Julia Gillard

Editor’s Note

March 2013 Editor’s Note

John van Tiggelen.

“We’ve got your back, Prime Minister,” was how Paul Howes waved Julia Gillard off the stage at last week’s AWU conference on the Gold Coast – a slightly chilling pledge from a self-professed faceless man of the Labor Party. But who did have her back, if not Howes? Was it his friend and predecessor as AWU national secretary, Bill Shorten? The press gallery had been asking the question all week. On Wednesday the Australian’s front-page headline even went so far as to dare him: “SHORTEN URGED TO END PARALYIS”.

Shorten didn’t miss a beat. What paralysis? The journalists would have to scrape elsewhere to sustain their negativity between poll releases. For two and a half years they’d willed Gillard to be dead meat. It was as if she’d never governed. As if she hadn’t got through key reforms. As if she hadn’t managed one of the most precariously balanced coalitions in the history of federation. As if the key Independents – conservatives, both – weren’t still admirers. Of course there had been blunders; there always are in hindsight. Take asylum seeker policy (see Robert Manne’s essay). Or the mining tax. Two and a half years ago Gillard had the foresight to acknowledge that Rudd and Wayne Swan’s Resource Super Profits Tax was a dog. It now turns out her (and Swan’s) replacement tax is little better. All the same, as you’ll find conceded meekly in the business pages, it probably is better.

The media pack knows all too well Kevin Rudd’s personality is utter anathema to good governance. That’s why News Ltd campaigned so hard to bring him down in the first place. He began his revenge by compelling Gillard to appoint him foreign minister, and has behaved wickedly ever since. At no stage has he shown any inclination to place his party’s interests ahead of his own. He privately continues to fulminate about “Lady Macbeth”, while leaving it openly clear that, although he won’t challenge for the leadership, he’d like to be drafted.

Yet the gallery bangs on and on about his popularity. Why, yes, the last Fairfax/Nielsen poll shows twice as many Australians would prefer Rudd to Gillard as their prime minister. But half of those Australians are coalition voters, who likely include the mischievous as well as the misogynist. Well away from the front page, one finds Labor voters prefer Gillard by 53% to 45%. So where is the story? After all, twice as many Australians would prefer Malcolm Turnbull to Tony Abbott, too.

Under Rudd, the Labor Party was rightly pilloried for taking a they-love-me-they-love-me-not, poll-driven, focus-group-based approach to government. Gillard put a stop to that. Now the Labor Party is pilloried for not heeding weekly popularity surveys such as Nielsen and Newspoll.

There was another national popularity poll out last month, barely reported. The circulations audit for the latter half of 2012 revealed sales of the major newspapers, including the Age, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian, dropped between eight and 15%. Meanwhile the Monthly’s circulation went up 10%. We won’t be joining any pack; hence our cover story. The interview and photo shoot with the seven female ministers took place almost three weeks ago in Parliament House. Anna Goldsworthy’s report is superb and telling: it’s about respect. There’s not enough of it.

John van Tiggelen

John van Tiggelen is a freelance writer and the author of Mango Country.

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