Here we go again. It doesn’t seem all that long ago that the same question was being asked about Kevin Rudd. It seems this type of question occurs cyclically when the punditry becomes bored with the pace of political activity. But what does the question mean?
There are several journalists who enjoy asking this question, sometimes via a variant: ‘What is Julia Gillard’s (or Kevin Rudd’s, or Labor’s) ‘narrative’? Paul Kelly, who carries the not-to-complimentary nickname ‘Polonius’, is one who has sufficient gravitas to ask this question. Lesser lights from the News Limited stable such as Dennis Shanahan and Matthew Franklin try it on, but to slighter effect, and minions like Glenn Milne seem ridiculous doing so. Those who try though should at least have some idea of what the answer might be, and not just parrot what sounds like a tired political slogan. Lightweight journalists refer to it as ‘the vision thing’, for want of something more descriptive. Some insist on ‘an agenda’ or ‘a plan’. Crikey’s
Bernard Keane asserts that Labor is ‘bereft of direction’ and facing ‘an identity crisis’. No supporting evidence is advanced – we are expected to take what he says for granted.
There’s been previous comment on The Political Sword
on this subject: In Search of the Political Holy Grail
on September 14, 2008, and in The Enigma of Leadership
on August 15, 2010 in which an attempt was made to spell out what Labor appeared to stand for.
I don’t recall anyone persistently demanding an answer to: ‘What is Tony Abbott’s narrative?’ or ‘What is his plan?’ or ‘What does Tony Abbott stand for?’ or ‘What does the Coalition stand for? But of course those in Opposition are excused such impertinent questions – after all they are not the Government. So let’s begin by searching for what the Coalition does stand for, what its narrative is.
All through the election campaign were heard from Tony Abbott little else than his three-word slogans: ‘end the waste’, ‘pay back debt’, ‘stop new taxes’ and ‘stop the boats’. Is this what he and the Coalition stand for; is this its ‘narrative’? The slogans were simple to understand, and no doubt appealed to many voters, by how well did they give them an idea of the alternative government’s vision? How many said ‘I’m voting Coalition because of its stunning vision, its powerful narrative that it will end the waste, pay back debt, stop new taxes and stop the boats’? Perhaps more than we like to think! In fairness to the Coalition, it has affirmed its advocacy of free markets, small government, personal enterprise, small business, self-sufficiency and reward for endeavour, although we heard little of this in its campaigning. So is this its vision, its narrative, what it stands for? I suppose it must be, even though it doesn’t make much of a feature of it. Commentators seem not to have latched onto it, or care much about it, despite the fact that the Coalition might have become the government at the time of the recent election.
What I’m getting at here is that despite recurrent pleas to politicians from the commentariat for a narrative, the ‘vision thing’, what they ‘stand for’, the response never seems to satisfy them, or even impinge on their consciousness. So what do they want?
Are they looking for Ben Chifley’s 1949 ‘Light on the Hill’ address to the Labour Conference? Read it here
. The relevant paragraphs read: “I try to think of the Labour movement, not as putting an extra sixpence into somebody’s pocket, or making somebody Prime Minister or Premier, but as a movement bringing something better to the people, better standards of living, greater happiness to the mass of the people. We have a great objective – the light on the hill – which we aim to reach by working for the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand. If it were not for that, the Labour movement would not be worth fighting for. If the movement can make someone more comfortable, give to some father or mother a greater feeling of security for their children, a feeling that if a depression comes there will be work, that the government is striving its hardest to do its best, then the Labour movement will be completely justified.”
Did that satisfy the journalists of that era? Would it have done so today?
So what has Julia Gillard given us in the way of vision? What is her narrative, what are her values, what is her ‘light on the hill’?
In her acceptance speech on first becoming PM
back in June she said: “I grew up in a home of hardworking parents. They taught me the value of hard work. They taught me the value of respect. They taught me the value of doing your bit for the community. And it is these values that will guide me as Australia’s Prime Minister. I believe in a Government that rewards those who work the hardest, not those who complain the loudest. I believe in a Government that rewards those who, day in and day out, work in our factories and on our farms, in our mines and in our mills, in our classrooms and in our hospitals, that rewards that hard work, decency and effort. The people who play by the rules, set their alarms early, get their kids off to school, stand by their neighbours and love their country. And I also believe that ‘leadership’ is about the authority that grows from mutual respect shared by colleagues, from team work and from hard work, team work and spirit.”
Later in that speech she said: “And today I can assure every Australian that their Budget will be back in surplus in 2013. So, having seen the global financial crisis and how our nation has responded, it has reinforced in me my belief that when this nation pulls together, we can do great things. It is my intention to lead a Government that uses that spirit and that will to do even more to harness the talents of all of our people. To do even more to make sure that every child gets a fair go in life and a great education.
“It is my intention to lead a Government that does more to harness the wind and the sun and the new emerging technologies. I will do this because I believe in climate change. I believe human beings contribute to climate change. And it is as disappointing to me as it is to millions of Australians that we do not have a price on carbon. And in the future we will need one. But first we will need to establish a community consensus for action. If elected as Prime Minister I will re-prosecute the case for a carbon price at home and abroad. I will do that as global economic conditions improve and as our economy continues to strengthen.
“There is another question on which I will seek consensus and that is the proposed Resources Super Profits Tax. Australians are entitled to a fairer share of our inheritance, the mineral wealth that lies in our grounds. They are entitled to that fairer share. But to reach a consensus, we need do more than consult. We need to negotiate. And we must end this uncertainty, which is not good for this nation.”
There was much more.
Does any of that resemble a narrative, a vision, what she stands for, her values? If not, what more do the pundits want?
Take a look at Gillard’s speech at her campaign launch
? Any sign of vision there, any semblance of narrative, any notion of what she stands for?
What did she say at her National Press Club address on July 15
? Among many other things she said: “Today, guided by my values, I want to share with you how I intend to move Australia forward to a stronger economy, with sustainable growth that delivers for hard-working Australians. I believe that prudent and disciplined economic management is the foundation of good government. The good-quality, essential services that Australians expect can only be sustained by a Government when our public finances are sound. That’s why I believe in strong budget surpluses. The Government I lead will return the budget to surplus in just three years’ time. As the Treasurer announced yesterday, we are now on track for a surplus of more than 3 billion dollars in 2013…
“I also believe that to maximise jobs today and tomorrow, governments must be a force for confidence and certainty in the economy. That is why I moved immediately to end the uncertainty in the mining industry and mining communities across Australia, and that’s why I can say with confidence that a re-elected Gillard Government will cut company tax, give small business an extra helping hand, invest in infrastructure and increase national savings and retirement incomes for hardworking Australians through our support for increased superannuation – more balanced economic development that is good for jobs right around the country and good for national savings…
“We must do the hard work of building an economy with higher productivity growth and higher workforce participation – the long-term drivers of future prosperity…
“I will make education central to my economic agenda because of the role it plays in developing the skills that lead to rewarding and satisfying work – and that can build a high-productivity, high-participation economy…
“The sectors which may need renewal and reform are often those that were relatively untouched by the Hawke-Keating reforms – sectors like health and education that meet essential public needs, delivered largely within the domestic economy. Hospitals, aged care facilities, childcare centres, schools, and employment services – all services with a diverse range of providers from the public, private and non-government sectors, and services where competition and value is often held back by jurisdictional red tape and the lack of seamless national markets.”
Can you detect any sign there of a vision, a narrative, an agenda, a plan?
Even as recently in Question Time this past week, in response to a question to her from Tony Abbott: "Does she agree with former Labor minister Graham Richardson that the Government has no agenda and no plan?”
she answered: “I say in answer to the question from the Leader of the Opposition: would it not strike Australians as strange that, in a world where there are so many challenges – how do we keep our economy strong and how do we ready our economy for the future? How do we tackle climate change? How do we make sure that every child in this country gets a great quality education and how do we make sure we have the healthcare services that Australians deserve not only today but in 10, 20 and 30 years time as our society ages? How do we make sure that we have world-class infrastructure right around the country? How do we make sure that we have balanced growth in an economy where our resources sector is obviously going so strong but things like the high dollar are impacting on other industries and other parts of the country? How do we reconcile and improve the prospects and life expectancy of Indigenous Australians; how do we close the gap? How do we as a world deal with the challenges of food security, development and freer trade? In the face of all these challenges, that the Leader of the Opposition would come into this place and use the precious minutes of question time to yet again play politics – we do not expect anything more from a man whose entire philosophy can be reduced to a few three-word slogans.”
So how much more ‘vision’, ‘narrative’, ‘what she stands for’, ‘plans’, ‘agenda’ and ‘direction’ do journalists, commentators, pundits and sundry ‘experts’ want? In just a few months she has given more insight into her vision for this country, more sense of the direction in which she intends to lead us, than Tony Abbott and the Coalition have ever given us.
Yet on this week’s Insiders
we saw another puerile ‘debate’ on this under the title: Gillard criticised for Government's direction
, where Brian Toohey in his archetypical convoluted way insisted Gillard lacked direction, Andrew Bolt said she had no agenda and was ‘flailing around in the wind’, while Phil Coorey indicated that she was doing alright, and Barrie Cassidy queried the validity of the criticisms that she had no agenda, pointing out that what two of the panelists were saying, especially Toohey, was that they disapproved of some parts of her agenda, somewhat different from disapproving of her not having one. So here we had four ‘learned’ commentators arguing with each other about whether or not she has an agenda; some said yes, others, no. Take a look at the video
and see how they themselves ‘flailed around’ trying to debate this issue. If this is the best we can get from ‘experts’ supposedly in the know, heaven help us.
So let’s stop this claptrap about ‘the vision thing’. If the critics don’t know by now what Julia Gillard and Labor stand for by now, they haven’t been listening, or they haven’t understood, or they don’t want to understand. And that applies to you Richo and to you Paul Howes, as much as to Labor’s many opponents.
What do you think?