home Australia, Feminism, Politics, Women How the Murdoch press uses misogyny to attack Julia Gillard

How the Murdoch press uses misogyny to attack Julia Gillard

A year ago, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard had won her first election, silencing grumbles from some corners that she hadn’t properly won the leadership of the Australian Labor Party from previous leader Kevin Rudd. The ALP win was a close thing. Gillard had to scramble to negotiate with three independents and the Australian Greens in order to form a coalition – in part because her party lost a lot of votes on its left flank to the increasingly popular Greens. Not only was Gillard remarkable for the close shave, or for being Australia’s first female Prime Minister, but she was also an unmarried atheist without children and with a reputation for progressive thinking. In Australia’s fairly conservative political landscape, in which it seemed unlikely that we’d have a Prime Minister who wasn’t a very wealthy married Christian father any time soon, this was unbelievable.

A year on, the left is just slightly confused about Gillard’s swing to the right – see for instance, our esteemed editor on the “Malaysian solution.” One might then wonder why, just a year out from the election in which they backed Gillard, Rupert Murdoch’s conservative media is baying for her blood.

What’s going on exactly? The big news story in Australia over the last few months has been a proposed carbon tax. Should it go ahead, only 0.02 per cent of Australian businesses will be taxed under this scheme, and 90 per cent of households will receive compensation for the increase in expenses they will undergo as we change over to clean energy. So far, so good – except barely anyone in the country knows those facts. Whoever is running the media show over at the ALP is floundering. Pushed hard by opposition leader Tony Abbott and Murdoch’s News Limited, the only message that is getting through is that the carbon tax is outrageous. Given that News Limited has control of about three quarters of metropolitan daily newspaper circulation in Australia, that’s quite a push. Make no mistake: Murdoch’s press is waging class war on behalf of the extremely rich, and it’s being done in the name of a phoney popularism. It takes quite some nerve to push a distortion of this magnitude down the throats of the people on whose behalf you’re supposedly speaking. More to the point, it takes power and money.

Sad to say, that’s the only part of the coverage that’s happening with so much as a patina of integrity. At the end of August, Murdoch’s The Australian published an opinion piece alleging that, two decades ago, Gillard knowingly helped with and benefited from her then boyfriend’s embezzlement of union funds. As the Sydney Morning Herald reports, this was utterly baseless, and The Australian replaced the column with an apology.

This is the latest in a long line of ugly reporting on Gillard, and it’s gotten a lot more misogynistic than fabrications about ladies catering to their lovers at the expense of their principles; Gillard famously has a background in the trade union movement. In June, The Australian published a piece called “Julia’s dad sees turnaround for embattled daughter”. Gillard is Julia, where Rudd was Rudd. Not Prime Minister Gillard: just a girl whose dad should be speaking for her. There have been endless silly articles mapping her changing hairstyles, of all things. I don’t much care for a lot of Gillard’s policies, but I must applaud the guts of anyone putting up all with this rubbish while facing comments from her colleagues of the ilk that she’s a sub-par human being because she has no children.

The misogyny, then, hasn’t let up since Gillard’s days as Deputy Prime Minister. It’s been simmering for a while, and it’s therefore less obvious that Murdoch and co are pulling it out in a big way now that there’s a policy they really don’t like: the carbon tax. We’re talking about people who would in all honesty prefer that the planet crumble than take on a tax they can well afford, and doing it in the name of the people without millions of dollars who are going to be the ones suffering for it. If they can push the narrative of Gillard’s lady incompetence, the thinking goes, they can get rid of her and the carbon tax both. Around the time The Australian was head patting Gillard’s father, Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph published a piece called “Angry voters want election before carbon tax” that hit all the getting-rid-of-the-redhead sweet spots News Limited have been running for months. There’s talk of a call for another election, there’s a focus on quoting Abbott rather than anyone from the ALP, and there’s useless polling positioned as crucial.

Most importantly, seeded in there are doubts about whether Gillard has a mandate, whether she’s legitimate, whether she’s competent enough to lead the country. Apparently she became Prime Minister by wily trickery or some such thing. Conversely, our televisions screens have been flooded with images of Tony Abbott looking like a leader. He’s always putting himself out there, being seen to be in touch with the people, being seen as active, sporty, masculine. Where the ALP is floundering, the Liberal Party are masters of staying on message – even if that message often happens to be that Gillard has none. The thing is, Gillard’s government have actually done some pretty solid governing over the last year. However, she’s not a Christian family man from a wealthy part of Sydney, and it’s easy to alienate the public from this woman with a working class accent who broke an election promise about a carbon tax because she thought it was the right thing to do under changed circumstances.

With former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard telling television’s Ten Network that “I don’t think the prime minister’s got real authority,” things are looking pretty dire for Labor. Fellow former Prime Minister Paul Keating of Labor hit the nail on the head on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Lateline program:

TONY JONES: Let’s talk about the politics of this with the time we’ve got left. Do you think Murdoch’s News Limited is effectively at war with the Gillard Government?

PAUL KEATING: I think it’s beyond doubt. I mean, when the Daily Telegraph yesterday is saying, “Let’s have a national election,” why do we need a national election? We have an operating – a clear operating majority in the House of Representatives, it’s a stable majority, the business of the Government is reasonable business, that is the controversial matter is putting a price on carbon.

There is a consensus, it seems, in both Houses of Parliament for it. Why should there be an early election, other than the editors of that newspaper believing that were there to be an early election, the existing government would be defeated.

So this is why ministers are saying News Corporation is after – or News Limited is after regime change. You know, I think, you know, how can you read it any other way?

He’s right: News Limited is picking a tacky, misogynistic, and utterly transparent fight with the Prime Minister, and they’re doing it so that the very wealthiest people in the country can stay so. She may not be making the sort of moves that appeal to the left, or being the sort of person who appeals to the right, but her party won the election fair and square. There’s something else going on. I’ll put it bluntly: if Gillard were a man, the media landscape in Australia would be looking vastly different right now.

18 thoughts on “How the Murdoch press uses misogyny to attack Julia Gillard

  1. I totally agree. Unfortunately it is hard to find any balanced reporting of our Prime Minister in the media. As a normal middle aged female Australian looking at the government’s achievements so far, a little frustrated with the off shore for refugees policy, but on the whole happy with the oppportunities now available for better education and training for everyone, increase in pensions, and some positive stance on climate change, I deliberately went looking on internet this morning for some positive reporting about the PM. How hard is it? Come on guys – give her a break and the credit she and the govt are due. Things really aren’t that bad.

  2. You are entirely wrong to suggest that the precipitous decline in Julia Gillard’s political fortunes has anything at all to do with misogyny, the reason simple and much more gender neutral, she has in fact just been a terribly incompetent leader full stop!
    Firstly there was the way that she assassinated Kevin Rudd to get his job, her disastrous election campaign that saw Labor go from a strong majority to minority government, then the woeful concession to the Greens that she would do a total back-flip on the Carbon Tax, This more than anything else has destroyed her leadership and standing with the people because she should have known that the Greens would not back Abbott in any event and she should have instead said that she would put the matter to the people at the NEXT election. As a result she looked weak and duplicitous. A male leader would have been just as hated for the same chain of events.
    The way that Labor has stuffed up on the asylum seeker policy goes back to 2008 when Rudd changed the policy to appease their own left wing. They foolishly believed their own rhetoric that the decline in arrivals was all about “push factors” rather than the Pull factor of Australia’s policy settings. So when Gillard announced the East Timor solution without even getting any approval for the idea from the Timor government, then the Malaysian solution before anything was finalised it just made her look like a total fool.
    I could go on and on about the failures of this government but I think that you will get may drift , namely its not the gender of the current prime minister that matters but her incompetence as an administrator and as a political operator.

  3. “DITCH THE WITCH” This catch cry sums up beautifully what people in Australia think about Gillard. She has demonstrated that manipulating numbers to get power is what she has form for through her years around the trade unionists. She has little ability to bring Australians on board with anything she does, she is a liar which has been clearly demonstrated with the carbon tax, she has a very low support percentage with Australian voters currently and is the laughing stock around the world. She comes from a region in Wales named after the witches so the tag being used is 100% spot on. This egocentric shell of a person does not believe in the institution of marriage, does not have a faith and exhudes the worst type of female behavior imaginable. She cannot be trusted to lead this country and in fact while ever she leads the Labor government she insults the position of PM. “DITCH GILLARD” I say before the overseas dept she is creating gets to the point where we will never be able to repay it. What she did to Kevvy stabbing him in the back is what she is doing to Australia, only the welfare recipients praise her understandably. “DITCH THE WITCH”.

  4. As I said, I disagree with many of Gillard’s government’s actions and policies. There’s nothing about bad governance that takes away from the possibility of misogynistic responses as well as politically grounded responses. And as I pointed out, there have been numerous instances of misogyny.

  5. Hi John, your comment hadn’t yet appeared when I made mine. Please consult the GC comment policy as you are violating it several times over.

  6. Chally
    Sorry but I think that you are too much in love with the idea that we have a female PM and that makes you far too forgiving of Gillard’s ineptitude and too willing to find excuses for her in what you perceive to be the sins of others rather than in her own persona .
    Frankly if I was a woman and a feminist I would be less forgiving of Gillard because quite clearly she has set a very bad example for other younger women entering politics. If you are going to judge politicians do so on what they do and not what is in their underpants please.

  7. I’m not actually seeing any legitimate rebuttal of the argument about the attacks on Gillard. So are the Murdoch Press not telling huge bloody porkies about the carbon tax, then?

    Do we see the use of loaded terms like “witch” applied to men then? Are men considered underhanded illegitimate thieves for toppling someone from the leadership in a vote (like, oh, every second major Australian party leader EVER) or are they considered strong, dynamic, go-getters?

    Asking men about sexism is like asking the Pope about papal infallibility. Of *course* you lot think it’s right, fair and true, you benefit from it.

  8. I’ve made it perfectly clear that I’m not excusing flaws in governmental policy, and I don’t think having a female PM is something with which to be in love. And gender isn’t a matter of what is in one’s underpants, either… Please don’t make weird assumptions about my emotions, and return to the topic, which is unethical media practice.

  9. Hi all, Global Comment editor here.

    While we encourage robust argument here, I’d like to second Chally’s call for comments to respond to her article and not stray down the ad hominem path. Play the ball, not the woman, fellas.

    While I’m laying down the law, I’d appreciate it if comments refrain from using “ditch the witch” as a slogan. It’s an inflammatory and immature way to talk about a PM, whether you support her or not.


  10. Contrary to the impression given by The Australian’s egregious Media Diary writer Caroline Overington in the article linked to above, Murdoch’s papers did not “back Gillard”. The newspapers cited are the Sunday editions of Murdoch’s city tabloids, which are of far less consequence than the weekday editions. Of these, the three most important – the national broadsheet The Australian and the Sydney and Melbourne tabloids the Daily Telegraph and the Herald-Sun – editorialised in favour of the conservative Liberal-National opposition, as did Brisbane’s Courier-Mail and Hobart’s Mercury. Indeed, to say the Telegraph in particular “editorialised in favour of the opposition” would be an understatement of comic proportions. The only weekday Murdoch paper that backed Labor was Adelaide’s The Advertiser.

  11. Interesting that no one in the press has bothered to make a huge meal out of the fact that Abbott stabbed Turnbull in the back to become leader of the opposition. Why is this so?

    Is it, as I suspect, that the John Wilsons and Iain Halls in this country think Gillard should be home in a frilly apron vacuuming.

    Otherwise why all the appalling frenzy over her “backstabbing” Kevin Rudd. John Howard has the blood of two Liberal; Party leaders on his hands-where is all the hand wringing and invective over that?

    Gillard is being pilloried not because of any broken promise it’s because she’s not a member of the boy’s club.

    Where’s all the outrage over Abbott’s string of lies, deceit and obfuscations? And while we’re on broken promises and lies, what about Howard’s record? A litany of non-core promises and lies!

    Children overboard, anyone? Never ever GST? AWB, WMDs, lying to the Parliament about the illegal invasion of Iraq?

    And all the confected outrage over the so-called carbon tax “lie”. Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good smear campaign, boys.

    The fact is she is delivering exactly what she said she would-a price on carbon transitioning to an ETS. But don’t let that inconvenient FACT get in the way of your smear campaign.

    Robyn, you won’t find any balanced reporting about Julia Gillard in this country, because she stepped out of line. Doesn’t know her place.

    But the boys club running the msm and politics in this country will make sure she’s put back in her box!

    She’s not incompetent or a liar or any of the other spiteful disgusting labels ineffectual whiners like John Wilson want to pin on her.

    She’s a far better PM than Murdoch’s darling Howard ever was and head and shoulders above anything that vain arrogant liar Abbott could ever aspire to.

  12. What an incredible lot of one sided comments. Like many others, I gave Hawke, Keating, Howard, Rudd, and Gillard a fair crack at the job. The fact is that the first three performed well, in spite of some slightly off moments, whereas the other two have not. Gender has nothing to do with it. Howard went to an election with an undertaking to introduce a GST. It is unfortunate that Gillard did not go to an election with a promise to introduce a Carbon Tax. I would welcome any PM of either gender if they can deliver. I fear that Abbott will not be able and both parties are currently lightweight. Possibly their best talent is hidden under the weight of internal scrambling. Keeping to the point, I follow all the media with an open mind and accept that a majority of Murdoch reporters go in a bit hard. The bottom line is that Gillard has the unfortunate job of leading a government that has a dreadful record and it is not improving. I fear that the vitriol in a number of the comments will prevent the authors using rational thinking on both sides at the next election. Hopefully very soon as we cannot go on with this leadership.

  13. I’m late to the party, but this was a great read.

    It’s funny how upset some people get when they read something they disagree with. Confirmation bias, perhaps?

  14. I’m un-surprised by the bare faced assertions that Gillard is an incompetent from so many of the males commenting here and in the community more generally. Who with out a shred of evidence to support it seem to have just accepted that she is somehow unfit or ‘not up to the job’. As a woman or the other, she is implicitly incompetent in the eyes of most men, this has been the case in all walks of life in which woman wish to advance and have a role. It is always an up hill struggle for a woman to ‘prove’ themselves in male dominated areas, especially those involving power over men. However what I am shocked by is the number of progressive woman who have a visceral hatred of her, not her policy’s but her personally. If anyone could give me their thoughts on why this is I would much appreciate it.

  15. Blaming the public’s hatred of Julia Gillard on sexism is an absolute cop out. I am so sick of the PC mob trying to make all these excuses for her failure as PM. Gender is irrelevant; Kevin Rudd was just as bad. Bottom line is Julia is so unpopular because Australians don’t like being lied to, they don’t like her extreme left-wing agenda, they don’t like bungled policies, they don’t like record government debt, they don’t like her arrogance and patronising speeches, they don’t like that she lives in her ivory tower and has no understanding of working families, they don’t like all these new taxes to recoup money lost by wasteful government spending, and they can smell a fraud a mile away. I mean come on, it is blatantly obvious that she doesn’t like marriage or religion, but she pretends to support both. Fair enough if they are her actual views, but she loses all credibility when she publicly proclaims the opposite. John Howard was a true PM and statesman – you didn’t always agree with him, but he had the courage of his own convictions and made no apologies for them. He was also a competent leader who could conceive a policy, deliver it, and maintain a strong financial record. Gillard and Rudd are absolute hacks by comparison, and no amount of “political correctness” can excuse Gillard’s record when looked at in the cold light of day.

  16. It was a breath of fresh air to read this article. The Murdoch press has always been pro-liberal, and Julia is an easy target. They know that a big portion of their readers are rednecks who are afraid of anything a bit different. A female, redhead atheist pm? Oh, the horror!
    I’m hoping Labor does something about the media ownership laws. It’s now or never. I’m looking forward to one day living in a country where people think for themselves, not what news ltd tells them to think.

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