Australian politics, society & culture

Australian Politics

Rewriting the Gillard years
By Richard Cooke
An election, a neighbour, a dog
By Lally Katz
Rupert Murdoch, 2012 © Jessica Rinaldi / Reuters
The political empire of the News Corp chairman
By Robert Manne
The prime minister is sorry about everything
By Don Watson
By The Monthly
By John van Tiggelen
They say democracy is a serious matter. I wouldn’t know; I’ve never voted.* As a non-citizen for many years, I couldn’t here, and Dutch democracy – with its multi-party governments, supported and criticised by a vigorously diverse press, and consistently high levels of voter turnout despite them being free to stay home – hardly needed me to contribute from afar.  Two years ago I was naturalised, partly for professional reasons and partly because, well, after 35 years of living in this country, my status was starting to bug friends and in-laws. People have died for the right to vote, clog boy, they’d say. Don’t you like us enough? Even I felt somewhat puzzled to be fathering children of a different nationality to mine, so I sat the test, had my de-clogging ceremony, and was surprisingly touched.  Yet now I’m rueing my timing. This federal election, my very first, I’m being asked to choose between Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott. The latter is on the record as advocating that one’s virginity is a gift, but I’ll be buggered if I give him mine. Which leaves Kevin Rudd: a man judged unfit for leadership by his own party after a four-year trial, only to be reinstated for his mascot value. There are other suitors, of course. There’s KAP (Katter’s Australian Party), and PUP (the Palmer United Party) – superhero parties framed around their cartoonish founders. I gather Glenn Lazarus and James Blundell could well join the Senate, as might Pauline Hanson and Julian Assange. So allow me to come back to the initial premise. If democracy really is a serious matter, how has it come to this? The Monthly has tried to take this election campaign seriously. We really have. But to try any harder I’d argue is un-Australian; once upon a time, after all, irreverence prevailed over earnestness in this country. So you won’t get an official editorial position from us beyond that of Don Watson’s penned victory speech, which can be suitably delivered by either Rudd or Abbott on election night. At the same time, we haven’t given up on seriousness: Christos Tsiolkas’ essay reminds us that both parties’ asylum-seeker “solutions” pander to the dark side of voters’ natures. I don’t advocate not voting, mind. At a local level, the choice needn’t be so difficult; in my case I have a fine local candidate. And there’s always the protest vote, though not against the major parties per se. If there’s one subject this election campaign has shone light on, it’s Rupert Murdoch’s ways. As Mungo MacCallum highlights, nothing has been more disrespectful of democracy in this country than the Sun King’s brazen rule in the press, which has bludgeoned the electorate with anti-Labor (and anti-Greens) propaganda not just for the past five weeks, but for the past five years. Perhaps, rather than go through the motions and think of Holland, that’s what it will come down to when I finally make it past the sausage sizzle on 7 September to consummate my right to vote: what wouldn’t Rupert do? *With one exception: in last year’s Victorian local government elections, mainly for reasons of self-preservation, I voted for my wife.
© John Woudstra / Fairfax Syndication
This is serious
By Waleed Aly
By Michaela McGuire
On Wednesday night a freshly deposed prime minister offered more insight into the problems that plagued her term in office than 3 years of opinion pieces and editorials combined. “The reaction to being the first female prime minister does not explain everything about my time in the prime ministership, nor does it explain nothing about my prime ministership,” Julia Gillard said, before imploring the nation to “think in a sophisticated way about those shades of grey.” Just two days later it seems that Gillard was asking too much and, I suspect, knew this at the time. The same media that bayed for her blood are now dancing a delighted jig on her grave, making snide remarks about “the lucrative life” Gillard is set to enjoy now that she’s lost the support of her party and walked away from the career she loved. Gillard said that she hoped that politics would be “easier for the next woman and the woman after that and the woman after that” but will it, really? Not if the media’s early coverage of Gillard’s departure is anything to go by. Anne Summers felt it necessary to write yesterday for Daily Life that, “Those ministers who honourably resigned last night did not include a single woman. Not one of the nine women ministers showed any sisterly solidarity. Do those women seriously think that it was OK for our first woman prime minister to be hounded out of office by bullying, duplicity and an outrageous trashing of her reputation?” Of course they don’t, but how on earth would the unanimous departure of all female ministers possibly help the culture of misogyny that has taken over not only the Labor Party, but Australian politics as a whole? I hope that Summers wasn’t suggesting that all remaining female ministers follow suit and fall on their swords, but if this wasn’t her point, why bother mentioning it at all? Talking about Gillard’s prime ministership in these terms and reducing her cabinet to the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants hardly helps the cause. Senator Penny Wong spoke beautifully with the ABC’s Fran Kelly about “the most difficult decision of my political life” and the careful weighing of her personal loyalty against her personal principles: her loyalty to Gillard against her loyalty to feminism. “I do not believe the feminist principles which I hold dear would be served by Tony Abbott becoming Prime Minister,” Wong concluded, citing “the views that he has expressed on women and women’s capacity (and) the ways in which he has implicitly allowed the sexism in this country that we have seen on display. I do not believe a leopard changes his spots.” We can only assume that the remaining female ministers went through a similar thought process. Senator Wong isn’t the only strong female role model to have already shone through all the bullshit of the past week. The ABC’s Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales covered Wednesday night’s unfolding events with remarkable insight and wisdom, offering engaging and intelligent commentary after almost four hours of live reporting; their own personal filibuster. The manner in which Gillard was treated throughout her prime ministership and ultimately deposed doesn’t detract from the fact that a whole generation of girls have already grown up knowing it is possible for them to hold the highest office in the country. This generation has seen how they may well be treated and, if we’re lucky, will do all they can to prevent it from happening again. We don’t yet know if, as Gillard suggested, things will be easier for subsequent female politicians, but with women like Penny Wong, Tanya Plibersek and Kate Ellis already in office, and journalists like Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales reporting on their achievements and failures, we can only hope it may be. Gillard may be gone, but she’s left a swag of intelligent, gutsy female politicians behind her to get on with the job. 
By Michaela McGuire
By Mungo MacCallum
It says something about the nature of modern Australian politics that when the Labor veteran Martin Ferguson announced his imminent retirement, his own leader Julia Gillard was clearly less upset than was Liberal leader Tony Abbott. And in fact the two men had a lot in common: many of their values were shaped by the Labor Catholic tradition, and although Abbott diverged to the way of B A Santamaria and the schismatics while Ferguson stuck to the orthodoxy of Ben Chifley and his heirs, it is fair to say that they probably retained more empathy with each other than with their own parliamentary parties in 2013. Ferguson was, as he proudly proclaimed, an old fashioned Labor man, dedicated to the cause of the working man; all other issues were secondary, and many were no better than frippery. He despised the Greens and all they stood for; if he was not an outright sceptic about climate change, he certainly did not feel it was nearly as important as Australia’s coal industry and its employees. Some of his colleagues were uneasy about Ferguson’s close relationship with the mining industry, but in fact that was one of the great strengths he brought to Gillard’s cabinet. His refusal to treat the bosses as an enemy and his forthright rejection the class war rhetoric recently embraced by Gillard and Treasurer Wayne Swan in particular meant that he was one of the few remaining conduits between business and the government. But this did not mean he was a soft touch; his lazy speech patterns concealed a sharp mind and a steely resolve. As president of the ACTU he was once asked whether he would be as successful his predecessor Bob Hawke in settling disputes. “I’m not here to settle disputes,” Ferguson replied. “I’m here to win them.” These days he would be seen as being on the right of the party, but in factional terms he has always been a leader of the left. But not the left Paul Keating once described as the Balmain basket weavers: the militant Victorian left which fought and eventually defeated the Communists but at the same time provided intransigent opposition to the conservatives, including the DLP with which Abbott had his flirtation. He came from a Labor family hardened by generations of battle, and fitted awkwardly into today’s more complex politics. And eventually it all got too much;  the Gillard government was no longer, if it ever had been, his kind of Labor. In his farewell speech there were curious echoes of another politician who took the same path – his old enemy, Malcolm Fraser. When asked about his estrangement with the Liberals, Fraser famously responded: “ I did not leave the party. The party left me.” One suspects that Ferguson felt the same. But the party will miss him, nonetheless.