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December 21st 2014 print

Daryl McCann

Julia Gillard’s Tall Story

Ever blameless, forever beset by sexism and now, courtesy of the TURC interim report, unlikely ever to stand in the dock, the Moaner from Altona chronicles her years in The Lodge in a book that -- surprise! surprise! -- has been swallowed at a gulp by Anne Summers. Expect My Story to be even more avidly consumed by the remainder bin

My Story
by Julia Gillard
Knopf Australia, 2014, 512 pages, $49.99

gillard riotGiven that her time as Prime Minister of Australia proved incredibly divisive, it is not surprising that the response to Julia Gillard’s political memoirs, My Story, should be so polarised. In the opinion of Anne Summers, for instance, My Story is a work of “powerful immediacy” on a par with the cabinet diaries of Clyde Cameron, Peter Howson, Neal Blewett and Gareth Evans. A book of such crushing honesty and incontrovertible integrity constitutes a veritable primer on how modern government works. At the other end of the spectrum, naysayers have mocked My Story as 170,000 words of self-serving fiction that would be more appropriately titled My Lies. Either Gillard’s memoir is the story of a politician driven by high-minded principles who survived the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or a case study in the dark arts of Victimology 101. A connection of sorts between these two disparate views becomes possible if we substitute ideology for high-minded principles.

According to My Story, Deputy Prime Minister Gillard’s behaviour at the time of Prime Minister Rudd’s enforced resignation on Thursday, June 24, 2010, was beyond reproach:

When colleagues came to vent their concerns about how much trouble we were in, I would talk to them. If they ever raised the suggestion that the solution to our political problems was changing the leadership, I would hold my hands up and say firmly that I was not prepared to have such a discussion.

Gillard claims that the refusal of the Senate to pass Rudd’s ETS scheme in late 2009, combined with the Copenhagen Climate Summit fiasco, deeply affected Kevin Rudd. This might well be the case. Gillard insists he had been “completely spooked” by the turn of events and throughout the first half of 2010 his private persona was “unremittingly one of paralysis and misery”. A tad disingenuous on her part, though, to claim she did Rudd a favour replacing him because “he had become so wretched while leader”.

Kevin Rudd himself has countered by claiming that Julia Gillard’s depiction of him at the time of his downfall is “fiction” and that her justification for challenging him “was an entirely fabricated post-facto rationale for a leadership change that was driven in large part by political ambition”. Wayne Swan weighed into the controversy by claiming in his political memoir, The Good Fight: Six Years, Two Prime Ministers and Staring Down the Great Recession (2014), that PM Rudd’s behaviour could be “bizarre”. Then again, Swan did not support the move to replace Rudd with Gillard in 2010. The fact remains that not only Party factional leaders but also a majority of Labor parliamentarians wanted Kevin07 gone. In a nutshell, the fallout from Labor’s high-profile policy failure spooked Rudd, and his personal distress spooked the Australian Labor Party caucus into giving him the heave-ho.

My Story has a stab at comprehending the psychology of Kevin Rudd’s politics. Gillard refers to his “ill-conceived policies” of Fuel Watch and Grocery Watch, and notes that “the feel-good factor” of signing the Kyoto Protocol “withered” in the face of a public less convinced by the claims of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW). Once Kevin Rudd’s “big dreams for Copenhagen and his role in it” were dashed, he had “no appetite for hard campaigning” on the issue of pricing carbon dioxide emissions: “He felt the ‘love’ of the electorate and enjoyed the deference of those around him but did not identify his driving purpose for the government he led.” Gillard’s assessment is at least partly corroborated by the story in Swan’s The Good Fight about Rudd asking Labor’s national office to poll Australians on what his “one core belief” should be. In the wake of the 2010 election, ironically enough, Gillard used her sturdier temperament to pursue the policy of her faint-hearted nemesis.

Most commentary on the debacle of 2007–13 focuses on the politics of personality, while Labor’s policy meltdown hardly rates a mention. My Story is no different. It’s all about the flawed character of Kevin Rudd, the beastly character of Tony Abbott, the character assassination of Julia Gillard and, most important of all, the ultimate triumph of Julia Gillard’s—yes—character: “I was prime minister for three years and three days. Three years and three days of resilience.” The Spectator Australia’s lampooning of My Story is not without truth:

The heroine, a shy and petite redhead with a heart of gold, rises from humble beginnings to become princess of the realm, loved by all. Along the way she is betrayed by the boyfriend who tricks her into signing all those papers, is attacked by a vile radio announcer, battles with the mischievous misogynist in the blue tie and rescues the ungrateful, miserable, incompetent psychopathic hobgoblin Kevin from his own incompetence.

One incontrovertible indicator of Gillard’s failure as the leader of our nation is that on June 27, 2013, the ALP caucus—fearing a wipeout in the forthcoming federal election—removed her from the prime ministership before the general public got the chance. This was no more the result of Rudd “stalking” Gillard than Rudd’s demise in 2010 was the outcome of Gillard “stalking” him. Had either of the two got their policies right there would have been no talk of stalking in the first place.

A second pointer to Gillard’s lack of success is that she anointed Anne Summers, feminist editor, publisher and author of The Misogyny Factor (2013), to begin the task of pulling together a plausible political legacy. The first “candid conversation” with Summers took place at the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House (September 30, 2013), followed by one at the Melbourne Town Hall (October 1, 2013), less than two weeks after the termination of the Rudd–Gillard–Rudd era.

Chances are that playing feminist martyr in an Anne Summers morality fable was only ever Plan B. Julia Gillard’s Plan A, most likely, involved being a true-blue Labor figure who connected with people across the board. Her (adopted) Aussie working-class intonation gave some indication of wanting to govern for all Australians and not just those who belonged to her progressive political tribe. Bob Hawke was surely the role model. Between 1983 and 1991, his everyman persona—in concert with his frequently inclusivist policies and down-to-earth national pride—went a long way towards attenuating people’s anxiety about the divisive recklessness of Whitlam. Hawke—and Bill Hayden before him—worked hard to counteract the public’s memory of the crash-or-crash-through madness of 1972–75. Competent and matter-of-fact, Julia Gillard—as Kevin Rudd’s deputy—gave the impression of being willing and able to follow in the tradition of Bob Hawke, her support for the State of Israel a case in point.

In My Story Gillard criticises Foreign Minister Rudd (2010–12) for selling out Israel to secure a UN Security Council seat. These words could have been spoken by Hawke himself: “I was prepared to intensely pursue a Security Council seat … but I was not prepared to change our nation’s long-held position on Israel to get there.” Bob Carr’s tenure as Labor Foreign Minister proved even more disquieting than Rudd’s, especially when the New South Wales branch of the ALP (Left and Right)—ever mindful of “sizeable Muslim communities” in Western Sydney—backed his call for Australia to vote yes on a 2012 UN resolution recognising Palestinian statehood. Bob Carr himself substantiates all of this in his Diary of a Foreign Minister (2014). He informs us that the Egyptian government’s disapproval of Australia’s UN voting intention—“after you got elected this is all we get”—made him “wince”. This occurred in November 2012 when Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood administration was extending its Islamo-fascist grip on Egypt. Anthony Albanese (New South Wales Left) and Tony Burke (New South Wales Right) backed Bob Carr in his successful quest to thwart Prime Minister Gillard. Carr even boasts of outmanoeuvring the Melbourne-based “Likudniks”, a striking example of the paranoia that so often accompanies identity politics.

Julia Gillard eschewed identity politics on the issue of Israel, but finished up playing the gender card for all it was worth. In a long interview she had with Anne Summers, less than two weeks before the Labor caucus replaced her with Kevin Rudd Mark II, she claimed that initially she had disregarded gender as a critical aspect of her leadership:

It was so obvious that I was the first woman to do this job that I didn’t need to hark [sic] on about it. Every time someone heard me or saw me it was obvious. I didn’t want the story of my Prime Ministership to be “She’s a woman, did you realise she’s a woman, has anybody told you she’s a woman?” you know.

Gillard explains the turnaround, which gathered steam during the last eighteen months of her incumbency, in My Story: “‘Ditch the witch’ on a placard. The ugly ravings of ‘Women are destroying the joint’ from Alan Jones. The pornographic cartoons by Larry Pickering. The vile words on social media. Hate, misogyny.” It was in this context, asserts Gillard, that she delivered her “misogynist” attack on Tony Abbott in the House of Representatives on October 9, 2012.

Two years have elapsed since Gillard slandered the then-Leader of the Opposition under parliamentary privilege and she still expresses no regrets. Gillard recalls with malicious pleasure Anthony Albanese—“the government’s hard man”—saying to her afterwards: “Gee, I felt sorry for Abbott when he looked at his watch.” World leaders, apparently, have commended Gillard on her outburst and corporate leaders “told her that it started a huge conversation about gender in their workplace”. Demonising her political opponent in front of the entire nation (and the world as it turned out) made her feel empowered: “I have done it and I know how it made me feel. Strong.” Gillard tells us that there were 2.5 million hits on YouTube and that mothers around the world have watched it “with their daughters and then cried and then watched it again”. Fine—so long as those millions of viewers were acquainted with the fact that Tony Abbott, who is not a misogynist, had been criticising the Prime Minister in that parliamentary session not for being a woman but for her defence of Peter Slipper as Speaker of the House, Slipper having sent—Gillard’s words—“crude text messages about women’s genitalia to a male staff member”. Julia Gillard rejects as “dumb” any suggestion “of playing the gender card, of playing the victim”. This might be a stretch, but another claim in the same paragraph is right on the money: “I am nobody’s victim.”

The malevolent nature of identity politics is exemplified by the co-ordinated vilification of Tony Abbott. As Paul Kelly writes in Triumph and Demise:

From August 2012, Labor’s campaign against Abbott’s attitude to women reached a new intensity, orchestrated by senior female cabinet ministers. Tanya Plibersek said Abbott had a problem with “women in positions of authority”. Gillard branded him “Jack the Ripper” in Parliament but had to withdraw. Nicola Roxon said Abbott was “not very comfortable with capable women”.

Right up until the Labor caucus removed her from office, Julia Gillard continued maligning Abbott in this fashion. On June 10, 2013, she warned Australians that an Abbott government would “banish” women from politics (tell that to Julie Bishop, the Coalition’s Deputy PM and Foreign Minister) and that abortion would become “the play thing of men” (a nice anti-Catholic sectarian touch to go with the wedge politics of Summers-style feminism).

Before being sidelined by her own Party—well done, Penny Wong, Jacinta Collins, Deborah O’Neil, Michelle Rowland, Laura Smyth, Justine Elliot, Julie Collins et al—Gillard’s last hurrah turned out to be the “Women for Gillard” campaign. This made about as much political sense as Paul Keating’s 1993 election night speech claiming victory for the true believers. In her last speech as Prime Minister, on June 27, 2013, Julia Gillard made the following claim: “I am absolutely confident … it will be easier for the next woman and the woman after that and the woman after that. And I’m proud of that.”

I cannot, for a moment, believe this to be true. If, for instance, Julie Bishop—or another woman—were to one day succeed Tony Abbott as prime minister, this would be despite Julia Gillard’s time at the helm. The only sensible advice for a future female leader of this country would be this: rather than pursue a divisive agenda and have Anne Summers in your corner, better to adopt sensible and workable policies that bring the fair-minded people of Australia on side.

Gillard argues that “gendered abuse” did not make “no difference” to her “political fortunes”—the awkward syntax her own lawyerly way of blaming any of her errors of judgment on other people’s bigotry. The fact is, Gillard did not meet her own criteria for success. In a 500-word e-mail she sent to Prime Minister Rudd on June 21, 2010, Julia Gillard deemed his government “incompetent” and “out of control” on account of “the issue of asylum seekers”. The same judgment can be made of her own administration. After all, the people-smuggling business (and the related drowning of upwards of 1100 people) only increased during her tenure.

Gillard asserts that the people-smuggling trade might have been contained if not for the “hypocritical move” of Tony Abbott rejecting her so-called Malaysia Solution, which would have sent “a big shock up the people-smuggling pipeline”. Gillard could never guarantee the support of her own senators (Labor Left) on the matter, so why berate Abbott? In any case, the principled nature of the Coalition’s stand—Malaysia is a non-signatory of the UN Refugee Convention—was confirmed in August 2011 by the High Court. Nothing less than a multi-faceted response to irregular maritime arrivals, such as John Howard’s Pacific Solution or Tony Abbott’s Operation Sovereign Borders, can suppress the people-smuggling business. Even Opposition immigration spokesman Richard Marles now acknowledges the importance of the Coalition’s boat turn-back policy and yet cannot promise that Labor, if returned to office, would continue with it. The modern-day ALP is too PC-minded to get the job done.

Julia Gillard damaged her own government’s reputation with the botched attempt to close down the people-smuggling enterprise, but the formal Labor–Greens agreement, after the 2010 election, ruined the ALP brand long-term. The Greens, from the perspective of mainstream Australian, are to Labor what One Nation is to the Liberal Party. Tony Abbott entered parliament in 1996 at the same time as Pauline Hanson, and made it an early priority to repudiate her essentially racist critique of multiculturalism. The notion of Team Australia, even if the expression itself is newly minted, has always been a part of Abbott’s political philosophy. One Nation’s divisive beliefs are an anathema to Abbott’s multi-ethnic non-sectarian vision for the country. In the 2013 election, for instance, One Nation candidates were placed last on Liberal Party how-to-vote cards.

If One Nation represents what Gerard Henderson calls the Lunar Right, then the Greens are the magnetic force that attracts the Lunar Left. These radicalised folk do not intend to improve Australia but to remake it according to their utopian ideology. The evidence is overwhelming. Adam Bandt, the Greens federal member for Melbourne, is an unrepentant Marxist. New South Wales Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon is an unapologetic former member of the Socialist Party of Australia, a supporter of the Warsaw Pact’s crushing of the 1968 Prague Spring. In July this year she proudly addressed a pro-Hamas rally filled with placards proclaiming, “Israel: using one Holocaust to justify another since 1948” and “Netanyahu: modern day Hitler”. The Greens’ ultimate ambition, as Julia Gillard must know, is to de-industrialise Australia and destroy its coal and natural gas industries with nary a thought for traditionalist Labor supporters losing their livelihoods and an affordable source of energy.

So askew is the Greens’ moral compass that Senator Peter Whish-Wilson admonished Australians for classifying Islamic State butchery as “terrorism”. Like an undergraduate fresh out of a postcolonial studies tutorial, Whish-Wilson warned against “dehumanising” and “demonising” millennialist psychotics who behead innocent people (including women and children) and then photograph themselves playing football with the decapitated heads. Maybe we should pass Whish-Wilson’s message on to the brave female soldiers of Kobané or the Yazidi women of Iraq, raped and sold into sexual slavery by the Islamic State. The hatred of the Greens for traditional Australian institutions is exemplified by Bob Brown’s “Dear Earthians” farewell speech with its call for a world government to rule over our country. Not much chance, I suppose, of the Greens signing up for Team Australia.

Instead of impeding the Greens—as the Coalition parties opposes One Nation—Gillard’s Labor–Greens compact enabled the Greens to take centre stage in Australian politics. At the February 24, 2011, press conference to announce broad agreement between Labor and the Greens on the pricing or taxing of carbon dioxide emissions, Greens Leader Bob Brown behaved as if he had been elevated to the position of joint consul of Australia. After insisting in the election campaign, “There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead” but a “national debate to reach a consensus about putting a cap on carbon pollution”, Prime Minister Gillard was suddenly arguing that an ETS (to be known as the Clean Energy Act 2011) had become an urgent priority for her minority government.

Gillard argues in My Story that she “did not lie” in her Channel Ten interview on the eve of the election, but simply omitted the second half of her answer—she was ruling out a carbon tax but not an ETS. In fact, while still in office Julia Gillard did concede the Clean Energy Act was “a carbon tax”, not the least reason being its “fixed-price period at the start”. In early 2013, David Pannell, Director of the Centre of Environmental Economics at the University of Western Australia, commended Gillard and her team for acknowledging the obvious:

I haven’t seen them try to argue that their carbon pricing system is not a tax. In the circumstances, this is probably wise. Even though technically it involves purchase and surrender of emission permits rather than a tax, in practice the effect is basically the same as a tax. For that reason, I think it’s good that they haven’t tried to fight a semantic battle about this.

What an about-face since then. Here, now, is Gillard in My Story sounding like a clever lawyer with a terrible brief: “But I did not lie. I had never intended a carbon tax and did not introduce one.”

A good lawyer can become a politician but a good politician has to be something more than a lawyer. Where was the “national debate to reach a consensus about putting a cap on carbon pollution”? Most Australians voted for one or other of the mainstream parties at the 2010 federal election only to find themselves hostages of the fanatical Greens. Paul Kelly, in Triumph and Demise, quotes Greens Senator Christine Milne from the time making the connection between Gillard’s Clean Energy Act 2011 and the Greens’ wish list:

We certainly have ownership of this scheme because it’s the one we put on the table ourselves. We argued for it during the election campaign. And it’s because of Greens in the balance of power that we’ve got it. So it’s our proposal, our idea … we own the idea. We own the process.

Gillard did not need the Clean Energy Act 2011 to ensure a workable majority in the House of Representatives: Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor were always going to betray their conservative electorates in order to settle personal scores with the Coalition; Adam Bandt belonged to the Greens; and Andrew Wilkie happened to be ex-Greens. Notwithstanding her unquestionable bargaining skills, Julia Gillard did not have to twist anybody’s arm—let alone negotiate an ETS—to secure the numbers for Labor.

There are likely two explanations for Julia Gillard reconfiguring our nation without a mandate from the Australian people—one personal, the other ideological. My Story is hard on a lot of people. John Howard cynically exploits “the terrorist shock of 9/11” by taking a “hairy-chested political approach” to Tampa—though, to be fair to Howard, his resolute action occurred before 9/11. And then, of course, there is Abbott. Julia Gillard, not “normally” prone to thinking “in swear words”, found her interior monologue prior to the infamous misogyny diatribe teeming with profanities—which she shares with the reader on page 110. Still, she saves her best jibe for Bob Carr:

The other negative was Bob’s struggle with the focused discipline required for Foreign Ministry. It is one thing to chat knowledgeably and engagingly about world affairs at a dinner party. It is quite another to methodically pursue Australia’s interests in carefully calibrated diplomatic exchanges around the world.

Reading Bob Carr’s opus, Diary of a Foreign Minister, only underscores the aptness of Gillard’s humorous dig. There is, however, nothing funny about her depiction of Carr’s predecessor as foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, “who extorted his appointment” during the 2010 election campaign. Rudd—even more so than Abbott—is the real villain of the piece in My Story. He messed up on his ETS by using it as a weapon against the then Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull in the second half of 2009, failed to call a winnable election in early 2010 on the basis of its rejection by the Senate, and then in April 2010 seemingly gave up on what he had called “the greatest moral, economic and environmental challenge of our generation”. The “resilient” Julia Gillard, and it would be churlish to deny her that tag, saw an opportunity in the anomaly of the post-election parliament of 2010 to go one better than Rudd—and she grabbed it.

Gillard’s Clean Energy Act 2011 not only provided Julia Gillard with the chance to get one over on Kevin Rudd, it allowed her to be “on the right side of history”. Most socialists, from Marx to Castro and to lesser lights like Australia’s Labor Left, are often unconcerned about how their misguided contemporaries judge them because the truth—their truth—will, sooner or later, win out. This is the very theme of the speech Gillard gave to parliament to accompany her introduction of the Clean Energy Act on November 8, 2011: “Yes, the judgment of history comes sooner than we think.” The pause in global warming, acknowledged now even by the IPCC, suggests Gillard might be right but for all the wrong reasons. The inconvenient truth about CAGW is not Al Gore’s risible film but the refusal of reality to conform to last century’s computer modelling. That apart, Gillard’s Clean Energy Act served no earthly purpose other than providing the Labor–Greens alliance with a pulpit to denounce their errant critics as unrepentant sinners, and for Prime Minister Gillard to lambast the Leader of the Opposition for being a CAGW “denier”, an up-to-date way to label him a “fascist”. In short, the Labor–Greens compact provided Julia Gillard with a “driving purpose” and—on an emotional level, at least—reconnected the Prime Minister with her inner Socialist Forum.

Today’s leftists believe that History is on the side of every new anti-bourgeois notion that gains traction amongst the bohemian socialist community. Conservatives counsel caution, concerned that anti-traditionalist changes, like education over the past fifty years, are often ill-fated and do more harm than good. A consensus politician—such as Bob Hawke—is motivated less by ideology than by common sense, always carefully weighing up the pros and cons of any change. It is hard to see where Gillard did not throw caution to the wind. In My Story, she is unrepentant about Rudd’s “cash splash”, the financial recklessness of Labor’s NBN scheme and Wayne Swan’s unbalanced budgets. Aside from her commendable stand on Israel, one of the few issues in which Gillard retained a more traditionalist perspective was same-sex marriage. She seemingly shared Penny Wong’s pre-2010 election opposition to same-sex marriage because “there was a cultural, religious and historical view of marriage being between a man and a woman”. We know Penny Wong performed a u-turn after that election and Kevin Rudd II followed suit before the 2013 election. There were sceptics, of course, who argued that Gillard’s enduring conventionality on the subject, along with her position on temporary working visas, was no more than a ploy to keep working-class (including Christian) Labor voters on side.

Those sceptics, as it turns out, were not sceptical enough. Gillard reveals in My Story that the real reason for her rejecting an amendment to the Marriage Act was not that same-sex marriage might be “too radical” but that she came to the conclusion, back in the 1970s, that marriage itself was a patriarchal (we may say bourgeois) institution “redolent of the yesteryear stereotypes of women”. Gillard is now sanguine about same-sex marriage and urges the Liberal and National parties to allow a conscience vote on the issue. More divide and rule. This is not just a reprise of the clever lawyer arguing a terrible brief, but further proof that Bob Hawke’s time as the leader of the Labor Party was an aberration. The current incarnation of the ALP, despite the protestations of Labor Right and the faux working-class drawl of Julia Gillard, is little more than the acceptable face of bohemian socialism and the Australian Greens.

Identity politics, which has increasingly subverted progressive or leftist beliefs since the late 1960s, has transformed the party of the working man and woman into an organisation run by ideologically driven, middle-class professionals who, in order to play the role of our PC guardians, would prefer us divided on religious, cultural, educational, ethnic, gender, social, regional, political and lifestyle grounds rather than see us united. The tragedy for the ALP is that most Australians would still prefer to be bound together by what unites us rather than allow ourselves to be tribalised by identity politics. The tragedy for Julia Gillard is that she chose—in the end—to abandon the high-minded principle of unity and resorted to the victimology of identity politics in order to rationalise her policy disasters. Gillard maintains that her identity as an unmarried female atheist played a part in bringing her career undone. Wrong on all counts. It was her ill-advised and divisive politics that the majority of Australians came to dislike—nothing more and nothing less.

Daryl McCann has a blog at http://darylmccann.blogspot.com.au. He wrote on Tony Abbott in the November issue.