Last night, a Twitter critic accused me of consistently undermining Julia Gillard when I should have showed solidarity.
My first response was that he was overestimating my power to bring down a Prime Minister with my modest blog.
But, his criticism raises some interesting points.
I am a woman – a feminist. Does that necessarily mean that I am required to support a Prime Minister who happens to be a woman? What if the woman was Julie Bishop? Should I throw my support behind she-of-the-death-stare in order to keep my membership of ‘the sisterhood’?
Like many other people, I was delighted to see our first female Prime Minister come to power. I even wrote her a letter.
While many were outraged by the method in which Ms Gillard despatched the incumbent PM, I was less perturbed than most. Politics is a dirty game. Rudd obviously had serious flaws and had lost the confidence of his party. There was probably no ideal way for Gillard to succeed Rudd, and, if her party thought she could do a better job, who I was I to argue? Perhaps I spent too much time in the corporate world to be surprised or even offended by political skullduggery.
I will admit to a little frisson of excitement that, in addition to being a woman, Gillard was also open about her atheism.
Let me set the record straight here. I did not expect, or even want, Ms Gillard to be an ‘atheist Prime Minister’ – any more than I want Tony Abbott to be a ‘Catholic Prime Minister’. I did hope, though, that she would be a secular Prime Minister, making decisions based on utilitarian considerations, evidence and rational argument.
And yet, with almost indecent haste, our new PM fronted up to the Australian Christian Lobby to insist that, despite her atheism, her morals sprang from her Baptist upbringing. The implication was that atheist morality was, somehow, inferior. Further, selling out the mental health of Australia’s most important asset – our children – the new PM pledged her continued support (and millions of dollars in tax-payers’ funds) to the National School Chaplaincy Program.
Equal marriage? We soon learned that, despite living in a defacto relationship with her partner, Ms Gillard did not support same-sex marriage because of her ‘traditional values’. WTF???? It was an oft repeated mantra that just never rang true.
More believable, was the hypothesis that her Prime Ministership had been secured at the cost of a deal with fundamentalist Christians within the Labor Party – notably Joe de Bruyn and Don Farrell. In other words, she had sold out her principles for power.
In August 2012, Ron Williams took the government to the High Court of Australia to challenge the funding of the National School Chaplaincy Program. He was successful. The High Court ruled the Federal government’s funding of the scheme unconstitutional. But, instead of accepting the authority of the High Court, Gillard’s government rushed through dodgy legislation to allow its continued funding and keep the Christian right happy. It was a cynical, dishonest move which thumbed its nose at the authority of the High Court and will necessitate Williams – an ordinary citizen – going back to court in another action to insist that the Commonwealth abide by the original decision.
Earlier this year, Ms Gillard’s government cut welfare to single parents in a Quixotic attempt to balance her government’s budget. Ignoring warnings from no less an authority than the UN that the cuts potentially violated several human rights conventions to which Australia is a signatory – including the elimination of discrimination against women – Ms Gillard defended the move which has brought incredible hardship to many women who are doing it tough and simply trying to do best they can for their families.
And then there is the Gillard government’s lurch to the right on asylum seekers. The ‘Pacific solution’ is no solution at all.
Women like me who have faced misogyny all our lives were buoyed by Ms Gillard’s now famous tirade against Mr Abbott, but, in the context of her refusal to fight for equal rights for gay women, the human rights of female asylum seekers and their families, and her insistence on making life inestimably harder for single mothers, her conviction lost much of its shine.
It’s true. Julia Gillard is a strong, intelligent, hard-working woman who has probably been as good a Prime Minister as any. Under incredibly difficult circumstances she implemented some extremely important policies – the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the Gonski education reforms, and a price on carbon, among them. She deserves credit for that and has earned her place in history.
But, should this, and the fact that she is a woman, exempt her from criticism? I don’t believe so.
I am quite willing to admit that Julia Gillard was dealt with more harshly in the press because she is a woman. She certainly did not deserve the shocking, personal, misogynistic crap that was dealt to her by various dinosaurs of the rat-bag right and I spoke out against that, too.
This is a blog. I am an opinion writer, not a journalist. It is, I think, very clear that the opinions stated here reflect my own particular interests. On the issues that really mattered to me, personally, Gillard did not deliver.
I never criticised Ms Gillard for ‘knifing Rudd’. I never criticised her because she is a woman – why would I? But, neither did I give her a free pass because she is a woman. Frankly, I don’t think she would have wanted that kind of patronising concession from anyone.
Some people have criticised me for attacking Ms Gillard, arguing that commentaries like mine will make it easier for Tony Abbott’s party to win at the next election. I think they massively over-estimate my influence!
But, even so, should Gillard really be exempt from criticism because Abbott is worse? Should we ‘keep mum’ over important issues like equal marriage, gay youth suicide, professional mental health support for school students, separation of church and state, respect for the High Court and more than a subsistence income for single mums because Gillard performed well in other areas? I don’t think so.
This month, it became increasingly clear that the ‘Gillard brand’ was irrevocably damaged. She was, for all intents and purposes, unelectable.
Perhaps if she had not sold her soul to the likes of de Bruyn and Farrell we might have seen the ‘real Julia’ and things might have been different. Sure, the mainstream media can take some of the credit – perhaps most of the credit – for her political demise. But, Julia had a hand in it too. We do no credit to strong, female leaders if we depict them, one-dimensionally, as the hapless victims of a predatory male-dominated press-gallery.
And now, Rudd has returned the favour and mercilessly manoeuvred to remove an incumbent PM from office. Ms Gillard has no basis on which to complain about that. She gave that strategy her imprimatur when she did the same thing to Rudd. That’s politics.
Am I ‘ecstatic’ that Rudd has won the long game? Not particularly. I readily accept the possibility that he is a grumpy, irascible, foul-mouthed individual with a charismatic veneer and a chaotic management style. It may be that Rudd’s only saving grace is that he can charm the electorate out of a landslide victory for Abbott. If he wins the election and then gets knifed by Bill Shorten, it may be the best outcome all round.
I’m sorry if my pragmatism sounds shocking. But, ultimately, the ALP’s only goal must be to win the forthcoming Federal election or, at least, not to lose it in a landslide. For a variety of complex reasons – including ‘the misogyny factor’ – Gillard was simply not capable of achieving either of those goals in the short time before the election. Whether or not that’s her fault is, frankly, academic. As far as I can see, installing Rudd was the only viable option.
That doesn’t mean that Rudd will be a good PM. It doesn’t mean a Rudd-led ALP will be a good government. But, hopefully, there is enough talent behind the scenes in the ALP to keep Rudd in check and keep the Australian boat afloat.
To give credit where it’s due, Abbott and his team, no doubt, would be good economic managers. But the ALP has also done a good job under extremely difficult circumstances. And, on the issues that matter to me – separation of church and state, equality, social justice, asylum seekers, human rights, reproductive rights, et cetera – Abbott, frankly, scares the shit out of me.
Let’s be honest. A Rudd government won’t be perfect on any of those issues either. But I have more confidence that the ALP will deliver kinder, more just, social policies than the Coalition. If the Greens gain the balance of power in the Senate, that provides an extra safe-guard.
After Gillard refused to back equal marriage I swore that I would not vote for any party whose leader did not support marriage equality. To me, a Prime Minister who does not believe in the basic human right of all citizens to equality under the law does not deserve the highest position in our nation. I would not have voted for a Gillard-led Labor government for that reason – regardless of any other policies. Equality is the bedrock upon which a democracy is built. A Prime Minister who would sell that out for power is not one I could respect nor cast a vote for.
Rudd is a late-comer in his support of marriage equality and, while I may doubt his motives and sincerity, while I may cringe at the theological gymnastics he performed to reconcile his new position with his faith, he has stuck his rainbow flag in the sand and that’s good enough for me.
I am not a ‘Labor voter’ or a ‘Greens voter’ or even a ‘Liberal hater’. I am an advocate for equal rights, social justice, human dignity and a secular state. Ultimately, I will vote for the party or parties that support the foundations upon which my political beliefs are constructed.
I don’t presume to tell anyone else how to vote. My role as a writer and blogger is simply to call the shots as I see them and let my readers make their own choices. I try to do that responsibly and fairly.
I refute the allegation that I had any hand in ending Ms Gillard’s Prime Ministership but, I couldn’t say, honestly, that I’m sad to see her go.