It might be one of the most scathing takedowns in parliamentary history. Earlier this week, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard stood up in the House of Representatives to attack opposition leader Tony Abbott for misogyny and sexism in a video that has since gone viral.
In a clip uploaded by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), Gillard is seen lashing out at Abbott in a parliamentary session during a kerfuffle over the political future of Speaker of the House Peter Slipper. The backstory is complicated: Slipper faces charges of sexual harrassment from a gay former staff member, who has alleged that the speaker had sent him crude text messages “in which the Speaker used offensive language to describe female genitalia,” as a report by the ABC put it. Opposition leader Abbott had forced a vote in parliament to oust Slipper — a Gillard appointee and a defector from the opposition party — arguing that he was unfit for the role in light of the ongoing court case.
Abbott’s comments, however, prompted a scathing retort from the prime minister during Question Time, in which she went on — at considerable length — about Abbott’s own record on the issue of sexism and misogyny:
The leader of the opposition [Abbott] says that people who hold sexist views and who are misogynists are not appropriate for high office… If he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror.
She went on to cite Abbott for reportedly musing in an interview on whether the underrepresentation of women in politics was really a bad thing; appearing next to a sign reading “ditch the witch” — meaning the prime minister — at a recent anti-carbon tax rally; and allegedly making catcalls at Gillard across the floor of the parliamentary chamber. The video of the prime minister’s remarks has now been viewed more than 400,000 times on YouTube.
Though many lauded Gillard’s speech, others have criticized the move. The Sydney Morning Herald’s political editor, Peter Hartcher, writes that:
The moment Gillard rose to defend Slipper and keep him in office, she chose to defend the indefensible, to excuse the inexcusable. The government had spent a month vilifying Tony Abbott for having “a problem with women.” But when one of the bulwarks of the government was exposed as having a problem with women, it was suddenly acceptable.
The motion to remove Slipper as speaker was narrowly defeated; however, he stepped down from the post voluntarily on Tuesday, noting in his final address to lawmakers that “recent proceedings have prevented me from continuing.”
Gillard is Australia’s first female prime minister, having been elected to office in 2010.