The good that was buried by the story of Labor’s non-spill

Last Thursday’s events in Canberra demonstrated three things very clearly. One, the hypocrisy of Opposition rhetoric. Two, the successes of feminism, and three, how far feminism still has to travel.

The hypocrisy is evident in the immediate accusations of ‘bad government’ that predictably flowed from Tony Abbott after the leadership near-spill.

Once again came the accusations of a government who is not doing anything, who is not succeeding, who makes bad decisions. Comments that got plenty of air on Thursday and Friday because of the news value placed on leadership.

But in those comments, Tony Abbott intentionally overshadowed the bipartisanship which saw the House of Representatives accept Senate amendments to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, meaning that it had passed into law earlier that day.

He drowned out the bipartisanship he had shown in speaking after Gillard at the ceremony of national apology for forced adoptions.

It was Gillard’s apology speech that showed some of the great successes of feminism.

Women who had been treated badly by a system and a society that shunned them and discriminated against them came to Canberra last week so that the female leader of the Australian government could apologise.

Ironically, Gillard apologised for wrongs that were part of a social, religious and government fabric woven by men.

Gillard’s words caught in her throat and the catch in her voice nearly made me cry.

It is often said to women without children that ‘you’ll understand when you’re a mother.’ Implicit in this is the judgement that until we are mothers, we women will not be fully complete – that if we are not mothers, there will be some things we just don’t understand.

Gillard’s speech yesterday showed that she did understand – she understood the gravity of the moment, the importance of her words, and the pain of those to whom the apology was directed.

While Tony Abbott fumbled on the phrase ‘birth mothers’, tripped up no doubt by the web of traditionalism that he’s stuck in when it comes to gender roles, Gillard understood the complexities.

To hear her speak and make an apology which, ultimately, was directed more to women than to men can be counted as a great success of feminism.

But the infamous day last week also showed how far yet we have to go.

Both the NDIS and the apology are two stories from last Thursday’s events in Canberra that are important for women. The removal of children from their mothers arose from policies that directly discriminated against women, although ultimately fathers were affected and so were sons, daughters and grandchildren.

The NDIS in a direct sense is relevant for men and women equally, but we know that women bear the brunt of caring for the elderly and family members with disabilities. Legislation that supports people with disabilities benefits their carers, too, and so again this is a step forward for women.

But yet there is always the step back. That neither NDIS nor the apology made the front page of Friday’s major newspapers shows how far we have yet to go.

Worse, these stories had almost entirely faded from the news by the time Saturday’s papers went to press, while the internal ructions of Labor continued to dominate page space.

The momentous introduction of a National Disibility Insurance Scheme, or the story of an apology which is in turn full of the individual stories of women – both these things were buried by the headlines of the leadership spill that didn’t happen, hidden by the non-story of party politicking.

As one journalist put it, it was a mob of blokes trying to roll Australia’s first female prime minister.

Simon Crean denied being a ‘mob’, but that doesn’t deny that he chose his timing very poorly, and in doing so, stole the thunder of two big success stories for women.

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