Why the Gillard government was stuffed from the start

4 Nov

On the surface of it, it’s inexplicable that a government pushing through as many pieces of legislation as this one, some 200 plus, could be regarded as incompetent and its leader treated with an almost universal lack of respect. There was a good piece on the Political Sword a few weeks ago detailing some of the Gillard government’s achievements and questioning why the media is so ready to prophesy Gillard’s demise.

If you’ve seen any of Gillard’s more recent press conferences maybe you’ve noticed her demeanour. The PM is grim-faced, tight-lipped, and exudes an air of defensive hostility towards the press pack. Even in one to one interviews she appears braced for attack, aware that she is not liked. In a recent interview with Leigh Sales on the 7.30 Report, Sales ended the interview with “Thank you Julia Gillard.” There were voices raised in annoyance: why did Sales not say “Prime Minister?”

Then there’s the mean tweets that appear now and again from journos you’d think would know better than to express personal sentiments against the PM on Twitter and I’m not talking about the Tele’s Joe Hildebrand, from whom one expects little else.

So what is this about?

The engineers of the coup against Kevin Rudd did Julia Gillard no favours. As Deputy PM , Ms Gillard appeared a steadying and common sense influence beside the sometimes overly exuberant Rudd. Her comments were restrained and measured, and for some reason, at that time her voice caused no offense. She appeared loyal, and capable of giving as good as she got in Parliament. I liked her a lot in that role. I thought she’d probably be a very good PM one day.

Then suddenly there she was announcing that the government had lost its way and she was going to get it back on track. This was news to everyone including the media, who I suspect have not yet forgiven the ALP for catching them so totally unawares. They’re now reactively trumpeting leadership challenges every second minute in order to avoid another embarrassment, and to pay the government back for so totally shutting them out.

In a sense the media are right to feel such indignation. The most stupid thing the so-called “faceless men” could have done was to conduct their coup in total secrecy. What they should have done was let it be known there were difficulties with Rudd’s leadership. They should have done more to confront their leader. It has never made sense to me that apparently nobody seriously confronted him, they just let him bully them. If they had the numbers to chuck him out, they had the numbers to take him to task, so why didn’t they do that? It’s not as if they feared execution for dissent.

They should also have conducted at least some of their business in public, thus preparing us for what was to come and demonstrating that Rudd was impossible, if indeed he was.

Instead literally overnight we lost one PM and gained another, without anybody, even the media, knowing there was anything seriously wrong. This led to a sense of disempowerment in the electorate, who’d given the ALP a mandate based largely on a Rudd-focused  campaign, even though only those in his electorate got to vote for him. It was a presidentially conducted election campaign in a Westminster system that led to an illusionary sense of public ownership of the PM. Then before he even sees out his first term, they’ve taken him away without so much as a whisper of what was to come, and the political landscape takes on the hue of a banana republic in the throes of a profound political uncertainty, about which nobody outside a very small and exclusive circle had the faintest idea. Australians don’t like that. We don’t like that kind of conspiratorial elitism. We won’t take it lying down, and we haven’t.

Out of this alarming turmoil there emerges our first female PM. In retrospect, who would have wanted the job? If ever there was a poisoned chalice this was it, and as is the way in politics, they gave it to a woman who was suitably grateful and over-awed to get it.

There was an outraged, resentful and suddenly very insecure electorate trying to deal with immense shock at the turn events had taken. There was a knifed former PM weeping on the telly with his wife holding his hand and rubbing his back, and his stricken kids in the background. The new PM immediately offered us absolute chaos in terms of asylum seeker policy, not to mention the ETS she’d apparently persuaded Rudd to drop, the carbon tax she would never introduce, and her increasingly strident claims that she would get the country back on a track we didn’t even know we’d fallen off.

Gillard appeared to have lost overnight her calm and sensible persona, and morphed into a power-drunk leader making stupid statements about detention centres in East Timor and how she’d never allow gay marriage. There was and continues to be far too much “I” and not nearly enough “we” in the PM’s public conversations. It’s hard for a man to get away with this much ego, but for a woman it’s a death sentence.

It’s always difficult for women to convey authority in public life. Gillard did it extremely well when she was deputy to a man. Unfortunately in our culture what is seen as authority in a man morphs into a perception of mere bossiness in a woman, and it takes an exceptionally strong woman to find an authoritative voice that isn’t going to be  condemned as bullying and hectoring. This isn’t Gillard’s fault, it’s the fault of the culture, however Gillard hasn’t found a way to negotiate this. It’s unfair that she or any woman should have to negotiate such prejudices, however the reality is, we do, and there are women who manage it. Gillard isn’t one of them.

Instead, she has become increasingly strident, increasingly hostile and increasingly defensive. In her interviews these days Gillard fairly bristles, ready to jump down the throat of any one who casts the faintest whiff of doubt on her policies and actions. She’s become trapped in  a vicious cycle of mutual hostility with the media, and there’s no way out.

Gillard got a rotten job in completely unacceptable circumstances. She wasn’t experienced enough or psychologically savvy enough to read the mood swings of a very upset electorate, and a very hostile media who don’t take well to big stuff happening behind their backs. Perhaps nobody could have found a productive way to deal with those circumstances, but I’d argue it’s twice as hard for a woman, particularly if she’s touting around a burden of guilt about how she got the job in the first place. There’s nothing makes one defensive as quickly as guilt.

The state the government finds itself in isn’t wholly Gillard’s fault. It’s largely the fault of the so-called “faceless men” who brought this situation about, and thrust her into premature leadership in chaotic and urgent circumstances. Gillard needed more time to learn and mature. She was in the ideal position to do this as Deputy PM. She may or may not have developed into an excellent PM, but now we will never know.

Instead she’s become the face of a party that didn’t even get a mandate in the last election and had to cobble together a government by, among other negotiations, apparently back-flipping on the carbon tax. This left them open to accusations that they did this not out of conviction, but because they needed the Greens onside. This, more than any other issue, has inflamed electoral hostility against them, on top of the aggro already in place.

All of this is gold for an opposition led by a feral fighter such as Tony Abbott. He knows the government stands on very shaky foundations after the Rudd debacle. He knows he’s got the media on side, if only because that media is so reactively hostile to Gillard. He hardly has to try.

It is really unspeakably sad. Casting my mind back to that night in 2007 when Rudd got the ALP so spectacularly over the line and we realised we’d been mercifully spared anymore of the Howard government, I shake my head at how it has all played out. All that squandered political capital. All that trashed good will and hope. Facing a future in the wilderness while an Abbott-led coalition government sets about undoing every good thing the government’s managed to accomplish.

It’s enough to make a strong woman cry. But I can’t help thinking in one tiny part of my mind that much as I don’t want the almost inevitable outcome, the government bloody deserves it, because they didn’t have the courage, the intelligence, the political savvy and the commonsense to deal with a recalcitrant Rudd in any other way.

As David Horton points out in this piece,  it may yet not be too late. If they can find the bottle they can at least go down in a blaze of glory, and maybe rescue themselves from the mire of disrespect and outright contempt into which their stupidity has led them. If only.

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13 Responses to “Why the Gillard government was stuffed from the start”

  1. AJ November 4, 2011 at 10:29 am #

    The often predicted doom of the Federal ALP forgets the electoral reality of campaigning. Political science shows us that a) the electorate forgets b) they do actually want policies – something the conservative side hasn’t been terribly good at producing c) the opinion polls inevitably narrow at Federal election time. The ALP cant save the situation without developing a sense of public feeling and this so far they have been too frightened and insular to tap into. The other problem is the internal powerbases that must be satisfied to arrive at a unified front. It could be argued that the ALP/Green/Independant coalition (for that is what it really is) make uneasy bedfellows and that people arent quite so keen to inject the green into the ALP this time around. That makes it tough for Labor but the election isnt unwinnable. Gillard is a damaged brand (possibly always was) and really has to go. Whether the ALP has the kahoonas to act on this very obvious need is another story. Abbott is hardly a popular alternative, hes just a hobsons choice and maybe the electorate may swing back to the devil they know? Who knows? Gillard is a liability now though and as soon as that’s realised and acted on the better it will be for the ALP.

    Like

  2. Steve at the Pub November 4, 2011 at 10:55 am #

    Hehe, I’ll challenge the first paragraph Jennifer. Passing legislation is no measure of competence.
    Passing legislation is in itself a measure of incompetence.
    200 plus new laws? What a bunch of Donkeys! How badly has Australia been disadvantaged over the past 111 years without those 200+ laws?
    I am unable to name 20 laws, never mind 200, never mind 200 obscure new ones. We need less laws, not more. Compliance with (stupid) laws is choking this country.

    Any government that wished to raise productivity of Australia by 30% overnight would have only to fire half the public service, disbar half the lawyers, & eliminate half the laws.

    Hostility toward the press pack? Yair, Someone who got a free ride via Emily’s list, safe seat, cabinet, all the way to the top, without any real scrutiny, this someone now gets a bit of negative press & is a bit touchy about it. Sniff Sob. Cry me a river. She’s a poor sensitive little petal.

    I’ll agree that almost from the moment she got the job she has proved she isn’t up to it. It is a national humiliation to have such an incompetent & unstatesman like buffoon as Prime Minister.

    Every bit of negative press & jeer she has received, she has brought upon herself. The pit of it is it is our country she is making a complete hash of.

    Incompetent is a well deserved title. Barely a thing has been got right by her government.

    It is one thing to be governed by one’s inferiors. It is another thing altogether to be governed by an entire government that hasn’t a clue what to do.

    Like

    • Jennifer Wilson November 5, 2011 at 8:17 am #

      I always feel I’m governed by my inferiors. It really annoys me. Howard was especially my inferior in every possible way.

      Like

      • Marilyn November 5, 2011 at 4:57 pm #

        So do I Jennifer. And the media are very inferior as well when we have senior people at the ABC tell me that a massive body of law saying that giving refugees a ride is not people smuggling and is only my opinion.

        Like

        • Jennifer Wilson November 6, 2011 at 6:47 am #

          The ABC has gone down the toilet before our eyes. I can’t believe what’s going on there and the right wing mouthpiece it’s becoming. That bloody Judith Sloan all over the Drum, Peter Reith, all those twerps from the that bloody conservative think tank – cutting programs every which way – I can’t get my head around the fact that we’re the second best country in the world to live in and the nations political and artistic life is being constricted by the bloody ABC for Christ’s sake. As if the Australian doesn’t do a good enough job of that.

          Like

  3. paul walter November 4, 2011 at 5:24 pm #

    I’d agree with most it. I’m happy to accept that Labor started off well and did well for first two years.
    Then it prevaricated on carbon pricing, at the time when Rudd’s personal idiosyncracies were becoming apparent to the pubic, via tabloid media trying to bailout Abbott, after Turnbull’s cleverly engineered fall. Nor could Labor escape the fallout concerning the antics of some state Labor governments. Its seeming tardiness in acknowledging enviro in general and its inability, including on the vexed issue of “development” (Rudd’s “big pop”), when people were already screaming about poor infrastructure in the big cities, raised doubts as to Labor’s actual allegiances (voters or developers?). The inability to solve the Asylum-seeker issue also did damage, as with that retention of neolib economic theory in anxious times, despite its own experience of success in implementing its unorthodox baillout of our economy in the wake of the Wall St induced meltdown of 2007-8
    So the polls went south before the nervous nellies installed Gillard.
    Gillard indeed took on a poisoned chalice and her critical error in claiming a Malaysia Solution without completing talks with Malaysia first, turned the mix toxic at the moment she needed a win to consolidate. Instead the issue remained and much detritus has emerged concerning the ill-treatment of asylum seekers in detention, further alienating the”doctors wives”, the marginal, educated voters wh o swung government labor’s way in 2007, for reasons I remain greatful for. I think part of Gillard’s “guilt”, is a realisation from a Labor person that the often brutal failures re asylum seekers over the lasty decade are untenable. Why Abbott’s conscience isn’t also shaken on this issue remains a disturbing mystery to me, btw.
    But I think she’s set for the next election, she won’t be moved and now she’s in the mood for a fight, having effectively, been “rolled”early.
    She’s already lost it all and she has nothing left to lose- if anything Abbott could be the loser if his lazy complacency over Qantas is an indicator.
    But she’d better summon up the guts to “include the People”,the sort of secrecy and spin over things like the Ombudsman’s sacking,are requiring of explanations, not baleful glares.
    Abbott may have peaked, like the vulgar Tparty phenomena in the USA and people will begin to understand that above all, he’s about the restoration of SerfChoices and the working through of other primitive prejudices dressed up in theological and ideological language.Time enough, even for a people as thick as Australians…

    Like

    • Jennifer Wilson November 5, 2011 at 8:15 am #

      I hope you are right and Abbott has peaked and will now slip into arrogant complacency. As for his conscience – lack of conscience is a characteristic of psychopaths! So…
      I still find it difficult to grasp how speedily the government has dispensed with all it’s considerable political and social capital since that night in 2007. I mean, how bloody ignorant does a party have to be to accomplish that?

      Like

  4. Marilyn November 5, 2011 at 4:25 pm #

    But who said Rudd was so recalcitrant? Only the faceless men that delivered up the dingbat.

    Like

  5. Marilyn November 5, 2011 at 4:39 pm #

    Actually we have laws around the treatment of asylum seekers, we would simply rather ignore them and build more illegal prisons and destroy more innocent people.

    Like

  6. paul walter November 5, 2011 at 8:37 pm #

    Two things came to mind that point to a worrying trend in the Labor leadership’s thinking over the most recent period, when Australia needs it to come good, come to mind.
    Firstly, its attempt to skew the current enquiry into the widening of gas fracking in Australia, despite much evidence that the process is faulty on ecological grounds as well as a transgression of privacy for people upon whose property this sort of prospecting or production is allowed.
    If the process is faulty,why would the government be willing to overlook possible flaws that might be identified in an inquiry? Wouldn’t it be better if flaws were indentified, before the process is ramped up?
    Secondly, the government’s peculiar reaction to the Ombudsman when he was forced to seek help in finding out information he was entitled to seek, but curiously withheld by governemt departments, re the health and conditions of asylum seekers under the current detention regime.

    Like

    • Jennifer Wilson November 6, 2011 at 6:43 am #

      The government’s behaviours whenever anyone tries to bring anything about asylum seekers and detention centres into daylight are like the behaviours of a fascist state. Now they’ve introduced the most draconian rules about journos in the centre. It’s the action of a state that most desperately needs to hide it’s darkness.

      Like

  7. Marilyn November 6, 2011 at 2:21 pm #

    It’s not just the ABC though, David Marr and Michael Gordon both told me that the international law was only my interpretation.

    But this is the protocol, where is it ambiguous.

    Indonesia ratified this protocol but not the refugee protocol but it would be illegal for Indonesia to use this protocol to jail anyone who gives refugees a ride.

    IV. Final provisions
    Article 19
    Saving clause
    1. Nothing in this Protocol shall affect the other rights,
    obligations and responsibilities of States and individuals under international
    law, including international humanitarian law and international human
    rights law and, in particular, where applicable, the 1951 Convention and the
    1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees and the principle of nonrefoulement
    as contained therein.
    2. The measures set forth in this Protocol shall be interpreted and
    applied in a way that is not discriminatory to persons on the ground that
    they are the object of conduct set forth in article 6 of this Protocol. The
    interpretation and application of those measures shall be consistent with
    internationally recognized principles of non-discrimination.
    UNHCR Summary Position on the Protocol Against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime
    1.      UNHCR has followed with interest the recent adoption of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, including the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air (“Protocol against Smuggling”) and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (“Protocol against Trafficking”). The Office is pleased to be present at the High-Level Political Signing Conference held in Palermo, Sicily, from 12 to 15 December 2000.
    2.      UNHCR shares the concerns raised by many States that criminal and organized smuggling of migrants, on a large scale, may lead to the misuse of national asylum or immigration procedures. However, given an increasing number of obstacles to access safety, asylum-seekers are often compelled to resort to smugglers. UNHCR is also aware of cases of trafficked persons, particularly women and children, who may, under exceptional circumstances, be in need of international protection. The Office therefore participated in the preparatory work of the Ad Hoc Committee in Vienna, supporting its efforts  to elaborate international instruments which would enable governments to combat smuggling and trafficking of persons, whilst upholding their international protection responsibilities towards refugees.
    3.      The Protocol against Smuggling, for instance, contains a number of provisions which may impact on smuggled asylum-seekers. The authorization to intercept vessels on the high seas, the obligation to strengthen border controls and to adopt sanctions for commercial carriers, or the commitment to accept the return of smuggled migrants may indeed affect those who seek international protection. A number of comparable provisions of the Protocol against Trafficking may have a similar effect.
    4.      During the sessions of the Ad-Hoc Committee, UNHCR therefore emphasized the need to reconcile measures to combat the smuggling of migrants and the trafficking of persons with existing obligations under international refugee law. The Office welcomes the adoption of a saving clause in both Protocols, designed to safeguard the rights of asylum-seekers and refugees under the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, in particular in relation to the principle of non-refoulement.
    5.      In addition, UNHCR appreciates the adoption of provisions for the protection of smuggled migrants, such as the obligation of States Parties to take appropriate measures to afford smuggled migrants protection against violence and to take into account the special needs of women and children. The Protocol against Smuggling is also clear in that it does not aim at punishing persons for the mere fact of having been smuggled or at penalizing organizations which assist such persons for purely humanitarian reasons. Indonesian fishermen do not deserve to be charged or jailed.
    6.      In conclusion, UNHCR hopes that States Parties will respect the international legal framework set out by both Protocols through the adoption of  similar safeguards in all bilateral or regional agreements or operational arrangements implementing or enhancing the provisions of these Protocols.

    Indonesia ratified this protocol but not the refugee protocol but it would be illegal for Indonesia to use this protocol to jail anyone who gives refugees a ride.

    IV. Final provisions
    Article 19
    Saving clause
    1. Nothing in this Protocol shall affect the other rights,
    obligations and responsibilities of States and individuals under international
    law, including international humanitarian law and international human
    rights law and, in particular, where applicable, the 1951 Convention and the
    1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees and the principle of nonrefoulement
    as contained therein.
    2. The measures set forth in this Protocol shall be interpreted and
    applied in a way that is not discriminatory to persons on the ground that
    they are the object of conduct set forth in article 6 of this Protocol. The
    interpretation and application of those measures shall be consistent with
    internationally recognized principles of non-discrimination.
    UNHCR Summary Position on the Protocol Against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime
    1.      UNHCR has followed with interest the recent adoption of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, including the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air (“Protocol against Smuggling”) and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (“Protocol against Trafficking”). The Office is pleased to be present at the High-Level Political Signing Conference held in Palermo, Sicily, from 12 to 15 December 2000.
    2.      UNHCR shares the concerns raised by many States that criminal and organized smuggling of migrants, on a large scale, may lead to the misuse of national asylum or immigration procedures. However, given an increasing number of obstacles to access safety, asylum-seekers are often compelled to resort to smugglers. UNHCR is also aware of cases of trafficked persons, particularly women and children, who may, under exceptional circumstances, be in need of international protection. The Office therefore participated in the preparatory work of the Ad Hoc Committee in Vienna, supporting its efforts  to elaborate international instruments which would enable governments to combat smuggling and trafficking of persons, whilst upholding their international protection responsibilities towards refugees.
    3.      The Protocol against Smuggling, for instance, contains a number of provisions which may impact on smuggled asylum-seekers. The authorization to intercept vessels on the high seas, the obligation to strengthen border controls and to adopt sanctions for commercial carriers, or the commitment to accept the return of smuggled migrants may indeed affect those who seek international protection. A number of comparable provisions of the Protocol against Trafficking may have a similar effect.
    4.      During the sessions of the Ad-Hoc Committee, UNHCR therefore emphasized the need to reconcile measures to combat the smuggling of migrants and the trafficking of persons with existing obligations under international refugee law. The Office welcomes the adoption of a saving clause in both Protocols, designed to safeguard the rights of asylum-seekers and refugees under the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, in particular in relation to the principle of non-refoulement.
    5.      In addition, UNHCR appreciates the adoption of provisions for the protection of smuggled migrants, such as the obligation of States Parties to take appropriate measures to afford smuggled migrants protection against violence and to take into account the special needs of women and children. The Protocol against Smuggling is also clear in that it does not aim at punishing persons for the mere fact of having been smuggled or at penalizing organizations which assist such persons for purely humanitarian reasons. Indonesian fishermen do not deserve to be charged or jailed.
    6.      In conclusion, UNHCR hopes that States Parties will respect the international legal framework set out by both Protocols through the adoption of  similar safeguards in all bilateral or regional agreements or operational arrangements implementing or enhancing the provisions of these Protocols.

    Like

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