10 October 2012




SALES: Senator, the Prime Minister says if Tony Abbott wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he needs a mirror. Misogyny means the hatred of women. Does Labor honestly believe that Tony Abbott, a father of three daughters, hates women?

WONG: I judge Tony Abbott as I would judge people and politicians generally – by what they say, what they do, and the policies they support. I think Tony Abbott is on the public record over a long period of time expressing attitudes which I think are more appropriate to the 1950s than they are to contemporary Australia. And the Prime Minister has gone through some of them. This is a man who said that it is fine that women have less power in society. This is a man who says that women are less suitable for positions of authority. This is a man who says abortion is the “easy way out”. I don’t think these are attitudes which reflect contemporary Australia.

SALES: Hilary Clinton says that abortion should be safe, legal and rare. It is probably news to her that that makes her a sexist.

WONG: I don’t think that’s the same thing as what Mr Abbott was saying, do you, Leigh? I mean, they’re very different comments. The point is he has a long history of making these sorts of comments and I think the Prime Minister was right to point this out. She has been the target of a lot of Tony Abbott attacks for a very long time and I think it was right for her to point this out.

SALES: So let’s be clear here, you are alleging that he is a man who hates women?

WONG: I think that he is certainly guilty of sexism and I think that there are things which Tony Abbott has done. He can talk to you about his motivation, but I think to stand up in front of signs that describe the Prime Minister as “a man’s bitch” and “a witch”, and never acknowledge the fault in that, really betrays a very poor judgment.

SALES: The Prime Minister has obviously been attacked with sexist language, but Labor also uses derogatory language towards Tony Abbott of a masculine nature, words like ‘aggressive’ and ‘bully’ and ‘attack dog’.

WONG: I think he is aggressive. In fact that’s one of the hallmarks of Tony Abbott. He has brought to this Parliament, to the position of Opposition Leader, a single-minded negativity and a single-minded aggression. And that’s been partly why he has been politically successful to some extent. I don’t think anybody observing politics would think that that’s not an accurate assessment of Tony Abbott.

SALES: But I guess my point is that the name calling comes from both sides; for example, when Julia Gillard called Christopher Pyne “a mincing poodle”. I’m sure if a woman were called “a mincing poodle” she would find it very offensive.

WONG: Parliament is a robust place and there’s a lot of robust debate and we say a lot of things to each other. But we’re talking about a pattern of behaviour. And I think sometimes, the sorts of things you’re suggesting, that there is moral equivalence around, I don’t agree.

I think it is a very different thing to talk about “making an honest woman of her”, as Tony Abbott has spoken about the Prime Minister. I think it is a very different thing to say women aren’t suited to positions of authority. It is a very different thing to some of the examples you’ve outlined. So, I just think they’re not necessarily equivalent.

SALES: You mentioned the robust nature of Parliament. The writer Ann Summers recently gave a speech in which she said that “the hung Parliament, and the fact that each party thinks that its fate could change in an instant, has raised the stakes in Australian politics to a level not seen previously”. And she says, “as a result, we’re experiencing an era in politics where there’s very little civility, the overall temperature of discussion and debate is torrid, and people use language towards and about each other that even a few years ago would have been considered totally out of line”. What’s Labor’s share of the blame in that?

WONG: I think there’s no doubt the Parliament has got harder, and it’s got verbally rougher. I’ve been in Parliament for 10 years and I’ve said to people, quite a number of times, that this is the most aggressive I’ve ever seen it. I don’t think I’m someone who is backward in having an argument, but I do think the level of verbal aggression has been much higher.

And I’m sorry to point the finger, but I do think Tony Abbott has behaved in a way as Opposition Leader which has really driven that. I can’t imagine Kim Beazley, when he was the Leader of the Opposition, behaving in some of the ways in which Tony Abbott has. And leaders do set the tone. I think the Prime Minister by comparison has had to soak up, had to withstand and bite her tongue or not respond to a lot of provocation from Tony Abbott, and I think it is right she has spoken out.

SALES: Do you think that voters buy the argument that ‘their side is all bad and our side is blameless’?

WONG: I think what voters would have seen yesterday when the Prime Minister spoke – particularly many women, but also men – would have seen something familiar. They would have seen a woman having to stand up for herself, having to respond to a history of personal attacks which have been gendered in nature. I mean, all of us, in all professions, whether they’re in public life, or in journalism, or doing a whole range of other things, I think as women we know we often have to deal with behaviours by men. And we make decisions every day about ‘do we respond this time’, ‘do we not respond’, ‘what do we say’?

We know when we say something, sometimes people will call us ‘precious’ or a ‘victim’, or accuse us of being politically correct. All of which we’re now seeing in respect to the Prime Minister. But I think that is a pretty common experience. Unfortunately in relation to the Prime Minister it’s been taken to new levels.

SALES: Why, when I asked you though about the environment in Parliament and asked you what was Labor’s share, you instantly deflected it? – ‘Well it’s Tony Abbott, it’s Tony Abbott who’s setting the tone’. Labor sets the tone. People watch Parliament, they watch Question Time, they see how Labor acts.

WONG: If things are said, people should take responsibility for them. I was reflecting to you as someone who has been in both Opposition and Government that I’ve not seen a Leader of the Opposition behave like this. I served under a number of Leaders of the Opposition, most notably Kim Beazley, and I can’t recall him ever behaving like this.

SALES: Well, let me put to you, the Leader of the Opposition Mark Latham, who called the columnist Janet Albrechtson a ‘skanky ho’.

WONG: And I think I’m on the public record saying that that was offensive. It shouldn’t have been said.

SALES: What do you say to the Opposition’s suggestion that the Prime Minister is now using gender as a shield against any criticism of her performance?

WONG: I think this reflects what I said before. This is what happens when women name what’s happening. People use ways – they are either ‘you’re being a victim’, ‘you’re trying to cover up your incompetence’, ‘you’re just being politically correct’ – these are all tactics to silence women when we speak out about what is really happening. It is not a new tactic. I think most of us who have had to confront sexism in our lives, in our workplaces, are familiar with it.

SALES: Senator Wong, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

WONG: Good to speak with you.