Tag Archives: Julia Gillard

Unfinished Business In The ALP

Gillard Wanted To Handball The PM Chair To Combet

I like Greg Combet. He’s the only politician I know of who has admitted to being a fan of Frank Zappa. He’s done now, but while he was around, I had hopes for the man. Perhaps these hopes were misplaced, given that the sort of man who likes Frank Zappa might look at Australian Politics and choose to walk away. I have to respect that as a voter, but it’s still sad. Maybe it got too hard to work in Parliament all week and go home and put on a Frank Zappa record and there is Frank singing “Keep it greasy so it goes down easy“. I’d imagine the cognitive dissonance might become unbearable. And so it is that he left Parliament at the end of his term at the 2013 election.

The news today – more like a non-news really – is that Julia Gillard offered to hand him the Prime Minster’s chair, just to fend off Kevin Rudd. This is pretty bleak material.

An embattled Julia Gillard secretly offered to stand down as Prime Minister in June 2013 and secure the leadership for then Climate Change and Industry minister Greg Combet in order to fend off Kevin Rudd, Mr Combet has revealed.

But dogged by months of ill-health, and unsure that a switch to a third leadership contender so close to an election would improve Labor’s position, Mr Combet declined the chance to be prime minister.

‘‘I was struggling a good deal personally by the time June [2013] came around’’ Mr Combet told Fairfax Media in an interview this week. ‘‘I was in constant pain with the problems that I was having, and the thought of taking on additional responsibility and not being 100 per cent fit to do it, in that febrile environment, it didn’t look easy.’’

This ALP factional infighting is pretty awful stuff. It partly goes with the terrain of the Westminster system, and over the years we’ve been made to be inured to its odd outcomes. The ins and outs of these machinations are way beyond the purview of the electorate, and are subject to influences from such things as the Unions and lobby groups. It’s just difficult to understand how they could have cocked up so many decisions along the way.

He says he remains convinced that former Opposition Leader Kim Beazley would have won the 2007 federal election and become a highly successful Labor Prime Minister if Mr Rudd had not dislodged him.

ACTU polling as part of the Your Rights At Work Campaign in the run up to the 2007 election left him ‘‘completely convinced Beazley would have won’’, which would have resulted in a ‘‘vastly more experienced, mature person as Prime Minister presiding over, for want of a better description, a really grown up government, avoiding all the mistakes’’.

‘‘Neither Julia nor Kevin had had a lot of experience in leadership roles and I think that impacted on their capacity to do the job’’ Mr Combet told Fairfax Media.

So at least we were right all along in 2007, that the Rudd-Gillard leadership was a balls-up waiting to happen. It’s a shame I can’t point to neither Kevin Rudd nor Julia Gillard as the same kinds of leaders as Paul Keating, Bob Hawke and Gough Whitlam before them. The tumultuous six years in government exposed all the problems of the ALP that went unsolved since Keating lost in 1996. The problem is compounded by the fact that neither Kim Beazley nor Simon Crean were able to restructure the party in the way it needed to be restructured, and Mark Latham’s turn was certainly hobbled by the same influences that replaced Beazley twice, that put in Rudd, removed Rudd, removed Gillard and essentially burnt the metaphorical house down.

Oh, and Ms. Gillard, I will never forget the slight you made when you said you were not a social democrat.

Here’s Mark Latham being particularly frank about it.

Faulkner’s reform plan, to be put to State Conference this weekend, is to allow ALP branch members to select the party’s upper house tickets. Having given rank-and-file members a say in the selection of Labor’s federal and state leaders, why shouldn’t they be empowered to preselect upper house candidates? Why doesn’t Clements trust the True Believers who staff the polling booths, who keep their local branches alive, who fight so passionately for the cause of Labor?

Far from restricting rank-and-file union involvement, democratisation encourages it. It says to union members: don’t allow union secretaries doubling up as factional bosses to make all the big decisions. Join your local ALP branch and have a direct say in how the party is run: in picking federal and state leaders, in selecting Labor’s lower and upper house candidates.

This is what Faulkner is trying to achieve: Labor as a membership-based party, rather than a narrow factional-based clique.

Mark Latham’s been made out to be a crazy person by the media which must be galling because he commentates in the media; and once upon a decade ago, he was the guy trying to put together a way back to office, when the party machine had run through both Beazley and Crean and found them wanting. It’s hard to forget those terrible years either, together with the terrible campaign and defeat that followed. And all that time, the likes of Mark Arbib and Paul Howes were fucking shit up from behind the scenes.

It’s really hard to forgive the ALP. Especially if you don’t want to vote for the right.

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Politics As Quackery

Moneyball This, Mr. Beane

Politics in Australia is detestable. It’s pretty detestable in many parts of the world so even wasting one’s breath about it is nauseating, but the problem with politics is that it is the problem that won’t go away. The rise of the political class makes you wonder if we’re even going about it the right way. After all, if the point of politics is a career, much like a profession like Medicine or Law, then it’s already anti-democratic. It means not anybody can run for office and get in. Of course we find the system is rigged so most anybody can’t gate crash the important discussions that set policy.

It takes years and years of toiling in the system and inching one’s way up the greasy pole. That’s how all of them get there, and woe betide the blowfly who does manage to stumble into the room.

The reason I mention this is because Ricky Muir – he of the roo poo throwing – gets a really bad press. There’s no way Ricky Muir is going to get good press because just as Pauline Hanson before him, he is an unpolished media performer with nary an education worth squat. His opinions (and yes he’s entitled to have them even in office) are ill-informed and ill-formed by most standards. But the problem is, what exactly are these standards? They’re standards created by the expectation of media performance. The media would say it’s the standard we as the people demand, but on some level I’m very sceptical about this. For the most part,  I would be interested in Mr.Muir’s opinions should he care to express them coherently.

What makes it worse is that our basis for comparison is the long list of politicians we see every day. On ay given week during rating season we’re shown the idiotic media spin competition that is ‘Q&A’ where political hacks take a swing at gently lobbed questions from a neutered audience. We make bad infotainment out of these things and we think proper discussion has taken place. The fact of the matter is months upon months of episodes of ‘Q&A’ failed uncover what exactly the Coalition had in mind when it came to power, prior to the election. This would suggest we should really disabuse ourselves of this idiotic notion that the media is here to contribute to our democracy when in fact we can point at season upon season of ‘Q&A’ as vivid proof it does no such thing.

Truth of the matter is, we don’t have any way of assessing how ‘good’/effective these politicians are at doing their jobs. We have no basis for comparison, no tangible way of measuring efficacy, no way of knowing anything. It is like we’re watching actors in an improvised avant garde play with no discernible script or direction – but we think we know what a good performance or a bad performance is on the basis of having watched lots of these performances by other actors. What passes for talent might be no different from things that get actresses cast on the basis of their ‘fuckability’. Hence, Ricky Muir presents us with an unique opportunity to find out just what is the replacement level politician. The day Ricky Muir starts looking polished we’ll know one thing for sure, anybody can be in politics, and what these politicians do is no great shakes at all.

I’m not writing this to defend Mr. Muir – who sounds just stupid enough to vote with Palmer United to repeal the Carbon Tax and the Mining Tax, but to point out just how abstracted our expectations have become for politicians. We’re displeased by the blowfly who got into to parliament because he’s no better than the yobbo down at the shopping mall. But we’re equally displeased with the politicians who give good media performances as they dismantle what is important to us in our democracy. It seems to me that we’d better start getting our priorities straight.

Kevin Rudd was a polished media performer but he turned out to be a chaotic Prime Minister who lost support from his own party within a term. Julia Gillard was nowhere near as good a media performer, and somehow let the single-minded fatuous Tony Abbott beat her about the head with broken promises. We put it down to the ALP not being able to communicate their message, but maybe there was something even deeper wrong with us, the electorate. After all, we voted in Tony Abbott and his  ideologically unhinged Coalition. Clearly there’s something deeply wrong with the way we’re picking our politicians. Otherwise we wouldn’t be beset with the feeling that we’re not being given real choices when we stand in the ballot booth at every election.

Lobbyists Are Frontrunners

Imagine you could listen to the legislation passing before anybody and talk to people passing the legislation before anybody, and could tell them you represent a block of the economy that is x% of the economy and you could wield influence. Then you have ordinary citizen Joe and Josephine Blogs with their one vote and the ability to go visit their MP and have whinge about the $5 fluctuation in some Centrelink payment. realistically speaking, who do you think is going to influence the course of democracy more? Now imagine a whole bunch of these lobbyists traveling in packs and invading Parliament House to pitch their positions. It wouldn’t be long before what they’re asking for passes for policy – because we certainly know that Liberal Party can’t seem to formulate ideas on their own – and ends up hurting the majority to help the few.

The Lobbyists aren’t only corporate lobbies. The ACTU and the trade union movement that funds and backs the ALP is essentially a lobby as well – ad Julia Gillard’s great loyalty to them saw to it that they had special access to the highest elected office in the land. When some of these union bosses turn out to be like the people who ran the Health Services Union (like Craig Thomson), it’s hard to take the line that the Labor Party is somehow here for the greater good. The credibility gap essentially killed Gillard’s tenure as Prime Minister; and by the same token, the closeness of Tony Abbott to his corporate supporters essentially sinks Abbott’s credibility.

Still, it has been going on for many a year and it will go on for many a year more, so we probably should just get used to it, but all the same, one of the most anti-democratic forces in this country are the lobbyists. It’s just amazing to see a government that gleefully gives in to the lobbyists at every turn.


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How Did We Get Here?

Vicariously, Cannes

It’s a weird sort of thing, but I have a project headed for Cannes to look for financing this year. It doesn’t happen every year and it’s been a while since I’ve had a script doing the rounds so it feels strange. The producer-director is an Australian citizen, a fellow graduate from AFTRS but he is a migrant from Lithuania, way back when it was a communist satellite state. He is, however, also a member of the European Film Academy. He’s somebody in Europe, as opposed to a struggling borderline unemployable middle aged person back here in Australia; and this owes no small thanks to the complete retreat of the Australian government from supporting the Australian Film Industry.

We have approached Screen Australia for support but the answer we got was that the project was not going to be Australian content so we had no chance of getting any such support. We pointed out that ‘The Great Gatsby’ was hardly Australian content but received millions in investment from  Screen Australia, all on the back of its creatives being Australian and it being shot in New South Wales. The answer we got was “that was Baz and his team. You’re not Baz.”

In other words, Screen Australia supports only that which is already successful and doesn’t need support. No surprises there. Who wants risks in the film industry? Crazier still, the institutional narrowness of having such a selection ‘criterion’ – while well known and understandable – can be a big filter that weeds out successful projects. It seems to be the negative imprint that matches the tremendously unsuccessful commerce that is the Australian Film Industry. Honestly, on some simple level my producer-director ought to be getting more support than he is, just as other producers I’ve worked with ought to have received more support, from their own government agency.

Frankly, it’s a disgrace.

I’ve been wondering about how things came to this path for him and I. Obviously, I am neither European or the sort of screenwriter that aspires to the kinds of art house fare that is being planned with this project, but it still seems to me quite absurd that people properly credentialed as  Australian film makers should have to go look for funding overseas. I will point out that this is the third project in my life that the principal money would have to come from overseas before an Australian bodies would look to support it.

This is my blog, so I’m just registering my bubbling discontent right here. But really, I ought to be happy that my producer-director has hocked his whole life to get to Cannes on his own to look for funding. No? Instead, all I feel is a desire to kick Screen Australia in he crotch.

I guess if my producer-director does get his film up on the back of his trip to Cannes, that would be a kick in the crotch enough.

AUD At US 90c

As David Byrne famously sang “How did I get here?” Here’s a random bit of information. Fox Studios in Sydney still has 22years left on its 40 year lease. For the last 18years it has been going, the second half has been marred by the high Australian dollar. In other words, the service subsector of the Australian Film Industry that faced America, has been knocked out by the mining boom and the subsequent high Australian Dollar. Screen Australia had to pay Baz Luhrman to shoot in Fox Studios in Sydney. The structure of investment right there is “good money after bad”, without even getting into the quality of the project or the returns. In fact Julia Gillard as Prime Minister put money into ‘The Wolverine’ from her office to secure the shoot in Australia.

The irony might be compounded by the fact that the NSW Government gave 20th Century Fox a very favourable deal in that 40yar lease in the hopes that it would lead to a constant churn of projects at the Fox lot in the middle of Sydney, transforming the service sector and infrastructure. Back then, nobody thought the Australian Dollar would rise to parity or that it would stay over US 90cents for so long. The back of the envelope calculations that made it competitive and viable had the Australian Dollar between US45c and 55c.

It’s easy to see that one of the most well equipped studios in the Southern Hemisphere is actually a bit of a white elephant infrastructure; a bit like an expensive Rolls Royce that only gets taken out on a rare Sunday. The Australian Film Industry’s service subsector servicing Hollywood will not get viable again until the Australian Dollar practically halves in buying power again. There’s really no other solution to the structural problem there.


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News That’s Fit To Punt – 17/Mar/2014

Why So Quiet?

Oh boy. I’ve just spent a week in snot hell and cough purgatory. This series of ‘flus I’ve been hit with one after another has just flayed me and slain me. it sucks to be laid out like this. The number of days one loses to this sort of thing makes one a little more than cranky.

Anyway, I’m slowly on the mend and I am merely in cough purgatory right now.

I Crane, You Crane, We All Crane Our Necks For Ukraine

All that rubber necking and neck-craning is about Ukraine and Crimea this week. It’s a weird story in that none of the participants are attractive and all of them could be accused of having ugly agendas. Underneath all of the rhetorical flourishes is a country that’s basically going backward with neglect and I do have a few things to say about this because like the Baltic states, Ukraine is probably owed something a bit more from the West than mere lip service. I won’t go into the horrible history of collectivisation in Ukraine under Stalin, which preceded the horrors of the German invasion, followed by the USSR sitting on the country like so much exploitative deadweight, and this was followed by the post-Soviet disintegration of what little economy existed in the place. Oh, and let’s not forget Chernobyl which also sits somewhere in that time line. For a nation of 50-odd million folks, it’s hardly had the sort of self-determination that other nations have had. It has arguably had much less than Poland, Czech Republic, and Hungary – and we know how those states fared under the Soviets.

And so this nation is cleft into two. The Ukrainians desperately want to join the West. The ethnic Russians want to stay close to Mother Russia. But the economy of Ukraine is a basket case. It is going to run out of its foreign reserves at some point this year and when it does it’s going to default. So the West would prefer not to have to let Ukraine into its club at the EU, having struggled through the issues of staving off Greece and the rest of the PIIGS defaulting on their bonds. Germany has been particularly conciliatory towards Russia because it buys gas from Russia as well as a fairly obvious desire not to have to bail out an impending financial crisis in Ukraine. After all, why adopt a stray dog with rabies?

Still, from the Ukrainian point of view, you can understand that they want to join the West, join NATO, rid themselves of Russian influence. The youth protesting in Kiev clearly want to join the EU so they can leave Ukraine and go live in Paris or London with an EU passport. And can one really blame them? And you can just hear them asking, why won’t the Americans come rescue us?

Just why won’t the Americans come and rescue them? The truth, is always historic. The Baltic States hoped beyond hope that the West would come rescue them from the yoke of the Soviets and that never happened during the Cold War for obvious nuclear reasons. The eastern marches beyond Poland are really distant places. It’s no place to be sending armies and every field rests upon the legacies of Napoleon and Hitler’s marches deep into Russia. You wouldn’t try it if you’ve war-gamed it, and if you’ve war-gamed it, you’ll know how hard that distance gets. So the Baltic States and Ukraine sit just outside the embrace of Europe, a sort of grey zone that fades from a civilised, cultured Europe into something more blunt, crude and Rus.

Naturally, the Obama Administration has threatened Putin with harsh language (much like Hans Blix in Team America threatens to do) and it’s had about as much effect as you can imagine. The Americans have no stomach for a war, they certainly have no stomach for a nuclear exchange with Russia and so they keep wagging their index finger on the grand stage. A Lithuanian tells me this is appeasement and the best thing Obama can do is to just nuke Crimea.

“Just nuke it!” he said.

“What about Mutually Assured Destruction?” I asked.

“What you don’t understand is that this isn’t the 1960s any more. All those Russian missiles are rusted in their silos. They can’t fly. The Americans can just blow them up and they won’t come back with anything!”

I share this, just so you know how the people from the Grey zone of the Eastern marches feel about all this. It’s very simple. To them, only a nuked Russian is a good Russian.

Obama might look like he’s losing this diplomatic stoush, but that’s the point. There’s no winning on the Eastern Marches against the Russians and at least this way, American casualties are limited. Shame about all those Ukrainians.

4K TV – Not Enough Content, Too Much Detail

Somewhere along the way I forgot to post this, but while we’re on the subject of Russians I thought of this.The gab this week is that 4k TV is too soon and not likely to reward Australian consumers because there’s simply no 4k content around. they would be correct. Nobody is broadcasting 4k (it’s hard enough getting1080p content regularly) and Blu-Ray isn’t coming out on 4k until later this year. You can’t download 4k content for the sheer size of the files and so 4k TV is just not well-endowed right now.

But there are unlikely things about the 4kTV format that’s quite surprising.

I was watching a 4kTV broadcast a little while ago in a shop. It was during Wimbledon and they were showing women’s tennis. Now, I’ve watched a lot of tennis in my lifetime so I can tell you if I’m seeing more or not. On screen at the Sony store, I was watching Maria Sharapova return serve, crouched, racquet at the ready, bouncing around on the balls of her feet, and white panties peeping from under the short skirt, which is the classic pervy shot you get in women’s tennis.

And here’s the thing. 4k TV is so good I could see her dimpled cellulite on the back of her thighs.

And I thought to myself, do I really need this much detail?

One Of Our Submarines

Without a doubt the weirdest sequence of news this week was the disappearance of flight MH370. It went from a straight up, “plane is missing, must have crashed” narrative to a convoluted narrative of mobile phone calls and engine pings to satellites to radar readings, hours after the plane went off view. they still don’t know what happened or where the plane is, and if it crashed somewhere int he South Indian Ocean, it might never be found because the depths there can go down to 7000m.

It’s all a little creepy because all kinds of scenarios have been tossed around including 2 stolen passports and a possible politically motivated hijacking, but the bottom line is that plane has gone missing with a big load of people, and nobody can explain it well.  In the absence of any kind of solid explanation all kinds of theories have flourished and they have been perversely interesting if only because the Malaysian Authorities have looked totally hapless in their search for this plane.

One thing is for sure. From here on in, this story is only going to get weirder and weirder.

Protesting Abbott

The March in March thing came and went and lots of people went and marched against the misgovernment of Tony Abbott. Being sick as a dog I missed it entirely, which is a bit of pattern with me. I think the last time there was a big protest thing against APEC, I was sick in bed and watched the whole thing from the couch. Anyway, I’m actually not a good protester type. I’m liable to do something crazy and who knows where that would land me? So it’s good to watch it far away from where the adrenaline could drive me to lunacy. 🙂

Jokes aside, it seems the placards presented at the marches have offended a number of people saying they’re much worse than ‘Ditch the Witch’ levelled at Julia Gillard. There are several thing that need to be said about that.

1. Not a single Federal ALP member was photographed making speeches next to a sign like this. It’s not so much that the sign said ‘Ditch the Witch’, it’s that Tony Abbott was willing to be photographed with such a sign, lending it credibility with his office of Opposition Leader.

2. It’s hard to take serious the offense taken by people who are looking to take offence. I mean, really. Those complainers are being wowsers, and nobody respects a wowser.

3. Yes, Tony is copping worse insults than than did Julia but that’s because he’s doing worse than Julia – That’s why the sobriquets are worse. Live with it. Tony does.

Ian Roberts, Champion Of Causes

Ian Roberts has been a remarkable man. Having competed at the top level in his sport – a very macho sport at that – he came out as gay. He then turned to acting, and he’s gone to NIDA and pushed ahead bravely with that. This month, he’s basically come out and said he is brain damaged, and that this damage was a result of all the concussions he suffered as a Rugby League player.

Even Matty “Bring-back-the-biff” Johns has recanted his denial of the concussion issue. In the face of the frank, unapologetic moral authority of Ian Roberts’ admission, what else can any sensible man do but put down the gauntlets and arms? It’s a landmark moment in a sport that’s been in denial about concussions for the last three years, if not the last 3 decades. Not only has Roberts forced the sport once to confront gender issues, he has now forced it to confront the occupational hazard of playing Rugby League.

He has to be one of the bravest people around. I am in awe.

China, Defaults, 2014

This week a solar company called Chaori defaulted on its bonds in Shanghai. The remarkable bit might have been that the Chinese government let it happen, because up until now, they’ve defended all these dodgy-bond moments by swooping in and making sure the bonds were paid out. This time, they simply let the company default. Ouch.

Get ready, there are going to be a whole bunch of these. The Chinese Communist Party narrative is that they’re going to let some of these companies default so that it sends a bit of realism back to the investors. If you think such a process can be controlled, then good luck. I think we’re beginning to see where China’s over-reach is going to bring down markets. This could get ugly folks.

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Breaking Bad, The Aussie Way

It’s Only Been Two Months, Phoney Rabid!

I don’t exactly know what you can chalk this up to, but Tony Abbott has managed to drive the delicate Australian diplomatic relationship with Indonesia into a ditch at full throttle. Who gave him the bloody keys? Oh we did. There are a few interesting things about this turn of events.

Tony Abbott essentially came to power believing that his election win validated all of his  tightly-held views. He is interpreting his election win as a massive endorsement of his various policy foibles. Considering he is the least popular Opposition leader to win a Federal election, it might behoove him to consider that he might have the least endorsement by the people as far as election winners go. In deliberately ignoring such nuances to the election result, he has tried turning back to boats to mixed results. he has not managed to buy a single boat (which is probably a good thing given how stupid is the very idea) and went to Jakarta to talk to the Indonesian leadership but ended up getting no sizable deal worthy of calling a deal.

In fact, if anything, the Indonesians have been pretty blunt in expressing their distrust of Tony Abbott, and have repeatedly contradicted Abbott, Julie Bishop and Scott Morrison at various points. The point – so to speak – is that Abbot has failed to score any exchange with the Indonesian government and by extension the Indonesian polity, and has expended what little good will we had with them all for the sake of the asylum seeker issue.

Compounding the issue has been this business of leaked documents by Edward Snowden which essentially fingered Australia as espionage aficionados of the South Pacific, and that our spy agencies had attempted to bug the phone calls of the Indonesian leadership. naturally, this has poured gasoline on to the fire that was already burning and so, Indonesia has resorted to calling its ambassador back. It’s like they’re playing a cheap replica of Cold War politics with us, with Australia as the potential enemy. If both sides  keep talking this way, it may end up being that way. You’d think wiser heads will prevail but unfortunately the outgoing Susilo Yudhoyono Bambang is a lame duck going into the election next year, and wisdom and the current Coalition government are like matter and anti-matter. They just don’t seem to coexist.

The shocking thing about all this is that the negotiations with Indonesia was the first real diplomatic challenge for the incoming Abbott government and not only have they failed to do a good job, they’ve sort of set it alight as a monument to their failure. If the relationship is going to take years to repair, well, we can point at Tony Abbott for decades to come as the idiot who flushed the relationship down the drain. It’s rather ironic given that these guys came in promising to be steady and sure handed.

The Peter Hartcher Post-Mortem

Peter Hartcher is writing his elaborate account of how the ALP blew itself up over 5 episodes. As of this writing, it’s up to episode 4. It’s the same old story with not many new information, but it does offer some tidbits. I’m not sure the union movement comes across as being a positive influence in the events and Paul Howes is definitely answerable for how things turned out the way it did. The bit about Kevin Rudd being like paralysed after climate talks in Copenhagen fell apart is revealing. In fact it says in passing that Mark Arbib wasn’t the same after Copenhagen. When you consider how much our commitment was riding on an agreement at Copenhagen, you ca understand the policy paralysis. There are no good ways to sell an ETS without that agreement in Copenhagen. There was no alternative path, no other option; which explains why Gillard and Swan opted to just postpone it for expediency.

The other revealing thing about the Rudd coup is that Gillard did have ambitions for the top job and essentially jumped the gun. She has been putting out a narrative that she hadn’t made up her mind until that day and it was Bill Shorten and others who conscripted her into the top job – to which I only have the playground retort “as if!” It is very obvious that dating back to 2006 when the two of them deposed Kim Beazley, that the partnership was out of expedience and that deep down she had contempt for Kevin Rudd. Now, that’s fine except that she can’t very well go around telling the world how treacherous Kevin Rudd was when she pretty much did to him what ended up being done to her. The outrage really is a bit rich.

Now that the historic moment has passed and Kevin Rudd too has declared he’s leaving Parliament, I have to confess I’m quite glad it’s over. I did warm to Kevin Rudd in the end but only because his replacement drove me to that appreciation.

The problem of Julia Gillard as Prime Minster was compounded by the fact that she was exactly the kind of person who combats rhetoric with rhetoric and therefore hypocrisy with hypocrisy. Even her much-lauded “Misogyny Speech” comes with the caveat that she said that in response to Tony Abbott questioning Peter Slipper’s character when everybody knew that Slipper was a Liberal at heart as well as the linchpin holding together the slightest of margins for Julia Gillard. Maybe they teach this stuff as a virtue in law school, but the more you look at context, the more the “misogyny speech” loses its power; and it happens because even in her angriest rhetorical flourish, Julia Gillard was the kind of hypocrite who would take Slipper as speaker to shore up her numbers.

And there’s *nothing* wrong with that in my humble opinion, but I just want to be spared this notion that a great injustice was righted by that speech. If you believe that, then you probably believe that a pumpkin patch doll is a radical new form of soft sculpture. It was possibly her biggest nonsequitur moment as Prime Minister.

Which is to say, this was the worst aspect of the Rudd-Gillard ALP government. They were more often than not, people who believed that symbolic gestures changed the world and that the right kind of hypocrisy was better than bad solutions. We can’t complain because they got us through the GFC at its crescendo. At the same time they deserve the political wilderness they cast themselves into as a result of events this year. For all the good they allegedly did, it was a pretty sorry ALP government when compared to the Hawke Keating ALP government. The ghastliness of the Coalition during their time in Opposition merely adds to the misery of this time.

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Generation Change

The ALP’s Gen-X Crew

The Herald was making the point today that the ALP have gone Gen-X with their choice of frontbench. When you think about it, Bill Shorten is 46 going on 47 so that puts him at the older range of Gen-X, and Tanya Plibersek at 44, it’s true that the ALP have indeed gone Gen-X. I have a late Boomer friend who tells me that all this demographic stuff is just a construct not worthy of analysis, except I’ve been writing here under the banner of ‘Gen-X View Of The Universe’ for a good 5 years now. It obviously means something.

What could it mean?

The Generation X politician in Australia would have arrived at Tertiary education after the AUS was disintegrated by the likes of Peter Costello and Tony Abbott in 1983, Interestingly enough, Julia Gillard was the last President of the AUS when it collapsed in 1983. If you anted a model to the fractious politics of the Julia Gillard Prime Mininster-ship, you would have found it in the demise of the Australian Union of Students, with the same cast of late Baby Boomers thrashing and trashing institutions to make their political mark. What’s scary is that they’re still around aplenty in the Liberal and National party ranks, and they probably still don’t think much of indulging in that sort of ratbag behaviour. This explains the histrionic opposition style Tony Abbott chose to work with – because it is the method he used in his youth to destroy the AUS , headed up by Julia Gillard. Worse still, it worked again, so that may be why he’s so convinced he has some kind of mandate.

The demise of the AUS and the years where there was no student lobby until the NUS got up in the late 1980s allowed HECS to be brought in. Unlike the Baby Boomers, most of the Gen-X politician would have had to pay HECS. When they say education and the opportunities it affords are important, they know what they are saying. All these things are intimately entwined.

If there is one thing that I do think is encouraging about the Gen X ALP politicos is that they are of the generation that had to put back together the NUS and have the experience of rebuilding institutions. If the ALP under Rudd-Gillard looked positively fractured, then I think the current group might be able to start from scratch and build a proper agenda that suits the time. As I wrote the other day, I’m feeling fairly optimistic about the Shorten-Plibersek team, much more so than I felt about the Rudd-Gillard team when they first rose to the level of Opposition leader and deputy back in 2006. They’re not perfect human beings and they will make their mistakes. I just don’t think they’re as fractious and crazy as the generation of politicians who were forged in the dying days of the AUS.

Right now, the Coalition are the party of the Baby Boomers much more than Gen-X or Gen-Y by dint of the ageing population and makeup of the Liberal and National Party demographic. The fissure hasn’t been more stark than any other time since Mark Latham as late Baby Boomer was taking on John Howard who was born before the Boomers. That fissure sort of leaves the current ALP firmly in the Gen-X camp with the hope of picking up a big portion of support from Gen-Y.  The question then is whether Gen-X+Gen-Y interest is a big enough voting constituency to overcome the Baby Boomers’ interests in their twilight years.

Demographically speaking, Gen-X is small and shorter than either the Boomers before or the Gen-Y that follows. That being the case the duo may never make it. And if they did, they may be seen off by a Gen-Y politician. Consider the American experience. Bill Clinton was the first Boomer President, who was followed by George W. Bush who was followed by Barack Obama, all of whom are Boomers. All three Presidents won two terms, so the Baby Boomer reign will last 24years. If a Gen-X candidate won 2 terms after Obama, the next election after that will likely see a pair of Gen-Y candidates. It’s entirely possible there will never be a Gen X President of the United States.

Similarly, I don’t see any Gen-Xers knocking on the door in the Coalition ranks. If Abbott is replaced for some reason, it’s possible the leadership reverts to Malcolm Turnbull or goes to Joe Hockey – both of whom are Boomers. The longer the Coalition stay in power, the less chance there will be of a government of Gen-Xers in Australia.

So when you look at it through the demographic filter, that’s what we have with Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek: The one and only shot at Gen-X forming Government in Australia.

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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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