‘Tis But A Scratch

It’s been brewing for a long time. Seventeen months, to be precise. Seventeen months since we’ve witnessed an all-out public spat in regards to the Prime Ministership and who indeed is the “best person” to lead the government and the Australian people.

Sure, there has been grumbling and mumbling amongst the ranks of the government MPs for some time now, but it took a monumental own goal on the scale of the Prince Phillip knighting decision for Tony Abbott to become truly unstuck.

To reflect on this almighty brain explosion for a moment – who on Earth let it happen? Abbott, obviously, but surely there was someone (anyone?) around him who could have said “steady up there mate, I reckon that one might go down like a cup full of vomit” and provided just a handful of the most compelling reasons why.

The truth of it is, really, that Abbott’s proactive decisions never seem to carry as well with the public than his reactive ones. In essence, he’s great at telling us what we don’t want (boats, waste, debt, Labor, terrorism, etc – you know the drill) but when it comes to reading what the public does want, he’s rather hopeless. Like grandma in a gay club, his radar is just completely off. Liberal MP Dr Dennis Jensen said of Abbott at the time of calling for a spill:

He is a “great war time leader but not a great peace time leader”.

Over the weekend, Abbott most definitely reverted to type. A significant proportion of his comments related to “not repeating the mistakes of the past” in terms of the Labor leadership circuses (plural). He made mention of being “chastened” and promised to be a more consultative and collegiate Prime Minister, but he’s been making similar statements on a semi-regular basis since 2007. And yet, Prince Philip.

In any case, Spill Day arrived amidst a flurry of excitement in Canberra. It had everything; wall to wall TV coverage, overly dramatic corridor processions, live betting odds and Annabel Crabb everywhere. My prediction about the result turned out to be eerily accurate – I was only 60/40 confident that Abbott would remain intact. The result of the party room secret ballot, once tallied, was delivered by Phillip Ruddock as being 61-39, with one informal vote.

Presumably this was Kevin Andrews voting for Julia Gillard.

A victorious battle for Abbott, sure. But what about the war? It’s now public knowledge that 40 of his nearest and dearest want him gone in favour of an unconfirmed replacement – even taking into account the political fallout that would be caused by another “knifing”.

The real winner of the day was surely none other than Bill Shorten. In just one week of keeping his mouth firmly shut and doing precisely nothing, he has witnessed his already intensely disliked opponent sustain yet another mortal blow.

Monty Python

It’s only a flesh wound.

Gillard: The Telemovie

It’s not often that I say political drama is too much, but when it crosses the boundary into actual, proper, scripted drama – I have to protest.

The Australian has just reported this afternoon that Rachel Griffiths has signed on to play the role of Julia Gillard in a new television drama. The Melbourne TV production company WTFN (an appropriate name under the circumstances) has acquired the film and TV rights to Kerry-Anne Walsh’s book, The Stalking of Julia Gillard.

Oh dear.

Perhaps it is just me, but I can’t think of any form of film adaptation of the period of federal politics between 2010 and 2013 as being anything other than a tragi-comedy, particularly as those involved are still Members of Parliament and essentially employed to represent the Australian public. Film adaptations of historic political events such as Hawke and Curtin were made many years after the events in question – at least enough time had passed for the viewers to be able to disassociate from the story being told.

No doubt, there were some incredibly tense and dramatic moments during the Rudd / Gillard era – however there were also many points at which the entire situation descended into farce. I’m unconvinced that it will be possible to adequately convey the tension (and not to mention the clear confusion) within the Labor Party with all of the events so fresh in the minds of the audience.

Another interesting consideration will be in the details of the reasoning behind the various leadership changes. The drama would be inaccurate if it did not focus on the role of the factions and the intra-party politics in both Rudd1.0 and Gillard’s demise, however the inclusion of a Bill Shorten character will presumably be an extremely unappealing prospect to the Labor Party.

My final reservation is potentially a bit controversial. How do you portray the character of Julia Gillard without appearing to mock her? Presumably Griffiths will don a red wig, but what of the other physical (and vocal) features of our former Prime Minister? If you ignore them and just plonk the actress as she is in a two-piece skirt suit in the House of Reps with a standard Australian accent, the underlying message might appear to be that you could not convey the right dramatic tone trying to recreate the character too closely. This is akin to saying that Gillard as she is cannot be serious (and as such we may have hit upon one of the least fair aspects of her struggle to be taken seriously as Prime Minister).

The other end of the very pointy stick is that Griffiths in a body suit with a Crocodile Dundee drawl would almost certainly be ridiculous.

Image

All of this ends nowhere in particular, other than with the thought that perhaps we should let this particular history become a little less recent before we move in for the docudrama kill.

What’s certain is that this is just another distraction that the new opposition could do very well without – on top of all the campaign post-mortems, tell-all books, Mark Latham-spats and other hyphenated kicks in the teeth.

Dirty and Direct

News reports today indicate that Labor may be considering “recognising the Abbott Government’s mandate” and rolling over on the issue of the carbon tax.

Early signs from the new opposition tended to indicate that they would fight tooth and nail to keep the tax by blocking it’s repeal in the Senate, even if it forced a double dissolution election. However even during this posturing, there were hints, the merest of signs, that this may not have been the view of the entire party.

In my opinion, Labor would be unwise to do anything other than let the repeal of the legislation go through. The carbon tax has been nothing but a source of intense political pain for the government ever since it was introduced following the 2010 election. This is after its very existence was strenuously denied by the then-Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten would do well to take Julia Gillard as a perfect example of what not to do. Gillard was famously stoic in the face of intense criticism, however her judgement on when to dig her heels in was almost comically bad. Granted, I have the benefit of hindsight, but it seems to me that Julia had a knack for identifying which battles would wound her most grievously and then choosing those as the ones to fight most valiantly.

Kevin Rudd was of course the complete opposite. Running away from the ‘greatest moral challenge of our time’ was not his finest moment.

Shorten should recognise that, love it or loathe it, he is bound to the opposition side of the chamber for at least the next three years. During this time, he will have far more success tearing apart the Coalition’s Direct Action policy if he is not at the same time shackled to a tax that can be blamed for cost of living pressures. The beauty of opposition is that you can create stunningly detail-free policies that are not bound by the strictures of reality and claim that they will achieve pretty much anything. The next three years should be spent promoting a more effective and efficient emissions trading scheme (or whatever) that will far outstrip Direct Action.

The other benefit of ditching the carbon tax is that it is just one less link back to the dark days of Rudd / Gillard government. Obviously, Bill ‘Faceless Man’ Shorten would do well to erase as many of these as possible from the public consciousness. He’ll never get them all, there are still a few former ALP heavyweights yet to air their dirty laundry in public. Nicola Roxon gave hers a good shaking out a few weeks back and Bob Carr has just delivered his kick on the way out the door. Personally, I think Swanny’s will be a real treat.

Image

R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

I referred in one of my earlier posts to Julia Gillard’s popularity appearing to be in direct inverse proportion to her power in Australian politics. The Anne Summers interview broadcast on ABC News24’s Big Ideas program on Monday night could not have been a more perfect demonstration of this. The crowd that filled the Sydney Opera House barely stayed quiet enough to hear any of the questions or answers in between thunderous cheering and applause.

Granted, Gillard was amongst friends. Friends who had chosen to part with their hard earned money and line up for hours to go and see her first interview post-beheading (or post ‘June 26’ as the events were continually referred to during the program). Admittedly, I did find myself getting swept up in the moment on more than one occasion – her entrance to a rousing rendition of RESPECT by Aretha Franklin was borderline embarrassing (indeed, even she seemed to be laughing in a very self-conscious manner) but it made the point.

I find it very interesting that it has taken losing power for respect to finally be ‘earned’ or, perhaps, acknowledged.

It would seem that there is an element of guilt attached to how the public now views Gillard. It is only very recently that she has spoken openly about the mental and psychological anguish that she suffered at the hands (or more specifically, pens and keyboards) of some of the country’s more cretinous trolls. While all politicians should expect a certain level of personal criticism and taunting during their time in office (especially as Prime Minister), the nature of that directed towards Gillard really did seem to go to a new level – even in the mainstream media.

On the other hand, there were some real issues with Gillard’s Prime Ministership that appear to have been conveniently forgotten. It was Gillard who decided to implement a carbon tax merely weeks after stating that she would categorically never introduce one under a government that she led. She was also responsible for the decision to move single parents onto the Newstart Allowance, a decision since criticised by both Albanese and Shorten as a bad one. And most importantly, from a polling perspective (and that was her undoing in the end), Gillard failed at all points to communicate the excellent job that her government had done in navigating a vast array of legislation through the hung parliament.

The other, less tangible, factor in Gillard’s poor public perception was that she herself wasn’t able to be easily understood. Her motivations in life to do the things that she did were not typical and therefore quite foreign to a public that is used to politicians presenting a caricature of “Australian life”. It’s been analysed to death already, so I won’t dwell on it. But the Tim thing, the house in Altona, the lack of religion but opposition to gay marriage, the knitting and the unrelenting stoicism all conspired to present a very complex picture that did not welcome empathy.

I will read Gillard’s book with interest when it is published, however I suspect already that it will be a hard-headed and straightforward account of the facts with humour used to deflect from the more emotional and troubling moments – much like her appearance on Monday night.

I hope it contains an explanation for ‘Women for Gillard’ though. That was a little bit bizarre.

Image

Magic acts and Latham spats

Tomorrow marks one week since Tony Abbott and his posse of chromosome Y-toting ministers were sworn in by our ever-so-stylish Governor General. In that week, it would appear that the Coalition government has spent its six years in opposition practicing various acts of magic to a level of proficiency that would make Hermione Granger proud.

So far, Scott Morrison has succeeded in making boats disappear and reappear at the drop of a hat. Malcolm Turnbull has managed to disappear his NBN board, but is yet to make it reappear (back to magic school with you, Malcolm). Tony Abbott himself has banished an entire commission and successfully released a number of senior Canberra bureaucrats back into the wild. Impressive.

They HAVE had some help though, in the form of constant leadership debate on the opposite side of the chamber. It has been this more than anything else that has allowed Abbott to get away with minimal media engagement.

Today has seen another handy diversion in the form of one of my favourite rogue loudmouths.

If there was one man within Labor’s own camp that was going to break the unspoken post-election rule of UNITY AT ALL COSTS (said with gritted teeth and clenched fists) it was going to be Mark Latham.

At the very least, he was the only man capable of beating Kevin Rudd to the punch.

Latham has penned a florid smack down published in today’s Australian Financial Review that has essentially labelled Anthony Albanese as a backward-thinking political Neanderthal who has got every major call over the last decade wrong. Ouch.

“In effect, Albanese’s political instincts are terrible. If he wins next month’s leadership ballot, he will be a case study in inner-city, left-wing bunkum … The caucus and party membership have no choice but to vote ABA: Anyone But Albo.”

For the full rant, read the article here: http://www.afr.com/p/opinion/albanese_threatens_labor_reform_JkHeipvxG2cRwCwzDD1GDJ

In fact, Labor’s hopes of a newly united party may be falling apart before they have even been fully realised.

Julia Gillard, whose popularity seems to be in direct inverse proportion to her power, has announced that she is writing her political memoirs. They will be published in October 2014; however I’d be very surprised if large portions were not released ahead of this time in weekend newspaper lift outs and so on. The publishers will not want us to forget about the last six years of tumult before then, that’s for sure.

This does not bode well for any those people who were involved in either of Labor’s most recent Prime Ministerial beheadings. And if the last three years are any indication, Kevin Rudd will probably remain stubbornly in Parliament until that time just to make matters even more interesting.

It may be that current caretaker Chris Bowen will find himself as the leader who presided over the most stable period the Labor Party has had and will have for years to come.

Hell hath no fury like a former Labor leader

Welcome back, Julia Gillard.

For those among us who love nothing more than to see a retaliatory slap from a scorned former politician, the news today that Julia Gillard has publicly criticised the new process for electing a Labor leader, post-election loss, as “a clumsy attempt” for bad leaders to hold onto power is very welcome.

You have to hand it to the former Prime Minister; her conduct during the recent federal election campaign was impeccable. The poor woman must have spent practically the entire five weeks indoors to avoid being questioned. A prospect made a little less unappealing given her most recent purchase.

Old house.

Image

New house.

Image

Gillard has been a woman of her word. She lost the ballot to Kevin Rudd and therefore packed her bags and left Canberra, never to return. She gave him clear air during the campaign, resisting all temptation to return the favour of leaking against him as he undoubtedly did to her in 2010. A task made easier by the fact that on some occasions throughout the five weeks, Rudd appeared to be leaking against himself.

Now that Rudd has lost the losable election and announced that he will not contest the leadership, more power to her (and any other former MPs who wish to stick the boot in). A call up that will undoubtedly be unable to be ignored by none other than the king of ‘I told you so’ on the topic of Kevin Rudd, Mr Mark Latham.

Latham is clearly unhinged and his criticism of Kevin Rudd as a “lunatic” who is “addicted to media attention” does tend to bring to mind pots and kettles. To his credit, however, he does stand by even his most outrageous assertions. Just ask him:

“In the months ahead, I plan to write extensively about the cultural decay of Australia’s oldest political party. Unlike Rudd, if I have criticisms to make, I put my name to them – a vital point of honour. I do not believe in off-the-record mischief and attacking people from behind.

This column, like every one of my columns in The Australian Financial Review for the past six years, has my name on it. It does not seek the snivelling anonymity of a Laurie Oakes leak.”

Excellent.