What Julia Gillard DOES stand for

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Tuesday, 28 June 2011 18:46 by Ad astra
Are you as tired as I am of the words: ‘What does Julia Gillard stand for?’ There seems an endless stream of journalists, bloggers, and of course members of the Opposition who repeat this question over and again, until it sounds like a mantra chanted mindlessly. What does it actually mean? Does it mean the same thing to all who utter the words?

Like so many other phrases, such as ‘moral compass’, ‘What does X stand for?’ means different things to different people. To some it means principles, to some it means moral positions, to some it means ‘vision’, to some 'narrative', to others specific policies. And when critics ask the question they usually mean that X doesn’t stand for something they value, or has changed his/her position. Of course there are some who assert that Julia Gillard does not stand for anything at all. That extreme view, apart from being implausible, portrays an intense dislike of her rather that stating a real proposition. Even crooks and rogues stand for something.

Yet we have experienced journalists such as Bernard Keane writing in Crikey about Julia Gillard: “She has given Australians too many conflicting signals about her vision and political persona; in the absence of a clear understanding of just who she is and what she stands for, all voters really know about her is that she knifed Kevin Rudd to get the top job and the government is run by spinmasters and focus groups.” Has Bernard not been listening to her, or are the things she is saying not what he wants to hear, or does he hear different things from what others hear, or is he aligning himself with most other journalists in virtually writing her off as a competent PM lest he be the odd man out? Maybe even he doesn’t know.

So here is what I understand Julia Gillard to stand for. Check how well my views coincide with your own.

Of all her utterances, the one that emerges over and again is that she stands for opportunity - opportunity for all to achieve.

She wants everyone to have the opportunity for the best education that is possible given the individual’s capacity. She has said this countless times, as many times as she has stated her ‘passion’ for education, a portfolio which she relished when Kevin Rudd was PM, and still does. How many times have we seen her delighting in being in a school setting; how many times have we heard her talking with school children urging them to get the best education they can?

She has initiated a raft of benefits for school children and their parents and for students living in regional areas. She has increased funding to schools, universities, and TAFEs, established Trade Training Centres in high schools, has initiated a national school curriculum and national standards via NAPLAN, and the MySchool website, which has been a great success. These are even more educational things she stands for.

She stands for an excellent education for all. No one should doubt that.

Next she stands for enabling everyone capable of work to have the opportunity to have a satisfying job that pays well enough to permit comfortable living. She has repeated this so many times that it has clearly annoyed some. Otherwise why would Keane write: “She elaborated this into an obligation to make the most of educational opportunities, by rising early and working hard, preferably via some form of manual labour — famously contrasting the brickie and the socialite in a speech that could have been condensed into the famous graffiti “Work. Consume. Be Silent”. She has often extolled the dignity of work, and her wish that all would enjoy that dignity, but I don’t recall her extolling manual work over other work. Keane sees it differently and gratuitously offers a slogan that has never escaped her lips.

Moreover, she has repeatedly stated her intent to move as many as she can from welfare dependency to meaningful work. That is something else she stands for. She is distressed by families in which no one has ever worked and wants them to experience the joy of working and achieving. Even with unemployment now below 5%, she wants even more in work. That is what she stands for.

She stands for equitable working conditions for all who are employed. Didn’t she fight tooth and nail for this as Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations in the Rudd Government? Wasn’t she the one most responsible for getting rid of WorkChoices and installing Fair Work Australia? Has she not been an advocate for fair working conditions since her time at Slater and Gordon? Is this not something for which she stands?

PM Gillard stands for a strong economy that provides jobs for all who can work. She stands for a prosperous nation. How could anyone doubt this after all the Rudd/Gillard Governments have done to secure our economy through the GFC and beyond? Australia has come through this crisis better than any other comparable country. Take a look at Peter Martin’s graph at his website

She was part of the core group that steered us through, with an immediate cash stimulus to support retail trade, a much maligned HIP which nevertheless insulated the ceilings of a million homes, a highly successful infrastructure initiative, the BER, which has given schools all over the nation buildings they needed to bring them up to date. That is what she stood for and still does.

Julia Gillard stands for bringing the budget back to surplus by 2012/13, an aim to which she has doggedly stuck despite some economists insisting that this was unnecessary.

She stands for efficiently managing the workforce for the future within the so-called ‘patchwork economy’. Along with others in the core group she has presided over the saving of over 200,000 jobs during the GFC, creating over 300,000 in the last term of government and has plans for a further half a million in the current term. The Rudd/Gillard Governments have created 235,000 new training places, and plans to increase that to 700,000 by 2012. That is what she stands for.

She stands for a skilled immigration program, with plans to enlist over 100,000 to fill gaps in employment, especially in the mining sector.

She also stands for improving social welfare for those who need it – increases to pension payments, a Paid Maternity Leave plan now in place, better superannuation and tax cuts for lower income earners.

She believes in the reality of anthropogenic global warming and stands for action on climate change. She has done so for years. She believes that a market-based trading system that places a price on carbon is the most cost-effective way of doing this, and most economists agree. In response to Tony Abbott’s attack on what he described as a carbon tax, she said before the election that there would be no tax on carbon by a government she led, and I believe she meant it. As it turned out she could not lead a government without the support of the Greens and Independents, and their support necessitated the introduction of a price on carbon as a preliminary to instituting an ETS. She must wish she had used some other form of words such as ‘my strong preference is an ETS, but that means putting a price on carbon pollution’. Her categorical statement, which she contends was not meant to mislead, left her open to being beaten around the head endlessly by Tony Abbott, the Coalition and the media, which repeats that unfortunate statement endlessly. Further it has allowed shock jocks like Alan Jones to coin ‘Ju-liar’, and for Tony Abbott to repeatedly call her a liar and insist that she cannot be trusted. It has allowed him to seriously erode public confidence in her. While she no doubt regrets that response to a reporter’s question, the reporter will have recorded that amongst his/her best gotchas.

But whatever the dynamics, she stands for strong action to counter global warming and always has. Despite poor polls that she agrees are related to the ‘carbon tax’ debate, she is determined to bring one in and the comments of those on the parliamentary group on climate change are sounding as if that will be achieved.

She stands for the introduction of a Minerals Recource Rent Tax to return to the Australian people a fair return for the minerals they own. It may not net as much as the Greens want and will be more that the miners wish to pay, but she stands for an outcome that will be equitable to the stakeholders, and is determined to bring it in.

She stands for infrastructure development, and to that end money has been allocated to ports, railways, highways and renewable energy. and the biggest infrastructure development af all – the NBN, which is progressing well. This is something else she stands for.

PM Gillard stands for reform of the health sector. The two Labor Governments have taken many steps in that direction, and are waiting for some NLP states to come on board. A greater federal contribution to health funding, case-mix funding, and local control of hospital expenditure are features of the new arrangement. Over 1000 new nurse training places have been created and 1300 new places for doctors. Hospital funding has been increased by 50%, and to put more emphasis on primary care, GP Super Clinics have been or are being built where communities want and need them to take pressure off hospital emergency departments. Cancer centres have been built, and money has been allocated to mental health and research. Plain packaging of cigarettes has been introduced and PM Gillard is determined that it will be legislated. These are the health initiatives she stands for.

In asylum seeker policy she stands for, is one of breaking the people smuggler business model by returning those arriving by boat to a regional processing centre and taking instead those who have already been assessed as refugees. The former has been her consistent aim since becoming PM. The concept of such a centre has the endorsement of the ‘Bali Conference’ of regional representatives. It is therefore not just Australia that embraces this idea. Initially East Timor was considered as a regional processing centre but that seemingly fell through because the East Timor Government was apprehensive about housing asylum seekers in conditions superior to that enjoyed by its own citizens. Manus Island was considered but that is in abeyance because of lack of enthusiasm in PNG. Now an arrangement is being negotiated with Malaysia whereby for every one person arriving by boat moved to Malaysia five authenticated refugees would be taken by Australia, with safeguards in place to protect new arrivals and ensure their dignity and safety.

Breaking the business model of people smugglers by way of a regional processing centre is what Julia Gillard stands for. Some disagree vigorously with the concept of sending people offshore for processing and label PM Gillard’s move to do this as inhumane and unprincipled, which of course it appears to be to those with an open-armed approach. On the other hand taking all comers would be just as vigorously criticized by those who do not want asylum seekers here at all. If there was bipartisan agreement to take all asylum seekers who arrive, as was the case during the Fraser years with the Vietnamese boat arrivals, acrimonious partisan debate would be absent and the asylum issue would not be a political one. Julia Gillard knows that such an open-armed approach now would be political suicide and lead to loss of government and a return to the Coalition’s Nauru Island and TPV solution, which resulted in long periods of detention, although most detainees ended up in Australia.

So no matter how strongly some may disagree with her approach, it is consistent with what she has stated for some time, with what she stands for. While initially she may have favoured the ‘softer’ approach of the Rudd Government, the regular boat arrivals which have occurred in recent years, which have been used by the Coalition to beat the Government around the head, she is forced by circumstance to change her approach or suffer the electoral consequences. Some therefore label her as inconsistent, wishy washy, poll driven, unprincipled, uncaring, opportunistic and giving conflicting messages on the asylum seeker issue. Such accusations are based on politicians never changing their minds, not adapting to changing circumstances, which is a silly notion. As the world changes, so must politicians adapt and change.

I have given sufficient examples of what Julia Gillard stands for; there are many, many others. The ALP website documents them. Look at the achievements to date

In my view the strident call for her to show what she stands for is simply claptrap perpetrated by those who dislike her for whatever reason and want to see her gone, or by those who simply don’t think about what they mean when the say “What does Julia Gillard stand for?” It is so easy for those words to flow thoughtlessly off the tongue as did “She has lost her moral compass”. Because she is standing for something others may disagree with does not mean that she is wrong, or unprincipled. What a shame it is that we allow our own personal preferences and feelings to be used as the standard against which others, including our PM ought to be judged. Why do we have to be so uncharitable, so intolerant of others’ views, preferences, principles and vision? Why are so many journalists so certain of the rightness of their position that they condemn out of hand and with pejorative language the things our PM stands for? The old saying ‘Judge not lest you be judged’ seems not to occur to our self-opinionated journalists.

Julia Gillard stands steadfastly for many fine things. She has a strong vision of what this nation can become, and the physical and emotional strength and determination to achieve it. She is not without fault, not without error, but what she presents, far from warranting all the nastiness and vitriol that is heaped upon her by the Coalition and the media every day, and now the public through poor polling, deserves our admiration and support. She stands for making Australian a still greater nation.

What do you think?