JULIA GILLARD confronted a stark choice yesterday - the political defence of her parliamentary numbers, or the defence of the principle of respect for women.
She chose to defend her numbers. She chose power over principle. It was the wrong choice. It was an unprincipled decision and turned out not to be pragmatic either. The Prime Minister gained nothing and lost a great deal.
Julia Gillard ... lost a great deal. Photo: Andrew Meares
The opposition moved a motion to remove the Speaker of the House, Peter Slipper, on an accusation of denigrating women, and obscenely so, in private text messages to a staff member. Slipper said in a public apology last night that "a number of these text messages refer to women and nothing excuses their content".
The moment Gillard rose to defend Slipper and keep him in office, she chose to defend the indefensible, to excuse the inexcusable. The government had spent a month vilifying Tony Abbott for having "a problem with women". But when one of the bulwarks of the government was exposed as having a problem with women, it was suddenly acceptable.
But isn't that what we've come to expect from all politicians - choosing power over principle? Don't they all do that? That is the point. If there was one thing that should have been different about Gillard's prime ministership, it should have been that Australia's first female prime minister should have been a flag bearer for women.
Remember when she ascended to the prime ministership? She was greeted with a surge of approval in the polls as Australians anticipated a refreshing change.
She started on her long trajectory of electoral disillusionment when, bit by bit, she revealed herself to be just another politician. That trajectory reached its lowest point yesterday when she showed she was prepared to defend even the denigration of women if it would help her keep power. If Gillard will not defend respect for women, what will she defend? Just another politician indeed.
Gillard berated the Coalition for endorsing Slipper as a candidate for Parliament in his former life as a Liberal before he betrayed his party to take the Speaker's job. But after abusing the Coalition for defending Slipper in the past, she mobilised her government to defend him in the present. The government managed to garner the barest majority, 70 votes to 69.
Four hours later, this was revealed to be a waste of political capital when Slipper resigned. He recognised what Gillard could not - that he was a lost cause.
Gillard's judgment was flawed. All she achieved was a serious loss of credibility.