tip off

Wilkie: Gillard’s backroom deal — and how she betrayed me

Julia Gillard came to the member for Denison with a curious proposal. Federal MP Andrew Wilkie is now spilling the beans on the secret deal — and why he ultimately tore up an agreement once she stabbed him in the back.

If I could make just one change to the way Australia does politics, it would be to somehow enforce the right of every parliamentarian, at every level, to vote in accordance with his or her conscience and constituency’s wishes. We could certainly learn from the United States and United Kingdom, where crossing the floor is often unremarkable.

This is one of the reasons I became an independent in 2008. After five years in public life I was over all the personal and political nonsense that seems to preoccupy so many party members and distracts them from the public interest. I was also very concerned at the emergence of the party-based professional political ruling class: in other words, those party members who go to university, become political staffers and spend a disproportionate amount of time playing political games and currying favour. You can imagine the sort: born to rule and having never done much else than play politics. No wonder so many of these hacks continue to look like they’re playing student politics well after they’ve moved up to the big house. The very best hacks become the very worst politicians. Parliament House, in Canberra but just as much in Hobart, is full of them.

Even the best of people with the best of intentions can struggle in a party environment. In fact, it’s probably the best people with the best intentions who struggle the most in parties because they’re so constrained by all the iron-clad policies and rules to be found there. Critics of the ALP would say Labor’s the worst offender because members must toe the party line and are expelled for crossing it. By comparison, the Liberal Party and Greens like to trumpet that their members are allowed the freedom to follow their conscience. But of course the reality is quite different: Liberal Party and Greens members face enormous pressure to behave and would likely see their political aspirations curtailed if ever they should cross the floor.

Independents have often held more influence in Canberra than their numbers alone suggest they should. Former Tasmanian senator Brian Harradine in particular was a political giant of his time, which included a stint holding the balance of power. More recently South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon has shared the balance of power and will do so again when the new Senate sits from July 1.

But it’s not just about occasionally holding the balance of power. History shows that governments often crave the imprimatur of well-regarded independents and will just as often pork-barrel their seats if only to try to win such sanction, or the seat itself, off them. But of course, much of this effort can be counterproductive because the more a government talks to and about an independent, and the more it dispenses largesse, the more the electorate sees the benefit in holding on to its independent. It’s not lost on some mainland politicians and commentators that the Abbott government is pushing ahead with the $16 million grant to Cadbury in Hobart while at the same time refusing SPC’s plea for $25 million in federal government investment in Victoria.

Mind you, there was no shortage of criticism levelled at independents Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and me during the 43rd Parliament. We were described as Labor stooges because we backed Julia Gillard into government, and the prime ministership, after the 2010 election. The reality, though, is that the 150 members elected to the House of Representatives at that election were all elected fairly, and it was our responsibility to make the Parliament work, including the formation of a government and opposition. The alternative was to say the electorate had got it wrong and that we all had to keep going back to the polls until we got it right.

A curious twist in the story is how Gillard effectively offered me Denison for keeps in mid-2011 …”

****

The 43rd Parliament —  and the independents — did not deserve the criticism they attracted from their political opponents. Yes, it was often fractious, but that reflected the conduct of some of the people populating the Parliament, in particular the opposition’s efforts to destabilise proceedings. The reality is that the Parliament was remarkably stable, productive and reformist.

I doubt that Windsor or Oakeshott, or Katter for that matter, expected to face a power-sharing Parliament after the 2010 election. I certainly didn’t. But when confronted with one we all did our best to make it work as best we could. And for Windsor, Oakeshott and me, that ultimately meant giving certainty of supply and confidence to Julia Gillard or Labor; and I say “or”, because Windsor and Oakeshott entered into agreements with Labor, whereas I was careful to sign my deal with Gillard personally. I can’t speak for Windsor and Oakeshott, but what I can say is that I felt it appropriate to sign my deal with the person I’d negotiated it with, an approach that for a time, at least, may well have had the effect of helping to shore up her leadership and in doing so foster political stability.

A curious twist in the story is how Gillard effectively offered me Denison for keeps in mid-2011. We were holding one of our frequent meetings in Canberra and out of the blue she said I needed to think about my future and, in particular, whether I wanted to be the ALP Denison candidate at the next federal election or wanted Labor to not even run a candidate there at all. The  alternative, clearly, was business as usual — and by implication a tough Labor campaign directed at me come election time. Of course Gillard’s approach to me was in the context of her trying to find a way to head off my bringing the government down. I rejected the suggestions.

But why didn’t Labor-leaning Denison turn on me after I tore up my agreement to support Gillard when, in January 2012, she reneged on her agreement with me to deliver deep poker machine reform? Perhaps that reflected the declining popularity of the prime minister, but in the mix has to be a craving in the community for principled political leadership. To that end Gillard failed to honour her word and it reflected very badly on her. For my part I’d promised repeatedly to withdraw my support if Gillard failed to honour her agreement, and that’s exactly what I did. Frequently afterwards constituents, often traditional Labor supporters, have voiced their approval of my response to the prime minister’s behaviour.

****

The opposition, and indeed some political commentators, speculated that the 2013 election would spell the end of the independents. But this didn’t happen, with the space left by Windsor and Oakeshott partly filled by Victorian independent Cathy McGowan after her defeat of Liberal frontbencher Sophie Mirabella, while Xenophon stormed home, winning almost two Senate quotas. My own figures were a swing of almost 17% to me on primaries and more than 14% on a two-candidate preferred basis.

There’s certainly a hunger for more independents by many in the community who are sick and tired of politics, politicians and the political parties. But it’s a tough road to hoe for independents, and the parties will do their best to make it all the tougher. After all, the parties like their cushy duopoly on power and don’t take kindly to those who come along and threaten it. Bad luck, I say; they’d better get used to it because we’re here to stay and hopefully prosper.

*This is an extract of an article originally published in Island #136

23
  • 1
    Simon Roberts
    Posted Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Oh so pure independents. Butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths.

    Interesting that Wilkie considers that horrible old Grouper Harradine as an ‘independent’.

  • 2
    Ozymandias
    Posted Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t think Julia had the numbers for Wilkie’s pokie plan. From what I have read both Windsor and Oakeshott were against it. Was she supposed to put it to parliament and see it go down for the sake of “keeping an agreement”? Seems pretty pointless to me.

  • 3
    swimming the hellespont
    Posted Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Relevance Deprivation Syndrome writ large. Toddle off soldier boy.

  • 4
    Bretto
    Posted Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Yes Ozymandias - the correct thing to do would have been to put it to parliament and let the people see who would vote against it. She would have also kept her word to Wilkie.

  • 5
    Bretto
    Posted Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Give me Windsor, Wilkie, and Oakeshott any day over the professional chancers that make up the Liberal and Labour parties. Blokes who actually have the good of the country at heart, rather than seeing politics as a career first and a public service a distant or non existent second.

  • 6
    cairns50
    Posted Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Julia Gillard has more principle in her little toes than you have Mr Wilkie, you describe yourself as independent , what an independent meglomanic

  • 7
    Wynn
    Posted Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    What a self-righteous, self-serving, self-important story, And as for Crikey’s intro blurb suggesting Wilkes was “stabbed in the back” - don’t really know what to say about that.

  • 8
    drmick
    Posted Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Is that a straw someone is grasping at? At least in that government, (and with the personal support of less than .003% of the australian population), you had a disproportionate voice; now you a just another number. Good luck getting the “prime minister for the formerly employed”, and his boat people bashers to support you.

  • 9
    tonysee
    Posted Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    It seems to me that a minority government faces almost impossible choices on a daily basis especially with an aggressive opposition.

    In this light, what might reasonably be seen as ‘stabbing in the back’ when the government has a workable majority takes on a different meaning when one vote makes a difference.

    I will be keen to see if Crikey attempts to get an alternative point of view here. Wilkey may be an independent but, like most pollies, is anything but objective when it comes to writing their version of history.

  • 10
    Wynn
    Posted Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    If Crikey editorial staff were interested in something more than generating click-bait these days, this little vanity piece might have been prefaced with some comment about the interesting timing of these “revelations”.

  • 11
    aliso6
    Posted Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    No publicity for a few weeks, Andrew?

  • 12
    Di Keller
    Posted Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    This article doesn’t tell how Gillard betrayed him, It merely reinforces that he felt betrayed. No evidence at all. Although there may have been more in the rest of the article that I couldn’t read because I am not subscribed to Island Magazine.

    I don’t think there was enough support for the Pokies reform.

    Didn’t expect the “stabbed in the back rhetoric” from Crikey.

  • 13
    AR
    Posted Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Wilkie’s point about the political class being hacks who’ve never struck a blow in the real world is no old but no less true for being unoriginal.
    However his dreary verbosity to say nothing is equally the signature of someone who was always a forelock tugger, ‘yes saah!’ without a visible principle except self interest.
    The evil of banality which is the hallmark of the military ‘mind’ - scuz the oxymoron.

  • 14
    BSA Bob
    Posted Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    My recollection is that Gillard didn’t have the numbers & just as importantly, in an environment where everything she did was by definition wrong, nobody contradicted her.
    To’ve taken doomed legislation to that parliament to have it go down, well we know what everyone would’ve said then don’t we?
    Beatup. Surprised to see you lot having anything to do with it.

  • 15
    Hugh (Charlie) McColl
    Posted Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    All the Gillard defenders can’t understand why well over half the population agreed with Wilkie at the time and let the Labor Party know at the last election. Wilkie waited too long to call in the favour. He should have been on Gillard’s back right from the start and he should have withdrawn support for Labor as soon as the rats started poking their noses up. But then again, the whole electorate was diddled. Gillard had already allowed herself to be compromised and debased by the stupid ALP backroom boys. It meant nothing to them to piss on Wilkie.
    Now conservative Australians are in the frame. They are going to watch Tony Abbott writhe and twist in the hands of Clive Palmer and other crazies. Together they will flog off the Australian environment for coal dollars and push it down the throats of Liberal voters. We ain’t heard the ‘doctors wives’ yet - they will make Wilkie sound like a childrens choir.

  • 16
    JohnB
    Posted Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    If one must use cliches, one should at least get them right.

    Tough ROW to hoe, Andrew. Hoeing of roads is beyond tough, it is impossible.

    Details are important, even to transient politicians.

  • 17
    Hamis Hill
    Posted Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    Wilkie is like Xenophon, can’t hack the party discipline but is quite happy to take all the party’s policies as his own. Wilkie taking from The Greens, while Xenophon is simply a Democrat without a party.
    Simples.
    A couple of opportunistic fakers?

  • 18
    drmick
    Posted Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    As Gillard bashers line up to kick the corpse; the wise rhetoric is lost due to the same credibility problem the financial “advisors/specialists/professionals have that missed/assisted and abetted the financial crisis have to deal with. Really wise after the event, and after ignoring evidence, sharing their 50/50 dodgy hindsight, while JG had a rat, feeding the scum, who fed the rabble and their supporters, that are running the show now.

  • 19
    zac48
    Posted Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    You’re just a big misogynist, Wilkie. How dare you criticize ‘our Jools’.

  • 20
    AR
    Posted Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    JohnB - thank you for saving me the bother - do you recall that the ‘road-hoe’ was my first example tuther week, along with ‘damp squid’ and “literally 360 degrees”?

  • 21
    Dez Paul
    Posted Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Onya, Andrew (and Crikey). Keep up the good fight against the 2 party “non-preferred” factional daleks and lick spittles. Let’s not forget the courage you showed in standing up to Straya’s “favourite” lying rodent/war criminal. Don’t be too hard on Julia, though. You both had to eat the bog baguette over the pokies deal. For all her political shortcomings, she did achieve remarkable things in 3 years in very trying circumstances. We are a better nation for having both of you in public life. All the best for this term.

  • 22
    Suzanne Blake
    Posted Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Great article Andrew.

    Not surprised that Gillard was dishonest or tried to make a deal.

    She was desperate, and we have seen what happened in Melbourne in the 90’s.

    Keep up the great work and representation

  • 23
    Glen Laslett
    Posted Monday, 17 March 2014 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    Goodness me….Julia who?

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