Queensland election 2015: What Annastacia Palaszczuk is really up against

Date

Clementine Ford

Queensland Labor leader Annastascia Palaszczuk.

Queensland Labor leader Annastascia Palaszczuk. Photo: Renee Melides

After what can only be generously described as a shaky three years in power, the fate of Campbell Newman's government will be placed in the hands of Queenslanders when they go to the polls this Saturday.

Newman's opponent is Annastacia Palaszczuk, who rose to the leadership after Labor's annihilation in the 2012 election. Palaszczuk's has not been an easy task. Leading an Opposition of only nine people would test anyone's fortitude, but she is generally thought to have performed admirably (helped perhaps by the kind of rigid conservatism which saw Newman's government scrap the Premier's Literary Awards and overturn legislation allowing for same-sex couples to enter into state recognised civil unions and within its first few months of leadership). While the gravity of Labor's 2012 loss is thought to be too great to overturn, it's expected that Palaszczuk's opposition will significantly reverse the damage that was done then.

Perhaps that goes part way to explaining why, just a few days out from the election, Palaszczuk has been targeted by not one but two sexist and stupid campaigns to discredit her and undermine her worth as a woman vying for power.

Image uploaded to George Christensen's Facebook page.

Image uploaded to George Christensen's Facebook page.

Newman was first forced to defend his government's tactics after an email was sent to LNP supporters featuring a photograph of Palaszczuk alongside the caption, "Don't wake up with regrets".

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It didn't end there. On Tuesday, Coalition MP for Dawson, George Christensen, posted a parody cartoon of a naked Palaszczuk sitting aside a wrecking ball (a reference to a Miley Cyrus music video) as it crashes into a wall labelled 'Abbot Point Coal Terminal'. A grinning Larissa Waters stands behind her, waving a Greens placard. It's an unflattering portrait of both women - but then, this is the nature of most caricatures.

Now, it's possible that the aforementioned email was sincere in its aim, which (as Newman argued) was to remind voters to think of the dangers of a hung parliament. Chaos! Job destruction! We'll all be rooned! Likewise, parodies of music videos and pop cultural icons are fairly commonplace in the political sphere. For example, that same Miley Cyrus reference was used last year to lampoon the Prime Minister and his Cabinet (although even they had the good fortune of being featured with clothes on). If we are angry about one, surely we have to be angry about both?

Premier Campbell Newman has refused to discuss a perception of pork barrelling in Ashgrove.

Premier Campbell Newman has refused to discuss a perception of pork barrelling in Ashgrove. Photo: Renee Melides

Yes and no.

As with everything, we have to think not just about intention but about the context of the society in which we're operating. We cannot divorce ourselves from the sexist nature of the world we live in. And while it is legitimate to level criticisms at anyone - particularly those people with the power to influence our lives through policy and legislation - it is the way we do it and the way we know it will be read that matters.

Consider Julia Gillard. She and her predecessors might have shared in the privilege of being equally abused by the Australian people - but they weren't abused equally. The language used to deride women in politics has always been more overtly sexist in nature, from questioning their reproductive choices to critiquing their wardrobes and their sexuality. Tony Abbott has one of the most annoying voices I've ever heard, yet it was only Gillard who appeared to work with a voice coach to mute her broad tones. When it comes to insulting or undermining women, there are entire arsenals of weapons used against us that simply aren't brought to the battleground when it's men being targeted.

Does Newman really need to have the undertone of an email urging against 'waking up with regrets' spelt out to him? The choice of that phrase is very carefully linked with an idea first popularised in early 2000s flick 'Coyote Ugly' - essentially, it means going to bed with someone you thought was attractive only to wake up to something so hideous you'd chew your own arm off to escape rather than risk waking them up.

And so the subtext of this particular message aimed to smear an opposing candidate for state leadership is clear - would you want to wake up with this? Yes, its overarching message might be about the supposed political ramifications of voting for the ALP. But it translates that message by focusing on the superficial sexual aesthetics of its leader. If Newman can't see this, then he's too stupid to be leading the state. And if he can, then he's disingenuously lying to cover up his own casual misogyny.

Now, as it happens, I don't actually find the other image of Palaszczuk naked on a wrecking ball particularly sexist. I suspect it was shared by someone who doesn't much fancy the idea of women in power (and whose views are reflected by the scarcity of women within his own federal party, not to mention the state based incarnations of it), but the image itself doesn't really bother me.

What does bother me - and what should bother everyone voting in Queensland this weekend - is the rank stupidity of sharing it in a political and social environment that is becoming increasingly aware of how inappropriate such expressions are. In case the LNP hadn't noticed, feminism is having a resurgence. And unlike previous waves, this cannot be controlled or quelled by those people invested in its failure. Women AND men are recognising the inequality of the world we live in, and the fundamental links between benign sexism and the scourge of men's violence against women. They don't want to be courted with sexist slogans presented by old dinosaurs struggling to hold onto structures that were overdue for demolition a long time ago.

And this is the rub. Either the LNP (both state and federal incarnations) are so blind to the changing tides of public opinion that they still think retro-sexist jokes and observations are a kind of welcome respite to the serious business of political campaigns, or they're not as stupid as they appear to be and they're actually proud of their buffoonish chauvinism.

If it's the former, do you really want them anywhere near the annals of power?

And if it's the latter, do you really think they deserve to be?