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Welcome back Julia, now do it differently


Labor's TightropeThe first book I wrote was called Rooting Democracy, which is why having a sense of humour is a bit risky if you want to sell a political book, because that's at least one reason my heartfelt outpouring of political and democratic hopes of the 1990s didn't get onto school readings lists. Of course I meant 'growing the society we want', but of course the title was a tease.

Published over ten years ago (and now sadly out of print) the book, co-authored with Jenny Lee, focused (with prescience) on why Australians were even then profoundly disillusioned with politics and politicians, why Parliament wasn't working to keep executives in check and sensitive to the real needs and wishes of the people, and what we could do to repair these grievous lacks.

We even talked up the bounty offered by independent MPs, never dreaming that one day the nation would tell party Tweedledum-and-Tweedledee strategists where to shove their patronising and platitudinous campaigns. And I say this with the righteous anger of one who has been a true believer, a battler and an idealist, betrayed by the pusillanimous promises and prevarications if not betrayals over things that matter, like eradicating the misery of our Indigenous people, acting with compassion and humanity to asylum-seekers, and getting out of wars.

But a sense of humour is entirely desirable when Greens sprout and they, and once-scoffed-at 'rubes', have to be taken seriously by two-party preferring reporters, or pollsters in bureaus where they crat; and they can take their own sweet time to choose how best to make their mark in political life after years of being scorned and ignored; and when Messrs Wilkie, Katter, Oakeshott and Windsor get to change the rules that would have them consigned to irrelevance. 'We will decide who comes to this government, and the circumstances in which they come,' is more or less the message.

Which did not sit well with those who, like Melbourne radio station 774's Jon Faine, are irritated at the messiness of democratic negotiations: he wondered on-air why they don't they have a system in place to sort out their differences, like a party whip. That's precisely how we got to this dire strait. Someone equally scoffed-at said something of the kind before John Howard adopted it as his own inhumane refugee policy. Which both sides adopted, disgracefully, during this campaign.

Three Independents, belittled as 'The Three Amigos' but riding into the sunset nonetheless, have won the trust of their electorates and — through fate, factions and fat-heads on both sides of the aisle — been able to exercise a little, meaningful power about how Parliament should work in the future.

This may not last, now that the decision has been announced. In 1999 the Victorian ALP's Steve Bracks team formed a minority government having ousted the invincible Kennett, with the support of the regions and three regional independent members, to whom it promised to save the Snowy, reinvigorate Parliament and review the role of the upper house.

As fast as they could, the new government used its incumbency to do without them; the Snowy didn't get saved, and (the government will ignore this at its peril) the very regional activism that ousted the Kennett radicals has been gradually relegated to irrelevance along with the independents who helped them get it.

Then, as now, I felt more than a frisson of respect for blokes who were not afraid to tell an interviewer or a voter, without weaselling, exactly what they believed in, how poisonous their previous experiences of two-party politics had been, what they wanted for their constituents and, in their view, what was for the 'common good'. The fact that they took their time means nothing to me.

I joined the Crikey live blog of the Windsor/Oakeshott press conference on Tuesday, and it was as close to a 'town hall' tea party as I've had since the 1970s, the best thing about this bloody awful election thing: the groans, the cries, the 'get on with it' pleas and the snips and snappings and 'please God, let it be over' that unfolded before my happy eyes, before the final realisation that of course they would tell us what they valued and how they came to their decision, because this was what parliaments are about — talking these issues through, not making announcements.

And this is what politics is about: listening to other people and trying to understand where they 'come from' and where they're going to, before the almost anti-climactic realisation: that Julia Gillard was not going to be yet another extremely short-term first-woman-Prime Minister, as has so often happened in other nations.

Laugh! It's either that, or studying for the priesthood; another place where independents and women are not particularly welcome.

I'm torn between delight that we still have Australia's first woman prime minister and one who managed to persuade half the electorate and even half of the Indies that she can run a stable government without patronising or pissing into their tents; and incredulity that this feisty, clever, lively and humorous woman could have almost allowed the Sussex Street Pygmalion to turn her into a puppet.

Welcome back, Julia. The Lodge is yours, though your throne has a sword over it. Playing it safe was incredibly risky and nearly cost you not only power but the principles that thrust you to it. Now, do it differently: 52 per cent of the population and the parliament has high hopes of you.

Moira RaynerMoira Rayner is a barrister and writer. She is a former Equal Opportunity and HREOC Commissioner. She is principal of Moira Rayner and Associates.

Topic tags: Moira Rayner, Gillard, Abbott, Oakeshott, Windsor, Katter, Prime Minister



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Existing comments

The electorate has been blackmailed by these three self-serving members.
It will blow up in their faces as well as Julia Gillard who still has not been elected by the people. She is an imposter!

Peter Lynch | 08 September 2010  

If Labor and the Coalition are smart, they will work together on important issues and let the loonies on the extreme left and extreme right remain isolated. A BIG COALITION actually works in many countries such as Switzerland and has provide for the best stability. In Switzerland the PM just changes on every New Years Day, so what, nobody needs cult figures.

Beat Odermatt | 08 September 2010  

Thanks Moira, these are such wise refreshing words. Please send them on to Julia Gillard ... this is an exciting time in so far as so much good could come from this trying time.

Caroline Storm | 08 September 2010  

Thanks Moira, I still have a valued copy of your double-entendred first book. I am pleased at its prescience, and hope that Katter's "new paradigm" proves accurate, as with the hopes expressed in the late Peter Andren's equally valued "The Andren Report". The lesson which may well remain unheeded by the Nationals is that isolating community leaders for the sake of political nepotism may lead to the flourishing of Independents who truly have their constituencies in mind and can do something about it.

Simon Hansford | 08 September 2010  

Good advice Ms Rayner! When Julia Gillard became PM, it should have inspired, not only men but also the women of Australia. Yet, having been cocooned in that suffocating 'blokes' world for all their lives, almost half the women don't like the idea of a woman PM. It's well and good to say that gender is irrelevant when you're a man as Tony Abbott repeatedly said during the election. However, the fact remains that women (in varying degrees of persecution) remain universally oppressed (even) in modern times. The other symbolic triumph in the case of Julia Gillard is that this country (with all its inherent sins, past and present) has taken its first faltering steps into the 21st century. We all now await the implementation of Labor's mandate on climate change and the more humane treatment of asylum seekers. We know that in terms of social justice Labor has it all over the Coalition, one only has to look at the kind of people who voted for them. Furthermore, the return of Labor this time (with the help of those brave Independents and Greens) should let us look (more) closely at the influence of the powerful Murdoch press and the miners! After all, democracy is not only about people's choice but also about the role of the fourth estate and its attendant influence on a politically-challenged majority.

Alex Njoo | 08 September 2010  

congratulations for your wonderful, albeit difficult negotiations of the past 2 week.
julia, just be yourself and take a stand for the labour movement the way it should be done in modern times ie;
sound government with progressive ideas about how we are going to navigate the ever changing challenges of the world today and in the future.

rhonda | 08 September 2010  

We have a great opprotunity to get things done. Labor, a Green and Independents who will give regional Australia a real voice lacking for too long. A brilliant combination. Everyone will be watching. Everyone will have to talk to each other. Everyone will have to listen!! And Moira not every demonination or Diocese eschews women in the priesthood. Check out Bathurst Anglican Diocese!

Jorie Ryan | 08 September 2010  

No, Ms Rayner, you cannot claim that 52% of the population has high hopes of Ms Gillard.

According to the latest Australian Electoral Commission figures, published this morning, 37.63% of primary votes went to the Australian Labour Party but 43.63% went to the Liberal Party/National Party Coalition. the ALP won 72 seats but the Coalition won 73. The two-party preferred vote was 49.99% for the ALP and 50.01% for the Coalition - very little in it, certainly, but the fact is that, technically, the Coalition received most of the votes.

On each of the above standards, the 2010 federal election was a statistical and moral victory for Tony Abbot.

Ms Gillard cannot claim to be the first elected Prime Minister of Australia. Most people did not want her as PM and she only managed to cling on to office by making the kind of masculinist back-room deals that Ms Rayner so despises.

Sylvester | 08 September 2010  

Well said Moira. At long last another woman who calls it like it is.

Rosemary Keenan Gwelup WA | 08 September 2010  

What a fascinating time in Australian herstory; two amazing women leading the country (the PM and the GG ).

From the outset, Abbot didn't get it - his ego taking for granted the three 'Independents' would side with him, and he 'loves the bush'...

Yes Moira you gotta laugh.

Julie McNeill | 08 September 2010  

Isn't it funny how all the Coalition apologists, who are using statistics in an attempt to blind us to the reality of the outcome of the election, that is that where it counts, i.e. on the floor of the Parliament, Julia Gillard has the numbers to form government, have absolutely avoided mentioning the fact of John Howard's 1998 election win with <50% of the 2PP? What's good for the goose is good for the gander, guys!

Hillbilly Skeleton | 08 September 2010  

Peter, the electorate has not been blackmailed by anyone, do get over your spite now.

If they had gone the other way you would applaud them even though Abbott is without a plan or policy.

Marilyn Shepherd | 08 September 2010  

Victory on the floor of the lower house of Parliament is, indeed, what ultimately counts in our system. Ms Gillard has won that victory and is to be congratulated.

At the same time, it is important not simplistically to conflate that with the popular will, as Ms Rayner has done. In terms of raw democracy, Abbot won and that needs to be acknowledged as psephological fact, even if the Coalition did not make it to the treasury benches.

Let us then not have the ALP bleating 'we wuz robbed' next time the Coaltion gains less of the primary or two-party preferred vote but nevertheless secures control of the floor of Parliament, as has happened in the past.

After all, what is good for the gander is good for the goose, girls.

Sylvester | 08 September 2010  

I am glad that the Independents took there time. The nation isn't going anywhere fast anyhow and despite 'mainstream' media urging and the shock jocks at it too- it was good that the major parties were given a shakeup.

Now we get the 'Greens' we deserve in the Senate because the ALP has been too far to the neo-liberal economic 'right' just like their aleged big party coalition opposition.
I am glad that things are not going to be the same again.

Michael Webb | 08 September 2010  

Memo to all geese and gander,

Claims of statistical and moral victory in Election 2010 are a bit premature.

The AEC website states that “the Two Party Preferred (TPP) and Two Candidate Preferred (TCP) vote counts are indicative until notified as final. These counts are done to assist election related analysis and research”.

The election results on the AEC website as of 9/09/2010 at 6:17:07 PM.

•Across Australia 14,088,260 electors enrolled to vote.
•Currently 93.14% of the primary vote has been counted.
•The two party preferred count is 88.96% complete.
•ALP 50.10; Liberal/National Coalition 49.90

The figures are updated several times a day. The final counts are still some way off.

As we know Government goes to the Leader who can command a majority of 76 (or more) on the floor of the Lower House.

Casablanca | 09 September 2010  

If the four so called independent MPs were truly independents, they would not have joined a coalition with Liberal or the Labor parties. They would have remained Independent and let the major parties work out the problem. The heading "Welcome back, Julia" Welcome back to what? To fuel watch? To grocery watch? To pink bats? To BER? to Copenhagen failure? Stopping the boats? 20/20/ summit? 150 citizens assembly? NBN Billions of dollars? Etc., and Etc.,? When will Eureka Street accept that the majority of Australians have rejected Labor. The Coalition has received 43.7% of the votes and won 73 seats. Labor has received 38% of the votes and won 72 seats.

Ron Cini | 09 September 2010  

Moira - I could not have put it better myself - thank god the election went the way it finally did, and that there is a chance for really needed change in the way politics are going to hopefully be done over the next 3 years.

I really hope the Gillard government is given a chance to do what it has promised and one of my top hopes is that the pulp mill in Tasmania is quashed.
So much to be done - and really so little time with only 3 years!
I was going to have to leave the country if it went the other way!
Always good to read your column

Rosemary Latto | 10 September 2010  

Thank you Moira. As a Liberal Party member I often despair of its leaders (content and style). But at a 25th birthday party (I'm 57) a week before the election I found much common ground with the young Labor/Green supporters who were also despairing about their leaders. So the result was no surprise and - yes - it is a real opportunity.

Leigh Mackay | 10 September 2010  

Thanks Moira for an insightful article. We were given a mind of our own and Julia has now established that she has indeed got one; which urges her to seek consensus. I welcome PM Gillard for her commitment to matters of Health, Renewable Energy, Education and Training, Infrastructure, Workplace Reform and Communications. PM Gillard may yet consider supporting Culture and the Arts as well. Here is hoping. Regards.

Joyce Parkes | 10 September 2010  

The statistics would be better analysed by separating the Liberal and National vote and putting that alongside the Labor vote and the Green vote. Since the Greens had indicated support of Labor why is it not sound thinking to combine their vote with Labor and compare this with the Coalition.

We might dream about a BIG COALITION. How mature compared to the staggering pettiness of parliamentary exchange in Australia.

David Garratt | 10 September 2010  

How can you be delighted at having a female prime minister given the way she grabbed it? How is she an example to young women --- do anything at all to get what you want. All very well to talk abut human immigration policies etc, but then support politically inhumane treatment of others when it suits you. Moira Rayner, I think you see ethics as you choose given the circumstance.

June | 10 September 2010  

I agree with Michael Webb. The two major parties have become economically and socially indistinguishable and needed a shake-up. The century-long duopoly has not always been in the common good interest. What is being characterised in the media as the virtue of government stability has often been simply the vice of irresistability or the inertia of the policy moribund.

Although I am not so optimistic as to believe the two major parties will change their spots, if enough people continue to propose and turn to the alternatives, they are going to have to work much harder and much more honestly and develop some better principles.

Stephen Kellett | 14 September 2010  

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