Gillard the least of Labor's worries

14 Comments John Faulkner exempted Labor parliamentary leaders from specific criticism during his recent Neville Wran Lecture, but he certainly didn't help Julia Gillard by once again focusing media attention on Labor's membership weaknesses.

It gave Kevin Rudd the opportunity to repeat his own diagnosis of Labor's internal problems and for union leader Paul Howes, who had helped bring him down 12 months ago, to attack Rudd as a hypocrite who was a major part of the problem.

All of this was predictable. But it did nothing to settle Labor's problems at the federal level; rather it only contributed to further gloom about Labor's prospects.

In fact, whatever Gillard's take on the many valid points about greater membership participation that Faulkner made they are not primarily her responsibility and there is little she herself can do about them anyway. Past party leaders, like Gough Whitlam, have tackled such issues from Opposition with nothing to lose. Recent Opposition leaders, like Simon Crean, expended energy on internal reform for little benefit in terms of his leadership.

Faulkner's lecture came just before Gillard's first anniversary as prime minister at a time when the media are floating the possibility that she will go the way of Rudd. It has reached the stage that the Independents, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, are being questioned about a change of Labor PM.

The media are not indulging in their own fantasies, but feeding off rumours circulating around Parliament House and gossip from within the party. The message is that Gillard has until Christmas to improve the party's low standing in the polls or she may be replaced by Rudd or someone else.

That scenario is a classic example of failing to learn from your mistakes. Whatever the wisdom of Rudd's demise, the manner of its happening was rejected emphatically by the electorate. It will hang over Gillard for a very long time.

Surely the strategy of changing the leader to save the party would not be employed again by Labor's inner circle, especially those from NSW who are serial offenders in this regard. To do so would reinforce the claims of the Opposition, that it's just the undemocratic way that Labor does business.

Not only is blaming and then changing the leader a bad idea in principle, but such discussion at the moment is seriously premature. We are not yet 12 months into the term of this government. Only from August 2012, after two years, should Gillard be judged on her government's record. Urgency to act is no excuse as the Government appears likely to serve its full term, unless it pulls the plug itself.

There are much more important issues than leadership for Labor to be thinking about. The first is to deliver on some policies and the second is to plan how it will conduct itself under Labor-Green control of the Senate.

Uncertainty of purpose in government is even worse than having an unpopular leader or delivering unpopular outcomes. The greatest weakness of this government is its failure to make final decisions about those issues that Gillard addressed when she first took office. Issues like the carbon tax and the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees especially have dragged on for far too long.

Even if the ultimate decisions are initially unpopular Gillard Labor needs to make them quickly and then try to explain them to the community and to defend them against critics on both the Right and the Left. Uncertainty is killing the government with open-minded middle-of-the-road voters.

Labor shouldn't fall once again for the apparent 'easy fix' of changing the leader, when it has more important problems to address.

John WarhustJohn Warhurst is an Emeritus Professor at the Australian National University and a columnist with The Canberra Times.

Topic tags: John Warhurst, John Faulkner, Neville Wran lecture, Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd, Labor, leadership, spill



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Existing comments

I agree.

Perhaps a reason why the Liberal Party have not changed leaders (as they did quickly with Nelson and Turnbull before Abbott), despite Abbott's poor polling last year, is because they wanted to contrast with Labor's so-called 'knifing' of Rudd. Sticking with the same leader for a considerable chunk of time has finally started to pay off for them.

As with many things in politics and media, if something or someone new is not immediately embraced, the powers see change as the solution. It is unfortunate that followings and loyalty are rarely allowed to build or evolve.
Moira Byrne Garton | 29 June 2011

Julia Gillard is hopeless at being the Prime Minister of our country. Her abortion stance is just wicked, allowing the murder of so many Australian babies. She says she is against capital punishment, yet she and her Emily's List cohorts see nothing wrong in killing the most defenceless and innocent children in the womb. How any Catholic or right thinking person could vote for her is beyond my understanding.

Her political hero is the Welsh Marxist Labour leader Nye Bevan who is a bigot who hated the Catholic Church.

As for her policies on carbon tax and climate change, she is trying to remain a popularist.

If she is the best leader the labor Party can appoint to lead Australia, then Heaven help the Labor Party and in extension, Australia.
Trent | 29 June 2011

You run the defence of Gillard but she in part has brought this huge mess on the ALP! What does that say of the judgement capabilties of Gillard! Not much at all! Now Gillard indulgently and rashly formed the view that the dilligent Kevin Rudd had to go and her ALP plotters went along with it and executed Kevin Rudd and for what? Certainly not much gain because the ALP has now sunk so low in the polls! Its not an easy fix to change a leader well the fallout/ recriminations because Kevin Rudd was removed should tell you that! Where was the preventative foresight that should have told the ALP to leave Kevin Rudd there as PM?

Gillard is now being protected in the leadership by her vociferous supporters who simply cant admit what they should, that she is inept as PM! So why doesnt Gillard who had the nerve to knife Kevin Rudd now have the same nerve to face up, to admit , that she is so out of her depth as ALP leader and that she is totally devoid of sound policy and purpose! Its the price Gillard is paying for impetuously pushing Kevin Rudd aside!Her government is now floundering!

For Gillard to come back may take a miracle or say a supervening event like the Falkands war helped Mrs Thatcher! Gillard should go, as she is not in the same league as a Paul Keating or a John Howard, both conviction politicians who valued the integrity of sticking to a policy and not chopping and changing and pandering to anyone to keep power! The voting public realise this, they have seen Gillard for what she truly is! Her convoluted stances across a range of key issues have left Australia so clearly lacking sound policy direction on intrinsically important issues eg Aslyum seekers and the carbon tax! The voting public want more than a giggly look at moi leader who is seemingly on about one thing- taxes - the carbon tax, the mining tax! Keating implemented many fiscal reforms and he had vision re the Republic! Gillard has no vision except her own self advancement to push her agendas be they anti-life or pro carbon taxes! Its not good enough and the voters so know it! The sooner Gillard goes the better so the country can get back on track! Its such a waste of time to prevaricate about keeping her there! Australians dont want their Christmas holidays clouded by another leadership change so ALP should do it pronto! See Gillard out of office and start again ALP bring back Kevin Rudd or someone new that is competent as PM because Gillard just hasnt brought home the bacon! She just hasnt delivered the goods and there is no guarantee that she will if she stays on!

We dont need paralysed leaders that run around like startled deers looking at car headlights and Gillard certainly comes over like that and people eg the refugeesand others are now suffering because of her gross ineptitude as PM!
Bringing home the bacon | 29 June 2011

The knifing of Kevin Rudd during his first term of office has not endeared Julia Gillard to many, including me (although, unlike Bringing Home the Bacon, I don't believe she instigated the coup but she certainly took advantage of it). Nor have I been impressed by her girlish giggle before answering questions. Most of all, I was and remain extremely embarrassed by her appallingly grovelling speech in the US Senate.

Having said this, I think John Warhurst's argument is important and makes considerable sense. Unfortunately, this means being stuck with pragmatists Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott as leaders, neither of whom displays the qualities required of international statespersons, in contrast to Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull.

For me, and I suspect for others, both the Labor and Liberal parties have lost their way. The Greens offer the only alternative. This party has somne policies which I, and I'm sure others, do not agree with but more generally it is the only party, at present, which cares about our fellow human beings.

Many Christians who desire to put into action Jesus's request to love others, especially those less fortunate, as we love ourselves see the Greens, with some reluctance, as the only party concerned with social justice.
Maureen Strazzaris | 29 June 2011

Being prochoice to allow women to make their own decisions is not an "abortion stance" nor is it murdering Australian babies. This debate has gone beyond the emotive language used by Trent. It is the right of all Catholics to make their choice to proceed with an unplanned pregnancy when facing such a decision, but it is not their right to impose that view on all Australians.
Maree | 29 June 2011

I agree with you, John! I'm really getting so sick of waiting for the blessed carbon tax, or the fixing of the Intervention, or the refugees' issue that I sometimes think of another change of leader... just to see whether they (the pollies) will get on with it!!! But you are right, we can't continue to play this game, whatever happened before.

It's difficult for supporters to influence the pollies' thinking about "getting on with it".
We'll just have to sit and wait! God help us! I hope the pollies read this column!?!?

Nathalie | 29 June 2011

Spot on John! PM Gillard is an easy target. Labor's policies need to be bold, have vision & be progressive. Contrary to @Trent, supporting women's choices is the least of their issues. Compassion on refugees and leadership on climate change are the start of demonstrating a true Labor Govt.
Hutch | 29 June 2011

John Warhurst's defence of Julia Gillard is amiable. But from the election of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard Deputy Prime Minister, and then Julia Gillard Prime Minister every single political policy has been a complete failure. To give Julia Gillard extra time to be judged on her government's record is a waste of time. As July the 1st there will be a change of PM, Bob Brown De Facto Prime Minister.Christians, please spend more time in prayers. Remember the "Green Party Agenda" concerning their attacks on religious freedom, school funding, drug laws, marriage,euthanasia and the unborn children.
Ron Cini | 29 June 2011

One of the reasons that Gillard is down in the newspaper polls is because of the amount of exposure the newspapers are giving Abbott. And the way his empty rants and stunts are given credibility. The short grab, endlessly repeated is distorting the issue , it gains credence and occupies centre page. Are you in favour of a "big new tax ?" , not " do you want to save the planet for future generations ?', is asked.

The blame must laid on the decline in the standard of today's journalism. The short grab is replacing the well resourced article and critical comment.
This means that the field is dominated by the ranting shock jocks . They are setting the agenda. Objectivity is lost. It is also creeping into the remaining quality press and also even in some of the comments on this article by John Warhurst. If truth and objectivity is lost we are on a slippery slope that ends with a rule by the big shouters and their questionable agendas. So to repeat ... " do you want great big tax ? has replaced " do you want to save the planet for future generations ?. It's time it was challenged.
Reg Wilding | 29 June 2011

It's not the leadership that is a problem it is those behind the leader.

The problem is the attitude of those who have been "elected" by the people as well as the lack of respect by the "leadership", that includes others not only Gillard, of the rank=and file workers in the branches
nick agocs | 29 June 2011

Maree, it is the obligation of each and everyone of us to protect each other, the weaker amongst us in particular. This includes unborn Human beings who are the weakest of the weak.
Christopher Howard | 29 June 2011

The ALP certainly has problems and the Government has problems, but I'm not convinced that they are the same problems.

The party's problems are basically about the lack of democracy and abuse of power within the party and that's what Faulkner was talking about.

The government's 'problems' are about slowness to take decisions and implement action. And while that might be frustrating to all of us, it's the inevitable result of the nature of the parliament we, the people, elected. Governments that can command a majority of the votes in parliament are able to make decisions and force legislation through without the need to negotiate. Minority governments have to negotiate everything before bringing their legislation to parliament. If Abbott was leading a minority government, he would have to do the same.

If the choice is between a majority government pushing legislation through quickly and a minority government that has to negotiate its way on everything, I would certainly prefer the latter.

Despite the criticism levelled at the present government, by those who call for 'strong decisive government', this government has actually managed to have a great deal of legislation enacted, and has had no bills rejected in either house.

Of course, that's not very appealing to our main-stream media and radio shock-jocks who would prefer to give a blow by blow report of a stoush any day than to encourage informed and nuanced public debate about serious issues.
Ginger Meggs | 29 June 2011

I agree with you John. I hope that Carbon Tax issue is resolved soon in favour of imposing the tax and after that establishing the emissions trading scheme so we can, as the highest polluting country per head of population, take the lead in remedying the climate change problem. You could hardly call this a popular policy. The only police of Labour I disagree with is its attitude to asylum seekers. The Malaysian solution is a disaster for them. Why cant Australia set up detention centres close to the communities and decide who are refugees in quick time? But Abbot does not give asylum seekers any better hope. Rudd promised much and delivered little.
Tony Santospirito | 03 July 2011

Well put John. Labor is in a terrible situation. Like him or not (and I did) Rudd should not have been ousted when he was. The only thing going for Labor at present is that not enough voters believe Abbott really has what it takes to be PM. Oh, and thank goodness for Tony Windsor. Where would Gillard be without him!
LouW | 04 July 2011


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