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Be-witching Beth and Belinda

By Sheleyah Courtney - posted Monday, 27 October 2008

Australia doesn’t easily hate its blokes - it takes either defection to a French footy team (former Bulldog Sonny Bill Williams) or pedophilia (Dennis Ferguson) to inspire such public outrage as to land yourself on Zoo Weekly’s 2008 50 most hated people list. Almost as unforgivable is to be a bit of a tool (Toady from Neighbours) or a real little shit (Kyle Sandilands); both made it onto the list this year too.

Federal MP Belinda Neil was listed among Australia’s most hated; Beth Morgan former town planner at Wollongong Council wasn’t. Yet both two women have been mercilessly scourged in public by the media this year for behaviour judged bad, albeit vastly varying in degree were they not women.

Property developer Glen Tabak declared that he would “not become a scapegoat or the subject of a witch-hunt" after he heard the final report of the ICAC inquiry concerning vast corruption at Wollongong City Council. Yet Mr Tabak is not especially memorable in this sordid yet banal imbroglio. Enter the council’s former town planner, apparently frail blonde Beth Morgan - now elevated/denigrated to Jezebel-status - who was the first (but not last) slut-witch quarry of Australian witch-hunters this year.


Beth is the star of the Wollongong debacle primarily for her alleged sexual affairs with three property developers (including Tabak) whose proposals were under her consideration while she was still for the large period married to an under-achiever, at least in terms of her own ambitions.

Noel Hemmings QC informed the hearing that Ms Morgan was building a “client base for a private planning consultancy” which she hoped to set up when she left the council, and also that she was a member of a group of developers, town planners and business people self-entitled "the table of knowledge" that met often for early breakfasts at a local Wollongong cafe.

Why should this have been so shocking for the Australian public?

Was it because she apparently extracted sexual favours and gifts from three rich and powerful men over whom she ostensibly had more power, or that such conduct is properly the province of men which she, as a woman, had no business employing?

One of the men with whom Beth Morgan was alleged to have had an affair maintained his innocence regarding this claim and the ICAC found no proof of it. He was not referred to the DPP or found to have acted in a corrupt way; however the fact that he has not escaped suspicion in the public imagination despite this is in itself troubling regarding the tenacity of constructions of public opinion.

Or was it that she dared sit at the “table of power” “with her baby on her lap” wheeling and dealing with the men with quite a few of whom she was having a lot of “adulterous” (as it was repeatedly described in the media) sex?


And when the Younis con man trickily extorted much of her ill-gotten money, was there not a certain malicious enjoyment in the way the press constructed her as a foolish bimbo who had got out of her depth playing with the big boys and had now been righteously screwed herself?

Since this scandal Belinda Neil has also been dogged by hell-hounds determined to thug-witchify her beyond all contextual belief in the limits and extent of women’s wickedness.

Far less remarkable seems to me both Belinda’s “behaviour” at the Iguana’s night club on the central coast and her mischievous jibes at a political opponent in Parliament except that the Liberal opponent on the receiving end was a pregnant woman. Women aren’t supposed to be mean to other women aka “sisters,” even if they are ideologically opposed politicians.

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About the Author

Sheleyah Courtney is lecturer in the Department of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Sydney. Her research is among marginalised Hindu women of Varanasi, a city in North India that is holy for Hindus. She explores issues in Indian urban and diasporic communities of violence, cosmology, sexuality, and gender. Her work embraces phenomenological and psychological anthropology; and is informed by critical feminist theory. She is a catlover and Bollywood movie enthusiast.

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