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Friday, June 3, 2011

Penny Wong insulted by Sexist Slur

Sexism is alive and well in Australian politics. This week, Tasmanian Senator David Bushby insulted Finance Minister Penny Wong with a sexist slur. When she was trying to explain the absence of Treasury Secretary Martin Parkinson from the hearing, he interrupted her with the word "meow". Shocked and disgusted, Ms Wong said "The blokes are allowed to but if a woman stands her ground, you make that kind of comment". And then Senator Bushby, described as "immature", made this extraordinary comment: "The reaction to the issue was like that of an angry cat - it could have been a male or female cat." But after lunch, the Senator changed his tune and made a hurried apology in writing "I am sorry that Senator Wong was offended by my reaction" the statement said but when he tried to contact her personally, she was not available.

The uproar carried over to the House and was raised by Minister Tanya Plibersek but Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella called out "You feminist hypocrite" before the Minister could begin speaking and Tony Abbott told the House that Mr Bushby had apologised to Senator Wong. Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop demanded that Ms Plibersek withdraw claims that Opposition members were sexist but she was the one who started it. Back in 2008, when Julie Bishop was addressing Julia Gillard, she also used the word "meow" and made hand motions of a cat's claws. So our politicians from both sides are behaving very badly and it's a miracle that House Speaker Harry Jenkins, hasn't died of a heart attack or suffered a stroke by now. When he threatened this week to "consider his position", both sides were quick to reassure him that they would behave from now on.

I think that Penny Wong is probably the most courageous woman in Australian political history. Ex-Barrister Wong was born in Malaysia to a Malaysian Chinese father and an Australia mother and moved to Australia when she was eight. She has had to endure major disappointments in the bear pit over the years, but she's still standing. She and Kevin Rudd were going to make Australia one of the first countries to recognize that global warming was really happening and were prepared to bite the bullet and bring in laws to reduce carbon emissions. But their world fell apart at Copenhagen when they realized that the rest of the world wasn't interested. The Senator is also openly gay and is the first sitting member of the Labor Party to "come out" while still in Parliament. Love her or loathe her, you have to admit this lady has guts.