Julia Gillard and Kim Beazley by Andrew West
It’s not because she’s a woman. Well, OK, maybe there’s a bit of that. But the main reason Julia Gillard should reconsider and get back into the race for the leadership of the federal opposition is because she will represent a major culture shift in the Labor Party.
I don’t care “ and if a jaded hack like me doesn’t care, then the people certainly don’t “ if, inside the federal caucus, she’s an intra-factional warrior, aligned to one obscure Victorian subset or another.
What matters is that by putting a woman, and someone who is almost universally acknowledged as one of Labor’s most effective parliamentary performers, into the leadership, the public will perceive an entirely different, and fresh, ALP. True, it didn’t work in 1990, when Carmen Lawrence and Joan Kirner became premiers of Western Australia and Victoria, but they came to jobs with the hopeless task of trying to resurrect one government that was honeycombed with corruption and another that had just pissed a few billion dollars against the wall. In the one instance since, Clare Martin “ a well-spoken, university educated, former ABC broadcaster from Sydney “ led Labor to victory in the Northern Territory, the proudly roughneck region of Australia that had never had a Labor government. So don’t tell me it’s not worth a try.
The Opposition also wasted, squandered in the most shameful way “ well, shameless way would probably be more appropriate for some of them “ the entire 2001-2004 political cycle, with an indulgent round of ‘boys own’ political misadventures.
Of course we all love Kim Beazley. Big, ‘avuncular’, very brainy but with a tendency to ramble. I could go on for hours “ Beazley style “ about how he wouldn’t frighten the horses on foreign policy and how, yes, he really won the 1998 election. Well, so did Al Gore, in 2000, and everyone knows that it was George W. Bush’s actual cheating, aided by his brother as governor of the disputed state of Florida, and not just a quirk of the electoral system, that saw Bush steal the US presidency. But Gore had the good sense to decline a comeback.
Besides, the polls show that while Kim leads among other Labor MPs as the preferred opposition leader, they also indicate that, almost nine years after he first took the job, the public still shows no appetite for promoting him to prime minister. He has this enduring self-definition problem. I can’t work out if he’s a European-style social democrat, a Blairite Third-Way-er or Clinton clone “ and politics is my livelihood.
The other problem for Kim is that he is blinded by his love for the Labor Party and some of its more rancid traditions. One of his former staffers once told me how he was infatuated by the factional bosses and union chieftains. He views them with misplaced awe, as though they were the same sergeants and brigadiers he worked with as defence minister. Look at his lukewarm attitude to Simon Crean’s modest efforts to reduce the bloc union dominance within the Labor Party. (When will these people realise that what unions desperately need are far more rights where it matters “ in the workplace “ and far less power inside the ALP.)
Others “ and Gillard could be one of them “ have as much hope and affection for the party, but believe it needs what the therapists call ‘tough love’. They see the party like hysterical passengers in a disaster movie, shrieking as the plane nosedives. You want to slap their faces and scream: ‘For God sake, stop it or you’ll kill us all.’ Because that is exactly what many of Kim’s crowd have done for the past three years.
Gillard would be another leadership experiment by the ALP. But as close as she may have been to Mark Latham politically, she is a far more stable character. This is a woman of steely determination and unshakeable self-discipline. Latham’s initial attraction was his larrikinism but the ‘noughties’ is, arguably, a more sober decade than the seventies and eighties, when that sort of caper worked for Bob Hawke. I doubt you’ll find any embarrassing crudity, or statements likely to provoke an international incident, on Gillard’s file.
Finally, Gillard brings a resume that, in the current circumstances of a caucus made up of former political staffers and union officials without shopfloor experience, looks positively diverse. Put aside all that self-indulgent student politics, and her brief but mistaken tenure as a political staffer; Gillard was mostly a victims’ rights lawyer, a partner in the swashbuckling peoples’ law firm of Slater and Gordon. I’d say defending citizens screwed by tobacco companies, pharmaceutical giants and unresponsive bureaucracies sounds pretty good to the average voter.
If she gets there, though, Gillard must do two things “ immediately. She must distance herself from the Emily’s List crowd and its policy of quotas, which plays well on Brunswick Street and Glebe Point Road but is alien to the life experiences of most women workers. (After many years, I fell out of love with Joan Kirner after she and her fellow Emily’s Listers turned up at the ALP’s 2002 rules-changing conference with a group of drag queens. What the hell was that all about?) She must declare that she believes in a Labor Party and a society based on advancement by merit alone.
And she must disavow the corrosive role of factions in the party by quitting her own.
Then, of course, she must start on policy. But that’s a whole other story.
Kim Beazley by Peter Lewis
If Kim Beazley does return to the ALP leadership next week, it could well be that the times will finally suit him.
The previous Beazley leadership was a time of frustration for many of us on the progressive side of politics; with its small policy targets, acquiescence on refugees and all those words, a confusion embodied in Noodle Nation that left us yearning for the vision and clarity of the Keating years,
When Beazley was described as the most conservative leader in the ALP’s history, it was with a sense of regret that he lacked the political flair to match his unmistakable basic decency. How things change.
Fast forward to 2005; Crean has faded away and Latham has imploded, John Howard reigns the nation with a mandate that will give him control of the Senate and an opportunity to embark on the most radical policy agenda in living memory – centred around deregulating the labour market, taking Australia further down the path of free market fundamentalism than anywhere on earth. And while some speak of Howard’s natural caution, look at the man’s career and it is hard to see how the elected leader of the international neo-conservative movement will hold himself back from pressing the envelope.
This is why I say the times may be right for Beazley – provided he and his party recognises this fundamental realignment in Australian politics. The radicals are in power, they used to be called conservatives, but there is nothing conservative about their agenda.
In the face of this likely onslaught, the role for the Opposition will be to first make the radical reform agenda too dangerous to implement by explaining to the public what is at stake. In the longer term it is about holding the government to account for the impact of their radical experiment.
To do so, Labor needs an alternative leader who can make a stand for the Australian way of life. When families feel the stress of job security, it is Labor’s job to sheet the blame home to labour market deregulation; when communities fracture because of extended working hours; we need to point to the Howard government’s attacks on collective bargaining. In short, Labor needs to make a stand for the conservative values of family and community, if we are to have any chance of heading off the neo-cons.
The irony is that in 2005, the ALP does not need a radical policy agenda; it does not need a new theory of income redistribution or socialisation of industry. All it needs is a figurehead to make the case for the simple things in life that the Howard Unplugged Agenda are sure to destroy. Kim Beazley, your time has come.
©Copyright – Reprinted with permission
Reconsider Julia by Charlotte Massi
With her mate Mark Latham off to start a career as a house husband, Julia Gillard would have been the most talented, ambitious and divisive character to stand for the ballot in today’s federal Labor Party.
She has a razor sharp intellect. She has shown a capacity to handle the media with extraordinary focus and humour. Even Alan Jones says nice things about her. She carries those abilities over to her parliamentary role. Even the most vicious and experienced minister in the Howard government should be on their toes if they are her opposite number.
No one could doubt her capacities as a shadow. Her problem lies with her capacity to unite the party as a leader. To be blunt Julia spent years in the Victorian ALP clawing her way through muck and mire to get preselected. That ordeal forged her into a character of psychotic ambition and steely resolve. She has trodden on too many toes with steel-capped stilettos to be popular enough to win Friday’s ballot. The way she handled the refugee issue leading up to National Conference last year and her consistent undermining of the hard-working Jenny Macklin means that her support within the Left faction (which is supposed to be her home) is unstable at best. Those caucus members who love her are devoted fellows. Those who hate her are devoted to her destruction. Feelings about her go beyond the run of the mill hatreds that fuel the internal politics of federal Labor. They have something to do with her being a smart and determined woman, but not entirely.
Let’s be blunt again. How accepting would the voting public be of a potential prime minister who is a single woman? With a house that looks about as lived in as a cheap motel room? Politics is about perception. And certain sexist assumptions about single women over thirty still prevail both within the ALP and Australian society at large. They are bound to skew both caucus and public perceptions about her capacity as a leader.
In the end even caucus members who don’t despise her concluded that Julia ‘The Jugular’ Gillard is too much of a risk as a leader – and probably as a possible deputy to Beazley. Jenny Macklin’s mumsy quality is a safer bet. And after the rough ride of the last twelve months, caucus members are looking to sail in less stormy waters.
The Case for Beazley by Christine Wallace
Just as Liberal MPs were ambivalent about resurrecting John Howard as Opposition leader a decade ago, some Labor MPs and fellow travellers are in two minds about the Beazley resurrection this week.
There are six reasons that ambivalence should melt away as the new Beazley Opposition begins the long march to the 2007 election.
Beazley has learnt from his experiences and changed
The ambivalence about power sensed in the old Kim has evaporated. Dark times in the backbench wilderness and deep despair about Labor’s dire straits federally has made Beazley harder, hungry for office and willing to embrace broad views in his march for The Lodge. Whatever has been thrown at Beazley within from his critics, and from without by the Liberals, has failed to crush him. Quite the reverse “ it will turn out to have been the making of him as a leader.
Beazley knows he can beat Howard and believes he can win the next election
Beazley has Howard’s measure and knows he can beat him. What’s more, Howard knows Beazley can beat him, despite the huge Liberal win against Latham Labor in 2004. Why? The Liberals own research, and Howard’s own instincts and experience, tell them so. On their two engagements to date, Beazley won 51 percent of the two party-preferred vote (enough on every other occasion this has happened to form government) and, in the khaki election of 2001 coloured by September 11 and the dispatch of troops election-eve to Afghanistan, won 49 percent of the vote.
Beazley has the miles on the clock in public life
No federal political leader has won office in the post-war period without having been familiar to Australians for at least a couple of decades in public life. All except Hawke did so through twenty-years plus in parliament; Hawke managed the equivalent as ACTU leader before entering parliament. Beazley is the only leader on offer by federal Labor who fits this essential precondition.
Beazley is the one most likely to unite the party
None of Labor’s leadership alternatives has enough of an edge over the others to wield the brittle, shell-shocked fractions of caucus together. Beazley is the only one who can quickly turn the mess that is federal Labor back into an electable alternative government.
Age and cunning will beat youth and promise any day
No matter how promising a tyro may be, there’s no substitute for having many rounds in the ring – witness Howard’s sucker punching of Latham over forests policy in the 2004 election. Beazley is the only potential Labor leader experienced enough to see Howard coming on such obvious manoeuvres.
The caucus is changing
Many of the worst Beazley underminers from his first two terms as Opposition leader have left parliament or are on the way out. There is indeed a generational change underway “ in the belly of the caucus “ and this will pick up pace at the next federal poll. The caucus (barring further acts of brainless, self-defeating bastardry) and the times will suit Beazley. It is on to victory in 2007.
Donate To New Matilda
New Matilda is a small, independent media outlet. We survive through reader contributions, and never losing a lawsuit. If you got something from this article, giving something back helps us to continue speaking truth to power. Every little bit counts.