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Death by Reverse Dog Whistle

On 9 October, 2012 Prime Minister Julia Gillard famously stood up in parliament to accuse Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott of misogyny and sexism. Though he may not have known it at the time, he was the victim of a reverse dog whistle (RDW). It didn’t seem to hurt his career; he went on to become PM himself less than a year later. But Gillard’s RDW was heard as far away as Washington, where Hillary Clinton agreed that Gillard faced ‘outrageous sexism’. Whistles carry in the thin air of identity politics.

A few years later, in 2015, the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, accused then-PM Abbott of making ‘racist kinds of pronouncements’ about Aboriginal Australians for suggesting that the government should not provide unlimited funds for remote communities. Racism charges were renewed when Abbott suggested that indigenous Australians are better off for being, well, Australian. Chalk up two more RDWs.

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Published inAll ArticlesThe Spectator

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time; but there is the broad feeling in our country that the people should rule, continuously rule, and that public opinion, expressed by all constitutional means, should shape, guide, and control the actions of Ministers who are their servants and not their masters.”

— Winston Churchill, in Parliament, 1947