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Julia Gillard’s biggest mistake proved her final one

June 30, 2013

Lies marked her entrance, sexism marks her exit. Mistakes and poor leadership riddled her tenure. The story of Gillard’s fall as Australia’s first female Prime Minister.

Of all Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s mistakes, the biggest one surely came right at the end: wallowing into the final parliamentary session before her nominated election date of 14 September rather than rushing to an election earlier. The mood was so obvious that she’d be challenged, with the media running rampant thanks to consistent government leaks, the best way to avoid any challenge was prevent the chance for the Labor caucus to even gather.

Julia Gillard farewells politics.

Oh the anguish. Julia Gillard farewells politics.

She even had a ready-made excuse: her leadership was being undermined so rather than a repeat of 2010 where Labor’s “faceless men” decided her as the new PM over incumbent Kevin Rudd, this time she’ll allow the people.  This also would have the secondary purpose of quashing Rudd himself – highlighting him as an agitator. That’s her second error.

Why the hell was she even allowing Rudd to gallivant around the nation as defacto PM? Surely she couldn’t be serious of Rudd’s public assertions of just doing everything possible to deny a Tony Abbott government. Did she not believe the affection for him by her own people? Could she not see that Rudd’s popularity would always be self-serving? Why not publicly snuff him out? That way he’d have been shown as the sinister guy that so many Labor MPs proclaimed, and it would drive up sympathy for her own profile. As it stood, the public still saw Gillard as the criminal and Rudd the victim.

While the most directly fatal mistake came at the end that saw her unceremoniously dumped, the one that led Gillard on her path of doom was her big great lie of no carbon tax under a government she leads. Then she lied about the lie, saying “circumstances changed”, only to say “we always planned a price on carbon” and to a public forum “I didn’t mean to deceive you”. If you always planned it, what circumstance changed? If you didn’t mean to deceive, then why say circumstances changed? Her  speech upon assuming PM, she promised to seek a consensus and put it the election – that she’ll “re-prosecute the case”. That was also conditional on global economics improving. While she can say as much as she likes about always planning a price, facts are she went to the 2010 election of promising nothing in general and promising no carbon tax specifically. It was all for the subsequent one “if elected” that she’d argue the price. Not to forget the fact that it was her that advised Rudd to drop his scheme while he was PM. She had history against it.

Then the deceit became worst. Within months of forming an open alliance with the Greens, with whom she also gave them a $10 billion sandpit to play in for their crazy green schemes, she began to mock them as extremists.  In truth, no circumstance even changed, because the Greens MP and the two independents, especially Tony Windsor, are Labor stooges, with Windsor proving to be a total political hack. He loathed Abbott and the Liberals, with Rob Oakeshott not far behind. Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES would those three have shacked up with Abbott.  The people saw this.  Then labelling the Greens as extremist did not have Gillard’s desired effect of placing her in the sensible middle of the political spectrum, it placed her farther left, out with the Greens.

Then the carbon tax itself. So much compensation rendered it almost useless. It was just a money whirlpool. When the government’s own figures showed it won’t even reduce emissions, that the government needs to purchase overseas credits as offsets, the whole point of it was even more bemusing. That’s not to forget the stupidity that tiny Australia with a tiny tax could doing anything about the climate. When “climate science” as been riven with hysteria, junkets and straight out lies, the cause also looked dubious. Then you had Bob Brown openly saying the point of the tax is to price the coal industry out of business and that the tax needs to be $100 to $200 to work. That not only spooked the public and made them aware of the Green’s extremist views, Gillard was so spooked that she was out there defending the coal industry’s future and associated heavy industries relying on. It’s not even Australia’s use of coal that’s the problem; it’s the $50 billion export business to worry about. Tax here, pollute there. Oh, that makes so much sense. So a country so reliant on coal, and with a tax whose purpose is meant to eradicate coal only for Australian use, it made it and Gillard even more unpopular.

Probably the most critical mistake of the carbon tax was the snobbery, arrogance and blatant disregard of the people’s voice. No, you can’t blame the media. They report the mood. No, you can’t blame your message. The message was clear. The public hated it. Living in a democracy doesn’t just mean voting, it does mean listening to the electorate between times. So the undemocratic and duplicitous nature of the carbon tax was made worse by the government’s response. When it eventually came into law, government ministers reacted in pompous celebration, effectively dancing on the grave of the people’s voice. A total disgrace.

Gillard had a solution. She just need to say, OK, I’ve heard you, I’ll postpone the carbon tax and put it to the people – as originally promised. Even once it was law, simply dropping the price to $1 and telling the nation that the legislation is there so Australia is prepared. That would then mean winding back the compensation and her main attack line against the Abbott government. See, the high fixed rate of the carbon tax was always about guaranteed revenue for election bribes. It taxed wealthy companies the most and handed it to the poor. It was socialist in nature, hence, no surprise was a suggestion by the Greens and easily supported by Gillard on Labor’s left with the equally socialistic unions. Even then, Gillard should have heeded those she truly represents – the people – and shown leadership. That just emphasised her biggest failing as a person: weak leadership. Whether that was a response in light of Rudd’s tyrannic approach or just her style, who knows. One thing certain: she listened to too many of her party hacks, political stooges and dopey advisers, rather than go with instinct.

In all this confusion about her leadership, Gillard adopted the “real Julia” persona. Except, that was worse than the last. Then she tried it again, that just made the electorate cynical. So, too, stunts like her “adopt a kid” avatar on her twitter account, and then the glasses. Trying to look serious? They made her eyes look beady that, if anything, it made her obstinance look worse as though she was bunkering down for the fight, or just being a tight-faced bully. In contrast, there was baby face Rudd still floating about.

If the political stunts around her image wasn’t enough, then came the physical stunts. The Australia Day riot that her office ignited by lying about Abbott’s comments regarding the tent embassy. The misogyny speech after she already recruited the slimy Peter Slipper to act as speaker, not to mention continued support for sleazy Craig Thomson, who under police investigation for misappropriating union money for use on hookers. For some reason, weeks later, Thomson crossed some sort of line so was sent to the cross bench to change the context of his vote. Of course, it was still a Labor vote, and Gillard never explained the line he had crossed (no doubt because it was bad polling and media attention to the issue). She betrayed independent Peter Wilkie on his poker machine reforms. Not to bother, as he was a locked vote anyway, being an ex-Green. So all the bravado about the struggles with a minority government were then fully exposed as a mockery. She had four Labor stooges.  As if a minority government is a big deal anyway. Most of the time governments are forced to work with such cases in the senate. This time it was the lower house too. Since the cross bench stooges guaranteed supply, it mattered little in the end. Finally there was the faux leadership ballot in March by Simon Crean.  Simply a tactic to try flush out Rudd. Instead, it just confirmed further the dysfunction of the government.

Probably the king of all political stunts was Gillard’s handling of senate seats. While Bob Carr parachuted in for a vacant seat was standard, the dumping of a sitting senator for a celebrity aborigine was a total disgrace. That was the case for poor old, long-serving and “white” Trish Crossin of the Northern Territory for former Olympian Nova Peris. It was not just the racist factor at play, it was the nonsense of shoving in a total amateur. It was token image politics at its slimiest.

The misogyny speech. This was the start of the divisive politics. Depending on the side of politics you sit, the speech was either a desperation of a failing leader playing victim to regain traction rather than admit her own flaws, or it was a masterpiece on exposing sexism endemic in society. While the substance of it was fine, the target of Tony Abbott was preposterous. He’s clearly not a hater of women, so it relegated the speech’s relevance to that of – yes, again – a political stunt. It was so absurd and unfair on the opposition leader that the Macquarie Dictionary had to re-define the word to a much lower level from its entrenched meaning of “hating women”. Then Gillard became such a total hypocrite on the issue, hanging around with radio jock Kyle Sandilands. He’s said some of the most vile, disgusting things about women, and suddenly he’s the PM’s new best friend? Gillard’s real definition of misogyny: the fake outrage by a woman being questioned by a man over her performance and honesty.

More division came with 457 Visas  and proclaiming foreign workers to get to the back of the queue. Of course, this was a play to recapture disenfranchised voters that felt appalled at failed boats policy that has left Australia’s borders out of control. The attack on rich miners didn’t help considering they saved the nation from entering recession due to China’s high demand for minerals. Most preposterous of all was her own polling and her leadership being undermined. Facts are the Rudd only had to nudge into the 40s and there was a knife in his back. Gillard spent two full years near or below the lows 30s. Fear against claims of sexism kept her in the job. It’s only when it reached such a terminal point near an election that finally the MPs relented. So much for “tough as nails Julia”. Tough because you can shun the Australian public’s voice for three years? Tough because you’ll use claims of sexism to protect being dumped from your job? That’s cowardly.

Gillard’s division reached a point that if you’re white, single, legally arrived or born in Australia, working, childless and non-disabled, the government hates you.

Sexism claims did have merit in one area: the attacks. The problem is the intent is misread. Attacks against her may have been sexist; reasons for them were not. Gillard was a duplicity, deceitful, untrustworthy, divisive and a dreadful PM. She received no differently to divisive leaders before her like John Howard and Paul Keating. The difference is perception. Call a man a dickhead and it’s mostly laughed away; call a woman one and it’s seen as disrespectful. In total, Tony Abbott, by Labor MPs and Tony Windsor, have called him a “thug, hack, douchebag, neanderthal, Australia’s biggest bullshit artist and a rabid dog who’d sell his arse to get in power”. Say that about Gillard, who actually did sell her arse to get power, and you are torn to shreds. Sexism is determined more by the recipient of it – expecting women to be treated differently.  This was highlighted by the recent restaurant menu fiasco at a Liberal dinner. For all the furore about Gillard’s “parts” being reference, so were Simon Crean’s:  “Grass-Fed Tenderloin with Porcini Cream Sauce and Crispy Onion Rings”. It’s a shocking depiction of the male genitalia, yet got no attention compared to Gillard’s “big red box”.

Now to the broken promises. The biggest by far is the surplus. This was promised for 2013 with all sorts of definitive adjectives like “absolutely committed” and “failure is not an option, we won’t fail”. Of course, they did, and it reinforced the government’s ineptitude on financial matters that followed on from pink batts and school halls debacles. Blaming things like the high Australian dollar were preposterous when its been high for 5 years. Are you budgeting on guess work that it will drop? Then if the economy is going so well, why all the “household assistance”? If it was not for China being the patches in the “patchwork economy”, the prognosis would have been dire. The NBN is costing far more than expected (when do governments ever budget properly for infrastructure). That apparently doesn’t matter because it’s “off budget” with it being an asset and expected to pay for itself over time. Pity the roll-out rate is so poor and subscription rate even worse. The mining tax was a total farce. Worse, revenues from that were already being spent despite it producing nothing. With illegal boat arrivals, the government has just given up, and still wasting billions on processing that would never be wasted had the previous laws remained.

Gillard does leave at least with legacies. In the furore over the carbon tax, out went the promised “cash for clunkers” rebate for new cars after trading in your old bomb. This is the biggest of waste of money in the history of the world for any “green” initiative. Especially when it’s temporary, as it was in the USA and would be in Australia. All it does is move future sales of new cars forward while crushing so many good older cars that still had years ahead of them. Producing new cars to replace them expends far more CO2 that they’d have emitted for the remainder of their lives. It drove up the secondhand market as people would buy $300 junks for a the $3000 rebate, meaning money was also handed out to those buying new cars regardless. If you have such a scheme, making it permanent, and make only for those that have had a car registered in their name for the previous 5 years and the car is 20 years old.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme: sound in intention, dreadful execution. It was used as a political football to corner Abbott on a proposed increase in Medicare levy. When Abbot agreed to it, Gillard’s press conference was riddled with references that Abbott “changed his mind” on the levy. Truth is, Gillard changed her mind. Or, more accurately, broke another promise. NDIS was supposed to be funded from general revenue; Gillard ruled out a Medicare increase. Then Gillard cried in parliament talking about. While probably sincere, such that Gillard made the electorate so cynical of her, it was treated accordingly. If only she’d given 1% of the empathy to all Australians maybe her leadership would not be in such tatters. Gonksi, again, has merit, pity about the execution. Mostly used as a political football, and not all states have even signed yet. If these two issues were so damn important, Gillard could have done them 3 years ago. No. It was wait for election time and use as a political wedge. That means neither are fully funded, with the NDIS not even set to be fully ready for 5 years. Future governments will have responsibility over them. It’s no wonder she got no rise in her popularity, especially over the well received NDIS, for these schemes.

Another good, if someone cynical, legacy of Gillard’s dumping is the exodus of her ministerial party stooges and hacks. These ministers simply did not help the Gillard cause, being minions for her own undemocratic style, muffled ears and condescending attitude. Craig Emerson was the worse, especially with his singing “No Whyalla wipeout right there on my TV” after the carbon tax passed the house and Whyalla remained on the map the next day. As if Abbott ever meant an instant vaporisation to the town. So stupid. Emerson’s now singing a new tune: there’s a Gillard wipeout right there on my TV; and now an Emerson wipeout right there on my TV. Out with Emerson goes minister for deceit and myth (aka: climate change) and “biggest bullshitter ever” Greg Combet (yes, he said that about Abbott), Stephen Conroy and his anti-freedom attempts at an internet filter and media muzzling, education minister and all-time sell-out Peter Garrett, and treasurer of debt and deficit, former deputy PM and grubby attack dog, Wayne Swan. Not to mention the two independents, whose seats will return to the Liberals and Nationals coalition. While Oakeshott always planned to leave, Windsor was prepared to fight. Being one of Gillard’s key stooges, he couldn’t see life under either Abbott or Rudd. So a parting slap in the face to Rudd? It makes Labor’s task even harder to win the election. For an incumbent government, they are already in deficit. They need to win seats, not try and protect them, as is typically the case.

Labor is left with a mixed bag of parliamentarians that did not resign en masse with Gillard. On the negative side is Bill Shorten. He’s responsibly for helping knife two PMs now and is most famous for his undying and unequivocal support for Gillard, even making an international embarrassment of himself by saying she supported Gillard’s comments despite not even hearing them because he supports everything she says.  Now he seems damage; long-term these events will not have tarnished him much. On the plus, Penny Wong, now senate leader, is the sensible, polite and affable politician that seems wasted in the upper house. In the lower house, could be a PM. Of course, there she might be corrupted by the rough and tumble. Chris Bowen is also understated in both manner and potential. Now treasure. The new depute PM, Anthony Albanese speaks in the in that nerdy sci-fi geek style, and again, communicates in sincere and everyday language, not the condescending and defiant tones of Gillard and her scurrilous posse.

The biggest legacy Julia Gillard will leave is sexism. There were two strategies to it: 1) use it to hammer the opposition; 2) use it as an excuse for her exit. While the first one failed miserably, the second does have some steam. Some of her “sisters”, those feminists in name, not in nature, who only stick up for women on the left of politics, so are really political bigots in disguise, are writing obituaries damning said sexism.  Gillard herself referenced the fight for women in her exit speech. Stories in major international news outlets mentioned sexism. Of course, apparently none of this applied when Rudd was knifed. As stated earlier, sexism is more individual perception, based on the recipient of it. Plus it’s great political fodder. At least the events of Gillard’s departure means the Australian public cannot be slammed as sexist, only her party can, or more particularly in time, when the world does mature and is fully equal, Gillard herself.

Disclosure: I supported Julia Gillard replacing Kevin Rudd and voted for her in the 2010 election.

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