BRISBANE -- Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard played the gender card this week, warning women that "blue tie" misogynists will push women from power if she is defeated as expected in the Sept. 14 election.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, whom Gillard has attempted to portray as an unreconstructed 1950s misogynist, would oversee a government "dominated by men in blue ties," she said.
"A prime minister -- a man in a blue tie -- who goes on holidays to be replaced by a man in a blue tie.
"A treasurer, who delivers a budget wearing a blue tie, to be supported by a finance minister -- another man in a blue tie.
"Women once again banished from the centre of Australia's political life.''
The Sydney audience got the blue-tie reference. In recent months Abbott has confirmed he often chooses a white-shirt, blue-tie combo before he ventures out each day. Both the British prime minister and the American president also favour the colour combo.
The day after Gillard's speech, blue ties were everywhere. Even Kevin Rudd -- the former Labour PM ousted by his former deputy Gillard -- was sporting one.
Campaigning in Sydney, Rudd insisted his wardrobe was not a sign of disrespect for Gillard.
Sailing close to the dangerous waters of chauvinism himself, Rudd insisted it was the women folk in his family who choose his wardrobe.
"Like most blokes in the country I have no sense of fashion," he said.
"I rely upon (wife) Therese and (daughter) Jessica to buy my ties for me, and this is the one that has been packed away for me for this particular occasion.''
The disconnect between Gillard's firm belief that female MPs' clothes are unfairly scrutinized and her bold assault on the male blue tie aside, the PM has a point.
If Abbott wins Sept. 14, and he will unless Labour can organize divine intervention, the presence of women in the federal parliament is likely to be severely reduced.
Yet the deputy-prime-minister-in-waiting, Julie Bishop, took great umbrage at the suggestion that a win by the conservative opposition would lead to women removed from the circle of power.
Bishop, whose well-tailored outfits are never within a cooee (Australian bush cry) of a blue tie, has never had difficulty finding her way to the centre of influence in this country.
Bishop said the Gillard speech represented the base politics of fear and division.
"She should be governing for all Australians and not trying to wage a gender war and divide the community as a distraction from her self-inflicted political woes," Bishop said.
"We are a better nation than this."
Michael Madigan is the Winnipeg Free
Press correspondent in Australia. He
writes for the Brisbane-based Courier Mail.