There are a gathering number of columnists who are writing off Julia Gillard as PM, and the Labor party as terminal. Even previous Labor parliamentarians such as Graham Richardson (Richo) have not just dumped her, but in most derogatory terms; an old Labor stalwart in Phillip Adams is telling her to resign so that his mate Kevin can return; Mungo MacCallum has chimed in, and bloggers who previously have been supportive of her and Labor have joined the ‘she’s finished’ chorus. This phenomenon is either an opinion based on measured political judgement, or more likely an example of groupthink, where the smart operators, who place great store on their reputations, don’t want to be the odd ones out. So like punters always wanting to back winners, they are sizing up the odds and judging that they are so adverse to PM Gillard and her Government that they will place their bets elsewhere.
There are few who give Julia Gillard any chance of surviving until the next election, let alone win it. But Ben Eltham was one. He wrote in New Matilda
on 6 September: Can Labor Win? YES THEY CAN!
After giving his well-argued reasons for backing Labor he concludes: “All this sounds like castles in the sky. Perhaps it is. But if someone told you in mid-2008 that in two years time, Kevin Rudd would no longer be prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull would not be the opposition leader, and that Tony Abbott would be on the verge of winning office from Julia Gillard, would you have believed them?”
Why is it that two years out from the scheduled date of the next election PM Gillard and Labor is being written off by so many with such certainty? I suppose the very poor polls with record low primary vote and almost record low popularity of the PM give commentators the feeling that recovery is impossible. What a poor memory they have. Do they remember the 1989 Bulletin
magazine cover: “Mr 18 per cent. Why does this man bother?”
Howard was Opposition leader at the time, and like Premier Jeff Kennett, who was also a bottom dweller in the popularity polls, needed another term to elevate himself. Just two years ago, after the OzCar Grech affair Malcolm Turnbull enjoyed similar dismal polls. Of course, all of these politicians were ‘written off’ by the ‘pundits’. Didn’t Howard describe himself as ‘Lazarus with a triple bypass’ and use ‘Lazarus Rising’ as a subtitle to his memoirs?
Julia Gillard was down to 23% satisfaction rating in the 6 September Newspoll
; pretty awful, but not quite down to John Howard’s level (18%) or Paul Keating’s (17%).
So why are so many commentators and political journalists hastening to write her off? Are they suffering amnesia, or is this just the usual rush into spicy speculation, which after all makes such marvellous copy, exciting stories, and juicy headlines for sub-editors? Or are they making a death wish? Or casting a spell that might bring about their editors’ or proprietors’ deepest wish for PM Gillard’s political demise?
Why is it they seem unprepared to give her a ‘fair go’?
This piece boldly makes the case that despite what the opinion polls suggest, the Gillard Government is worthy of the electorate’s support in its quest to reform this nation in a way that will place it in a strong position as it moves into the decades ahead, decades that will see vast technological and economic changes around the globe and in this huge country. A Government that did not prepare the nation for the ever-changing economic, social, geopolitical and physical environment would be negligent in the extreme. Placing the Government’s program of reform against that of the Coalition serves to expose the conceptual and policy barrenness of the alternative government.
Robert Manne, on his new blog on The Monthly: Left, Right, Left
on 12 September recalls the reforms that occurred during the time of the much-reviled Whitlam Government with these words: “…in those three years it did more to make Australia a better country than most other governments have been able to achieve in ten. What is vital to understand is that Whitlam and his Ministers only managed to achieve all this because their eyes were focussed not on the opinion polls but on their goal of making Australia a more decent, more humane, more civilised country.”
Before proceeding, let’s get out of the way the performance of PM Gillard and her Government, which the Coalition and many in the media, notably shock jocks and top megaphones such as Andrew Bolt, Alan Jones and Ray Hadley, cast as incompetent in the extreme, without hope of redemption, and therefore deserving of being cast into outer darkness as soon as possible.
No one in their right mind would give Julia Gillard or her Government top marks, but can her Government’s performance be as bad as these adversaries insist? That would scarcely be possible, no matter how hard the Government tried to stuff up. But Tony Abbott and his Coalition members, by creating the slogan: ‘the most incompetent government since Federation’, and repeating it so often and with such conviction, soon had a compliant media echoing it, mindlessly and unquestioningly, and in time the slogan and the belief was embraced by much of the electorate.
So let’s put the record straight. Climate change
I’m sure Julia Gillard wishes that she had used some other form of words than: “There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.” Mind you she meant it and it was only the unique circumstances of a minority Government that forced a change to first placing a price on carbon for a short time until her preferred option, an ETS, came into effect, a scheme she endorsed throughout the election campaign. These eleven words have been played endlessly on radio and TV, and have led to the infamous Jones label ‘Ju-liar’. Accusations of lying over this matter have dogged her in parliament, in public forums, in rallies and in the media, until now it has become received wisdom, political folklore. She lied they say, and must be extruded via a new election called immediately. Her adversaries have been very successful in promoting the ‘liar’ tag and it will continue to haunt her. In contrast, the fact that Tony Abbott lies almost every day, says one thing today and the opposite the next, escapes the wrath of the shock jocks. They will not berate him because they want him in The Lodge despite his habitually lying, deception and mendaciousness. So let’s put her ‘carbon tax’ statement down as a mistake.
The previous history of Labor action on climate change too is unedifying. Kevin Rudd’s deferral of his beloved CPRS is considered by many to mark the acceleration of his decline.
But when all is said and done, climate change science demands that polluters be required to reduce their carbon emissions so as to meet the nation’s carbon mitigation targets. There is also an urgent need to convert our economy to a lower carbon one and thereby boost investment in the renewable energy sector so that Australia can be at the forefront of the clean energy movement around the world. To do less will leave us floundering, uncompetitive among an array of global competitors. In the face of a mountain of negative rhetoric against the ‘carbon tax’, the Gillard Government deserves huge credit for its persistence with an ETS preceded by a price on carbon, now being legislated in parliament. Asylum policy
PM Gillard’s asylum policy has brought her into conflict not just with the Opposition, which has lambasted her mercilessly, but also the Greens, refugee advocates, many Labor voters, even some in her own party room, and some who blog here who otherwise support Labor. She and the Immigration Department are convinced that boats will arrive in large numbers now that the Malaysia arrangement has been ruled invalid, with the people smugglers thereby deciding who comes to this country, rather than the Australian Government. The western suburbs of Sydney, and in WA and Queensland, where Labor needs to retain and gain seats, are the areas where the greatest antagonism to people smugglers and boat people exists. It seems unlikely that the recent wave of support for asylum seekers could outweigh the antipathy present in those areas. Perhaps this explains in part PM Gillard’s persistence with a regional solution and specifically the Malaysia arrangement. She also knows that an Abbott government will equally want a regional solution, but with just one option.
Although there seems to be general agreement among regional neighbours that regional processing might be a solution to unauthorized arrivals, a problem affecting many nearby nations, the history of attempts to achieve this – East Timor, then Malaysia, and more recently and tentatively Manus Island in PNG – has been beset with difficulties and false starts. Of course those who wish to berate the Government’s efforts make light of the enormous difficulties that accompany negotiations with other governments over such a contentious problem, and sneer at the failure of the Malaysia agreement to pass muster in the High Court, a failure that is blithely attributed to poor preparation by the Government. That the interpretation of the relevant law might have changed since previous judgements were handed down is dismissed as the reason for failure in favour of ‘an incompetent inadequately prepared Government and minister’, who according to the pundits – other lawyers, journalists and the Opposition, should have known better.
It has not been a glorious chapter in the Government’s undertakings, and just when it seemed that the Malaysia arrangement might have stemmed the flow of boats and afforded asylum to some 4000 that would otherwise have continued their wait in Malaysia, it was struck down unexpectedly by the High Court. Opinions now vary from ‘admit all who come and process their claims to asylum onshore, preferably in the community’; to those who, annoyed that people smugglers ostensibly are now set to call the shots, echo John Howard’s 2001 avowal: “We will decide who comes to this country, and the circumstances in which they come.”
What happens next is problematic. Tony Abbott’s simplistic ‘return to the Howard Pacific solution and reopen Nauru’ seems likely to founder too, as I suspect Abbott realizes. That is why he is willing to cooperate with the Government to change the law, but only if it enables Nauru and not Malaysia. We will watch this space with interest and anxiety. Home Insulation Plan
The insulation program was very successful. Yet the moment ‘pink batts’ is mentioned, a snigger emerges on many people’s face, so successful has been the Coalition’s and the media’s derision of this program. Apart from giving employment to vast numbers and keeping many a small business afloat, it insulated a million ceilings with all the benefits that has brought with lower energy costs, less pollution and increased household comfort. But of course everyone remembers the four workplace deaths (due to OH&S deficits), the shonky operators, the rorts and the poor and expensive administration of the plan by a department not equipped to handle such a massive plan. So the Government must be marked down for the administration of the plan but deserves high marks for its overall benefit. But this is not how the media assessed it – only as an abject failure, disaster, debacle, catastrophe – pick your preferred noun. So while it is depicted as a big negative, in fact the HIP was a big positive. Building the Education Revolution
This is another initiative that is depicted by the media as a gross example of the Government’s ‘waste and mismanagement’, particularly by The Australian
that ran a strident anti-BER campaign from the outset. On this week’s Q&A
, News Limited blogger Joe Hildebrand reflexly echoed that same tired old slogan. That there was some is beyond dispute, particularly in NSW where the rollout was fastest. There were cost overruns due to insufficiently supervised builders, fraudsters and shonky operators who over-quoted, and there was insufficient consultation in some instances. There was some waste and mismanagement. But that is all the Coalition and the media talk about. Yet three Orgill Reports showed a 97% satisfaction rate among schools that received buildings under the BER, an ageing school infrastructure has been updated, and thousands of new buildings that will serve children long into the future have been added to our 9,600 schools. On top of that the building industry was saved from collapse during the GFC and many thousands kept in employment that otherwise would have lost their jobs and gone on unemployment benefits.
The BER was an outstanding success in many ways, yet its relatively small failures were what filled the pages of the MSM and the news bulletins. It is a classic example of how a success can be turned into a lamentable failure via slogans and a hostile media that found adverse stories more newsworthy than good news stories. And of course we know that this was part of an overall campaign to demean and eventually bring down the Government.
The BER deserves a big tick of approval, no matter what is said to the contrary. Response to the Global Financial Crisis
Of all the actions the Labor Government has taken, its response to the looming disaster of the GFC was the most commendable, one deserving of high praise. Yet we still have the Coalition insisting that the stimulus was too large and the debt incurred too high, and some economics correspondents, such as Michael Stutchbury of the The Australian
, continue to rail against this Keynesian approach, despite all the evidence of its efficacy. Free marketers abhor Keynesian economics.
Despite all the ‘debt and deficit’ rhetoric, Australia’s debt position is miniscule, a fraction of GDP (22%
), and less by a country mile than any other developed country. And the promise to bring the budget to surplus in 2012/13 remains a strong undertaking, despite adverse economic circumstances and a heap of skepticism from the Opposition.
As has been pointed out by Wayne Swan over and again, Australia's post-GFC position is the envy of all other developed nations. Yet the media gives little credit. When did you hear a comment along the lines that we should be grateful for the prompt and ‘decisive’ suite of actions the Government took, and that we can thank it for unemployment around 5% and a booming economy? We know it has ‘two speeds’ with minerals overpowering manufacturing, but the latter is in strife largely because of the high value of the AUD over the USD. We know too that the Government is acting to support manufacturing while avoiding protectionism.
A tax summit is in train that promises to bring about much needed changes to the tax and transfer system, one that is sought by business, industry and community groups. Rationalization of the complex array of taxes is needed to reduce the complexities that encumber business. The issue of middle class welfare needs to be tackled, as well as tax arrangements for the wealthy.
So let all good men and women give the Government a big tick for its GFC actions and its proposed tax summit. The MRRT
Little needs to be said about this. After an abortive start following inadequate consultation by the Rudd Government with stakeholders about the RSPT, and a fierce campaign against it by the miners, Julia Gillard negotiated a package with the three large miners shortly after her taking over as PM, much to the chagrin of the smaller ones. It will net significant income that is to be used to reduce company tax, increase superannuation from 9% to 12% and ease tax form filling procedures for ordinary citizens. Although not as much as the previous RSPT would have netted, it will provide an income that will also assist the struggling manufacturing industry, crippled by the high value of the Australian dollar. Health reforms
The Gillard Government has put in place fundamental health reforms after an abortive start by the Rudd Government, one stymied by Colin Barnett, WA Premier. We now have agreement at COAG for increased Federal funding of hospitals and community health services, control vested in local boards representing their communities, and a body to monitor costs to achieve best value for money.
Mental health reforms have been introduced by the Gillard Government, and welcomed by those working in the field and by the community. Disability insurance measures have also been introduced recently that promise to revolutionize the support provided to those with disabilities, sometimes arising from other than motor or industrial accidents, to bring benefits in line with those afforded motor crash victims. A better dental scheme is needed when funds are available. Paid Parental Leave
A scheme that is modestly generous yet affordable is now in place and much appreciated. The NBN
The rollout of this most significant piece of infrastructure, akin to the Snowy Mountains Scheme, is proceeding well, with enthusiastic uptakes and competition for early connection. Far from the $43 billion cost to Government touted by the Opposition (some estimates topped $50 billion) the Government contribution is $36 billion, and the NBN Co. believes it will turn a profit as the project approaches completion. The costs involved will be greatly outweighed by the benefits to education, health, business and agriculture; indeed it is now estimated that the cost savings and benefits to health alone will outweigh the costs. The Coalition’s opposition to it and Tony Abbott’s threat to ‘demolish’ it, is one of the more stupid stands taken by the Opposition among many similar decisions.
It will be an outstanding success, and in contrast to the negative slant taken by The Australian
, amplified by its fierce denigration of the NBN CEO, Mike Quigley, the NBN will be hailed as one of the finest achievements of the Gillard Government. It deserves highest commendation. Media inquiry
As this piece is written, an inquiry into the media has been announced by the Government. With the Murdoch empire controlling 70% of newspapers in this country, and with its unremitting and vicious attacks on the elected Government, there is a need to ask how one man can have so much capacity to influence public opinion towards his political ends. His influence is widely known and discussed. An article in Bloomberg: Murdoch Makes no Retreat from Scandals with Attack on Australia Government
by Gemma Daley and Robert Fenner states: “The phone hacking scandal in the U.K. hasn’t muzzled Rupert Murdoch in his native Australia, where his newspaper empire is doing more than any other to undermine Prime Minister Julia Gillard… “News Ltd. has been more emboldened than other media outlets, and the fact they have the majority of ownership in this country means they will have an impact on the way people think,” said Andrew Hughes, a professor who does research on political branding and marketing at the Australian National University in Canberra. “The Murdoch press has its feet on the throat of a government that’s already on the ropes.”… “It’s not surprising at all that Murdoch is at it again in Australia while the UK phone-hacking scandal is still fresh,” said Tim Bale, a professor of politics at the University of Sussex and the author of “The Conservative Party: From Thatcher to Cameron.” “He tries to use his economic power to get political influence. It’s part of his business model.”
Although denied vigorously by News Limited staff, the truth of the matter seems clear: Murdoch is pushing hard for ‘regime change’ through his media outlets. He wants to decide who this nation’s PM and Government will be, and is using every means at his disposal to this end.
It is to be hoped that the terms of reference of the media enquiry enable a thorough inspection of the whole media in this country.
The Gillard Government deserves commendation for the courage it has shown in initiating this enquiry. Legislative accomplishments
This piece could be twice as long if all the Government’s achievements were catalogued. Despite being in a minority situation that PM Gillard negotiated with the Greens and Independents, the Government has passed over 190 pieces of legislation without one failure, more by far than in the first year of the Howard Government. And it has done this despite the fiercest opposition from the Coalition and strident hostility from the media.
It has shown its capacity to grapple with the enormous complexities that beset national governments. As Mr Denmore says in his piece on The Failed Estate: Double Fault
: “Journalists…cannot see that global issues such as the unregulated mass movement of people across borders, man-made climate change and systemic issues in financial markets are at a level of complexity beyond the ability of mere individual states to resolve.”
How right he is. Ought we not commend the Government for tackling some of this nation’s most complex and intractable problems, and doing a sound job despite obstinate opposition and trenchant criticism? Instead, all we hear are accusations of incompetence and ineptitude, as if resolving these complexities was child’s play.
Despite some shortcomings, the Gillard Government has many fine achievements to its credit. It does not deserve the vociferous criticism directed toward it, and PM Gillard does not deserve the vicious demonization to which she has been subject day after day, week after week. Has there ever been a more reviled PM? Has there ever been more disrespect shown to our nation’s Prime Minister?
Julia Gillard has shown herself to be a self-assured, confident and competent parliamentarian and PM, one with well-developed negotiating skills, and with the admirable personal attributes of decency, friendliness, the ability to relate to all sectors of our society, together with persistence in the face of opposition and adversity, and outstanding courage.
Further, she has a vision for this country despite journalists regularly asking: ‘What does she stand for?’ and ‘What is her narrative?’. It’s noteworthy that on this day three years ago, I posted the first definitive piece on The Political Sword
– it was titled: In search of the political Holy Grail – the Rudd Government narrative
. The same old question is still being asked; cannot the journalists see, or do they choose not to. Julia Gillard has stated her vision often enough as detailed in What Julia Gillard DOES stand for
In a nutshell, she has a vision of a land of opportunity, for a great education leading to satisfying and rewarding work for all who can, for fair and equitable working conditions, for a strong economy with surplus budgets and prosperity for all, for infrastructure to support a growing economy, for social security that supports the disabled yet encourages people to work if they can, for a fair taxation system that taxes those best able to pay and supports those in need, for a plan to reduce carbon pollution and prepare the nation for a low carbon economy, for an efficient, effective and affordable healthcare system, for secure borders coupled with a welcome for those genuinely seeking asylum, and a skilled immigration program to support growing, yet labour-strapped industries.
There is no lack of vision, no lack of narrative.
So where has the Aussie ‘fair go’ gone? Why is PM Gillard not entitled to that same fair go? It seems that the outrageously vile attacks that have been made on her by the Coalition, venomous shock jocks, News Limited media, and many others who ought to know better, have taken their toll as reflected in the opinion polls. Is the ‘pecked chook’ syndrome to continue until Julia Gillard lies politically bleeding and moribund, or will the generosity of heart that characterizes Aussies reverse this noxious attack on our national leader, about which we ought to be horrified and ashamed?
What do you think?