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Why Gillard is the PM we deserve


Julia GillardI'm not worried about Julia Gillard's abysmal rating in polls. I'm not convinced anyone but journalists and backbiters have any real desire to roll Australia's first woman Prime Minister and replace her with any of those ambitious men among whom she floated to the top of the Labor Party.

All that she has done is sound insincere: ditch the ALP's pre-government commitment to on-shore processing of asylum seekers; maintain the live cattle trade with Indonesia in face of clear evidence of grossly cruel practices; and blather about the sanctity of marriage.

She has shown she is human and, above all, determined to hang on to office despite all the crap thrown at her for being a woman (see the top eight stereotypes). And you've got to admire that, though I do confess to being disappointed in my hope that the first woman to be Australian Prime Minister would be a statesman. We have just another politician.

Yet we have the leaders we deserve. The parliamentary ALP is so derived and driven by factions that it can decline to implement its formal, written policies on, for example, an emissions trading scheme, or the humane treatment of asylum seekers in accordance with our international obligations — which are explicitly to assess the claims of those who arrive in Australia and claim to be refugees.

Gillard cannot see past the poultry [sic] advice of Immigration Department turkeys (to cite Bob Brown) who feel that Australians couldn't cope with an average of 600 arrivals on shore a month, which we already do (they come by plane).

A party that was truly connected to voters would have them with far greater influence than the careerists who currently flap their wings in smoke-filled offices and say who's in and who's out. It has been in their interests that community activists and organisers and men and women of passion and vision have been sidelined from parliamentary and administrative policy-making.

The ALP's branches are drooping as the roots dry out.

Poor Gillard can't win a trick. She came to power because the factions forced her to step up to the guillotine and stand under her own Damoclean sword. When she faced the electorate she got a hung parliament. I was excoriated for not denouncing her as a creature of the Greens, who with the Independents hold the balance of power and have limited her policy options.

Now, when Gillard has struck out on her own (in my view, mistaken) view of what Australians want her to do about 'the boats', she is reviled for seeking her only option (other than to implement party policy), a foul bargain with Tony Abbott. That is the only way she could seek to bypass the High Court's casting-down of the Malaysia solution.

I think this is a bargain to be ashamed of, but we share the blame for the loss of quality, originality and steadiness in political decision-making that comes from apathy, compliance and realpolitik.

Labor is no longer the party of workers, just as the Libs no longer stand for the supremacy of conscience or for individual freedoms and civil liberties. There is no two-party system, but coalitions of the moment. The conventions of government have been in steep decline since John Kerr dismissed the Whitlam government in 1975, most pettily demonstrated by Abbott declining to keep his promise to 'pair' government ministers and Craig Thomson in 2011.

Maybe this convention-breaking is a good thing: pretence about rules of civilised behaviour that are regularly subverted in practice is just a lie.

Just as Fijian Prime Minister Bainimarana proved the shallowness of the roots of Fijian parliamentary democracy by his bloodless, peaceful coup, Australia's coalitions (Gillard's ALP/Independents/Greens government vs Abbott's Liberal/National's Opposition) have played out for us the inevitable end of market-driven politics: a coagulation of near-identical policies in the middle of a desert highway.

Former Liberal MP for Kooyong, Petro-Giorgiou, recently decried the poverty of the Liberals' commitment to international legal and humanitarian options. The ousting of Turnbull speaks volumes about their emotional, near-hysterical opposition to any step to combat climate change.

The ALP Left has split on the asylum seeker issue. Hardly a voice has been raised by Labor itself in defence of the often vicious personal attacks on our first woman PM, who has certainly done no worse than the man who preceded her and displayed his own character flaws and poor judgment.

There is no obvious alternative to Gillard, but there is an obvious need for a party which stands for something. Turnbull's leadership opportunity has been stymied by his brilliance at raising hackles among the Liberals, and their preference for a policy-free zone.

We have the leaders we deserve, who would rather follow public opinion, than lead it. 

Moira RaynerMoira Rayner is a barrister and writer. 

Topic tags: Moira Rayner, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, Malaysia solution



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Existing comments

It's not so much the "crap" that's been hurled at Julia Gillard "for being a woman" but, rather the "crap" that she has thrown at the Australian people, to say nothing of the ALP which has all but disappeared under its weight and why it is so literally on the nose.

As for " All that she has done is sound insincere: ditch the ALP's pre-government commitment to on-shore processing of asylum seekers; maintain the live cattle trade with Indonesia in face of clear evidence of grossly cruel practices; and blather about the sanctity of marriage"...defence rests!

There is an obvious alternative to Gillard... it's called an election.

Brian Haill - Melbourne | 15 September 2011  

Once again, i agree with every word you have written above Moira.Yes Julia is 'just a politician'... how can she NOT pursue onshore processing of asylum seekers...!? But she has also been subjected to such vitriol,yet taken it calmly and with dignity and good humour.I do not sgree with her often, but admire her grace under pressure.

rosemary | 15 September 2011  

Brian, you miss the point that Moira was making. It's not just the ALP and Gillard that are the problem; the Coalition and Abbott are no better. Look at the disgraceful behaviour of both sides as late as yesterday in the House. Neither party stands for anything honourable or decent, neither party has any principles any more. Both are simply seeking to get their hands on power and then get their snouts in the trough. The electorate understood that at the last election and refused to give either of them a majority. I would not be at all surprised if it were to do the same again if another election were held soon.

Ginger Meggs | 15 September 2011  

"We have the leaders we deserve"

Who has? The "community activists and organisers and men and women of passion and vision" you mentioned? Are you're sure you want to blame everyone in the country equally?

Russell | 15 September 2011  

'We have the leaders we deserve' has become something of a cliche, as well as being further reason for complacency. Not everyone in Australia believes we have the leaders we deserve. Some of us have very high expectations of our leaders, even the writer of this article. It is extraordinary how often our leaders are much more compassionate and active for social good before and after their entry into Parliament, than during their actual stay. Almost every Prime Minister you can name comes across as more human after they have left high office and, to quote Stevie Smith, some of them are more human than others.

PHILIP HARVEY | 15 September 2011  

Brian Haill: "As for " All that she has done is sound insincere: ditch the ALP's pre-government commitment to on-shore processing of asylum seekers; maintain the live cattle trade with Indonesia in face of clear evidence of grossly cruel practices; and blather about the sanctity of marriage"...defence rests!" AGREED.

There is an obvious alternative to Gillard... it's called an election." I I disagree. If there were an alternative, I'd happily agree. But Abbott an alternative? Really? I feel so despondent.

EllieKay | 15 September 2011  

It was Kevin Rudd who brought disaster to Labor and not Julia Gillard. He wanted to appease all minorities and forgot the ordinary Australian family. Julia Gillard tries to do what most fair thinking Australian want her to do. It is the stupid Carbon Tax which is causing her more problems. It has nothing to do with migration policies which she inherited from Kevin Rudd. Kevin Rudd’s policies were a massive failure and Australia needed a change for the better. Julia Gillard may not be my favourite politicians, but she is listening more to ordinary Australians than Kevin Rudd ever did.

Beat Odermatt | 15 September 2011  

Great analysis...well done! But where on earth does poor old Australia go from here; and with such opportunities going to waste.

Eugene | 15 September 2011  

Gospel truth! I want to read more truth of his type. I hope all the MP's read this. Thank you Moira

Senal Mudaliar | 15 September 2011  

"The conventions of Government have been in decline since John Kerr dismissed the Whitlam government....... Maybe this convention breaking is a good thing:" This has probably hit the nail on the head M/s Rayner. I have always understood that the dismissal happened because the Whitlam government ignored the conventions of our political system and that at that time his dismissal was a rarely exercised but valid convention. The dismissal caused such division that it might be that subsequent politians have worked under the assumption that they can ignore convention as Whitlam did and no governor general will ever exercise that devisive convention ever again. Maybe it is the fact that they believe, after Whitlam's experience, that they can flout convention with impunity."Convention breaking" no longer has a potential deterrent in dismissal. Maybe our problems are all spawned by Whitlam rather than Kerr?

john frawley | 15 September 2011  

According to Moira Rayner "Gillard is the PM we deserve". Not only Conservative supporters, but also many Labor Party supporters are against Julia Gillard's carbon tax. Remember, Monday 16 August 2010 "There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead". If we have to choose between Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott? Well, Julia Gillard is an atheist and a member of Emily's List. Tony Abbott is Pro-God, Pro-Family and Pro-Life. He is a volunteer Fiery with the NSW Rural Fire Service and a volunteer Surf Lifesaver. It should not be hard to choose.

Ron Cini | 15 September 2011  

'... I do confess to being disappointed in my hope that the first woman to be Australian Prime Minister would be a statesman. We have just another politician.' Why should a woman have a higher standard applied to her than a man? This is the other side of the aforementioned misogynist carp, I think. (I meant to write crap, but carp sounds good; a big gaping fish.) Women have the right to be mediocre too.

Penelope | 15 September 2011  

I agree with you in practically everything you say, Moira! Well done! But, may I point out that there is no Left in the country anymore?!? If you have the time to pick up the Canberra Times (sometime last week) and read Bruce Haigh's article, you'll see what I mean. What you probably mean is "factionS" of the Right. they reign supreme today, and are leading the ALP more to the Right than the Coalition! You may find that Cameron and a handfull of "lefties" manage to say something against what is NOT Labor values. But there's no-one else out there. As for the way Julia is being treated, I agree. I cannot agree with some of her decisions, but I still support her specially after I read (again, in the Canberra Times) how Christopher Pyne & Hockey follow Julia in the corridors of parliament whispering "You're drawing, Julia, you're drawing", behind her back, making sure she hears it. this is more than I can take from those bastards! Although she ignores them, I still think this has to erode her self-confidence. It's good to read your article, Moira! God bless!

Nathalie | 15 September 2011  

Moira seems to intimate that Malcolm Turnbull be considered as an alternative leader of the Coalition. Have commentators forgotten about "The Gruesome Grech Conspiracy Wreck", brought about by the political juvenility of Malcolm Turnbull? I hope not!

Claude Rigney | 15 September 2011  

Thanks for a very thoughtful piece. It is hard to argue with any of this, except that the second-last paragraph hints at an elephant in the room. There must be an even more powerful need for parties that stand for nothing. This need seems less moral than the 'need for a party which stands for something,' but that may be just the way we view it. In Australia, as in all prosperous democracies, the laws of political gravity have been drawing all parties towards goallessness since long before the cold war ended. Political parties emerge from distinctive points of belief, but apparently those ideological core beliefs are impossible to reconcile with the business of party politics.

Tom Clark | 15 September 2011  

You want a Party that stands for something? That stands for human rights, for fairness, decency and humanity? There is such a Party. It's just the Murdoch press (70% of Australia's print media) that opposes them.

David Arthur | 16 September 2011  

I agree with your thoughts Moira. The cheap comments made by media people and the public about Julia Gillard are pathetic. Most of the media political analysis and comment is trivial and celebrity nonsense. The media likes to focus on meaningless polls which are completed every five minutes. It is unfortunate that we have had very few quality statesmen as prime minister in the last 40 odd years. Gough Whitlam and Paul Keating are the only exceptions. The ALP is dominated by a masculine philosophy and has never treated the women's view with respect. I believe that women such as Susan Ryan, Carmen Lawrence, Ros Kelly and Joan Kirner were patronised by their men colleagues. I am not sure that Julia Gillard is a great leader, but is probably at least as good as Kevin Rudd, Bill Shorten, Stephen Smith or Greg Combet. She is certainly a better leader than Tony Abbott. It is unfortunate that most of the electorate are gullible people who will be influenced by the media buffoons.

Mark Doyle | 16 September 2011  

If there is a "need for a party which stands for something" you have conveniently listed some of the many reasons it's certainly not the ALP. Thanks

Bill Barry | 16 September 2011  

Thank you everybody. Penelope, I agree (and it's implicit in much of what I say). Mr. Frawley, you can call me Mrs. Rayner if you would find it less distasteful than "M/s". And Russell, sometimes we have to try harder and organise more effectively. I think it's called citizenship.

Moira Rayner | 17 September 2011  

"Yet we have the leaders we deserve." Rightaway my hackles raise. Nobody tells me I deserved the leadership options the Australian electoral system presented to me at the last election. I had no say in who should lead the ALP, the Liberals, the Nationals, the Greens. All I had was a say in who should represent me in federal seat of Monaro (my choice was defeated) and who should represent my state in the Senate (one of my choices got in because of proportional representation.)
Democratic politics in Australia is a tough game and I draw the analogy with sport advisedly. In NRL circles there are those who want to bring back the biff, others who want to outlaw all betting on games, others who want players and coaches to have club loyalty above their own and their families' wellbeing.
I could go on.
Do I have the NRL leaders I deserve? For my club yes. Does the game have the leaders it deserves? In some cases yes. Does it have the kind of coverage it deserves? In many cases,no.
And there is certainly too much.
But sport and especially footie is part of "bread and circuses" in 21st century.

Uncle Pat | 18 September 2011  

I think that the big problem at present goes back to a theory I heard many years ago.
Question- How do you tell when a pollie starts to lie.
Answer- Watch to see his or her lips start to move.

Nick Hollingworth | 19 September 2011  

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