are where I live, things like, for example, the treacherous stretch of pot-holed goat track we call the Pacific Highway,  if one has commitments such as overseas flights one can only be sure of keeping them if one allows oneself  twenty-four hours to drive 300ks. Occasionally, even that isn’t long enough.

Be that as it may.

I returned to the hotel room with Mrs Chook when it was all over, and you had won government. We turned on the TV, danced, drank champagne from the mini bar (what a waste of money that was, in hindsight) and felt, like many others, the terrible oppression of John Winston Howard’s lengthy reign lift off us. We were entering a new political phase, we believed, and our relief and happiness kept us awake for much of the night. By the time I boarded my flight the next day I was exhausted, but content.

It did not take long for things to sour. I believe my first major shock was when Kevin Rudd took that bizarre decision to send the Oceanic Viking, a ship carrying rescued asylum seekers, to Indonesia, where a lengthy stand-off ensued and it became clear that your policies on the question of asylum seekers were beginning to morph into something that more closely resembled those of the deposed John Howard and his right hand executioner, the pallid-complexioned Philip Ruddock. (The one who collected stamps from all the countries whose displaced peoples he locked up indefinitely in Woomera and Baxter, along with their children. He kept them in a Chinese cabinet his wife gave him for Christmas. The stamps, not the people).

One remembers such odd facts.

Things have gone frightfully down hill since then, but I cannot bear to list the litany of offences you continue to commit against those who are legally seeking refuge in this country, as is their human right, and as we continue to invite them to do. You are, ladies and gentlemen, fucking hypocrites on this matter.

I can say that I have never forgiven Kevin Rudd for initiating this downwardly spiralling breach of faith.

Then came the coup. Oh yes, much happened in between but if I’m to list every idiocy I will be here till the end of next year, and anyway, confronting you with individual disgraces is not my intention.

What I do want to convey is my horror and distress, when I recall the great tide of support and enthusiasm that swept you into power in 2007 and compare that to where you are now. That win was miraculous. You could not put a foot wrong. It was the triumph every politician dreams of.

SO WHY HAVE YOU FUCKED IT UP?

I believe you’ve fucked it up because there’s not one among you of any influence capable of putting their ego to one side, and focussing on the greater good of your party, and this country. You’ve had some good policies. You’ve done some good things. But none of this gets any airtime because you are so busy publicly brawling among yourselves that you have become the dominant narrative, with your scandals and your betrayals, and not, as it should be, with your policies.

Nobody can hear the good things above the noise of you fighting like fornicating possums trapped in the roof.  You have thus wickedly squandered all your hard-earned capital, and for what, I ask you, for what?

Again, I cannot bear to list the insults and disappointments you have dished out to those of us who elected you, because of your blind, ego-driven hatred of one another. I cannot bear to detail the extent of the self-harm, the cutting of your own arms and legs with blunt razor blades, the public purgings, the binges of self-destruction, the poking out of your own eyes with burnt sticks, the gut-spilling, the incessant factional wars, the eating of yourselves and your leaders, nobody could make this stuff up.

Obviously, you came to power divided and unsettled. Obviously, you are more heavily invested in your internal political hoo haa than you are even in getting yourselves re-elected. Even now, at this eleventh hour, you will not shut up & Mr Simon Crean (no, I will not refer to him as The Honourable) recently and inexplicably found himself compelled to enact yet another attempt at sabotage from the back benches, to whence he was so recently banished after his bizarre efforts to get rid of one leader and replace her with the leader you already got rid of, who has hung around ever since you fatally stabbed him, like an unhappy shade unable to grasp that it is actually dead.

Well, let me tell you, a punter can only take so much before she ceases to give a damn. And sadly, I have now reached that point. I no longer care what you do. Feed on yourselves. Gorge until you vomit like dogs. Do yourselves as much harm as you can manage before you finally collapse in a bloodied heap of lacerated, putrid human flesh, on the opposite side of the house, where you will no doubt languish for decades, and it serves you fucking well right.

Oh, yes you can cry foul, and blame the media. I admit, they have not been on your side. But did you have to make it so easy for them? Did you have to drip feed their malice?

I will vote for Janelle Saffin, my local member, as I have done for some time. This is not a vote of confidence in you, ALP. It is a vote for a damn fine local member who, god help her, has the misfortune to belong to you, and whom you recently demoted because she supports Kevin Rudd, even though she was doing a damn fine job and I resent it that you took her job away from her.

As for the rest of you, quite frankly I wouldn’t piss on most of you if you were on fire.

Sincerely, and more in incandescent rage than sorrow,

Jennifer.

We’ve signed the Convention, but…

21 Dec

I don’t know about anyone else but I’m beginning to feel righteously infuriated by the asylum seeker stand-off. The kind of righteous fury that would prompt one to smite the fools and political charlatans, if one only had smiting powers.

So far the best account of the current impasse I’ve read is this one by Robert Manne at The Drum this morning. Since then both Alexander Downer and Philip Ruddock have thrown in their two pence worth here in the SMH, with Ruddock claiming the Malaysia solution is still possible, while Downer advises Abbott to keep his nose out of negotiations at this stage, and let government and coalition teams handle them rather than leaders.

This latter piece of advice I heartily endorse. Abbott has not shown himself to have the slightest talent for negotiation. That unfortunate lack is exacerbated by an ingrained misogyny that makes negotiations with a woman especially problematic. Add to that the fact that this particular woman has the job he believes is his by divine right and clearly, including him at the table is going to get us precisely nowhere.

Abbott cannot be trusted to empty his head of personal grievances and focus on the much bigger issues at hand. That’s just one of the multitude of reasons why he should not be Leader of the Opposition, and especially why he should not be our next PM.

As for the Malaysia “solution.” Remind me, wasn’t it  only 800 most recent boat arrivals we were planning to send to that country?  Haven’t we just about reached that number?  So if we do pack 800 asylum seekers off to an uncertain future and accept 4000 refugees in exchange, what next?

Oh, and I forgot. We have to change the law first so we can put that “solution” into effect, thanks to Robert Manne’s enterprising nephew David, who took the government to the High Court and got the Malaysia “solution” kyboshed under our current legislation.

A small digression. There has been much brou ha ha about the use of the word “denier” in the climate change debate. Those who object claim it is an unmistakeable reference to Holocaust deniers. Yet nobody gives a hoot about the use of the word “solution” in the refugee debate, even though it immediately puts one in mind of Hitler’s genocidal “final solution.” To my mind “solution” is far more repulsively evocative than “deniers,” especially given that word’s confusing (and defusing) French meaning, that is, the thickness or otherwise of stockings.

What nobody will address is our responsibility as signatories to the UN Refugee Convention, and how that influences the decision by asylum seekers to attempt dangerous sea voyages. People only make these drastic attempts to get to us in the first place because we are known to be a country of asylum.

We make no stipulations about who can claim asylum, or the manner in which they gain entry to our country. These high falutin’ invitations to hospitality bear little resemblance to the reality, though since the last High Court decision those who arrive by boat are to be treated the same as those who arrive by plane, ending a truly despicable discriminatory practice based entirely on methods of transport.

The UN Convention clearly does not work for Australia anymore. We are turning ourselves inside out in our attempts to find ways to circumvent it, while still wishing to remain full signatories. The people suffering most as a consequence of our gyrations and manipulations are asylum seekers, who hear our invitation and accept it, only to either die on the way, or be treated abominably once they arrive.

I don’t imagine that our commitment to the UN Refugee Convention is going to be re-assessed anytime soon. So perhaps we should consider educating potential asylum seekers in our little ways. Yes, we have signed the Convention and you are absolutely entitled to believe that we are a country of asylum, and to attempt to come here requesting sanctuary. However, if you die in the attempt that is not our fault. Should you be successful and be granted refugee status, the fact that we are a country of asylum does not mean you will automatically be allowed to stay here and we reserve the right to send you to whatever country we can persuade to take you off our hands.

So do not think when you embark on your epic journeys, that you will be allowed to stay in this country in the event that you arrive. We do not like queue jumpers, and we prefer to give sanctuary to those we invite, not those who importunately demand it of us by just turning up.

No, we agree that none of this appears in the fine print of the UN Refugee Convention. Yes, we are quite likely engaging in misleading advertising. However, as there is nothing at all you can do about that, because we are powerful and you aren’t, we suggest you don’t come here in the first place.

You think we should reword our commitment to the UN Convention?  Meh, everybody who’s anybody knows that Convention means nothing.

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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.

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