Julia Gillard

The view from Billinudgel

Fixed Term

When Julia Gillard gave seven and a half months’ notice for the 2013 election, the breathless media branded her action as unprecedented, which it was, and as extraordinary, which it certainly wasn’t.

After all, what she did was effectively declare the present government to be on a fixed term, with polling day to be on a definite and predictable date – no ambushes, no surprises. This is precisely the reform that the more thoughtful sections of the media have been calling for almost since federation, a timetable which would bring a measure of certainty to what has become a fairly chaotic process. 

From a wider perspective than that of the Canberra Press Gallery, it is hardly unusual; around the world a great many democracies operate under the fixed term system, among them our great and powerful friend the United States of America. We follow Uncle Sam in so many other ways it seems only logical to fall into line on this as well.

And of course, fixed terms have already been adopted by the majority of Australian governments. New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and the ACT are already on board. Queensland and Tasmania are yet to catch up, but they and the feds are definitely the ones out of step. So why are the political pundits shocked, even outraged, at Gillard’s move?

Well, in many cases, it is sheer self-interest. Speculation about election day is a standard fall back for a lazy journalist on a dull day. There has been plenty of it over the last couple of years, and the pace was only going to pick up as we moved into the home stretch. Gillard has snatched away one of the press gallery’s favourite toys – no wonder there were tantrums.

And for a terrible moment there was even a fear that she had also nicked the other one – the possibility of a leadership change. Was Gillard’s announcement the final, fatal blow to Kevin Rudd? Not at all, the Sydney Morning Herald’s Peter Hartcher reassured his colleagues. Hartcher, as the journalist closest to Rudd, could inform them that nothing had changed: there was still plenty of time for a challenge and a coup.

So, with sighs of relief, the pack went off to grab Rudd as he left a pre-parliamentary church service and ask him, yet again, about his leadership ambitions. Rudd repeated the formula of the last 12 months; it was all over, he supported Gillard, he was only interested in keeping Tony Abbott out of the Lodge and they should all go and take a long, cold shower. “Give us a break,” he implored.

In your dreams, Kevin. With the election date settled, you’re the only game in town. If you didn’t exist, the gallery would have to invent you – either that or write about the real issues, and we could never have that, could we?

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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