The year that was: Top ten moments in Australian politics

3 December 2012

Written by: Erdem Koc

It was a fun-filled year in Australian politics. Here are the ten moments (in chronological order) which stood out.

1. Australia Day protests

On a day many Australians often ‘chuck on a barbie’ and invite a few friends over, Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott found themselves in what apparently was a serious dilemma. Protestors from the Aboriginal tent embassy in Canberra descended on a restaurant where Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott were attending an Australia Day function. Police became concerned, alerted the PM, and the day was to be remembered with images of Ms Gillard’s terrified face being dragged away to safety. Oh, and she also lost a shoe in the process, and we made international headlines.


2. A leaked video shows Rudd being, well, Rudd

He was still the foreign minister when this video was released. The identity of the releasor remains a mystery. It shows Mr Rudd losing his temper while he was prime minister, trying to record a message in Mandarin – something his former staff have said is not that uncommon.  The temper, that is.


3. A(nother) leadership challenge

Cartoon: Hayden Morris

Many political commentators had observed that a leadership challenge was brewing. No one simply believed that Mr Rudd was a ‘happy little vegemite’ being foreign minister. Following his resignation as foreign minister while he was on official business in the US, Ms Gillard called a leadership ballot to decide ‘once and for all’ who would lead Labor to the next federal election. And we know how that turned out. Especially Ten News’s attempt at trying to decipher the numbers, which was picked up by Media Watch the following week.


4. Thomson finally addresses parliament

After repeated calls and unsuccessful motions from the opposition, Craig Thomson addressed parliament over allegations he misused funds during his time as the head of the Health Services Union.


5. Introduction of the carbon tax

July 1 wasn’t the end of life like we know it – though it certainly felt like it was going to be.  After months and months of ferocious campaigning from all sides of politics, the controversial price on carbon, a.k.a the carbon tax, took effect.  It was a significant day in Australian politics, not only because the new pricing scheme marked the biggest tax overhaul since the GST, but also because it’s this very piece of legislation which the Coalition has said the next election will become a referendum on.  Though that is now looking less likely.  This day marked the start of the very tax which kick-started almost every question time since the PM announced it, and the repeated screening of Ms Gillard’s now infamous line six days prior to the 2010 election: ‘there will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.’


6. Run Tony, run!

Many strange things have happened during the lifespan of this hung parliament, but one of the more entertaining moments of the year was Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and the Manager of Opposition Business, Christopher Pyne’s dash to leave the House of Representatives during a vote.  This came to fruition when the Opposition realised that the newly-turned independent MP, Craig Thomson, was voting with the Coalition to prevent the government gagging Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey in parliament.  Mr Abbott and Mr Pyne realised it seconds before the doors were to be locked, and made a run for it.


7. A long, emotional debate

On the morning of 28 June, a boat carrying asylum seekers capsized off the coast of Christmas Island, with 134 people on board.  Australian authorities were able to rescue 130 of them. At this stage, there was a political deadlock on the question of asylum seeker policy.  Independent MP Rob Oakeshott introduced a private member’s bill to allow offshore processing, which was debated for six long hours in the House of Representatives by at times very emotional MPs from all sides of politics.

The vote was passed, but then knocked back by the Senate.  The Gillard government then commissioned an expert panel led by former defence force chief Angus Houston, to come up with a policy.  That they did.  In its report, the panel suggested that offshore processing be reinstated, with the detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island be re-opened.  The Gillard government embraced the policy suggestions and for the first time in a long time, the Opposition supported the government’s position.  The United Nations, on the other hand, wasn’t as welcoming.  The report was a key moment in Australian politics, as it set the tone for the debate for the remainder of the year, and will no doubt continue to do so as we enter an election year.


8. An apparent ‘scandal’ prompts a marathon press conference

It’s the story that just won’t go away.  In 1995, Julia Gillard, then a lawyer for Slater & Gordon, gave legal advice to her then boyfriend and other Australian Workers Union officials on the incorporation of an association, later alleged to be a ‘slush fund’.  On 23 August, following ongoing allegations by The Australian newspaper that she had actually set up a trust fund for her former boyfriend, Ms Gillard called a press conference.  The newspaper later retracted the article and apologised to the PM – the trust fund it referred to was the creation of the incorporated association.  The presser went for 50 minutes, with Ms Gillard answering questions from the press gallery until they had no more to ask.


9. That speech on misogyny

It’s not often the leader of a country is described as a ‘badass’.  That’s what US website Jezebel, a site dedicated to women’s issues, described Julia Gillard as following her speech in parliament where she labelled Tony Abbott a misogynist. It followed a motion moved by Mr Abbott to remove Peter Slipper from the Speakership, following revelations of text messages between him and his former staffer and now sexual harassment accuser James Ashby, where Mr Slipper likened female genitalia to shell-less mussels.


10. A Speaker resigns

Following a motion to remove him as Speaker by the Opposition, a visibly broken Peter Slipper resigned from the Speakership. In a late sitting of the House of Representatives, Anna Burke was elected as the new Speaker: the first female to hold that position in Australia.

Erdem Koç is a lecturer in journalism at La Trobe University.  You can follow him on Twitter: @erdemkoc

The full list of upstart’s top 10 can be found here.