How a keynote became a low note – and a lost opportunity

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

Julia

Take one ousted political leader with time on her hands. Add in a lucrative, all-expenses paid speaking opportunity in a glamorous city abroad. The recipe for an entertaining, insightful, maybe even revelatory conference presentation, right?

Wrong.

Yesterday’s address by the former Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, plumbed new depths of irrelevance and poor value for organisers and audience alike. A keynote became a low note, prompting one leading travel retailer to tell me: “I was ashamed to be an Australian.”

I wonder how much she was paid for what often amounted to little more than a justification for her former government’s policies.

Conference moderator John Rimmer joked during his morning introduction that last week the Marina Bay Sands had hosted an anaesthetists’ convention and he hoped the TFWA event would not put the audience to sleep. A nice line but it looked as if Ms Gillard had indeed turned up a week too late. And one suspects if  she addressed a room full of anaesthetists, she would have shown them a whole new way of conducting their business.

Yes, she did make the odd token reference to the travel retail industry, extolling the virtues of the business in her opening lines and praising TFWA Erik Juul-Mortensen for the work he does. Pity she didn’t think like that when her short-lived government (2010-2013) slashed the inbound duty free tobacco allowance in Australia in 2012 (to 50 sticks) after minimal consultation with the industry and even less consideration for its views.

Let’s not beat around the bush here. That decision had (and continues to have) a drastically negative impact on travel retailers not only in Australia but in all countries with a large number of Australia-bound passengers. It cost money, it cost jobs. It was the driving factor in the New Zealand government’s decision to also savage the tobacco allowance from this November.

Not surprisingly, her speech contained not the slightest mention of that policy change. So to hear Ms Gillard talking (briefly) of the importance of the travel and tourism sector rang as hollow as the bell on Notre-Dame.

As Rimmer engaged Ms Gillard in a short question and answer session after she had concluded her presentation, one hoped he would ask her about that fateful legislative initiative. An ex-journalist (with DFNI and The Moodie Report) of great capability, he would have known that was the question people wanted asked. If it had been Stephen Sackur from BBC’s Hard Talk (who moderates TFWA’s Cannes conference), there would have been no stopping him. Even if not asking her to justify the decision, surely Rimmer could have alluded to the subject and asked, for example, how the industry could best position itself with politicians in the face of relentless legislative threats?

One presumes, therefore, that he was told not to broach the subject. I understand, in fact, that the organisers were worried that Ms Gillard may attack the tobacco category, which is facing further legislative threats just about everywhere, including the UK. {In the interests of fairness, I can now confirm that Rimmer was specifically asked by tobacco company representatives on the TFWA management committee not to address the tobacco allowances issue “given the sensitivities”}.

I think that’s lame. Whatever she said wouldn’t make the slightest difference. And anyway, if it was likely to, why was she asked to speak in the first place? Ex-Prime Ministers do not come cheap on the speaking circuit. So why her? I’ll say again – this politician and her government introduced a policy that had a devastating impact on our business. Ask The Nuance Group President Roberto Graziani what he thinks of that. Ask Evelyn Danos, the owner of JR/Duty Free.

Believe it or not, this isn’t an anti-Julia Gillard rant. While she ultimately failed to impress the majority of the Australian population in election terms, she was impressive on a number of levels during her tenure. Not least of these was the often magnificent way she stared down the blatant misogyny from her political rivals, media and others.

At times it bordered on the epic, notably in her famous “I will not be lectured on sexism and misogyny by this man; I will not” parliamentary rant against the then-leader of the opposition Tony Abbott. A YouTube video of the speech attracted one million views in a week and even led to a musical version being created. Listen to it here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOPsxpMzYw4 – it’s an amazingly, wonderfully impassioned piece of rhetoric that should be listened to by everyone, man and woman, who care about sexism (and, more importantly, those who do not).

Not surprisingly then, the one real moment when Ms Gillard came alive yesterday and touched the audience, was when she talked about the atrocity of the recent kidnapping of schoolgirls by the Boko Haram terrorist group in Nigeria. Momentarily, fleetingly, here was the Julia Gillard touching the blisteringly heartfelt heights of her parliamentary speech. What would happen, she asked, if 200 women delegates were kidnapped from the TFWA conference? The world would be outraged and it would do something about it, she argued. Nigeria, and Nigerian women, should be no different, Ms Gillard concluded to loud applause.

What a pity then, that she decided to deliver such a bland, unoriginal take on ‘the Asian century’ instead. The travel retail industry is better than most when it comes to the empowerment of women but it’s far from perfect (for example, only two of the 20 conference speakers were women; and none of the five moderators). It would have been revelatory, I think, to hear Ms Gillard on such matters.

That parliamentary speech was one of the great pieces of political oratory. Yesterday’s was not.

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  • I don’t understand the reference to the “Misogyny Speech” at all. Gillard delivered that, but it was written in advance by one John McTiernan (note the John, he is male, BTW), and it was full of misrepresentation and pure bile. It was a diversionary tactic, and intended to further the campaign of personal vilification that Gillard was pursuing against Tony Abbott. In other words, there wasn’t any misogyny.

    Worth recalling too, the best definition of misogyny, it is when a man treats a woman the same way that other woman treat a woman.

    Any comment, by the way, on the misogyny that IS present in the recent commentary on Peta Credlin ? Or is it different if it comes from the left ?

  • Martin, it’s interesting to hear the perspective of a foreigner about Gillard’s famous speech. The reality is that sadly it’s only that and the allegations of her involvement of corruption in the 90s is all she will be remembered for.

    As far as calling out misogyny wherevet she saw it, that consisted of the opposition leader looking at his watch (can you believe this display of hatred of women – looking at your watch!)…and any critcism of her government, which was obviously gender based, because no other government has been criticised,ever.

    The reality is that the lack lustre performance you saw is what Australia saw during her term, one so bad that her own party ousted her. In fact, Australians voted for the vile, watch-leerer as the alternative PM…who has engaged in continued woman-hating acts like winking and breathing.

  • What has misogyny and Nigerian schoolgirl kidnapping got to do with the travel industry? Ridiculous.

  • Thank you for your thoughts on Ms Gillard’s speech. It was a good read, but I do take exception to the line ‘That [misogyny] parliamentary speech was one of the great pieces of political oratory.’

    While I do understand you felt as though you had to put something positive in the article about her speaking abilities, to ensure it wasn’t discounted as nothing but an anti-Gillard rant. BUT I strongly disagree on the choice, given that it was nothing more than political opportunism, where she was defending and deflecting her support of a known misogynist and accusing a man who wasn’t and isn’t a misogynist. She should be ashamed of herself. Being a feminist should not automatically mean being misandrist, but that never gets a mention. Imagine if Tony Abbott did the same kind of thing to her! Imagine the rage and hysterical outcry that would cause! So he’s left in a position where he can’t defend himself and his transgression? To look at his watch while she was speaking. Serve her right though, as that misogyny speech unleashed the LNP onto her and her part in the AWU scandal – and her day of reckoning is coming

  • Martin why do you hang such laurels on a speech about misogyny that was complete and utter theater and written by others for the single purpose of embarrassing the Leader of the opposition. The video looks good but you need to put in in context with reality!

  • Ms Gillard’s “misogyny speech” was an ill-directed attack on a long-term married, devoted husband and father of three beautiful, well brought up young women. She didn’t even bother to factor in the Australian daughters, sisters, mothers and wives who have been hugely embarrassed and angered by Ms Gillard’s misandrist conduct.

    Worse, Ms Gillard used that speech to defend a foul-mouthed man who was needed by her to prop up her incompetent government (and her union-gifted position as Prime Minister). At that time the man whose behaviour she ignored was famous for his widely published description of women’s private body parts. I wouldn’t trust a woman in a powerful position who made a habit of using her gender to divide and conquer my country men and women, whilst conveniently ignoring the behaviour(s) of someone who truly humiliated all of us.

  • Martin, maaate… didn’t you get the memo? All criticism of Julia Gillard is, by definition misogynist. Misogynist!

  • Well done Martin a well written commentary on what was a missed opportunity this issue should have been adressed.