Shadow Minister Goward PR opportunism?: Claims of sexism can be a political sword as well as a shield
Topic: nsw govt
Picture: When is a claim of sexism a genuine shield for protection of innocents and when is it a ruthless sword to harm political rivals? This graphic comes in part from the Sydney Morning Herald 12th May 07 a day after our 'sword and shield' headline above (quite a coincidence). We have added at left the face of Kelly Hoare MP (ALP), who copped a front pager revealing an embarrassing sexual harrassment claim against her, probably friendly fire revenge for public dissension from Party election tactics (her job given to Greg Combet). At right is Prue Goward MP (Lib), who has accused NSW Parliament in general of sexism, and incidentally is on record as a determined critic of Green and Independent MPs. (We wrote our piece before seeing the Big Media incredulous, broad press reaction to Goward eg indicative The Australian Lidia Chan: If you can't stand the heat, get out | Opinion | The .... Ouch.)
Ms Goward is smart, tough, middle aged, waddles a bit like a goose, or Julia Gillard, depending on your point of view, and this writer may be a condescending ratbag, again depending on your point of view.
But here’s the thing about Shadow Minister Goward’s foray into gender politics leveraging her undoubted, demonstrated expertise as a former Sex Discrimination Commissioner:Bearpit sexist, says new MP Goward.
She is shadow minister for women with conspicuously missing image on her parliamentary web page AND opposition spokes on the Environment. But in this latter responsibility she is snookered. The Nats won’t give her space to move on land clearing, coal mining and a thousand other resource based dig it up, cut it down, shoot it, policy areas.
So being ambitious she is moving on the other portfolio responsibility, tactically wise. But where is the demonstrated proof of sexist behaviour in this new parliament for her to rail against, as opposed to gain handy profile front of the Herald?
There are examples of men behaving badly in the previous parliament who suffered accountability – Peter Black drunk and maybe getting grabby. Lost his reputation, then lost his seat. Could have been more greatly criticised by Premier Iemma rather than campaign for the grub as “a colourful” character in his seat pre election. But the evidence of systemic sexism seems arguable – he got what he deserved in the end – the door.
What about Andrew Fraser going the throttle on Tripodi – is this sexism? Or simply violence between males? I don’t see the sexism in it, blokey for sure. Nasty for sure. Wrong definitely.
There is the sensitive allegations of criminal domestic violence against Gibson. But its some 17 years ago now. And he lost any chance of promotion to Cabinet and effectively has suffered very serious damage to his reputation. The ‘victim’ did get into Cabinet and has gone ahead in her life it seems.
What about the allegations of Tripodi sexually harassing a democrat staffer some years back? She got a lot of sympathy, he got a broad condemnation, and a taint that he has never shaken really, and she decided not to pursue it for better or worse. If she had likely he would be a dead cat by now.
So Kerry ‘give a chick a chance’ Chikarovski with her electioneering slogan no less goes on public radio yesterday morning saying its improved a lot over the years and ironically that women shouldn’t play boys games. Alex Mitchell on 702 radio says similar of ALP women this morning over Tripodi defence. But maybe Liberal Women should not use sexism for opportunistic profile building either?
SAM’s editor has suffered sexual harassment in our career even as a male (but very rarely), and can sympathise with a com car driver being propositioned and then potentially victimised for not reciprocating in the sad Kelly Hoare MP matter. Because saying “no” has professional consequences. Just as saying “yes” does too becoming someone’s toy.
What is being lost here is that accusations of sexism can function as an important shield for real victims, and a sword for political careerism: An accusation is explosive ammunition and very damaging to the target, and this is well understood by the sisterhood and the brothers in the political community. The question becomes is it fair, is it credible, and are there honest motives. We are talking about politicians with their hands in the public’s tax revenue here, and grasping for power and profile so it's worth looking and asking again.
Take for instance former minister Carmel Tebbutt who stood down from the NSW cabinet on election night. Morris Iemma as Premier, the big media and all her colleagues might have reacted in a sexist way saying she was letting down the team, or failing her public duty, or not up to the job of a minister. (We took the view she was pre emptively buckling on a policy issue of the mooted Marrickville Truck Tunnel.) But none of that. Iemma said he was sorry to see her go and respected her decision to take her family responsibilities seriously. That surely is the improvement Kerry Chikarovski was referring to, a tone set from the top.
This positive culture needs to be encouraged, so we say beware corrosive gender friction for it's own sake. It leads to terrible social and policy paralysis and is not good for government or anyone else. Bring on accountability and equal opportunity and indeed affirmative action within reason, and remember gender politics can be another battle front in the bear pit.
The question in this writer’s mind is, was Shadow Minister Goward fair dinkum when she said she didn’t want her speech reported? That doesn’t ring true. She is shadow minister giving a speech. And an expert in modern media and how to play the game. That sounds too cute to me.
What it sounds like is building political capital. We had to wonder when her own daughter described her as a bit of a “battle axe” on ABC TV news last night. One thing is for sure Ms Goward should attend to her profile on the parliamentary website – that’s one thing she can control surely.
Posted by editor
at 3:18 PM NZT
Updated: Sunday, 13 May 2007 10:10 AM NZT