Australian election gets personal with attacks on Gillard

Australian election gets personal with attacks on Gillard
# 31 July 2010 01:59 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. Prime minister increasingly judged on appearance and lifestyle in campaign light on policy detail, APA reports quoting website.
Her earlobes have been described as pendulous, her childlessness has been scrutinised, and many are unimpressed that her partner has not joined her on the campaign trail.
Australia’s election campaign has been reduced to a litany of personal attacks on Julia Gillard, the country’s first female prime minister, who is seeking a mandate on 21 August. In a campaign short on policy detail, Gillard has increasingly been judged not on her manifesto but on her fashion sense (drab), her religious beliefs (atheist), her marital status (unmarried) and her physical features.
Gillard, who was born in Wales, has tried to meet her detractors head-on, appearing this week in a 13-page Diana-like photo spread in one of Australia’s biggest selling women’s magazines.
In the 4,000-word article in Australian Women’s Weekly, she speaks candidly about her decision not to have children, and argues that questions would be raised about her ability to govern if she had a young family.
"If a woman presented as prime minister with a large number of children, people would then have said, ’How on earth is she going to give the job the focus it’s going to need?’," she said.
But hostile segments of the Australian press kept up the barrage of caustic coverage. Sydney’s Daily Telegraph switched the focus to Gillard’s opposition to a $A30 (£17) pension rise and her claims that "old people don’t vote for Labor" – and illustrated the piece with a digitally altered image of the leader in old age.
The Conservative leader of the opposition, Tony Abbot, has attempted to exploit the hostility towards Gillard’s personal life, this week unveiling new star recruits in his attempt to woo female voters – his wife, Margie, and three daughters.
Ingratiating himself with children at a childcare centre, Abbot, 52, spoke knowingly of mortgage stress, childcare concerns and school fees.
Asked by the media whether he was playing the family card to differentiate himself from Gillard, Abbot said: "I think families are important, I take them seriously."
In an election campaign that has been criticized for being light on policy from both camps, opinion polls suggest that the gender divide is proving a potent weapon. This was evident during the leader’s only televised debate last Sunday when the "worm", which measures the audiences’ reaction to politicians’ statements, showed that men clearly liked Abbott while female voters were opting for Gillard.
While Abbott was behind in the polls a month ago, research company Galaxy’s poll taken this week found the vote is now split 50/50 between the two parties.
Political commentators blame Labor’s slip on a damaging leak this week that suggested Gillard originally questioned key Labor policies of introducing a paid parental leave plan and increasing payments to pensioners. Some Labor members are now accusing former prime minister Kevin Rudd, who was unceremoniously ousted, of leaking the conversations and accusing him of wanting to "bring the whole place down with him".
Commentators believe voters are continuing to express disappointment with the way Rudd was dumped as prime minister, and that Abbott has played to the resentment with references to the divided government.
Dennis Shanahan, of the Australian newspaper, said that while Gillard’s magazine shoot this week left her looking "more like a supermodel than a cabinet minister, it is Abbott who is beginning to look better as the election campaign moves on".
"Abbott may not be pretty but he’s proving to be pretty effective," he wrote.