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Julia Gillard and the Art of Rhetoric

Readers may remember Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard's massive takedown of "the Leader of the Opposition" for sexism and misogyny. In this post, I want to answer the question Yves posted in her headline -- "Can We Get Australian PM Julia Gillard to Give Debate Lessons in America?" -- in the affirmative, by highlighting some of the rhetorical devices that Gillard used. (For those who think this subject matter is alien to political economy, think again.) I hope that readers find this exercise useful; to participate in public life, some mastery of public speaking is needed. Gillard exhibits such mastery, and by looking at her techniques, I hope many of us can learn from her. Because the more of us who participate in public life, the better.

The Unknown Transcriber was (again) kind enough to make a transcription of Gillard's entire speech, which is just over 15 minutes long. I suggest you listen to the YouTube first -- I have listened to it many times, because it's so good; after the rhetoric of Campaign 2012, it's like water to those dying of thirst -- to fix Gillard's use of tone and register in your mind, and then examine the transcript. I'm going to do a close reading of the transcript and note my observations, aided by this short list of rhetorical devices, Silva Rhetoricae, and the Taxonomy of Logical Fallacies. Note that rhetoric is an academic discipline, and all I have is some rough and ready experience as a policy debater, back in the day. So I hope that knowledgeable readers will correct me where I go wrong. Also, I realize this post is just über-geeky on rhetoric, as befits the former policy debater I am. If at any point you want to skip to the end, scroll down or search on "Summing up."

To the speech!

Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard speaks during House of Representatives question time at Parliament House in Canberra, Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012, in response to Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott's motion for Speaker Peter Slipper to be removed from office immediately under section 35 of the Constitution.

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And now to the transcript!

DEPUTY SPEAKER:  The question is, should the motion be agreed to?  I call the Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER JULIA GILLARD:  Thank you very much, Deputy Speaker, and I rise to oppose the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition.1 And in so doing, I say to the Leader of the Opposition2 I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man.3, 4 I will not.5 And the Government will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. Not now, not ever.6

Gillard gets a lot done in this short, plain spoken, but highly wrought introduction: 1 Gillard addresses the chair and establishes the tone (decorum): Extremely formal. 2 The entire speech is an assault on "the Leader of the Opposition," [TLOTO] Abbott, who is not named. We might think of this as a form of apostrophe . 3 Here is an example of synesis, word agreement by logic and not grammar. Grammatically, Gillard must mean "I say to the Leader ... I will not be lectured by him," but the logic is clear when -- speaking to the audience, and pointing at Abbott, Gillard says "this man" instead. Gillard instantly raises the tension between formal language and a very personal assault to a very high pitch, as you can hear from the tone of her voice and the reaction of her audience. 4 Gillard introduces the central theme: An ad hominem assault on TLOTO. (Logically, there's a charge of misogyny can be brought by a misogynist; humanly, many of us find that "can" is not the same as "should." 5,6 Gillard introduces the main rhetorical device: repetition. "will not be lectured... will not be lectured... "; "Not now, not ever."

The Leader of the Opposition says that people who hold sexist views and who are misogynists are not appropriate for high office. Well, I hope the Leader of the Opposition has got a piece of paper and he is writing out his resignation1, because 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.2 That’s what he needs.3

1 The ad hominem attack condensed into synecdoche;  TLOTO writing out his resignation stands for holding himself to his own standards in a Parliamentary system. 2 The ad hominem attack condensed into a metaphor; "look in the mirror." 3Parallel construction: "he doesn't need... he needs... he needs." More subtly, Gillard has taken on herself the task of defining TLOTL's needs for him, which foreshadows her peroration.

Let’s go through the Opposition Leader’s repulsive double standards, repulsive double standards1, when it comes to misogyny and sexism.

We are now supposed to take seriously2 that the Leader of the Opposition is offended by Mr. Slipper’s text messages, when this is the Leader of the Opposition who has said – and this was when he was a minister under the last government – not when he was a student, not when he was in high school – when he was a minister under the last government.3

He has said, and I quote4, in a discussion about women being underrepresented in institutions of power in Australia. The interviewer was a man called Stavros.5 The Leader of the Opposition says, “If it’s true, Stavros, that men have more power generally speaking than women, is that a bad thing?”6

1Conduplicatio: "Repulsive... repulsive." 2Sarcasmus. 3  Repetition: "When.... When... Not When." 4  Gillard now proffers authorities for her ad hominem attacks. (I'm going to stop noting ad hominem going forward because there's so much of it.)  5 Gillard authenticates her authorities by proffering detail. 6 Gillard hoists TLOTO with his own rhetorical question.

And then a discussion ensues, and another person being interviewed says, “I want my daughter to have as much opportunity as my son.” To which the Leader of the Opposition says “Yeah, I completely agree, but what if men are by physiology or temperament more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command?”1

1 Gillard hoists TLOTO with a second rhetorical question!

Then ensues another discussion about women’s role in modern society, and the other person participating in the discussion says, “I think it’s very hard to deny that there is an underrepresentation of women,” to which the Leader of the Opposition says, “But now, there’s an assumption that this is a bad thing.”

This is the man1 from whom we’re supposed to take lectures about sexism.

And then of course it goes on.2

1 "The man" refers back to "this man" at the start of the speech. 2 "Goes on" signals a transition to a new rhetorical device. (The patterning of rhetorical devices in the paragraph that follows is so rich I'm going to use two separate annotation schemes.)

I was very offended personallyA when the Leader of the Opposition, as Minister for Health, said, and I quote, “Abortion is the easy way out.”1 I was very personally offended by those commentsB. You said that in March 2004; I suggest you check the records.

I was also very offendedC on behalf of the women of Australia when, in the course of this carbon-pricing campaign, the Leader of the Opposition said, “When the housewives of Australia need to do– What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing... ”2 Thank you for that painting of women’s roles in modern Australia.

And then of course I was offendedD too by the sexism, by the misogyny of the Leader of the Opposition catcalling across this table at me as I sit here as Prime Minister, “If the Prime Minister wants to, politically speaking, make an honest woman of herself”3 – something that would never have been said to any man sitting in this chair.

I was offendedE when the Leader of the Opposition went outside in the front of Parliament and stood next to a sign that said “Ditch the witch.”4

I was offendedF when the Leader of the Opposition stood next to a sign that described me as a man’s bitch.5

I was offendedG by those things.

A,B,C,D,E,FAnaphora (in fact, Obama's favorite rhetorical device). 1, 2, 3 Gillard again uses authorities to tag TLOTO with what we might call anti-ideographs for his views on women: "abortion... ironing... honest woman."

Misogyny, sexism, every day from this Leader of the Opposition. Every day in every way, across the time the Leader of the Opposition has sat in that chair and I’ve sat in this chair, that is all we have heard from him.

And now the Leader of the Opposition wants to be taken seriously. Apparently he’s woken up after this track record and all of these statements, and he’s woken up and he’s gone, “Oh dear, there’s this thing called sexism. Oh my lord, there’s this thing called misogyny. Now who’s one of them? Oh, the Speaker must be because that suits my political purpose.”1

Doesn’t turn a hair about any of his past statements, doesn’t walk into this Parliament and apologize to the women of Australia, doesn’t walk into this Parliament and apologize to me for the things that have come out of his mouth, but now seeks to use this as a battering ram against someone else.

Well, this kind of hypocrisy should not be tolerated, which is why this motion from the Leader of the Opposition should not be taken seriously.2

1Sarcasmus, in a brilliant extended riff, even mycterismus, as Gillard changes the tone of her voice to imitate TLOTO. 2 Gillard restates the initial ad hominem claim.

And then, second1, the Leader of the Opposition is always wonderful about walking into this Parliament and giving me and others a lecture about what they should take responsibility for. Always wonderful about that – everything that I should take responsibility for, now apparently including the text messages of the Member for Fisher. Always keen to say how others should assume responsibility, particularly me.

1Eutrepismus: Numbering the sections of one's speech. Gillard signals a transition and opens up a new line of attack. Part one used TOTLO's words against him. Part two will use TOTLO's actions. (You should be able to recognize repetition, anaphora, sarcasm, and the other rhetorical devices from part one, so I'll only note new devices.)

Well, can anybody remind me if the Leader of the Opposition has taken any responsibility for the conduct of the Sydney Young Liberals and the attendance at this event of members of his front bench?1 Has he taken any responsibility for the conduct of members of his political party and members of his front bench who apparently, when the most vile things were being said about my family, raised no voice of objection?2

No one walked out of the room.3 No one walked up to Mr. Jones and said that this was not acceptable.4

Instead, of course, it was all viewed as good fun until it was run in a Sunday newspaper, and then the Leader of the Opposition and others started ducking for cover.

Big on lectures of responsibility, very light on accepting responsibility5 himself for the vile conduct of members of his political party.

1, 2Rhetorical question: No, and no. 3, 4Anthypophora: Asking and then immediately answering one's own question. 5 Antithesis: "Big on.. very light on."

Third,1 Miss Deputy Speaker,2 why the Leader of the Opposition should not be taken seriously on this motion.

1Eutrepismus again. From TLOTO's words and actions, Gillard will now shift to his personal associations. 2 Again, formality and decorum.

The Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition have come into this place and have talked about the Member for Fisher. Well, let me remind the Opposition and the Leader of the Opposition particularly about their track record and association with the Member for Fisher.

I remind them that the National Party preselected the Member for Fisher for the 1984 election, that the National Party preselected the Member for Fisher for the 1987 election, that the Liberal Party preselected Mr. Fisher [sic] for the 1993 election, then for the '96 election, then for the '98 election, then for the 2001 election, then for the 2004 election, then for the 2007 election, and then for the 2010 election.1

And across many of those preselections, Mr. Slipper enjoyed the personal support of the Leader of the Opposition.

I remind the Leader of the Opposition that on the 28th of September 2010, following the last election campaign when Mr. Slipper was elected as Deputy Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the Opposition at that stage said this, and I quote. He referred to the Member for Maranoa, who was also elected to a position at the same time, and then went on as follows: “And the Member for Fisher will serve as a fine complement to the Member for Scullin in the chair. I believe that the Parliament will be well served by the team which will occupy the chair in this chamber. I congratulate the Member for Fisher, who has been a friend of mine for a very long time, who has served this Parliament in many capacities with distinction.”2

The words of the Leader of the Opposition on record, about his personal friendship with Mr. Slipper, and on record about his view about Mr. Slipper’s qualities and attributes to be the Speaker.  No walking away from those words, they were the statement of the Leader of the Opposition then.

1, 2Guilt by association. However, even if TOTLO is hypocritical in his words, actions, and associations, that doesn't mean that claims he makes about sexism and misogyny are false.

I remind the Leader of the Opposition, who now comes in here and speaks about Mr. Slipper and apparently his inability to work with or talk to Mr. Slipper, I remind the Leader of the Opposition he attended Mr. Slipper’s wedding.1 Did he walk up to Mr. Slipper in the middle of the service and say he was disgusted to be there?2 Was that the attitude he took?3 No, he attended that wedding as a friend.4

1 Sarcasmus. Listen to Gillard change her tone! 2, 3Rhetorical questions. 4Anthypophora.

The Leader of the Opposition, keen to lecture others about what they ought to know or did know about Mr. Slipper. Well, with respect,1 I’d say to the Leader of the Opposition, after a long personal association including attending Mr. Slipper’s wedding, it would be interesting to know whether the Leader of the Opposition was surprised by these text messages. He’s certainly in a position to speak more intimately about Mr. Slipper than I am and many other people in this Parliament, given this long personal association.

Then of course, then of course, the Leader of the Opposition comes into this place and says, and I quote – and says, and I quote, “Every day the Prime Minister stands in this Parliament to defend this Speaker will be another day of shame for this Parliament, another day of shame for a government which should already have died of shame.”

Well, can I indicate to the Leader of the Opposition, the Government is not dying of shame, my father did not die of shame [cries of “Hear hear!”], what the Leader of the Opposition should be ashamed of is his performance in this Parliament and the sexism he brings with it. [Abbott shakes his head]

1Irony. With "the sexism he brings with it" Gillard shifts to a defense of her own conduct, using the same rhetorical devices she's familiarized us with in the earlier portion of the speech. This is the most difficuilt portion of the debate, simply because the Member for Fisher's text messages really are offensive.

Now about the text messages that are on the public record or reported in the – that’s a direct quote from the Leader of the Opposition, so I suggest those groaning have a word with him.1

Now, on the conduct of Mr. Slipper, and on the text messages that are in the public domain, I have seen the press reports of those text messages. I am offended by their content.A

I am offendedB by their content because I am always offended by sexism.

I am offendedC by their content because I am always offended by statements that are anti-women.

I am offendedD by those things in the same way that I have been offended by things that the Leader of the Opposition has said, and no doubt will continue to say in the future. Because if this today was an exhibition of his new feminine side, well I don’t think we’ve got much to look forward to in terms of changed conduct.2

I am offendedE by those text messages. But I also believe, in terms of this Parliament making a decision about the Speakership, that this Parliament should recognize that there is a court case in progress, that the judge has reserved his decision, that having waited for a number of months for the legal matters surrounding Mr. Slipper to come to a conclusion that this Parliament should see that conclusion.3

A, B, C, D, EAnaphora. 1 Gillard's speech as a whole falls under the heading of deliberative oratory, but I can't find a subcategory for the cut and thrust of Parliiamentary debate. Being able to think on one's feet clearly enhances one's ethos, however. 2Sarcasmus. 3 Gillard, with the weak transition word "but," buries the weakest portion of the speech -- the recommendation that Parliament do nothing regarding the Member for Fisher because the courts are handling it -- at the end of a paragraph, with no rhetorical devices to set it off.

I believe that is the appropriate path1 forward, and that people will then have an opportunity to make up their minds2 with the fullest information available to them3.

1, 2, 3Bathos: A descent from the high to the low, in this case from the brilliant deployment of rhetorical devices to process-driven bureacratic mumbo-jumbo. The descent signals in the clearest possible way that the Member for Fisher ("Mr. Slipper") is not really being defended here. Gillard then returns to the assault; listen for the change in her tone of voice.

But whenever people make up their minds about those questions, what I won’t stand for, what I will never stand for, is the Leader of the Opposition coming  into this place and peddling a double standard.

Peddling a standard for Mr. Slipper he would not set for himself.

Peddling a standard for Mr. Slipper he has not set for other members of his front bench.

Peddling a standard for Mr. Slipper that has not been acquitted by the people who have been sent out to say the vilest and most revolting things, like his former Shadow Parliamentary Secretary Senator Bernardi.

I will not ever see the Leader of the Opposition seek to impose his double standard on this Parliament.

Sexism should always be unacceptable. We should conduct ourselves as it should always be unacceptable.

The Leader of the Opposition says do something. Well, he could do something himself if he wants to deal with sexism in this Parliament. He could change his behavior. He could apologize for all his past statements. He could apologize for standing next to signs describing me as a witch and a bitch, terminology that is now objected to by the front bench of the Opposition. He could change a standard himself if he sought to do so.

But we will see none of that from the Leader of the Opposition, because on these questions he is incapable of change. Capable of double standards, but incapable of change.

His double standards should not rule this Parliament.

Good sense, common sense, proper process is what should rule this Parliament.

The devices in the material above should be familiar to you; see if you can spot any new ones! And now comes the climax, and in two ways: One prepared for by Gillard herself, the other handed to her by TLOTO.

That’s what I believe is the path forward for this Parliament, not the kind of double standards and political game-playing imposed by the Leader of the Opposition now looking at his watch 1...

1 ZOMG! If Gillard hasn't won the debate already, she certainly just did. What a blunder by TLOTO (cf. at 0:03). Again, this is Parliamentary cut and thrust. No teleprompter here, and no script.

.... because apparently a woman’s spoken too long. [Abbott "oh come on!" affronted reaction]

I’ve had him yell at me to shut up in the past [PM/audience laughter], but I will take the remaining, I will take the remaining seconds of my speaking time1 to say to the Leader of the Opposition I think the best course for him is to reflect2 on the standards he’s exhibited in public life, on the responsibility he should take for his public statements, on his close personal connection with Peter Slipper, on the hypocrisy he has displayed in this House today.

And on that basis, because of the Leader of the Opposition’s motivations, this Parliament today should reject this motion and the Leader of the Opposition should think seriously about the role of women in public life and in Australian society,3 because we are entitled to a better standard than this.

1 The peroratio, or conclusion, elegantly signaled by Gillard. 2, 3 Just as she did at the beginning of the speech, Gillard defines TLOTO's needs for him ("the best course for him," "should think seriously"). One of the catchphrases one hears in sportcasting is "X dominated." That is exactly what Gillard is doing here: Dominating, and TLOTO, with the unconscious gesture of looking at his watch, validated her judgment and all she had to say. A stirring conclusion!

The bottom line: "We are entitled to a better standard than this."

AUDIENCE:  Hear hear!


* * *

So, summing up:

First, we might ask whether the speech achieved its objectives -- which were not to salvage the career of the Member for Fisher, clearly beyond all hope, but to salvage the Gillard government, and, if possible, increase the power of her party relative to the Opposition. Gillard achieved her objective. Well wrought rhetoric can help with that.

Second, we might ask yourselves what use we can make of all this. Well, public speaking holds no terror for me; that's because I was lucky enough to participate in a high school forensics program (a discipline that I hope any of you who have children or grandchildren will recommend to them). However, polls indicate that the only thing Americans fear more than public speaking is snakes. That's nuts, and may be part of the reason public policy in this country is so far from reflecting public good: Those most affected by public policy are too fearful to speak on it. I urge those who are afraid to of public speaking to study this post carefully and look at the devices that Gillard uses. Those devices have passed the test of time; that is why the latin and greek names; all these devices are thousands of years old, and have survived because they work. These devices are all tools for you to pick up and use. Look at Gillard's use of anaphora, and see how she uses it as scaffolding across the fearful abyss of silence. You can do the same!*

Third, we might ask ourselves some ethical questions. I vehemently agree with Gillard's bottom line: "We are entitled to a better standard than this." Apparently, Parliament and the general public agreed. However, to achieve that outcome, Gillard used some devices that we are trained to look askance at: Ad hominem attacks, and guilt by association. Are those devices morally neutral? Simply tools? Did Gillard diminish her ethos by using them? Was Gillard immoral to use them? Or did the object of the speech -- and I could wish that some other female politicians in some other countries had given such a speech -- justify the techniques that the speaker used?


NOTE * This is not to say that the devices that Gillard uses in Parliament would be appropriate for, say, a General Assembly or the Town Council. Other devices, however, will be. They remain only to be discovered...



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NWLuna's picture
Submitted by NWLuna on

and very, very useful. I feel as if I'd had Debate 101 & 102 condensed for me. I will be practicing use of this info for writing and speaking.

This should be required reading for -- I was going to say anyone following politics, but really, it should be for every citizen.

Thank you!

And yeah, I think it was fine for Gillard to use guilt by association and ad hominem attacks on that jerks, but that's just IMNSHO.