Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Tony Abbott's strategy appears (in the light of todays Newspoll, showing Labor's support bumping along at its lowest ever level) to be scoring points.

It's a pity that he's winning by simply opposing, rather than putting forward an alternative view of how the country can 'move forward'.


Julia Gillard won’t be wandering into your bedroom to check if the goings-on are legal. Heaven forfend! But if you want to enter a registry office with your partner, she’ll be there. Or at least a small coterie of three of her senatorial colleagues will be, just looking over the shoulders of the happy couple (or elsewhere) and making sure that only the groom has got a dangly bit.

This is obviously an issue that exercises many people, so there’s no need for me to venture any opinion. But the point is that Julia Gillard has said she disapproves of such ‘marriage’ and yet, possibly through a blunder or perhaps through playing a devious game of her own, seems to be allowing something she’s publically announced that she’s opposed to occur. Who is she?

Would she really prefer to be watching schoolkids rather than meeting Barak Obama, as she claimed on that first trip to Brussels, so long ago? I don’t think so. And if so, then she’s not fit to be PM. No, that was probably just an example of her gilding the lily, trying to fit in and make the rest of us feel she’s one of us. But the problem is that we still don’t know who she is. What does she believe and where is she taking us?

Asserting, for example, that we’ll be in Afghanistan for a decade isn’t leadership – it’s simply maintaining the status quo. There’s a gulf at the top that’s crying out to be filled; and that’s why the political temperature was boiling last week. So hot that even the torrential downpours of the tropical north simply added more steam to a debate that was already sizzling with ferocity. Screaming talkback jocks; the adaption of old stereotypes and overdrawn comparisons to Colonel Gaddafi; rhetoric turned up to full volume. It won't be long before someone mentions Hitler. It's all part of an attempt by Tony Abbott to create an environment where the government looks illegitimate -- and it's working brilliantly.

When the electorate is whipped into a roaring frenzy it's to be expected that the less-hinged members of the community -- those barely able to complete a sentence without the obligatory swear-word -- will feel free to phone and threaten MPs with extreme acts of violence. The media's required to report on these events and this simply whips-up more fury. The problem for Julia Gillard is that this reportage, when combined with the sort of normal backbench rustling-noises, conspires to heighten the sense of crisis around the government.

A right-wing Senator flexes his muscles and warns Gillard not to allow states to pass euthanasia laws -- the implication being that if she does, her own political career will be similarly extinguished. Another delegation immediately walks into office bringing their own message -- a reminder that the party is broad and that it would be a mistake to ultimately hitch her own future to propagating a narrow view. Backbenchers have their own demands. So do the independents and the Greens. And, in the background there's Bill Shorten, always ready to be drafted, although his vaulting ambition is appearing increasingly tiresome to many of his colleagues.

Gillard is paying a very high price for her knifing of Kevin Rudd.

After witnessing what is about to happen in New South Wales, Labor will finally realise that it doesn't matter how beautiful the figurehead, government will be made or lost in the engine-room below. This sense of crisis will, eventually, pass. Then the government will be measured on what it’s accomplished. And there’s real support for action on climate change – just a desire for leadership that will show us the way to the promised land rather than someone who’s just brokering deals.

Abbott's own leadership will soon become the focus. It's like two rally-drivers, each one desperately attempting to arrive at the chicane before the other. If Gillard can just keep it together for a little bit longer she’ll be through the gap safely; Abbott knows he's got to force her off the road before he smashes into the wall. His problem is that when the new senators take their seats, the dynamic will change. Abbott is just one vote away from the Lodge -- but it's a vote he can't seem to find.

The independents aren't going to swap sides the way they did back in 1941. Indeed, it's her success at stitching together a coalition that is the key to Gillard's longevity. If anyone in Labor wants to challenge her, they'd better make absolutely sure, first, that they've got the support of these vital props and that would seem an impossible task.

The government might change through a lost by-election: but probably won’t. Peter Nugent was the last MP to die in office, that was back in 2001, but MPs are an increasingly healthy bunch. Since John Curtin died in 1941, elections have been held 29 times as a result of a Parliamentary death. Thirteen times in the 50s, nine in the 60s, four in the 70s, but on only three occasions since then. Gillard will be most solicitous of anyone on the Labor side who develops a bad cough or cold.

Gillard’s looking increasingly like the political equivalent of the hapless Ricky Ponting. She can't seem to score runs. She's left desperately defending the wicket, unable to slash balls to the boundary. Equally, although Abbott's bowling and attack is stronger than ever, he’s desperately hoping the game will be washed out before he's sent in to bat and has to defend his own policies. In the meantime the spectators are becoming angry. They want to see runs, but neither side seems to have the ability to put them on the board. When the noise of yelling and screaming has more resonance in the debate than policy differences, everyone's a loser.

Nobody is leading. Nobody is nourishing ideas for the future. This isn't all just Abbott's fault; it's sometimes difficult to tell if Gillard really does believe in climate change or whether it's just another political issue that she has to attempt to manage successfully. Are the consequences of climate change going to be serious? If she thinks the answer is "yes", she needs to articulate that belief. Otherwise the measures will be dismissed as nothing more than pandering to the Greens. Oh, and I hope she enjoys Washington – and does something for Australia while she’s there.

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