This is highlighted in the political arena currently, particularly the incredible speech by Craig Thompson in Parliament yesterday, which is unlike anything I’ve heard in the House before.
But even putting him, and Peter Slipper, aside for one moment, political discourse has adopted a tone where abuse can become a common language of critique. One can’t simply disagree, one must use the most dismissive and derogatory terms.
Have a look at the top 10 most-publicised abusive comments aimed at Prime Minister Gillard (thanks to Wendy Harmer):
1. “On what should have been one of the proudest days of Gillard’s political career, she bungled it with a less than flattering haircut and a frumpy ’80s tapestry print jacket… Get yourself a stylist your own age.” Anita Quigley. Daily Telegraph. December 2006
2. “I mean anyone who chooses to remain deliberately barren… they’ve got no idea what life’s about.” Senator Bill Heffernan. The Bulletin. May 2007
3. “You won’t need his (PM Kevin Rudd) taxpayer-funded nanny, will you?” Sophie Mirabella. Parliament. May 2008
4. “She has chosen not to be a parent… she is very much a one-dimensional person… she just doesn’t understand the way parents think about their children when they reach a particular age.” Senator George Brandis. ABC Radio. January 2010
5. “She has showcased a bare home and an empty kitchen as badges of honour and commitment to her career. She has never had to make room for the frustrating demands and magnificent responsibilities of caring for little babies, picking up sick children from school, raising teenagers. Not to mention the needs of a husband or partner.” Janet Albrechtsen. The Australian. July 2010
6. “She looks like a real weakling.” Mark Latham. Sky News. August 2010 (Latham also accused the PM of being inappropriate when she touched his chest in an interview: “The physicality of it was all on her side. I’m a happily married man and this sort of stuff I found a little bit out of the ordinary.”)
7. “Juliar (sic) Bob Brown’s Bitch” “Burn the Witch”. Placards at anti-carbon tax Rally. March 2011
8. ”Put her ( Clover Moore, Lord Mayor of Sydney) in the same chaff bag as Julia Gillard and throw them both out to sea.” *Alan Jones 2GB radio. July 2011 (Bob Brown gets put in the same chaff bag a month later)
9. “You’ve got a big arse, Julia, just get on with it.” Germaine Greer. ABC. Q&A. March 2012
10. “(Australians)… ought to be out there kicking her to death.” Grahame Morris (former John Howard staffer turned lobbyist) Sky News. April 2012
P.S: Kate Ellis MP alleges Kevin Rudd denounced the prime minister as a ”childless, atheist, ex-communist”. He denies it but Ellis is adamant Rudd spoke those words. March 2012
Most of us find it difficult when a workmate or friend has something uncomplimentary to say. But consider if that was broadcast around the nation. What if you knew you were a personal feature in the constant media cycle each day, and this kind of rhetoric was part of that?
I am no great defender of this Government, or its Opposition, or indeed any party, but this is beyond the pale. Germain Greer, of all people, should be ashamed of her superficial comment.
This is not how one speaks about anyone, not the least a Prime Minister. Similar is directed at Tony Abbott.
And if challenged about loose language, I find a regular reply is cached in the terms of privilege and power, that the person in question has a position of power, and therefore should be under scrutiny.
That principle holds some truth, Parliament requires a robust Oppostion, and democracy requires a free press. But within, and beyond those, rarely does the critic get involved in that scrutiny with anything on the line than an opinion.
Consider the true position of power, in that every time the PM Gillard speaks a word, she lives or dies politically by it.
But thousands of words are written and spoken about her and her Government every day, the vast majority of it from the relative comfort of minimal accountability. Much of it is worthwhile, but within it are the inevitable barbs.
But whether resorting to this level of abuse or not, leadership, even good leadership, invites the critic. You can’t please all the people all the time, as if that is the point anyhow.
As the leader, she has everything to lose every single day. I respect that.