The Greens

Bob Brown

The Gillard Agreement

Senator Bob Brown of the Greens signs an agreement with Prime Minister Julia Gillard to support a minority government before fellow Greens Rachel Siewert, Christine Milne, Sarah Hanson Young and Adam Bandt as well as Treasurer Wayne Swan © Greens MPs/Flickr

So Greens leader Christine Milne is unimpressed with Julia Gillard’s bargaining skills.

“The Prime Minister is always cited as a great negotiator but I have pointed out that it’s not about whether you get an agreement, it’s about whether the agreement you get actually delivers,” Senator Milne chided recently.

She was referring to the Mineral Resources Rent Tax, and she obviously has a point; the tax has delivered little if anything in the way of revenue, and it is now clear that it is unlikely to do much better in the foreseeable future.

In retrospect, it was always doomed to fail; following her sudden assumption of office in 2010 Gillard was determined to put the issue to bed at any cost, and essentially allowed the big three miners to dictate their own terms. The result looks much more like abject surrender than a hard-fought pact between equal parties.

But there is another example of Gillard being a soft touch which Milne was perhaps too tactful to mention, and that is the agreement with the Greens Gillard negotiated after the 2010 election.

This was totally one sided and incredibly generous; it effectively gave the then Greens leader Bob Brown de facto cabinet status with unprecedented access to government ministers and the public service. And it accepted, indeed embraced, the implementation of the carbon tax Gillard had specifically ruled out in her pre-election platform.

This latter has proved all but fatal to Gillard and her government, allowing Tony Abbott and his media cheer squad to portray her as a puppet and a liar, weak and untrustworthy, incapable and unworthy of her office. In practice the carbon tax has proved to be not such a bad idea after all, especially if considered in the context of the first step towards a comprehensive emissions trading scheme, but putting it in place has been the albatross around her neck for most of her first term and has meant that her government is starting from well behind scratch in 2013.

And it was all so unnecessary; the Greens were unlikely to support any coalition government at any time, and were never, ever, going to throw their weight behind one led by Tony Abbott. To save face, they were always going to make demands on Gillard, and started with what amounted to an ambit claim; but they would have settled for far less than she was prepared to surrender. So Milne should know, first hand: Gillard is indeed more interested in appeasement at any cost than in holding out for the best terms she could get.

She ought to speak to her Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson, the man who succeeded Bob Hawke as president of the ACTU. When asked whether he could hope to match the record of his predecessor, the great conciliator, in settling industrial disputes, Ferguson replied: “I don’t try to settle disputes. I try to win them.” And so should Gillard.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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