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Gillard accused of letting down Australian women

10 october 2012, 15:47
Prime Minister Julia Gillard was Wednesday accused of letting down Australian women by defending her tainted parliamentary speaker and using gender to deflect criticism, AFP reports.

Gillard, the nation's first woman leader, lashed out Tuesday at opposition leader Tony Abbott after he called for the removal of speaker Peter Slipper over lurid text messages which included crude references to female genitalia.

Slipper, who stood aside in April amid claims of gay sex harassment, survived an opposition motion to dump him with the support of Gillard and her ruling Labor party, but later resigned.

During the debate, a fired-up Gillard accused Abbott of hypocrisy and double-standards, saying she had been offended by many of his remarks over the years and she would not be "lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man".

Her decision to defend Slipper, who she was instrumental in appointing to bolster Labor's voting numbers, while at the same time slamming Abbott, sparked a broader debate about sexism in politics and her political judgement.

Deputy opposition leader Julie Bishop said the women of Australia expected more of Gillard, who she accused of using sexism as a weapon against criticism.

"The prime minister is setting back the cause of women decades by using sexism as a shield against criticisms of her performance," she said.

"Instead of being remembered as Australia's first female prime minister, she'll be remembered as the prime minister who let down the women of Australia when she was put to the test."

The media also criticised Gillard, with The Sydney Morning Herald saying she faced the stark choice of defending her parliamentary numbers, or defending the principle of respect for women.

"She chose to defend her numbers," said the newspaper's political editor Peter Hartcher.

"She chose power over principles. It was the wrong choice. The prime minister gained nothing and lost a great deal."

Despite the criticism, Gillard's robust response to Abbott won international praise, with one American media outlet saying "Margaret Thatcher must be smiling," referring to the former British leader, known as the Iron Lady.

Gillard's colleagues also defended her reaction to Abbott's "outrageous personal abuse".

"He calls her names across the table, repeatedly," Families Minister Jenny Macklin said.

Slipper's demise is a blow to Gillard, who last year engineered his promotion to speaker after he defected from Abbott's Liberal Party.

That move lost the opposition one vote and shored up Labor's wafer-thin hold on power.

With his departure and the promotion of Anna Burke to speaker, Labor now has 70 MPs on the floor to the coalition's 72. There are seven crossbenchers, with Labor needing the support of five to win any votes.

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