Last Monday morning, new Prime Minister Julia Gillard called a press conference and made the following announcement:

‘Last week, when I took on this office, I said that I did so because Labor had lost its way on some issues. Our commitment to a fair and just Australia, in which everyone can maximise their full potential, and no-one is left to fall into destitution or hopelessness, remains total. But that message was not getting out.

Today it is time to renew that message -and to make it clear that the principal enemy of that Australia is the Liberal/National Coalition. Labor is committed to defending the fairness….

….that lies at the heart of Australian life – that employers do not have a free hand in setting wages and conditions, in sacking people without due cause, and in discriminating against their employees or job-seekers. Whether you work in an office, a shop or a factory, part-time or full-time, casual or permanent, Labor is committed to the idea that you get a fair shake.

Australians see this as central to their way of life. The Coalition revealed its true intentions when it briefly gained control of both houses of parliament in 2004, and introduced Workchoices. It remains the cornerstone of their policy – to introduce a system in which every worker is left with no protection of their wages and conditions. Tony Abbott has said as much, and we can presume that’s one time we was telling the truth.

Workchoices is not the only thing the Coalition wants to attack. Medicare is something they’ve had their sights on for years. They left it alone for a while, but you only have to look at the work coming from right wing thinktanks to see that they want to reduce universal access to health care, and give health insurance companies control over Australia’s health care – with the power to raise premiums and refuse care to people with pre-existing conditions.

The Coalition remains dominated by people who have no real idea of the way most Australians live and what protects our way of life. They remain committed to a rigid idea of the power of the unrestrained market and big corporations reaching into every part of life.

Nothing could demonstrate their disconnection from everyday Australia than their continued attacks on the stimulus which ensured that Australia was the only western country to avoid the recession arising from the global financial crisis.

Clearly there are many aspects to protecting Australia’s way of life. But central to it are the hard won features that make Australia what it is.

In response, the Coalition will try and change the topic – everything from burqas to what consenting adults do in their bedrooms. They’ll be throwing the kitchen sink at us. Australians need to remember what we’re fighting for and what the real difference between the parties is.

Now all sing….’

OK maybe not the last bit, and I do go on. You missed it? Amazing. It’s been a week since PM Gillard ascended, and the whole thing has been fought on the Coalition’s and right-media terrain ever since.

So I can see the point of some of this, ritual kow-towing on miners and asylum seekers to reassure voters that we’re easing up on the billionaires and getting tough on the wretched of the earth, ie priorities have returned.

And maybe they’ve got some polling that suggests that a simple return to the centre-right will bring back a tranche of votes….

But I mean fuck. Where’s the fight? Where’s the attempt to take the initiative and re-set the terrain, to put Abbott on the defensive, to reframe the right’s venomous culture war?

The deep worry is not that these brainiacs are working off polling – itself a craven and reactive way to do politics, which ultimately leads you to the political deadzone that the ALP appears to be in – but that they are simply in disarray, and so inwardly focused and or reflexively sycophantic to power (is it my imagination or has Bill Shorten based his life on the plot synopsis of A Kiss Before Dying?) that they have no capacity to turn outwards?

Surely not. I mean if that was the case, the new PM would do something dumb like using an RAAF jet to go and pay obeisance at the court of some hereditary old hack Queensland trade union leader in the first week of her premiership.

Like that would happen.

*a note on the graphic: this is an early version of the Alfred E Neuman charater which predates Mad Magazine of the 1950s by decades. The image was popular with US dentists, to advertise painless dentistry. Any resemblance to the PM and whatever tonsorial atrocity Mathison has visited upon her recently is purely coincidental

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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