Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Attack-dog Tony Abbott neutered in gender war by Lauren Wilson

TONY Abbott is quite accustomed to being attacked by Labor MPs, most fiercely by the so-called handbag hit squad, for being an aggressive, macho, wall-punching (supposedly) misogynist.

  • From:The Australian

  • But over the past two days, as the Opposition Leader has sat mute at the dispatch box while his female deputy spearheads the Coalition's questioning of Julia Gillard over the Australian Workers Union scandal, Abbott has come under fire for being something else entirely: gutless.
    If you ask Coalition strategists, they're swift to deny that having Julie Bishop run the opposition's prosecution of the long-running matter is a deliberate tactic to thwart the Prime Minister of yet another opportunity to lecture Abbott on misogyny.
    With Gillard's now-famous misogyny speech getting two million YouTube hits and counting, stymieing Labor's chances of another internet smash would be front of mind.
    But there is little doubt the party's decision to put Bishop, not Abbott, into the ring with Gillard on the AWU stoush shows this year's fiery parliamentary debate on sexism has neutered the Opposition Leader's ability to play the role of attack-dog, especially on an issue that relates to a female leader's ex-boyfriend.
    Never before has parliament been such a gender minefield.
    It also shows, however, that Labor strategists are not above deploying their own stereotypes in the assault on Abbott. If he isn't the wall-punching aggressor, he is a coward hiding behind Bishop and his female chief of staff Peta Credlin -- photographed on Monday clutching the AWU "dirt file".
    The director of the Journalism and Media Research Centre at the University of NSW, Catharine Lumby, suspects the fight over gender politics has informed the strategies of both Labor and the Coalition, including the decision to have Bishop at the helm of the AWU attack.
    "It is certainly less risky because you have the double whammy -- Julia Gillard spoke directly and passionately back to Tony Abbott and you have the perception out there that Tony Abbott has very old-fashioned views about women -- when you put that together it's a pretty powerful cocktail," Lumby said.
    "He'd (Abbott) be very wary about the sort of language he uses, if it's to do with a personal relationship she had, and they're smearing her by association with a boyfriend," she said, speculating about his reasons to steer clear.
    Sex therapist and social commentator Bettina Arndt agrees, but thinks Abbott's need to restrain himself is "unfortunate".
    "The government has done such a smear campaign against Tony Abbott that he doesn't dare say 'boo' anymore, particularly on an issue that goes to the Prime Minister's credibility," she said. "I think they are very smart to have Julie Bishop do it all, but it also speaks to the success of the mud-slinging campaign against Abbott."
    On Monday, after Abbott's very conspicuous silence, Gillard quipped: "For the benefit of those following proceedings by radio, I confirm that the Leader of the Opposition was present at question time today." Yesterday she was more direct, saying Abbott "does not have the guts to front this sleaze campaign himself".
    A spokesman for Abbott said: "Julie Bishop has 20 years of experience as a practising lawyer, including a period as a managing partner of a law firm contemporaneous with Julia Gillard's time at Slater & Gordon."

    Attack-dog Tony Abbott neutered in gender war | The Australian:

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