Friday, 22 March 2013

The Survival of Julia Gillard

Benjamin Disraeli is supposed to have said, "Prediction is extraordinarily difficult, particularly when it concerns the future."  He lived in simpler times.  Now Australian political commentators are all at sea trying to even work out what happened in the past.  After a week of even greater than usual instability in the federal Labor Party, our Prime Minister Julia Gillard retained the leadership by default when Kevin Rudd declined to put his name forward. 

No doubt Rudd's supporters are now wondering why they bothered.  Australian electors are also wondering.  Is he a man of principle who kept his word, refusing to challenge despite the pressure from his colleagues?  Or is he a cynical bastard who hung his supporters out to dry when it was clear he would lose?  Either way, Gillard achieves, even if by default, the miracle of surviving yet again.  Whether she can perform the same feat in September against an opponent who will most certainly challenge, and appears to overwhelmingly have the numbers, remains to be seen.

However, there are other questions that baffle me, and that lie behind the current political crisis. 

First of all is the debacle around media laws.  Labor has been a minority government for over two years now.  Why has it still not learnt how to negotate with the independents on the cross benches?  Why are its senior ministers so ignorant that they think they can announce legislation and these very clearly independent players will just nod their heads?  Are we ruled by complete dunderheads?

This leads to a more interesting historical question.  Did that other complete dunderhead, Tony Abbot, actually show more intelligence than he appeared to in the negotiations over who would form a minority government?  In a situation where the independent members he needed to convince were rural conservatives, indeed former Coalition party members, how did he fail to make the most of his advantage? 

I'm thinking that perhaps he was more foresighted than I gave him credit for.  He knew his own ministers would be just as dunderheaded as the Labor ones, and that if he took government in 2010 he would now be in exactly the position Gillard is in, fighting off imminent collapse while his opponents laugh from the sidelines.  Instead, all he has to do is watch and point jeeringly as the Labor ministers make fools of themselves.  Australian voters hate chaos and will elect his government with a solid majority to bring an end to it all.

So now, a bit more foresight.  Tony Abbott has been reticent about his policy positions for a good reason.  Like the recently elected Newman Government here in Queensland, he will use inflated estimates of the budget deficit and the government's debt position to justify swathing cuts to Commonwealth programs.  These will fall most heavily on the poorest members of society - social security recipients, those dependent on the public health system, sole parents.  Environmental programs will be slashed wholesale, the coal industry will have open slather. 

I'm no fan of Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd or any of the sorry lot who have given us such a farce over the past few weeks.  Their policies on asylum seekers, Aboriginal affairs and the social security status of sole parents are appalling.  Yet despite their dysfunction they have done some good things.  They have introduced the Carbon Tax, made the first steps down the road to setting up the National Disability Insurance Scheme, implemented some really good housing programs and some seminal reforms to homelessness services, delivered much needed apologies to people who have suffered as a result of past government abuses. 

All this will be wiped away by an Abbott government and in its place will be deregulation for big business, budget austerity and environmental vandalism.  Look ahead, people!  Don't do it!

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