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Atheist 'Real Julia' courts Christian vote


The past week of the election campaign has been dominated by jokes about the 'real Julia' and the 'fake Julia'. With the party's efforts to retain government falling apart, Labor leader Julia Gillard vowed to throw away the rule book and to be herself.

Could this turn out to be a campaign run on an authenticity platform? The truth is that most commentators did not notice any significant difference between the two Julias. It just became clear that she would now do 'whatever it takes' to stem the rising tide of support for Liberal leader Tony Abbott.

This included courting religious voters and being photographed for the front page of Friday's Sydney Morning Herald looking up to Cardinal George Pell with an admiring glance. On Thursday evening she had attended a fundraising dinner for expenses associated with October's Mary MacKillop canonisation in Rome. She offered $1.5 million in government money, but much more than that in flattery to Catholic electors.

Gillard called the months leading up to the canonisation 'a deeply significant time for all of us who may not share the Catholic faith but still deeply respect the great contribution of the church and of Australian Catholics to the social fabric of our nation'.

The atheist 'real Julia' got as close as she could to saying that she is at one with MacKillop's faith-filled vision for Catholic education. She said: '[Mary MacKillop] believed in the transformative power of a good education'.

On Friday afternoon, Gillard addressed the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL). While not referring to any 'great moral challenges of our time', she spoke of her Baptist upbringing and committed to faith-based school chaplaincy and vowed to oppose gay marriage.

Commentators such as the ABC's Scott Stephens quoted her vow to Jon Faine on Melbourne radio not to sell her atheist soul for the sake of the Christian vote. It was during the 'fake Julia' phase early in the campaign, and she declared: 'I am not going to pretend a faith I don't feel'.

The problem could be that Gillard has no idea about how to be real. Instead she appears focused on matching the apparent success of her opponent Tony Abbott, and his disciplined 'whatever it takes' style of campaigning. She has forgotten her own 'phoney Tony' mantra and fallen victim comprehensively to what her own side of politics regards as Abbott's deceitfulness.

If she is genuine in her quest to be real, she could take lessons instead from the now hapless Family First senator Steve Fielding. It's almost certain that he will be a loser at the coming election, and he is an unworthy candidate because he lacks the incredible policy strength Gillard has behind her. But he is as real and transparent as any politician can be.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street. He also teaches media ethics in the University of Sydney's Department of Media and Communications.

Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Tony Abbott, Julia Gillard, real julia, phoney tony, george pell, catholic vote



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Existing comments

I think Gillard's walking both sides of the street on this issue Michael is all about perceptions rather than substance. Because as a matter of substance and fact it could be successfully argued that the "Catholic vote" in essence no longer exists anymore in Australia.

Further, it is also arguable that there is even a "Christian vote" due to the diversity of what passes for Christian religions and the disparite views of these groupings. For instance, I'm happy to be considered a Christian but I would not want my vote supporting your so-called transparent Steve Fielding, who along with other creationists belives that the Earth is only about 5,000 years old.

I think there too is a lesson for the Greens in all of this. They have an embedded view that all Christian thought and action is from the loopy, evengelical mantra and as such dismiss genuine areas of policy concern for Australians such as support for systemic Catholic schooling and even some less than elite Catholic independent schools. They do so at their own peril thinking that government support for education should only be about greater equity for public schools. In truth, we need a schools funding policy that is more equitable for all Australian schools.

But back to your commentary, Gillard would already know there is very little in it for her and her party in courting Catholics. She knows she will pick up about 50 percent of us (on a TPP basis) and in truth all she is really doing by being seen with Cardinal Pell et al is ticking a few mandatory electioneering boxes.

Tom Cranitch | 09 August 2010  

Why does Ms Gillard publicly have to say she respects the Catholic Church if she already did?

She respects it like the Queen of England respects republicans. She is desperate to win she now runs to Catholic church gala events! But she actively works against the Church with her strident anti-life views. And the money you promised is always taxpayers' money not hers personally.

NOT A CENT | 09 August 2010  

I object very strongly to tax payers' money being spent on "saint making'- surely there are more deserving issues that this money could be spent on. What would the sainted lady in question think of this I wonder!

Kevin Thompson | 09 August 2010  

We see Julia morphing from “Fake” to “Real” and almost going to her knees in front of a Cardinal. It reminds me of: “Running with the Foxes and Hunting with the Hounds.”

Beat Odermatt | 09 August 2010  

I can hardly say I am surprised by Michael Mullins's comments. As a staunch atheist for more than fifty years (and a past editor of a British atheist magazine) and also a long-time advocate of the separation of religion(s) and state, I find Julia Gillard's "pragmatism" nauseating. For the first time in my life I am seriously considering not voting Labor, mainly because of Gillard's decision to enlarge the school "chaplains" scheme. I maintain that opinions about religion should carry neither privilege nor handicap.

Nigel Sinnott | 09 August 2010  

Since when has looking at Cardinal Pell with an admiring glance become a political gesture?

If it is, it is just as likely to lose as many votes as it might gain.

The real phoney in this electoral campaign is the campaign itself based as it is on the most over-rated public opinion polls I've ever come across.
Even the Greens have fallen into the trap of thinking they'll get 12% of the vote, while Labour and the Coalition fight over 80%, and the fringe parties waste their money on 8%
I'm grateful for the small mercy of a short campaign, even if it is a phoney one.

Uncle Pat | 09 August 2010  

Wow! Excellent piece, Mr Mullins.

And I, a traddie Catholic, agree totally with Kevin Thompson. It's no business of the state compulsorily directing taxpayers money into this area. If Australians of whatever creed want to donate, then, OK, let that amount be tax deductible. Forcing others to pay unnecessarily provokes hostility to our faith.

HH | 09 August 2010  

Julia Gillard may have had a Baptist Sunday School education and acquired a very superficial image of God of "the friend of little children above the bright blue sky variety" which is obviously rejected in adulthood. This is common in the general community.

When I was taking R.I. classes in public schools back in the 60's one had great difficulty in explaining that christian belief was not just morality. I am sure Churches in the West did not really come to terms with the changed world in which they lived. Good evangelism comes from good dialogue and questioning, which leads to spiritual awareness and the full implications of the Incarnation and God as trinity.

John Ozanne | 09 August 2010  

What a diatribe! What's wrong with the PM's statement about Mary's view of a good education? It's true, isn't it, not flattery as you accuse her of? She can be atheistic yet acknowledge the reality of others' faith and legitimacy of their religious practice. Your tone throughout this article is petulant and your argument unsupported by reasonable interpretation of Gillard's behaviour and words.

Trish Bartlett | 09 August 2010  

What bucket, what well do we electors dip into during all the froth and bubble of electoral spin? It's hard to catch the gossamer threads of truth that flit about the wonderland of political expertise. An atheist - you betcha:'our hopes, our wishes, our prayers' are for Kevin'.

Fr. Paul Goodland | 09 August 2010  

Steve Fielding presents as a buffoon, and I wouldn't classify the PM that way under any circumstances. Labor and Liberal and the Nationals and yes even a Green or two have a mix of practicing and lapsed Catholic, Anglican and other Christian denominations as well as atheists. "Fake" and "real" Julia are one and the same, but with the very poor standard of journalism which lacks the interest and intelligence to explain policies we are left with an endless stream of inanities. Julia Gillard has a lifelong interest in education and praised Mary McKillop's achievements in that field. As for her acknowledging the Catholic and "Joeys" contribution to Australian society I fail to see how you can interpret that as "being as close to Mary McKillop's faith filled vision of Catholic Education". I think she meant exactly what she said. ;She {McKillop] believed in the transformative power of a good education". That's all. Regarding the offer of money from the Government, that would be the case, whichever party was in power. I have the impression that the writer just doesn't like Ms Gillard because she [stated honestly that] she is an atheist. She doesn't push her views on the subject, and was answering a question when she made the "confession". It does no-one any credit to do otherwise.

P. Oliver | 09 August 2010  

Your commentary, Michael, seems pretty shallow in view of the incredible performance I just witnessed of Julia Gillard on the ABCTV Q and A program. I am not a labor voter but I have never witnessed a more articulate or transparent set of responses to many challenging questions than I did tonight. Julia was not in the least equivocal that she does not share a Christian faith, but pointed out that many who do not nevertheless possess compassion and a thirst for justice. Such clarity and decisiveness as she displayed is surely the prelude to being elected as our ongoing prime minister. By comparison Abbott's changing positions on just about everything is very shabby indeed.

Mike Foale | 10 August 2010  

'This included... being photographed for the front page of Friday's Sydney Morning Herald looking up to Cardinal George Pell with an admiring glance'. Come off it Michael, do you really think she organised that photo?

That photo was crafted by the photographer. It was shot from below, with Pell's face (looking quite pleased with something) in the top right hand corner and Gillard's face below, behind, and looking toward Pell. Both faces have been highlighted by flash against a black background. If you want to gripe at anyone, gripe at the photographer, not the subjects, either of them.

I'm afraid your prejudices are beginning to show Michael, which is a pity because at other times you often have worthwhile things to say.

Trevor | 10 August 2010  

Steve Fielding used his balance of power vote in the Howard years to ensure that those qualifying for a disability pension from then on, were $40 per week worse off!

Bernadette | 10 August 2010  

Being real and transparent is fine but Fielding has other characteristics which make him a very poor addition to the Senate. I wouldn't want to be as rude and insulting as Atheist Media Star Richard Dawkins, but Fielding's doesn't seem to grasp issues very well...Meanwhile, I would hope Christians, and all other citizens, don't judge political candidates on single issues alone...there are a bunch of competing interests.

If you want a rigid adherence to ONE religious orthodoxy probably Saudi Arabia is the place for you to live! Bishops are human beings and not infallible when it comes to political judgments.

Ann | 11 August 2010  

Gillard said she does not have faith in a God but she respects those who do.

It's very simple, there's no contradiction. Michael Mullins perhaps you should have a bex and a good lie down instead of getting in such a lather about it.

And I'm no great fan of Gillard's, I just object to this misrepresentation.

Geoff Davies | 13 August 2010  

I do not agree with the comment that the photograoh of Julia Gillard is an admiring look at Cardinal Pell. I have the impression that Cardinel Pell is quite tall and Juila Gillard is shorter. It follows therefore that a shorter person must look up at a taller person but that does not necessarily mean admiration.

As for Julia Gillard's admiration for Mary McKillop, well anyone who is as dedicated as she was to do good in society deserves to be admired, whthere they are Christian or nor, Catholic or otherwise.

I am Christian but not Catholic but I do not limit my admiration on that account for Mary McKillop.
Clearly as a Christian I regret that Julia Gillard is an athiest but that will not affect which way I vote, nor will Tony Abbott being Catholic. My vote will do to which party I consider will benefit this country most and in that decision religion will have no place.

Colin Duggan | 13 August 2010  

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