Tag Archives: Australian Labor Party

Conroy and the perils of unfettered legal power

29 Sep


I was distracted from my current pre-occupations yesterday by Minister for Communications Stephen Conroy’s comment that he has “unfettered legal power” in his portfolio, and that if he told telcos to wear red underpants on their heads at spectrum auctions they’d have to do it.

There is a very good reason why no single individual in government should have “unfettered legal power” over anything: absolute power corrupts absolutely. When one has unfettered power there is no longer any need to engage and consult with others, one can simply, as Conroy’s boast exemplifies, force one’s will on everybody else. It is the antithesis of democracy and democratic process. That a Labor politician should hold this belief about himself and feel confident enough to trumpet it for the world press whilst in the US, makes me wonder yet again what the hell the ALP is about these days.

The following is a quote from a piece by Dr Robert Aziz in his Huffington Post blog on the subject of power and corruption:

So why does power corrupt? It corrupts because it gives license to unconsciousness and neglect. It corrupts because it licenses individuals to unilaterally, unreflectively and thus arbitrarily impose their will on others. It licenses individuals to impose their will without having properly engaged and processed through the Reality at hand. Power inflates the ego and through it the ego is erroneously led to believe it has the power to make people, ideas and even Reality itself disappear without due process. In the big picture nothing is further from the truth. Power corrupts because it gives license to unconsciousness, and in so doing it not only destroys the growth opportunity of the victim of such imposition, but no less the growth opportunity of the victimizer. Failure to engage another in consciousness, not only does the other individual harm, but it no less does serious harm to oneself, for in both cases the precious opportunity to extend consciousness by way of self-organizing nature is altogether lost, corrupted.

While I don’t take Conroy’s example of forcing others to wear red underpants on their heads literally (though who knows with this man?) his delight in his own raw power is revealed in his unpleasant desire to humiliate and demean others by forcing them to make themselves look ridiculous, just because he can. What does this say about Stephen Conroy?

To me it says we are likely dealing with a little man, one who lacks the wisdom and intelligence to hold high office, one who has already been seduced by the power bestowed on him by his portfolio, and one who will not hesitate to exercise that power for his own psychological benefit without any awareness at all of what he is doing. It sounds as if Stephen Conroy has lost sight of his purpose and instead has come to believe the unfettered exercise of power is his right and his priority. These are dangerous beliefs for anyone to hold, particularly if they are in charge of communications.

Conroy’s ongoing mission to control the internet takes on new dimensions after his latest megalomanic claims. He wants unfettered legal powers over the world-wide web as well. These ambitions are infantile, as is the example of red underpants as an exercise of power over others.

Conroy was out to crassly impress his audience, not with what he has or might achieve in his position, but with the raw power he believes he has. Power in itself means nothing. It’s how it’s exercised that is the measure of the man.


Leadership chatter. Assange’s passport. Blonde girls in short shorts

24 Jul

There is no way chatter about ALP leadership is going to stop before the next election, the next leadership change, a decision by the party to close ranks and stop white-anting, or a blackout by the media on the topic.  The latter is the most unlikely option, so we might as well resign ourselves to endless speculation, and learn to stick our fingers in our ears.

I’ve now arrived at what I like to call the “shit or get off the pot” point. It’s that place in the mind you reach when you’ve had a gut full of listening to the same narrative over and over and over again. Usually I’m hounded to this place of ultimatum by people who are deeply dissatisfied with their intimate relationships and feel they have to tell me about it because I’m a good listener. Over a period of years they reiterate their complaints against their partners with a monotony that makes me feel like pulling out my fingernails with pliers, on the theory that the resultant physical pain will  distract me from the mental anguish I’m enduring by having to listen.

It’s a human failing, that we can be so afraid of change we choose instead to remain in a state of miserable grievance. Indeed, the very act of complaint becomes a raison d’être. The  whine: “Oh, if I could only be happy” replaces any possibility of actually finding happiness because one has, without even thinking about it, chosen whining as a way of life rather than risking satisfaction.

There is of course the opposite situation in which there seems to be a destructive addiction to superficial change while the underlying matters remain un-addressed.

As with all things, it is necessary to find the middle road, grasshopper.

But I digress. I don’t care who will lead the ALP to the next election. Being an ALP leader is a poisoned chalice. Anyone mad enough to take it on has my sympathy, but only in the abstract. The present leader, Julia Gillard, is drinking deep of the tainted wine and nothing good will come of it for her, just as nothing good eventuated for her toppled predecessor, Kevin Rudd. What this says to me is that the problems are not entirely to do with party leaders, and that continuing to change the leader will do nothing to resolve the problems.

I know there are good people in the ALP who deliver results for their electorates. My own federal member, Janelle Saffin, is one of them. It does seem that in politics the good people are either not interested in taking prominent roles or are not considered prominent role material by the back room boys and girls who determine these matters. The criteria the back room crowd use to arrive at their choices is puzzling. I strongly suspect those moral and ethical qualities we don’t talk about anymore, lest acknowledging our loss breaks our hearts, do not rate highly in their list of necessary leadership qualities.

Of course one could also argue that on becoming leader a good person may well undergo a transformation, goodness and leadership seemingly anathemas in today’s political world. According to ALP legend Kevin Rudd, who seemed decent enough, became the antichrist when they won government.  I liked Julia Gillard as deputy PM. Enough said about both.

One of the more disturbing aspects of the unsettling Julian Assange story as aired on Four Corners last night, was the effort by then Attorney-General Robert McClelland, presumably supported by the PM, to rescind Assange’s Australian passport at the time of the Wikileaks cable dump. Footage of PM Gillard declaring Assange’s actions to be “illegal” without any evidence at all for that declaration, also gave pause for thought.

The US, of course, was the nation-state most grievously affected by the dump. Our government’s rush to condemn one of its own citizens looks sadly like a an ill-considered attempt to show what good and loyal friends we are to the US, by cutting Assange loose without bothering to establish his innocence or guilt. This is an example of what I mean about the incommensurability of goodness and power.

I would hate to think I live in a country where anyone’s passport can be taken away from them because the government says so, without any investigation and without any evidence that the accused has done anything to justify such drastic action.

Assange has committed no offence against his own country. It is yet to be determined whether or not he has committed any offences in any country. Yet our PM declared him guilty of illegal activities, and decided he should be relieved of his passport. This is very scary stuff, and we should not take it lightly. According to Four Corners, plans to relieve Assange of his most important document were abandoned when it was pointed out that leaving him in possession of his passport would make tracking his whereabouts that much easier.

And people wonder why Assange is worried for his future?

I was baffled during the programme, by the blurred and recurring shots of a young blonde woman in short shorts walking away from the viewer along a train station platform. This young woman seemed to bear no resemblance in dress or manner to the two women who have accused Assange of sexual misconduct. She did seem to signify sexual availability, and presumably the long blonde hair referenced her Scandinavian origins. I have no idea why this image was necessary, except to imply a certain stereotyped lasciviousness in young Swedish women which might by association be extrapolated to the complainants. Hmmm. Tacky, anyone?

And just who wears short shorts?

The King’s Tribune, The PM gives the msm the finger, and things you might like to read.

2 Mar

I don’t know if you’re familiar with The King’s Tribune, a monthly journal on politics, media and culture. It’s available in hard copy and online, and it’s the only journal our household reads cover to cover.

And this month I’m proud to be a contributor:


Journalist Jill Singer wrote a piece for the Herald Sun about the legal threats made against me by Melinda Tankard Reist a couple of months ago. I was enormously cheered by her perspective and it’s with some amazement that I hear she’s being replaced at the Herald Sun. Can it be true that her replacement is Lara Bingle?

As regulars know, I’m no great fan of Julia Gillard’s but driving home from my water ballet class this morning I laughed out loud when heard how she’s turned the tables on some prominent msm journalists with her announcement of Bob Carr as Foreign Minister. This follows a couple of days of unrelenting media criticism on the topic, from some who may now like to eat their words. Not that they will.

Even to my jaundiced eye, a “fairly unrelenting anti Gillard campaign” seems a realistic assessment of the last few months’ coverage by some journos, whose lack of objectivity remains inexplicable.

After the leadership question was settled the other day I firmly resolved to accept Ms Gillard, and focus all my critical faculties on Tony Abbott and his gang of thugs from now until the election. This is because I would rather have needles in my eyes than do anything that might assist those agents of Satan into government.

So please, PM, stay on track, continue to give the bastards hell in question time, and don’t do anything silly. I’m not in your electorate so I won’t be voting for you, but as I’m rather fond of my local federal member who works very hard for us, I can safely say the ALP has my vote, barring any unforseen and disagreeable event that might cause me to protest at the ballot box.

At Hoyden about town, there’s this piece on free speech that is worth reading.

At Liberty Victoria there’s the piece that sparked a Twitter exchange between myself, Sandi Logan and others, where Mr Logan displayed his mastery of Orwellian doublespeak, of which more later.

If you are interested in what’s happening in the US in the battle for the right to control what women do with our bodies, this piece from Salon is a must read.

And this little piece brought joy to my heart when I read it. As you might know, Optus took legal action in an effort to silence AFL boss Andrew Demetriou who’d accused them of stealing content and other nefarious practices. It was his personal opinion, the judge decided, and refused an injunction. At least we live in a country where we can still express personal opinions without being legally gagged. Hoo haa!

A tale told by idiots

26 Feb

And so we enter the next stage of the Gillard/Rudd cage fight.

It’s nasty. It’s dirty. And despite Attorney-General Nicola Roxon’s political speak, Monday’s leadership challenge will not be the end of it, no matter which contestant triumphs. In a valiant effort to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted, Roxon is now calling for everyone to get behind whoever wins. Yes. I can see that happening. They’ve all demonstrated their capacity to focus on the big picture, haven’t they?

We are witnessing a clash of egos. It’s likely that anyone who seeks to lead a government is going to need exceptional self-belief and both Gillard and Rudd have demonstrated they’ve got it in spades. Remember Gillard announcing Rudd’s ousting with the revelation that the government had lost its way and she was the messiah who was going to get it and the country back on track?

Then this week we have Rudd telling us that only he can save us from an Abbott-led coalition government, to which Roxon responded that we ought to stop being fanciful about messianic rescuers. Of course she didn’t add, only if they were Rudd.

Neither of the contestants is messianic. They’re both more than a little shabby, and tainted by circumstances of their own making. If anyone is depending on either of them to save the country from Tony Abbott, they’re going to be very disappointed.

There’s a monumental battle going on to claim the high moral ground, when it ought to be about good governance. The level of vitriol directed at Rudd by Wayne Swan, Simon Crean and others is alarming: suppose Rudd does win tomorrow, or at  later date, how are they going to work with him? Have they all forgotten why they were elected? Man up, people. Stop whining about the demon Rudd and get on with your jobs. The world is full of people who don’t get on with their bosses. Most of them have to just suck it up.

This can’t be the first government to endure serious tensions, but they usually don’t get into this disgraceful self-eviscerating state about them.

As if that isn’t enough, the populace by far prefers Rudd to both Gillard and Abbott. It’s a reckless politician that denies the popular will, especially with this history behind it.

The overthrow of Rudd was bound to end in tears. What a pity those who dreamed up that scheme lacked the foresight to predict it’s inevitably long-lasting and complex repercussions. There seems to be an alarming disconnect between the government and the people, one that began when Rudd was ousted without much explanation. It’s a bit late now to wash that dirty linen, and it also looks rather after the fact.

Gillard may well be more capable of facilitating the daily business of governing the country than Rudd proved to be. Rudd may well be streets ahead in popularity, and perhaps this does indicate he stands a better chance against Abbott in 2013. That depends on what he does between now and then, should he win tomorrow. If his return to the leadership causes widespread revolt and ministerial resignations that’s only going to play into Abbott’s hands. This doesn’t augur well for Roxon’s preferred solution, and as she has already stated that if Rudd offered her a portfolio she wouldn’t accept it, one has to wonder just what she’s on about. While Rudd may be difficult, some of the others don’t sound so straightforward either. They also sound a long way from making the best of it and getting behind whoever wins.

This morning Education Minister Peter Garrett announced he wouldn’t work in a Rudd government. Who do these people think they are? Elected representatives, that’s who they are, and they aren’t elected to refuse portfolios.

If Gillard is returned, she and her camp can be accused of yet again ignoring the will of the people, who’ve demonstrated in the polls they want Rudd back, and more, didn’t want him thrown out in the first place. Somehow, Gillard will have to turn around those who are resentful, feel cheated, and don’t want her as leader when it comes time to fight the next election. One can imagine how Abbott will use this “denial of the will of the people” narrative against the ALP.

The only winner of tomorrow’s contest is likely to be Abbott, I fear. Serves the ALP right, I also fear. But pity the poor punters. We’re the victims in this farce. Not Rudd. Not Gillard. Not any of those precious pollies who just couldn’t find a way to work with their boss. They should have tried harder, shouldn’t they? Because they are probably going to pay the ultimate price for ousting him when they become the opposition in 2013.

This is truly a tale told by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Why KRudd MP better not attempt a come back

12 Dec

I don’t believe KRudd MP is going to make a play for the leadership in the first half of next year, and so convinced am I of my rightness that I’ve bet all my Christmas presents on Twitter.

Think about it. He doesn’t have enough support and never has had even when he was PM, otherwise he wouldn’t have found himself lying in the gutter looking at the stars with his left testicle by his side, cruelly severed without benefit of anaesthetic by several faceless men and a faced woman all wielding long knives.

While it would be sweet revenge for KRudd MP to re-assume party leadership and his abruptly terminated Prime Ministership, consigning his mortal enemies to the dustbin of the vanquished in the process, that kind of stuff doesn’t happen in real life. It’s the stuff of Jacobean revenge plays and Shakespearean drama. Admittedly so was the original coup, but they can’t pull it off twice in four years, especially since it was only ever accidentally in those high cultural realms in the first place.

So I’m calling bollocks on the MSM’s fevered speculation about a Rudd/Gillard rift as the precursor to a leadership challenge in the new year. Of course there’s a bloody rift. They’re never going to be best friends, and they never were in the first place. They don’t have to be. Are we to believe everyone in the government gets along?

But what did interest me on Twitter this morning were the tweets about finishing the job on Kev’s nuts if he so much as causes a destabilising rumour. That I find bizarre. IMO the federal ALP destabilised itself when it threw him out, and they’ve been paying for it ever since. The PM has contributed to the destabilising process with a variety of peculiar, unthought through and ultimately highly mockable “decisions” which I won’t detail here because it’s holiday time and everybody knows anyway.

So it seems a bit rough to turn round and blame the victim, but that is what bullies usually do. No matter what you think of Kevin, he did get rumbled, and it’s pretty normal after being rumbled for a human being to indulge in fantasies of revenge. Of course, thoughts and actions are very different things, but I’m betting that KRudd MP is not daft enough to launch into a leadership tilt that will most likely see him right back in the gutter again, sans both testicles this time, and sans his much-loved job as Foreign Minister. I mean, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

However, sense and politics are not always or even sometimes bedfellows, I grant that.

I don’t want KRudd MP as PM again. That ship has sailed. There may well be a leadership change next year, but it better not be back to Rudd because that will turn the government into a total laughing-stock, and they really cannot afford that.

The MSM is whipping up trouble, as is its wont. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that they’re all rooting for the Noalition. In the media what isn’t said is as influential as what is, and I’m flabbergasted that the MSM has maintained a studied silence on the Coalition costings black hole scandal. Well, it isn’t a scandal, actually, and it should be. These people are attempting to sell themselves as an alternative government and they are to all intents and purposes a bunch of financially incompetent drongos. Yet is the MSM ridiculing them? Is it hell.

Given that the Gillard government has, in spite of everything, achieved a great deal since taking office, why in the name of all that is reasonable would anyone want to replace them with a gang of ageing shrivelled charlatans led by a deeply conflicted homophobic misogynist? Why, I ask you. Why, why, why?

I have never really recovered from the shock of WHAT THEY DID WHEN THEY TOOK OUT MY PM WITHOUT TELLING ME. But it’s time to let old hurts and resentments go. IT WAS SOOOO DASTARDLY. But that was then. This is now. IT WAS SOOOO UNSPEAKABLE. But we have to work together to make the very best of what we’ve got. AND NO MATTER HOW PISSED I AM AT YOU COWARDLY BASTARDS FOR WHAT YOU DID, you are still by far the better option.

So, please, everyone in government, do your very best to stabilise yourselves. Look at the big picture, consider the greater good, and those of you who want revenge, dig deep into your inner stores of goodness and find it in yourselves to forgo that desire in the interests of this nation, and of our future. I’m begging you. On my knees. Please do not make us have this:

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.

The Rudd affair: there’s a lesson in this for everyone

12 Sep

Today’s Neilsen poll in the Sydney Morning Herald shows that Labor would win an election now if they sacked Julia Gillard as their leader and brought back Kevin Rudd. 44 percent of those polled prefer Rudd, while only 19 per cent support Gillard.

Seven out of ten Australians are unhappy with the manner in which Gillard achieved leadership, and there’s a widespread perception that Rudd was our “elected” and therefore legitimate PM, overthrown without public consultation and replaced by a leader who has never been popularly accepted as legitimate.

There’s a lesson in this for political parties in government. No matter how difficult your leader, if it’s his first term and if the public are unaware of or unbothered by his annoying managerial practices it is most unwise to unseat him overnight without first informing the voters that you have a problem with him, and testing the waters for indicators of possible reactions to change.

While in reality we all know we don’t elect our PMs, and that our political parties are entitled to change leaders whenever they feel they need to, the Rudd experience ought to have demonstrated to every politician that reality means little in the face of outraged public feeling. The public’s narrative is that faceless men took our PM before he’d even got through his first term, for no good reason, and replaced him with someone we didn’t choose. That someone would have had to be superlative in every way to be accepted by a disgruntled electorate, many of whom felt themselves to be disenfranchised by Rudd’s sacking.

It is never a good idea to create among the voters a sense of their being out of control of their fate. No amount of academic discussion about the Westminster system was ever going to address the emotional indignation many voters felt and continue to feel about having their “chosen” PM axed, without so much as a focus group first. While the move adhered to the black letter of the Westminster system, in terms of voter consciousness that clearly counts for almost naught.

What the ALP apparently forgot is that they are not a law unto themselves when in government. Sacking a leader of the opposition is a very different matter from sacking a PM. There’s a widespread public feeling that we have a far higher stake in the matter when the party is in government. While strictly speaking this isn’t the case, emotionally and psychologically it is. Australians apparently live in a state of cognitive dissonance in which on a rational level we know political parties are responsible for choosing their leaders, but emotionally voters feel and behave as if we are electing a president. While the reality is that only the PM’s electorate has any influence, reality isn’t the determinant. The fantasy that we choose our leader is far more powerful.

This fantasy was fed by the ALP’s campaign against John Howard and the Coalition. It was a presidential style campaign, with Rudd at its heart. They chose to run a campaign built on the presidential fantasy. They used Rudd to win government, and then they kicked the voters in the guts by chucking him out and claiming their right to do that under our Westminster system. They had it both ways. The public quite rightly felt duped and betrayed when we woke up to find Kevin 07 replaced by Gillard. We hadn’t signed up for Gillard. We’d signed up for Kevin 07 and no amount of telling us we don’t elect our PM was going to soothe our indignation and our sense of having been exploited by among others, a sizeable contingent of the unelected.

Gillard’s on-going refusal to reveal the circumstances surrounding her ascension only serves to stoke the public’s outrage at being treated like mushrooms by the PM and her party. If you take down a PM it’s everybody’s business. You aren’t just replacing a party leader, you’re replacing the country’s leader, especially if you’ve got there in the first place on the strength of that leader’s public appeal.

Rudd’s replacement would have had to be superhuman in every way to get the voters through their angst at losing “their” PM. Gillard didn’t stand a chance. The chalice was poisoned. What is staggering in retrospect is that those behind the coup apparently had no insight into the psychology of the electorate, and no understanding of the difference in the emotional attachment voters feel for a Prime Minister as opposed to an opposition leader. Thwarting voters’ irrational beliefs profoundly soured Gillard’s leadership potential. It’s astounding that nobody apparently took this x factor into account.

The lesson is: deprive people of their fantasies at your peril. As a good therapist knows, you dismantle treasured fantasies with great care, over time and in an atmosphere of mutual engagement. Pull out the rug in one authoritarian fell swoop and you’ll likely be dealing with rage, resentment, and loss of trust for a long time to come.

The Nielsen Poll also revealed that 54 per cent of Australians prefer on-shore processing of asylum seekers as opposed to 25 per cent still arguing for an off-shore solution. The Gillard government is out of step with the public on this issue as well. Regardless of this, the government is likely to attempt to amend the Migration Act to enable non- country specific off-shore processing of asylum claims, at the sole discretion of the Minister for Immigration.


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