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Gillard’s speech — the other 3500 words

In the media’s obsession over the election date, the unusual, downbeat nature of the Prime Minister’s speech yesterday has been overlooked. It reveals something of the year ahead.

So: will Julia Gillard’s naming the election day pay off? Will it backfire on her by abandoning the advantages of incumbency? How will voters react? Has it wrongfooted Tony “I’m not taking questions” Abbott? Will it shore up the PM’s position within the party? Will it provide certainty for business, or will the provision of a certain election date create, in John Hewson’s words, “massive uncertainty”? What about Yom Kippur? Is the Prime Minister anti-Semitic? (But wait it’s OK, the Jews are fine with the date!)

And those glasses … what image is the Prime Minister seeking to convey with those glasses? What is the meaning? Who’s winning? Who’s losing?!

Gillard’s narrowing of the election date from a period of a few weeks between August and October to September 14 has deprived many political journalists of a solid chunk of their column inches for the first half of the year.

It’s also deprived them and their editors and producers of one of the set pieces of the political calendar, the Yarralumla stakeout and the “we’re off” pieces surrounding the commencement of the campaign. The morning of August 12 will now be a rather quiet one, as the PM’s car turns down Dunrossil Drive and heads to the Governor-General’s residence.

Quite a bit of that, however, has been hastily brought forward into today’s press. The result is press coverage almost entirely focused on an election date. The other ~3500 words from the PM yesterday have sunk without trace, which is a shame because it was one of the more unusual speeches given by a major party leader in a while, and an unusually downbeat one for a Prime Minister heading into an election year.

Gillard’s broad point was that voters are unhappy, industry is struggling, we need to plan for the peaking of the mining investment boom and transition back to a more traditional economic environment and governments have bugger-all money to do much about it, so there’ll be cuts to programs to fund the important stuff of the Gonski and NDIS reforms.

It was the PM’s opening tour d’horizon that most intrigued. Rather than the usual boilerplate about cost-of-living pressures, Gillard acknowledged inflation and interest rates were low, but spoke of flat house prices and super returns, a high household savings rate, the challenge of an ageing population and long commuting times. The venerable phrase about the punters “doing it tough” got a run, but it was a far more accurate assessment of the economic condition of many Australians than we usually get from politicians anxious to pander to voters’ self-delusion.

It was not entirely devoid of cheap rhetoric, of course. Gillard admitted that Australia has low crime rates compared internationally but that “some communities are understandably concerned about crime and cohesion” — a statement that, in the mouth of Tony Abbott or Scott Morrison, would have drawn accusations of dogwhistling. And odd how federal Labor only discovers state issues like electricity prices or law and order when it’s a conservative government involved.

Gillard offered little comfort on the impact of the high dollar. It hasn’t fallen despite the sorts of pressures — falling terms of trade — that have traditionally driven it down, she noted. And it might not even fall when the mining investment peak arrives and passes. We might be stuck with it, and have to deal with it. Accordingly, the government “must focus on increasing skills, building a national culture of innovation, rolling out the national broadband network, investing in infrastructure, improving regulation and leveraging our proximity to and knowledge of a rising Asia into a competitive advantage”.

They’re the five pillars of Labor’s economic policy.

The speech lacked substance in terms of policy detail, but it presented an unadorned and mostly accurate picture of the government’s key policy challenges …”

Tony Abbott has five pillars, too, but they’re five pillars of the economy — mining, agriculture, manufacturing, services, and what he used to called the “knowledge economy” but which he’s rebadged as “education and research”, possibly because “knowledge economy” sounded too intellectual, or possibly because it just reminded people of Kim Beazley’s ill-fated Knowledge Nation.

In fact many politicians, from Barack Obama on down, have pillars, three, four, five, however many can create an impression of solidity and substance.

Gillard was also straightforward about the fiscal difficulties facing governments, reeling off a number of domestic and international reasons why, as she noted, “even compared to what was forecast once the worst of the global financial crisis had passed, annual revenue is tens of billions of dollars below what was expected”.

The Coalition line, of course, is that the government simply wastes money and that is the reason why it has been unable to return to surplus. If that were true, the Coalition’s own fiscal task would be straightforward, there being billions of lazy dollars in wasteful spending just waiting to be scooped up by Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb once they’re in government.

Strangely, that’s not quite how opposition sources portray the fiscal task currently engaged in by Joe Hockey.

That led the PM to talking about the need for significant “structural savings” in order to pay for Gonski and NDIS. But we’re none the wiser about the nature of these “structural savings”. In a speech light on boasting, Gillard discussed Labor’s “record of cutting wasteful programs”. It’s fair to say Labor has made a fair start on cutting back middle-class welfare, but no more than that. In some budgets, it has promised The Texas Chainsaw Massacre only to deliver the fiscal version of an Ed Wood film, in which tax rises masqueraded as spending cuts.

Still, for a government facing an election and trailing by anything from two to six points, “new structural savings” are a big call, albeit one tempered by the fact that the fiscal task is to identify savings that will accumulate as years go by, rather than ones that deliver a one-off saving right away.

The speech lacked substance in terms of policy detail, but it presented an unadorned and mostly accurate picture of the government’s key policy challenges and how it wants to address them.

Tony Abbott’s speech to the National Press Club today may also lack policy detail, but if he is prepared to offer a similar approach to the PM, that would be a good start in ensuring at least politicians are focusing on policy, even if the media isn’t.

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  • 1
    Jimmy
    Posted Thursday, 31 January 2013 at 1:14 pm | Permalink


    The speech lacked substance in terms of policy detail, but it presented an unadorned and mostly accurate picture of the government’s key policy challenges and how it wants to address them.
    Tony Abbott’s speech to the National Press Club today may also lack policy detail, but if he is prepared to offer a similar approach to the PM, that would be a good start in ensuring at least politicians are focusing on policy, even if the media isn’t.”

    Judging from this report of Abbott’s speech I think Craig Emerson is correct.

    You want less pressure on your cost of living, you want more job security, you want our border under control and you want leader you can trust…our plans for a better Australia are our response to you.”
    ” The carbon tax will go so power prices will fall,” he said.
    “The boats will stop because what’s been done before will be done again.”

    Mr Abbott is putting image first and policy last,” Dr Emerson said.

  • 2
    Ruprecht
    Posted Thursday, 31 January 2013 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    And odd how federal Labor only discovers state issues like electricity prices or law and order when it’s a conservative government involved.”

    To be fair, I think the Fed govt got sick of State govts blaming the carbon scheme for electiricty price rises. Dunno why the PM waded in on law n order though. Maybe to make the point that crime rates are actually low — something you don’t hear from the state tabloids.

  • 3
    Bill Hilliger
    Posted Thursday, 31 January 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    How dare she [Julia Gillard] She has deprived the media their editors and producers of the political calendar Yarralumla stakeout and the “we’re off” pieces surrounding the commencement of the campaign. I believe that can only be good for the media especially for the almost broke ch9, think of the money they will save. Also no ad nausaeum speculation in the media. What will they fill their miserable news grabs and news papers with in the next 8 months. No ongoing speculation as the Australian people already know. We can now look forward to an Abbott/Pell government and a swift return to the 1950’s. Can’t wait.

  • 4
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted Thursday, 31 January 2013 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Yes Bernard; Honesty, forthrightness and focus are rare commodities in our politicians today.
    Our Prime Minister has displayed, over the past two years an aptitude to approach the nation and its’ challenges with all three, whilst the challenger treats each of them in a cavalier manner and only when his personal ambition maybe in conflict with his stated position will he admit his falsehoods.
    There have been many instances where Mr Abbott and his cohorts have shown elements of these attributes but they have all been when he has been caught out by an astute journalist, or to resolve obvious conflicts in his previous statements.

  • 5
    Jimmy
    Posted Thursday, 31 January 2013 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Bill Hilliger - Judging by the Herald Sun’s front page today they are taking it personally.

    Mike Flanagan - Well Said!!

  • 6
    geomac62
    Posted Thursday, 31 January 2013 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    How is it that the media have already decided that we will have 7/8 month election campaign ? On their logic the day after a Victorian election we have a four year election campaign because we know the date . Abbott has been doing election type stunts since the last election even to the point of going to the same place twice on one occasion .
    I saw the last bit of questions on ABC , Abbotts press gallery speech , no answer to L. Tingles question about fleeing hard questions . Turning heel and scurrying off got no answer but instead he raised the quantity of interviews , doorstops he has done . Quantity not quality and no hard or for that matter soft questions that have no scripted answer . I only tune in for the questions not the speech and that goes for both leaders . The speech is usually summarised in a few sentences by journos attending . A hour hour of Abbott blathering on is too much , not a masochist .

  • 7
    Jimmy
    Posted Thursday, 31 January 2013 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Follow the logic of this - “He said finding the money without a carbon tax would be a difficult task, but “we won’t shirk the hard decisions”.
    This included the dumping of Labor’s schoolkids bonus “because it’s a cash splash with borrowed money that has nothing to do with education”.
    “When this government claims that it’s attacking `middle class welfare’, it’s just attacking the middle class because the family tax benefit and the private health insurance rebate are tax justice for famil ies, not handouts,” Mr Abbott said.”

    SO the shcool kids bonus (which goes to people who get the family tax benefit part A) is just a cash splash but winding back means testing so higher income famil ies get the FTB and private health rebate is “tax justice”

    REally looking after the battler there Tony.

  • 8
    Holden Back
    Posted Thursday, 31 January 2013 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Watch the LOTO’s National Press Club Speech: if you can’t stomach it all, watch it with the sound down until his dodging Laura Tingle’s question. She has what I’d describe as an elephantine look - she’ll never forget his blithe dismissal of the need to answer questions at Canberra press conferences.

  • 9
    drmick
    Posted Thursday, 31 January 2013 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    He has been squealing like a spoilt child for two years. This has been the longest dummy spit in history.
    If his effort today is his best game, then he is the best thing going for labour. Keep it up. As the leader of the highest taxing former government ever, and the government that aided and abetted the GFC and now denies it occurred, he has absolutely no credibility.
    His rave about Thompson was a perfect example. Thompson has been charged but not convicted. Unlike assby; he is yet to have his day in court and be given the opportunity to prove his innocence. Abot not only has him doing hard time, but has the PM in the same cell.
    Can you Imagine this bloke fixing anything? especially when he helped break it?

  • 10
    Julia
    Posted Thursday, 31 January 2013 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Agree drmick. It also seems Tony may have overstepped the mark again with claiming the PM has been ‘running a protection racket’ for Craig Thompson. The man just gets so over-exicted he forgets to engage his brain before putting his mouth into gear. He needs to get smacked down with a defamation suit. Oh yeh, that’s right he already has been several times.

  • 11
    mick j
    Posted Thursday, 31 January 2013 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    Re: Abbott and Gillard Speeches

    Gillard needs to PRINT MONEY to lower the dollar, not permit the sell-off of freehold Australian farmland to foreign state owned companies. This is stupid, stupid, stupid and future generations will rightly say that our current lot must have been imbeciles to permit it.

    Abbott needs to promise that he will not line the pockets of wealthy Liberal Party fund donors and the rich. He won’t because this is what he will do.

    All else is noise Bernard.

  • 12
    TheFamousEccles
    Posted Thursday, 31 January 2013 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the other 3500 words synopsis, BK.

  • 13
    Arty
    Posted Thursday, 31 January 2013 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    Miss Gillard set the election date to prevent the Coalition replacing Mr Abbott.

    They are stuck with him and so are we.

  • 14
    CML
    Posted Thursday, 31 January 2013 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    @ Julia - Thought you might be interested to know that I have just watch Thomson’s lawyer being interviewed on ABC News24. According to him, most of these 150 “fraud” charges are to do with amounts of $12 to $15 dollars, and one in particular was to do with Thomson “buying an ice-cream”!!! Chris MrArdle (lawyer) also said that the whole event this afternoon was a media circus, with FIVE NSW police attending the arrest, Chanel7 TV crew there (they had already been given details of the fraud charges, which McArdle doesn’t have), and the NSW police at their news conference accusing Thomson of refusing to front up in Melbourne on December 21st, 2012, to be arrested. McArdle said that Thomson was invited by the Victorian police to come to Melbourne for QUESTIONING ONLY on the date stated, and that Thomson was quite within the law to refuse said invitation.
    McArdle also said none of this would be happening if it wasn’t for the federal hung parliament. The Coalition are determined to get rid of Thomson by fair means or foul. Perhaps someone needs to look into the activities of the Victorian police, now that they “take orders” from a state coalition government. Further, the NSW police said at their press conference that it would be months before they decided if charges would be laid against Thomson in NSW. McArdle says they are just waiting to see if any of these so-called fraud charges laid against his client in Victoria can be made to stick. So my above remarks about the Vic police? Ditto for NSW.
    Talk about government/police gra+t and corrup+ion! Appalling behaviour.

  • 15
    Bill Hilliger
    Posted Thursday, 31 January 2013 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    Well said CML.

  • 16
    Posted Thursday, 31 January 2013 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    CML: I can tell you exactly where a lot of the Victorian taxpayer’s money is going now that we have a Coalition state government. I live on a helicopter flight path-if helicopters have flight paths. The amount of criminal activity must be awesome; chopper flights have increased dramatically. Perhaps the coppers have been given orders to do dragnets, by air, of frustrated Victorian road users? “Gotta slug the motorist whilst waiting for the next drug bust to bring some folding stuff into the coffers”. Seems to be the thinking.

  • 17
    dazza
    Posted Thursday, 31 January 2013 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    Media circus indeed cml, I smell a rat, a similar rat smell as the one in UK when they discovered the police and the media in bed together?

  • 18
    drmick
    Posted Thursday, 31 January 2013 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    OTB CML. The beak who fingered assby and his lies, (in a manner of speaking), might be just the bloke to stitch together the limited news modus operandi and the players leading all the way to the Abbott.
    If the press make up the lie, (or happen to overhear any rubbish via phone illegal tapping), feed it to the best police that money can buy, and keep everyone else out of the game, then they have a non-story, a non lead an innocent victim and absolutely no responsibility for anything that happens afterwards. We are doomed.
    This is very tea party american. Definitely unaustralian but typical Abo. I bet he spent money on mundine last night . See if you can see a white man in a flouro vest in the losers corner.

  • 19
    zut alors
    Posted Thursday, 31 January 2013 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    In an effort to enhance this week I opted to watch neither address to the National Press Club. Judging by the comments here it was a wise decision.

  • 20
    geomac62
    Posted Thursday, 31 January 2013 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    zut alors
    Wise decision although I watched the question part . Just finished watching 7.30 and will be happier when Sales is back in the chair . Chris Uhlman presented a promo of Abbott and wife and daughter and speech , wife and daughter again etc . A bit of relief with other topics then a soft interview with Pyne . Strangely Chris asked questions at a normal pace , relaxed even , compared to the rapid and rude haranguing of the PM last year . Chris U . SC television presenter and I don,t mean SC in relation to the legal profession .

  • 21
    klewso
    Posted Thursday, 31 January 2013 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    Election” yesterday? “Thomson” today? What happens if there’s an election necessary there?

  • 22
    Paddy Forsayeth
    Posted Thursday, 31 January 2013 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

    I am looking forward to when Sales is in the chair. She has a very gutsy style.

  • 23
    GF50
    Posted Thursday, 31 January 2013 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

    geomac62
    Could you clarify SC for me? I watched inteview with Pyne but sound off couldn’t come at at that. I thought he only asked one question as every time I looked at the screen it was full on Pyne and his lips were moving. Chris u is really only a sycophant and LNP appologist. They have Leigh Sales o/s couldn’t have her arround for the launch of the “minnie campaigne” launch she may have asked a relevant question. Tony Jones also well on board with LNP policy line of sneer and putdown lateline with Penny Wong, he harangued and loudly interrupted her as he wasn’t getting the answers he wanted ie bag Gillard.

  • 24
    Warren Joffe
    Posted Thursday, 31 January 2013 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    At the risk of repeating myself the Coalition’s rational election strategy will be “This is all about restoring trust in government. We make no promises, except one you can easily believe which is that we will try to govern so you will want to re-elect us three years later. We will state what we aim to do, and those will be honest statements, but in each case we will not be bound by time lines and we won’t apologise if, on auditing the real state of the country’s finances left behind by the pink batt specialists, we find that some things are simply not affordable in our first term. Of course there are some things we don’t have to promise like maintaining the purchasing power of the full pension because we don’t even suspect the government of failing that one, except by incompetence”.

    So Gillard’s advisers, if they thought they were smart in trying to put Abbott on a spot early about policies and costings will be shown to have been deluded dopes.

  • 25
    geomac62
    Posted Friday, 1 February 2013 at 12:39 am | Permalink

    GF50
    SC is soft cock as in that comedy on the ABC years ago , Frontline . Obscure I know but it reflects the approach of Chris to Abbott , Pyne etc . I had the same impression as you about Jones on Lateline . It was as if he thought he was on Q&A . An aberration perhaps as he generally does better . Emma Alberici is my favourite , knows her guests and what to ask , forensic .

  • 26
    CML
    Posted Friday, 1 February 2013 at 1:11 am | Permalink

    @ dazza - I think you are correct about the association between the media and the police. However, I would add a third party to that circus - coalition politicians, both state and federal. And not only about the Thomson affair.
    It is all about the born to rule fallacy with that lot!

  • 27
    michael r james
    Posted Friday, 1 February 2013 at 2:23 am | Permalink

    National Press Club In AFHP, Margo Kingston, on January 30, 2013 at 11:53 am

    Laura Tingle from the Financial Review, Mr Abbott. An election promise that’s a bit closer to home I’m hoping for. Will you give a commitment today to stop walking away from press conferences, especially the ones that you’ve called and to regularly hold press conferences in Canberra between now and the election and if you’re elected as prime minister? Also, what steps have you taken to establish whether anyone who is closely associated with the federal Coalition and the LNP financed, or is continuing to finance, the legal and public relations costs of Mr James Ashby?

    TONY ABBOTT: Well, Laura, what Mr Ashby’s doing is a matter for Mr Ashby. Absolutely a matter for him. I can say with my hand on my heart that as far as I’m aware, no member of the federal Coalition has had any involvement with the Ashby matter, none whatsoever. As I’ve said before, let me say it again, the Ashby matter raises two matters. It raises the question of whether or not sexual harassment took place – and I don’t think anyone should minimise sexual harassment, it’s a very, very serious matter, I don’t think anyone should be in a hurry to start bandying around accusations of malice against people who bring these claims – people have a right to bring a claim under law if they believe that laws have been broken. Second point I make is that in the end the whole Slipper imbroglio raises questions about prime ministerial judgment and these are going to be inevitably front and centre for the Australian people as we approach polling day.

    (interrupting another question) TONY ABBOTT:
    I’m sorry, Laura. I’m very happy to get my press office to pull out the records and to compare the number of media interviews, the number of press doorstops that I’ve done with those of my opponent. I’m very happy to have my record stack up against that of my opponent. I think you will be very surprised at just how many media interviews I do. But I don’t believe all political wisdom resides in the Canberra Press Gallery. Much political wisdom, Laura, resides in the Canberra Press Gallery, but there’s a lot of commonsense, a lot of decent Australian commonsense that resides in journalists who work outside the Press Gallery in Canberra.
    ………………………………………..
    In other words Abbott believes he can pick and choose whose questions he should answer or decline, as and when it suits him.
    LT is not the only journo or voter who is fed up with Abbott’s cowardice in avoiding serious questioning. Her point about his Presser yesterday where he refused to take questions is that he doesn’t need to waste journo’s time. They could just as easily receive the press release by email if they cannot interrogate the LOTO. Maybe they should all boycott his next one (except of course his personal cheer squad of News Ltd and M. Grattan will slavishly show up).
    Again, it is not the behaviour of someone with claims to lead a democratic country.

  • 28
    drmick
    Posted Friday, 1 February 2013 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    M James. I think you have hit the nail on the head.
    They have no intention of observing democratic convention and he has been intent on wrecking any democratic organisation that has been foolish enough, (or democratic enough), to let him in.
    The bully boy arrogance of pre determining the election result, then planning to over ride the will of the senate..he is talking a coup. The way the police acted with thompson looks and smells like fascism. He wrecked the SRC, he bullied Turdbull out of his job by one scared female vote & has had the longest dummy spit in recorded history
    Remember the over reaction of Poon & Abot during the thompson vote? Cowardly, suspicious and maybe even catholic in their attempt to get away from the sin they had committed?
    What we will never know, unless he is subjected to appropriate questioning, will be who are his masters. Who is he wrecking the joint for? In who`s interest is it to destroy the judiciary, the senate, the parliament and public confidence by talking down an economy, which is still growing, and a population that is full of people doing it tough because they are having to pay for past excesses, & dont have the bribe money that the former government paid them to shut them up.
    This is why they have to hide him away from the real press. He feels he has to give an honest answer to questions he is asked; (read K O`Brien, L Sales). His vets & handlers know that would be a disaster for them and he has to be kept away from these people at all costs.
    I still believe he is the best asset that labour has got; all he has to do is keep talking.

  • 29
    GF50
    Posted Friday, 1 February 2013 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    geomac62
    Thanks, love it, cryptic:)

  • 30
    Jimmy
    Posted Friday, 1 February 2013 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    Michael R James - Thanks for that, very interesting.

    Warren Joffe - “So Gillard’s advisers, if they thought they were smart in trying to put Abbott on a spot early about policies and costings will be shown to have been deluded dopes.” Not at all, 1 day in and Abbott has already confirmed he will cut the School Kids Bonus in order to fund the rolling back of means testing for FTB and Private Health, if the fact that he is taking money from low income families to return it to higher income earners doesn’t play well for the ALP I’ll go hee.
    And that is just the first policy out the gate.

  • 31
    klewso
    Posted Friday, 1 February 2013 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    An SC is a “Flacid fool”?

    I can see a 30 second Labor ad of 12-15 examples (with dates - shouldn’t take a week of “current compilation”) of Abbott repeating “I won’t be taking/answering any questions….!”
    Gillard’s “Puddin’ Club” advisors are deluded dopes (like the self-delusional, self-serving Labor hierarchy, running “their shambles/slaughterhouse”) - just look at their finished product - only fit for media fodder.

    Reckon Sales and Alberici use the same persona while “bar-b-cuing” their guests - grilling both sides? She wouldn’t have started last night’s interview with the same intro Uhlmann did? For Sales (one “swallow” with Abbott?) drag out her file with Gillard, Evans (Chris - for a real giggle) and any number of Labor ops, then compare them to her usual giggling Liberal demeanor m.o? “Gutsy with Labor : while giggling Liberally”. Alberici is from a similar “vain”.

  • 32
    klewso
    Posted Saturday, 2 February 2013 at 12:39 am | Permalink

    But no matter how low Gillard sets that bar - never underestimate Abbott’s capacity for being able to slither beneath it - without a scale out of place.
    Remember “Bernie Banton”.

    To quote Custer (probably) - “We’re screwed!”

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