Australia will forgive Malcolm Turnbull in a way they never forgave Julia Gillard


Ruby Hamad

Prime Minister-designate Malcolm Turnbull and Deputy Leader Julie Bishop address the media during a press conference at ...

Prime Minister-designate Malcolm Turnbull and Deputy Leader Julie Bishop address the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra on Monday 14 September 2015. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The news cycle is a fickle beast. When I went to bed last night in New York at around 2 pm Australian Eastern time, the refugee crisis was dominating headlines and social media. When I awoke 8 hours later, Australia had a new prime minister, and everything else faded into the background.

My social media feed was mostly one of jubilation. There was much gloating about Abbott falling just three days short of eligibility for the prime ministerial pension, and there was plenty of smugness that he was "less than one term Tony."

There was also much imagining of what Julia Gillard's reaction may be, with the consensus being that she must be relishing the schadenfraude. In some memes she is delightedly eating popcorn, in others she is laughing uproariously. Buzzfeed had an obligatory listicle of her, "Having the absolute time of her life."

Will Tony Abbott quit Parliament or retire to the backbench in dignified silence. Or will be cause problems for Malcom ...

Will Tony Abbott quit Parliament or retire to the backbench in dignified silence. Or will be cause problems for Malcom Turnbull?

In real life, the former prime minister has clearly taken the high road, tweeting her congratulations to Turnbull. But what she privately thinks about the whole drama is anyone's guess. I can say, however, that if I was in her position today, the last thing I would be feeling is smug, delighted, or pleased as punch.


Nope. I would be furious because this spill does nothing if not highlight the cynicism and breathtaking hypocrisy of the Liberal party that led to her political demise.

We have long known the Abbott government has been one of do as I say not as I do. They told us the "age of entitlement is over," even as the prime minister's daughter "won" a non-existent scholarship. They told us "everyone had to do the heavy lifting," even as the treasurer smoked cigars and danced a jig to 'Best Day Of My Life' prior to delivering a horrendous and unworkable budget.

Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd

Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd Photo: Glen McCurtayne

And who will ever forget former speaker and generator of a thousand memes, Bronwyn Bishop's audacious expenses?

But all of that, as frustrating as it was, pales in comparison to this leadership spill. It pales because the Liberals have done the very thing that they exploited to ensure Julia Gillard never really had a chance.

Yes, she was wrong on some issues, including marriage equality, refugees, and the Intervention. But the opposition made certain that it was not her policies that the bulk of the Australian population judged her on. For years, at every given opportunity, whether in parliament on radio, on QandA or on other television programs, Liberal politicians instilled in the minds of the Australian public that she had gotten her leadership illegitimately.

This includes Julie Bishop who supported Turnbull in his challenge and defeated Kevin Andrews to remain deputy PM. So much for respect for the office of the prime minister.

Unsurprisingly, the public never forgave Gillard.

After hindering and hounding Gillard for three years, the inevitable happened. A prime ministership that was always treated as illegitimate by the opposition, and consequently by much of Australia was itself rolled.

Gillard lost the leadership and Labor lost the election.

And now, after failing spectacularly at every turn -- in climate policy, economic policy, immigration, health, and education, the Libs have done the very thing that they decried, the very thing that engineered their victory in the first place.

This is the current state of the conservative mentality: behaviour that is intolerable and unforgivable in others is perfectly acceptable when they do it.

Most tragic of all is that Australia will forgive them. Australia will forgive Turnbull in a way they never forgave Gillard. 

They will forgive him because, as the saying goes, it doesn't matter who does it first, it matters who does it second. Leadership spills in the government is just a thing that happens now, a fact of life that is no longer remarkable enough to affect elections.

And they will forgive him because – yes -- because Gillard was a woman. The rhetoric about violently knifing Rudd, like her designation as a "witch" and a "bitch," was all designed to tap into prejudicial notions of what is acceptable female behaviour and what is not.  Turnbull and the Libs will be forgiven and it will be chalked up to political power games and their government will move on in a way Gillard's was not permitted to.

Because when a man does it, well, that's just politics. When a woman does it, it is unbecoming and sooner or later, she will be punished. That's why I'm not laughing and I wouldn't blame Gillard if she weren't either.