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Why we're mean to Julia


If there is anything we should have learned from the slow-mo, multi-vehicle car-crash that is News Limited's credibility and the downfall of the British establishment; the Victorian Labor Party's election giveaway to a vacuous opposition; and the tumultuous downfall of 'celebrities' from Rex Hunt and Ben Cousins to Christine Nixon, it's that those who rise by media approval, will fall by it.

Public figures who survive the collapse into iniquity need a sense of self and the ridiculous. Once, talkback radio hosts and reporters drummed up Julia Gillard as tomorrow's PM and the day's bright star in the political firmament. Today she's 'JuLiar', the 'witch' and a fallen princess chased into a Paris subway, pursued by paparazzi.

Her and her party's polling is at an historic low: the budgie-smuggler's is absurdly high. The differences between them are show and tell, rather than science and economics. And the 'polls' show how well or not the other's advertising works.

What's going wrong? As one of my Facebook 'friends' asked this week: 'Why are people so unkind to Julia?'. One succinct, and only partly sexist, response from the pathetically small remnant of Labor sympathisers who subscribe to that page is worthy of thought, though not my approval:

'Because she talked Rudd out of the ETS then knifed him then said NO CARBON TAX, East Timor Solution, citizens assembly, cash for clunkers then ... Forget what I said here's another plan. Because she sent juniors to national security meetings. Because she cries when things are going askew ... Because she got her seat by gender quota affirmative action ...'

Gillard actually won preselection and election on merit, but the sly slur shallowly pulls in the undertow of public opinion. Such shallow surfacing on Facebook is a sign of the prison our irresponsibly libertarian, monopolised media have made for us, reinforced by our addiction to instant judgments; to witticisms and strong opinions rather than wisdom and experience in opinion pages; to blogs rather than essays.

Gillard lost 'it' — that is, our warm inner glow about her — when she gave her first speech after calling the 2010 election and it was a string of dumbed-down clichés arising from a series of shallow 'focus groups' slavishly adopted by asses in New South Wales.

This would not matter, had not the public become accustomed to being spon-fed opinions by our limited, shallow and self-important communication media, ten second 'grabs' on news programs, and a learned preference for reality-show performances.

Compare this to Paul Keating's appearance on Lateline last week. Lord, how I longed for the return of this kind of able, intelligent, affable and articulate public conversationalist, whom we let go at such a critical time in our development as a nation, because we thought he lacked the common touch.

Keating ran rings around host Tony Jones that night, explaining his position — that there's no bloody point in holding an enquiry into 'media ownership' in Australia because of Murdoch's criminal reporters in the UK: the real issue is whether or not we need a legally enforceable right to privacy — instead of reacting to his impatient interviewer. Knowledgeably, with a prepared written reference, and authoritatively, because Keating presented an argument, not a position.

There aren't too many of such people around, and those who try aren't appreciated (Malcolm Turnbull), or preselected (dozens of 'em), or, in Julia's case, are being silenced by being 'reported' selectively and critically.

You don't try to teach an old dog new tricks, but old ones work pretty well. Gillard is — after a year of trial and error, poor advice and silly strategising — running the case for action that will map out the first steps towards a seriously dark and threatening future.

We will create a march of folly if we don't demand public debate about the real issues, not the dog-whistling of the electorate. Watching Keating, I felt keenly our loss of the depth of political thinking and planning that he represents. We need it now, knowing that life in Australia is as stable as the earth beneath us and the tides of the sea.

Gillard may not 'sound right', but that's our fault, because we have not looked for expertise from those who give us their opinions for a fee (who cares what Janet Albrechtson, law graduate and married woman with influential friends, thinks about climate change?), or real policy discussion.

The Gillard election proposal for a thoughtful, year-long public consultation on climate change responses was a good one, but badly timed and rightly ditched. But there is time, now, to consider the arguments, and take a chance.

We, the electorate, spurned the thoughtful way in 1996 and won 11 years of mean-spirited disputation and sneers. In 2007 we voted in favour of vision, empathy and grand designs and watched it wither in a welter of micro-management and power broking.

We asked too much of a former deputy prime minister in a toxic environment of careerist changing of the guard. But as the banner read in the closing scenes of On the Beach: 'There is yet time, brother.'

Moira RaynerMoira Rayner is a barrister and writer. 

Topic tags: Moira Rayner, Julia Gillard, Carbon Tax, Paul Keating, Tony Abbott, Lateline, Tony Jones, Janet Albrechtson



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Existing comments

My family - namely my 8 year old son, has been directly affected by this campaign against Julia Gillard. Why? because he has 'red' hair, he asked me the other day after unfortunately seeing on tv after a channel surf, the results of an audience poll 'is it ok to make fun of 'rangers', to which 73% of the audience replied yes. Patricks reply was 'why is skin more important than hair?..I know it is mean to make fun of people because of their skin color or call them a name, but people can tease me because of my hair color, and they call me a 'ape name'. What do I say to an 8year old, 'society think this is fine, because it's a bit of harmless fun', our Prime Minister gladly normalizes this, yet if anyone 'dared' tease or called someone with different skin color a name, we would all be outraged. Why is it funny to call someone 'Ranger red' but not 'Nigger black'...of course we know why..it is a disgrace. This campaign against Julia and her acceptance of this has directly impacted on 'redheads' and all of us, who think its ok to laugh. Hair color is just as important as skin color.

Jacky Haberl | 20 July 2011  

Well, there are no politicians in Canberra, or in any state or territory, that are any different to Gillard, or Abbott for that matter.

True, she is a confected nonsense, but so too is Abbott and his henchmen.

Who with a couple of synapses coule possibly take any of the Opposition front bench seriously?

And then there is the ALP!

Not a single coherent thought bubble emerges from any of them.

Hang on though. Stephen Smith has the measure of the lazy sods in the armed forces, totally incapable of running a piss-up in a brewery, never mind running a war, or maintaining a clapped out Holden.

While it is popular to blame our politicians for their failures, one only has to look at what passes as 'journalism' and 'public debate' to see where the fault actually lies.

With uninformed and disconnected voters, too engaged on 'spending', 'shopping' and diligently avoiding facing their community responsibilities, this itself a by product of the society we all support in our collective Drongoism.

When people like Senator Joyce get airtime (let's use him as a metaphor for all similar politicians rather than accuse him of standing alone here)and get reported as being 'a good retail politicians', surely a meaningless phrase, then all hope is lost.

Harold Wilson | 20 July 2011  

Given...."...who cares what Janet Albrechtson, law graduate and married woman with influential friends, thinks about climate change?), or real policy discussion......why wouldn't anyone ask the same question about Moira Rayner?

Brian Haill - Melbourne | 20 July 2011  

Here we go again! I agree that most people in Australia have no respect for Julia Gillard at all. She cannot blame it on external factors and the media. She has lied, she has misled the people of Australia and most people feel betrayed. Australians are not “mean” to her, they are actually extremely generous. She is getting paid well for a job for which she not suitable. Julia Gillard is an intelligent woman and knows very well that a carbon tax is wrong, but she needs to appease Bob Brown. Julia Gillard is a victim of Julia Gillard’s dishonesty and disloyalty.

Beat Odermatt | 20 July 2011  

Those who keep repeating the JuLiar word, this is no different to the way John Howard's government introduced the GST. First a NO WAY pre-election promise, then an about face when in Government. As one opposed to the concept then, would I go back to taxation as it was? No. Abbott is a cunning politician... he was part of the Howard about face! It takes one to recognise one.

LOUIS VAN LAAR | 20 July 2011  

Fair go, Brian Haill - many commentators are paid thousands to editorialise, and their columns are not usually grounded in lived experience or argued from a consistent framework. Give me Moira Rayner's Eureka Street analysis any day.

MBG | 20 July 2011  

I have heard some really awful things said on the radio about our Prime Minister. Swap Julia for John...or even Kevin....and nothing remotely as derogatory or personal said. Snide, sneering, cruel remarks, trying to debase her womanhood. This whole Julia thing is revealing the bullying and small minded aspect of our nation....listen to some of the announcers and what they allow from their callers.....shades of the unruly classroom and a group mentality feeding off each member as they get bolder and bolder. I don't believe this is Julia's lack of authority, it is a deeper lack of trust in a woman as leader.....relationships with mothers and wives and sisters.

Ms Gillard, I believe, has made some ill advised policy miscalculations (as do all leaders), but she is dignified and brave and the invective directed towards her reflects us, not her. It is Abbott's job to counter her, but even he must be wondering if the game is fair or clean. This is a dark moment in Australian social history.

Jane Moore | 20 July 2011  

Moira Rayner shows that she has two different set of standards. She wrote” Her and her party's polling is at an historic low: the budgie-smuggler's is absurdly high. “It seems perfectly ok to make fun of Tony Abbot’s swimming gear. Mind you, if somebody would have dared to be critical about the fashion sense of Julia Gillard, the witch hunt would start and the army of self-righteous do-gooder would open with an artillery barrage of old slogans like “sexism”.

I thought we were judging people on their performance and not what they wear on the beach

Beat Odermatt | 20 July 2011  

Again you have hit the nail on the head Moira.

However it is the public that will vote her in or out of office and the truth is that julia is perceived as a back stabbing bitch. She has the twofold problem of first redeeming herself in the eyes of the public and then achieving something extraordinary to warrant continued support and reprieve.

Katherine Radonic | 20 July 2011  

I believe that the Australian public, at least those whose opinions have been sought by the pollsters, seem to have completely ignored the arguments in favour of action to combat climate change. Of course there are arguments against action but the vast majority of climatologists support action. Surely we must listen to these experts.

But the polls indicate that a majority of Australians have taken a set against Julia because of the apparent negatives that we remember about her. I don't believe she lied about the carbon tax before the election. I think that after the election she became convinced that it was the right thing for Australia, despite the fact that it would be hard to sell. That is the way I believe we should all look at it.

Tony Santospirito | 20 July 2011  

Moira ,I cannot believe you that you totally failed to even mention that Julia is a puppet not to the power brokers but to puppeteer Brown who very few of us elected as PM .

Little wonder we yearn for the intelligence & conviction Paul K would bring to our governence if he instead of Rudd made another run. Imagine the slaughter he could inflict on pathetic Tony A.

John Kersh | 20 July 2011  

Why has political commentary in this country become so shallow playing the person against what is good for our nation and for future generations? We should all support Julia Gillard and the Labor Party in their endeavours to counter Climate Change in our great country.

Barbara Matthies | 20 July 2011  

Probably the most biased, ill-conceived and immature article I have ever read on Eureka St, poorly written and irrelevant. Doesn't like other female law graduates with children either! The Gillard dislike has nothing to do with gender (which is the fallguy for the struggling feminists). It's because of her lack of loyalty, lying, self-interest and lack of concern for this country and its people.

john frawley | 20 July 2011  

Julia's "year-long public consultation on climate change" was focussed on the views of non-experts on climate change who agreed with her views.

Advisers like Garnaut and Flannery are not experts in this area. By adopting their stance and rejecting opposing views outright the PM lost credibility.

Bill Barry | 20 July 2011  

Agree with commenter Harold Wilson, and would add that in this culture of power and domination that we're creating, it will be harder for a woman to be accepted as a leader.

Think of the now saturation TV coverage we have of rugby and football, as an example. These athletes are paid a fortune and are heroes to kids, but a lot of what they do is physical domination of opponents. That's what you do to be a winner, to get respect, to be a leader.

We do have awards for Best Teacher etc but compare their impact with all the displays we see of how brute power wins respect! In such a context I think it's much harder for a well-mannered, careful, non-aggressive woman (who doesn't even compete in triathlons!) to be seen as the leader of a party, government and the country.

Paul Keating was seen as 'a fighter' - someone who enjoyed a bit of a (verbal) brawl, and tried to, and enjoyed, dominating his opposition. He would meet force with greater force. If a woman did that she would be seen as 'unnaturally' hard.

Russell | 20 July 2011  

It does not seem so lonely out here when I read your article and listen to Paul Keating.

Mike Pauly | 20 July 2011  

Enjoyed your article. You touched on climate change. I think this carbon tax is a very ineffective method of reducing carbon output. As an environmentally concerned citizen I think we need to directly attack the carbon problem. Work with the big polluters not punish them. By working with the big polluters new methods of attacking carbon may be found that could be shared with every business.

Asking companies to come up with their own solution after "fining" them $23 a tonne seems like a particularly poor way of doing things. Also Julia's way of saying that if you don't support the carbon tax you hate the planet. Where does Julia get the confidence to say that there's only one way to tackle carbon output and that her indirect method is the best? Is it confidence or arrogance. Let's reduce carbon instead of finding a way to give 4 million voters a little bribe to vote Labor.

Brian Evans | 20 July 2011  

Why is Moira Rayner unkind to Janet Albrechtson? Moira asks, (who cares what Janet Albrechtson, law graduate and married woman with influential friends, thinks about climate change?) Answer, Australians who have a great respect for Janet Albrechtson and read her genuine articles.

Ron cini | 20 July 2011  

She is the first PM in history to allow the AFP to shoot refugees. She wants to be a human trader, she was tormenting Tamils while the genocide was still going on and she thinks Afghanistan is safe. I cried with rage when she became PM because I attended two meetings when she was setting her refugee policy and she didn't have a clue. People should have read the entire Lowy speech, the entire premise was to make refugees stay home and die and she is acting on it. I like ALP policies generally, the BER, the NBN, the carbon policy is a good policy, but I cannot abide their stupidity over human rights.

Marilyn | 20 July 2011  

Why is Moira Rayner unkind to Janet Albrechtson? Moira asks, (who cares what Janet Albrechtson, law graduate and married woman with influential friends, thinks about climate change?) Answer, Australians who have a great respect for Janet Albrechtson and read her genuine articles.

Ron cini | 20 July 2011  

Bill Barry, who are the climate-change experts we should listen to?

Unless I'm mistaken, together with ex-Prime Ministers Howard and Rudd, and current Prime Minister Gillard, we listen to Ross Garnaut as an economics expert giving us advice on how best to modify our commerce and industry in response to climate change.

I've yet to find any evidence in his statements that Professor Garnaut claims to speak as a climate scientist.

Ian Fraser | 20 July 2011  

Sorry, Jane Moore, but have you forgotten the vilification of John Howard, whether it was a 'core' promise or simply an interview with Kerry O'Brien on the 7.30 Report? And the effigies at many of the street marchs and public gatherings?

Then people would want to crucify Jeannette because she refused to buy into the squabble of the day.

Far from being mean-spirited, I learned a lot from the Howard family - things like 'turn the other cheek' and discipline and 'stick-to-itiveness'. Yes, he did have his faults, he had faith in what he was doing and he allowed the Australian public a great diversity of opinions.

I get the impression, now, especially after reading Moira Rayner's peice, that there is something wrong with me if I don't respond with 'yes sir, no sir,' etc.

And what is there not to like about Barnaby Joyce, Harold? Have you never engaged in regular travel to St George? By car or light aircraft - it's just as uncomfortable and inconvenient whichever way. Lots of changing of planes or long, boring bumby roads. Funny how he attracted such sneering criticism when he mentioned the possibility that the US might default on its debts.

A. McGregor | 20 July 2011  

We get the politicians and media that we deserve. Most Australian people have no interest in rational informed debate and political and moral philosophy. We are a secular and materialist society. There is no reason for most Australian people to be interested in climate change because of their desire to maintain their affluence and 99% of these people are affluent. Most of the content of our popular newspapers, radio and TV is trivial and celebrity nonsense. The only quality radio is the ABC Radio National and 3CR, which only attracts approximately 3% of the radio audience.

I miss Paul Keating as prime minister because he was a true statesman, who had a great vision and could articulate it. He was not popular with the media because most media people were unable to understand rational argument. The best news and current affairs on our TV are the Deutsche Welle 'Journal', the American PBS Newhour and the BBC World News.

Mark Doyle | 21 July 2011  

While it's difficult to fathom the depth of the ordinary Australian's political knowledge, it's important to note that most come from those whose literacy skills do not extend beyond the tabloids' (viz a viz Herald Sun) big typographical headlines. Typically and erroneously our PM is accused of lying when she announced before the last election that there would not be a carbon tax during the lifetime of her government. It doesn't require the brains of a rocket scientist to distinguish the government she led at the time and the subsequent election result, when the political dynamics changed. Now the PM leads a minority government with the support of Independents and Green. Any astute politician would adjust/change his/her mandate in order to maintain the political equilibrium for the good of the country. And that's exactly what JG has done. To simplify the complexity of dealing with climate change as expressed by the BOs and Abbotts of this world is disingenuous as well as asinine. Interest groups such as the mining/building (HIA)/media (News Corp) alliances are not our elected representatives. Their protests are self serving and should be seen as such. Tragically, since News Corp owns 70% of our print media, anything resembling intelligent and free debate on any issue that's not promulgated by the Coalition is buried under the refuse of Goebbels-like propaganda.

Alex Njoo | 21 July 2011  

Some very good points are raised in this article. It's scary that so many people think "the carbon tax will send us all broke and Australia is doomed forever," but when I ask them to explain why they think that, they don't know the first thing about it. The reason? News Ltd.'s strong campaign against it. People can't claim that this carbon tax is in her own "self-interest" (as someone said earlier); she'll very likely lose Prime Ministership at the next election -- therefore, it is HARDLY in her self-interest. Argue that she is using poor judgement if you will, but she certainly believes this is for the good of the country (and for the world, for that matter). I give the same credit to John Howard and his attempt to introduce WorkChoices -- it would never be favoured by the electorate, but he felt it was the right thing to do.

Peter Lalor | 21 July 2011  

Louis Van Laar, John Howard did change his mind on the GST, but he announced the change and then shortly after went to an election. Julia Gillard promised no carbon tax and then one year after the election changed her mind. I would have had no problem with her about turn if it had been done just before she went into an election.

Patrick James | 21 July 2011  

When I read the comments above, I am dismayed and saddened by the vitriolic hate that is expressed by so many, including those the have in the past self-identified as devout Catholics. If the discussion on a website like Eureka Street can get as nasty as this, what hope for any sane and sensible debate about anything that really matters. Perhaps I should just go back and watch the footy.

Ginger Meggs | 21 July 2011  

Glad to have provoked a discussion but sorry that it has also apparently invoked personal attacks. I write about the law, politics, ethics, human rights, equal opportunity, civil liberties and the community, and some spirituality, because I have qualifications and experience in such things, and you can take or leave my opinions. I am, however, dismayed by the outright misogyny implicit or explicit in some commentators, and decline to be either party to that, or its obverse, as strongly as I object to any expression of hatred, as opposed to dissension. In the paraphrased words of - was it Voltaire? - I may passionately disagree with everything that you say but also fight for your right to express yourself. But speaking up against what you say is not 'silencing' you: it asks for a principled debate rather than abuse. I believe that published essayists such as Stephen Leacock or Walter Murdoch (and, actually, Germaine Greer int he UK) are worth reading because they are wise men and women who have earned our respect through their achievements and knowledge but most importantly their willingness to reflect, and to be vulnerable by speaking publicly and personally, and that is what I aim to do, though without much hope of success. Most of our particularly opinionated columnists have achieved no more than being paid to write or deliver opinion pieces, the more abrasive the better. I believe we have become hostage to the commercial interests of media publishers and commentators, so I am watching the corrupt outcome of the NoTW revelations with a sense of sad inevitability.

Moira Rayner | 21 July 2011  

Well spoken, Moira! I agree with you in what you say about Julia. It's a shame she pays so much attention to the media.

But I wonder about these polls!?!? Why on earth am I never asked for my opinions?? Why is it that in the 45 years i have lived in this country I have never ever been asked questions about the PM, policies or political personalities? And I'm willing to give an opinion! How do I go about it??

My guess is that the media/papers/radio/TV only concentrate on the SAME groups all the time. When these interviewers die, the next lot use the same bloody group again OR they carefully pick on their friends and keep them going?!?!

Nathalie | 21 July 2011  

Mike Pauly gets my vote for comment of the year.

Anna Summerfield | 22 July 2011  

To Moira Rayner: I still fail to see the relevance of Tony Abbot wearing “budgie-smuggler” in a sensible political discussion. I may be wrong and sexism is ok as long it is directed against males.

Beat Odermatt | 22 July 2011  

"Gillard may not 'sound right' but that's our fault...why of course it is, the poor old public are just too stupid to appreciate Julia - and such well informed intellectuals such as Moira. Really how fortunate we plebs are to have them.

Bill Spence | 22 July 2011  

Well done Moira, I agree with your comments in the article and a subsequent response to the blogs.

Gavin O'Brien | 23 July 2011  

dear Beat Odermatt, you're right, there's no relevant connection, but you draw a long bow to find me antagonistic to men. Why, my Dad was one!

Moira rayner | 23 July 2011  

I find it disgusting to see and hear how badly Australian politicians are treated. They are public servants and are no doubt covered by the same legal protections as any other worker. The should be!! I wonder how journalists, editors, pollsters, media barons, blog moderators, comedians, and others who make a splash by slandering and abusing politicians, or allowing others to, would like to be treated in their employment role? Beat Odermatt (20 Jul 2011, this blog)voices a nasty style of opinion writing--but freedom of speech does not include freedom to say whatever you want! What you say must be true, or else the concept loses all currency and political debate degenerates into Beat's style of slander, falsehood and bullying. To refer to the opposition leader as "a budgie smuggler" as Moira has, is no more appropriate. Until this sort of childish, unfunny and untrue conversation style about politicians and other employees is reigned in, the general impression left behind is that Australians are vicious,bullying employers. For goodness sakes, are we a nation of abusive thugs or principled adults who know how to be civil to each other?

Good humour is an attitude not a nasty smirk.

Leonie | 23 July 2011  

Moira's use of the noun 'budgie-smuggler' to denote Tony Abbott may have been unfortunate in terms of her argument, but is was perfectly legitimate because Abbott himself chooses to be identified as such. It is an image that he deliberately encourages by providing a endless stream of photo ops dressed only in his Speedos and, sometimes, swimming cap.

The nouns 'JuLiar' and 'the witch' are not terms with which Julia Gillard would self-identify. In any case, Moira was not 'judging people by what they wear on the beach' as Beat wrongly asserts.

Ginger Meggs | 24 July 2011  

A bit off the main point but relevant to Rayner's credibility compared to Albrechtsen. It was Albrechtsen, not Rayner, that was shown a few years ago to have plagiarised and misrepresented sources, amongst other things.
Keep up the good work Moira.

John Garrett | 24 July 2011  

Although I agree with your observations concerning the shallowness of our political debate such as it is, I think this bears little relationship to the title of your argument - Why we're man to Julia. You are also confusing cause and effect. Most voters resent the Prime Minister for a very simple reason - she broke her irrevocable pledge to us on the carbon tax. Opposition members cite and recite this constantly, as they should. The press merely reports this and may be held blameless. There's also not much to debate - we all remember too well "there will be no carbon tax under the government I lead". On passing the legislation she was visibly elated. Are we not entitled to feel the resentment arising from such betrayal?

Keith Guest | 17 February 2012  

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