In the past few months, the border wars have dominated pandemic politics. But with an election looming in Queensland we have seen an escalation of this debate, spurred by the intervention of the Prime Minister into a case of an ACT woman prevented from attending her father’s funeral in Queensland.
Scott Morrison was later criticised for the intervention which was described by the family as a, ‘very private moment has been made very public’. Morrison made it as public as possible by working with the Queensland LNP Leader Deb Frecklington who raised the matter in Question Time. Morrison followed that up by calling Ray Hadley to discuss the case live on air.
Peter Dutton also spoke to Hadley denouncing the border restrictions as ‘cruel’. A day earlier Hadley said Premier Palaszczuk was ‘devoid of compassion’ over border restrictions. Mathias Cormann took it one step further and labeled the Premier ‘nasty’ and ‘cold hearted’. The pile on culminated in a sign flying around the Brisbane CBD, with the same message that the Liberals were trying to get across in their interviews: ‘she is heartless’.
There is no denying that these are tough decisions which are heartbreaking for the families they separate. Politicians and commentators have rightly pointed out that the Federal Government has singled out Queensland’s border measures because of the upcoming state election.
But are these attacks on Palaszczuk more than just politics? Is there a double standard for men who make tough decisions and women who are characterised as heartless?
Firstly, let’s consider how a bloke would be treated for making tough decisions with cruel consequences. We certainly don’t need to look too far. It is ironic that Peter Dutton, the king of cruelty in the name of tough borders, is trying to frame the Premier as heartless for making the same types of decisions he makes in the name of national security.
Then there is the hypocrisy of the Prime Minister who took months to take action to bring stranded Aussies home, has deflected responsibility for deaths in aged care and has failed to give a North Queensland family answers about why more isn’t being done to search for two Australians lost at sea.
A few days after the first sign appeared in the Brisbane sky another flew overhead. It said, ‘We are safe cause she is strong’. The decisions characterised as cruel could also be characterised as strong, and would they be if they were made by a man?
Women in politics and leadership roles are constantly given tips on how we can be less like… well, women. Don’t be emotional, don’t get carried away and don’t let it get to you. In other words, be strong. But not too strong so as to appear to be cold or heartless.
How can women win? They can’t, and that is the point.
You see there is a deeper criticism within the attacks on the Premier that undeniably harks back to an interview Frecklington gave earlier this year. In the interview, which she was heavily criticised for, Ms Frecklington accused the Premier of not focusing on the big issues. At the centre of that criticism was a badly veiled sledge on Palaszczuk for not having children, despite the Premier speaking publicly about the impact endometriosis has had on her fertility.
If women are meant to be mothers, women without children are often viewed as lacking the emotional and maternal capacity that motherhood requires. They are devoid of compassion, as Hadley would put it.
The Liberal Party has used this tactic before. Julia Gillard was described as, ‘choosing to remain deliberately barren,’ and failing to understand everyday issues due to, ‘a lack of experience raising children’.
But here’s what I can tell you about that. For every woman in a leadership role that is bravely demonstrating to other women that you can be a mother and have a career (I don’t know how they do it, when do the sleep?!) there is probably another woman at the very same boardroom table who tried to get pregnant, endured painful IVF injections, countless doctor’s appointments and the sting of being told yet again, “I’m sorry it didn’t work this time.”
Don’t tell me those women don’t understand heartbreak.
The pile on Palaszczuk isn’t just about politics. It’s about the way we define women and the exploitation of those stereotypes by some politicians. It is sexist and we should call it out so it doesn’t happen to other women who aspire to lead us.
In the meantime, I don’t think the Premier is going to be swayed by an onslaught from Federal politicians intervening in the State election. Any woman who has endometriosis and can get up each day and run a State as big as Queensland in the middle of global pandemic, sounds pretty strong to me.
And just because a woman is strong doesn’t mean she lacks compassion. You can do both. Peter Dutton should give it a go some time.