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Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard laces into opposition leader Tony Abbott on Tuesday during an address to the House of Representatives in Canberra.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard laces into opposition leader Tony Abbott on Tuesday during an address to the House of Representatives in Canberra.

Aussie PM ignites sexism firestorm Add to ...

Prime Minister Julia Gillard Wednesday defended calling Australia’s opposition leader a misogynist in a speech that sparked global attention and a divisive reaction about the role of sexism in politics.

Ms. Gillard, the nation’s first female leader, lashed out Tuesday at Tony Abbott after he called for the removal of parliamentary Speaker Peter Slipper over lurid text messages that referenced female genitalia.

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Mr. Slipper, who stood aside in April amid claims of gay sex harassment, survived an opposition motion Tuesday to dump him with the support of Ms. Gillard and her ruling Labour party, but resigned later in the day.

During the debate, a fired-up Ms. Gillard accused Mr. Abbott of hypocrisy, saying she had been offended by many of his remarks over the years and she would not be “lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man, not now, not ever.”

She went on to say: “If he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror.”

Her tough comments went viral and won international praise, with U.S. feminist blog Jezebel admiringly describing her as a “bad ass.”

“I made my speech in Parliament yesterday because I formed the view that enough is enough,” Ms. Gillard said Wednesday.

“I’ve had enough, Australian women have had enough. When I see sexism and misogyny I’m going to call them for what they are.”

But her decision to defend Mr. Slipper, whom she was instrumental in appointing to bolster Labour’s voting numbers, while at the same time hitting out at Mr. Abbott, was slammed in Australia.

Deputy opposition leader Julie Bishop accused Ms. Gillard of using sexism as a weapon against criticism and said women deserved better.

“The Prime Minister is setting back the cause of women decades by using sexism as a shield against criticisms of her performance,” she said.

“Instead of being remembered as Australia’s first female prime minister, she’ll be remembered as the prime minister who let down the women of Australia when she was put to the test.”

Mr. Abbott also weighed in, saying it was time “everyone in this Parliament moved on from the gender card which so many members of the government have been playing.”

The media was also critical, with The Sydney Morning Herald saying Ms. Gillard faced the stark choice of defending her parliamentary numbers, or defending the principle of respect for women.

“She chose to defend her numbers,” said the newspaper’s political editor, Peter Hartcher. “She chose power over principles. It was the wrong choice. The Prime Minister gained nothing and lost a great deal.”

But elsewhere, her scathing words were praised.

American news portal The Daily Beast said: “Margaret Thatcher must be smiling,” referring to the former British leader, known as the Iron Lady, while the New Yorker said President Barack Obama could learn debating tips from Ms. Gillard.

Ms. Gillard’s colleagues also defended her reaction to Mr. Abbott’s “outrageous personal abuse.”

“He calls her names across the table, repeatedly,” Families Minister Jenny Macklin said.

Mr. Slipper faces charges in a sex-harassment case filed by a former staffer. Court documents reveal he sent the aide graphic text messages, including one in which he called a conservative female politician an “ignorant botch (sic)” and another in which he said women’s genitalia looked “like a mussell (sic) removed from its shell.”

Mr. Slipper’s demise was a blow to Ms. Gillard, who last year engineered his promotion to speaker after he defected from Mr. Abbott’s Liberal party. That move lost the opposition one vote and shored up Labour’s wafer-thin hold on power.

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