Goodbye Julia Gillard

Cognitive Dissonance As A Way Of Life

I never warmed to Julia Gillard as our PM. I felt bad right through the 3years and 3days that she was Prime Minister of Australia. I found myself mourning for Kevin Rudd’s time in office, which is overstating my affection for Kevin Rudd, but all the same I never found anything that comforted me about Julia Gillard being Prime Minister. This is alarming in hindsight given her considerable accomplishments in a difficult, minority government she had to run as a result of a hung Parliament. The thing about these accomplishments is that she had wonderful way of putting a grey cloud on every silver lining. None of the things she accomplished were the full glass of water. There always seemed to be something glaringly wrong with the picture.

Take the ETS and carbon price she is so proud of. Initially, she went to the election promising not to do it. The hung Parliament forced her to negotiate with the Greens, who made her commit to it, even though it went against her election promise. As history has shown this was a crucial point that lost her much support. The resulting ETS sported a fixed price of $25/ton of carbon, which had nothing to do with the market, and taking the rising Australian dollar, ended up being over-priced and counter to the notion of a market.

The Mining Tax renegotiated turned into a tax that hardly raised any money, much to the ridicule of the opposition. In the crucial negotiations, they locked out treasury officials from the room to get a deal, and of course it turned out she and Wayne Swan lost their shirts at the negotiation table.

It’s this kind of self-defeating thing that just kept coming up with all of her government’s achievements. The Gonski reforms might be great, but to fund it, she cut funding to tertiary education. Tertiary education and the pricing of degree remains a huge problem in this country, but no, she just robbed Peter to Pay Paul. The NDIS, which is universally lauded and passed with bipartisan support, is also un-costed. The Fairwork Australia act, for all the trumpeting has contributed greatly to the drag in productivity in Australia. And these are the big things. Then there were the little things, but they really aren’t what I want to be writing about.

The Gillard ALP government doesn’t really have a bad record, but closer scrutiny of these bigger reforms bring you the sense that they got a lot of things done in a half-arsed way under Julia Gillard. And while it might have taken a good deal of negotiation and administration, in the end she piled up as much red ink as black ink. Clearly she was ambitious, purposeful and driven, but also in an awful hurry. She sure didn’t wait long to metaphorically knife Kevin Rudd in the back to get the top job, and this was possibly her worst mistake. As Paul Keating observed at the time, “it was only one bad poll.”  She, along with the faceless men, jumped the gun in ridding themselves of Kevin Rudd at the first opportunity. They were careless because in democracy you cannot kill the king, and the exiled king has now returned. In the worst way possible, Julia Gillard’s own narrative got coloured by this Shakespearean Lady Macbeth sort of narrative. Perhaps this was even unfair, but it was her own doing.

There might have been a Gillard government born in due course when Kevin Rudd’s historic mission had ended. Instead she sort of inserted her 3year narrative into the interrupted narrative of Kevin Rudd’s mission in history. In other ways, Julia Gillard was a very backward looking politician. In the dying days of her office it was abundantly clear she was the champion of the unions, above all else. Her declaration that she is not a social democrat, and not a progressive, but a labor Prime Minister did more to narrow her appeal than expand it. Similarly, her presentation of the gender war, the class warfare and so on cut her own base ever narrower with the ‘us-and-them’ rhetoric. In that sense her 3 years represent a rearguard action for the waning powers of the union movement. She is just as retrogressive as Tony Abbott who is forever chasing the 1950s as a Golden Age.

Compared to the slice-and-dice rhetoric of Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd’s ‘us-and-them’ rhetoric is a lot more inclusive. Just watching him last night made you wonder at all the missed opportunity Julia Gillard had to speak for all ALP supporters, social democrats, progressives and the greens alike – but didn’t. Instead she kept dividing and segmenting the people – women here, disabled there, elderly here, students there; all the while running caveats about how she’s not one thing or another. In hindsight, it’s easy to see the one thing she wasn’t, was somebody who was for all of Australia. The Australia she talked to was very different to the Australia as the electorate understood it.

There is already discussion about how she will be viewed in history as Australia’s first woman prime minister. Indeed, this is the essence of her time in power. She was the first female prime minister of Australia, (which is a good thing) but she was a mightily disliked one (which is bad). The black ink and the red ink, side by side. The hung Parliament, caught in the balance. The deals, the agreements, the less than optimal outcomes. The dislike that was directed at her was at times totally unpalatable sexism and irrational, hateful contempt. Yet, at the heart of that dislike that came back from the electorate had a lot to do with the way she came to power. It wasn’t that she was a woman that was the problem; it was that she had deposed a popular ‘man of the people’ to grab power. All the attempts to deflect the electorate from this understanding failed her, and with it went her office.

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