1074
6/10/2009 22:19
09CANBERRA545
Embassy Canberra
CONFIDENTIAL//NOFORN

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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 CANBERRA 000545 NOFORN SIPDIS E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/31/2019 TAGS: PGOV, ELAB, AS

SUBJECT: GILLARD: ON TRACK TO BECOME AUSTRALIA’S NEXT PRIME MINISTER

REF: A) 08 CANBERRA 609 B) CANBERRA 167 C) CANBERRA 305 Classified By: CDA Daniel A. Clune for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C/NF) SUMMARY: Described by her many supporters as “smart, tough, loyal, and the best parliamentary performer in the Australian Labor Party (ALP),” Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard – who visits Washington later this month – has positioned herself as the heir apparent to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd as ALP leader (ref A). Part of Rudd’s inner circle, she has handled a combined workplace relations and education portfolio with confidence and ability. Gillard has had a good year. She successfully shepherded through Parliament the Government’s key workplace relations reform bill in March and she is overseeing the Government’s investment in every school in Australia. Gillard, a product of the ALP Left in the state of Victoria, has shifted towards the political center since Rudd became ALP leader and is now a strong supporter of the Australia-US Alliance and Israel. Although she is still seen as a leftist by key right-wing union powerbrokers, that is not likely to stop her from succeeding Rudd as the next leader of the ALP. END SUMMARY

THE GANG OF FOUR

2. (C/NF) With Treasurer Wayne Swan and Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner, Gillard is part of Rudd’s inner circle, a group collectively known as “the gang of four.” She is a member of the National Security Committee of Cabinet and when Rudd is out of the country, or on leave, Gillard is Acting Prime Minister. Labor insiders speak admiringly of her ability to understand issues quickly and of her negotiating toughness. Unlike Rudd, however, whose brittle temperament and micromanagement have come under fire, Gillard is seen by most we’ve spoken with as a good manager. She oversees one of the better-managed offices in the Government and her staff seem very loyal. Conservative columnist Janet Albrechtson – no friend of the ALP – says of Gillard: “most people I’ve spoken to are of a firm view that Gillard is far more engaging and impressive than the dour Prime Minister.”

A GOOD LISTENER WITH AN EVEN DISPOSITION

3. (C/NF) Gillard listens carefully to advice. Kim Beazley, the former Defence Minister and Leader of the Labor Party, told Charge that Gillard listened intently when she met with him to learn his views on national security policy and the alliance with the U.S. The next day, Beazley recounted, he was startled to hear her in a radio interview repeating many of the things he had told her the day before. Unlike the Prime Minister and many other members of the Government, who have been criticized for occasional emotional outbursts, Gillard’s demeanor is always controlled. A member of her protective detail told Charge that he was with her constantly for several months and never saw her mistreat staff or even raise her voice, rare behavior for ministers, he commented.

A STAR AT QUESTION TIME

4. (C/NF) Gillard is almost unanimously viewed as the Government’s best parliamentary performer. She is a superior debater to Rudd, who gets bogged down in bureaucratic jargon and tends to speak for too long. In Parliamentary Question Time, it is evident that ALP MPs enjoy hearing Gillard more than Rudd. She enjoys taunting the Opposition but, as one Qthan Rudd. She enjoys taunting the Opposition but, as one journalist noted, “the only problem is getting her off the corpse.” Late last year, in a widely publicized exchange, Gillard pummeled Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop (who was under pressure in a Treasury portfolio she has since relinquished). Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull later described Gillard as “very nasty” and “vicious.” A visiting U.S. political scientist noted after watching Question Time that the Opposition normally heckled Government speakers but in stark contrast, they were completely silent when Gillard was on her feet.

A LEFT-WINGER NOW A PRAGMATIST

5. (C/NF) Many believe that Rudd, after he became ALP leader in December 2006, did not give Gillard the Treasury portfolio (the normal portfolio for a deputy leader) because she was from the Victorian Socialist Left faction – traditionally the most radical faction in the ALP. Gillard recognizes that to become Prime Minister, she must move to the Center, and show her support for the Alliance with the United States. Albrechtson, who attended the June 2008 Australian-American Leadership Dialogue in Washington with Gillard, wrote that Gillard’s speech “could have been given by the Howard Government.” Last week, in a speech to the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) national conference, Gillard defended the Government’s workplace relations reforms and splashed cold water on union demands for further changes. Although she was heckled by some of the attendees and publicly chided by union leaders, two former leaders of the ACTU defended Gillard’s in the press and her public stance against “union radicalism” is likely to be popular with the Australian public.

6. (C/NF) The ALP Right in Gillard’s home state of Victoria are not convinced that she is a transformed moderate. Some Victorian right faction members tell us they are looking for a Gillard alternative – although they admit there is no one at present. Beyond Victoria, Gillard has earned the high regard of the powerful right faction within the New South Wales ALP. ALP state secretary Matt Thistlethwaite, a key right faction powerbroker, told us June 3 that Gillard’s remarkable message discipline and shrewd management of key portfolios has earned her the respect of virtually all NSW ALP members. We heard a similar message from NSW labor union contacts, who told ConGen Sydney over lunch May 20 that Gillard appears to be Rudd’s heir apparent. Thistlethwaite said the NSW right faction would probably challenge Gillard if they had someone of her “caliber,” but he admitted they did not. Ambitious young MPs and former Union leaders Bill Shorten and Greg Combet are routinely mentioned as possible future prime ministers, but Thistlethwaite said that neither one is in any real position to challenge Gillard. More focused on the next election, party powerbrokers have not had any serious conversations about a Rudd successor, according to Thistlethwaite.

PRO-ISRAEL

7. (C/NF) Gillard has thrown off the baggage of being from what one analyst called the “notoriously anti-Israel faction” of the ALP. As Acting Prime Minister in late December 2008, Gillard was responsible for negotiating the Government’s position on Israel’s incursion into Gaza. Left-wing ALP MPs, a group to which Gillard used to belong, wanted her to take a harder line against Israel. Instead, she said Hamas had broken the ceasefire first by attacking Israel – a stance welcomed by Israel’s supporters in Australia. MP Michael Danby, one of two Jewish members of Parliament and a strong supporter of Israel, told us that after the Gaza statement he had a new appreciation of Gillard’s leadership within the ALP (ref B). Israeli Ambassador Yuval Rotem told us that Gillard has gone out of her way to build a relationship with Israel and that she asked him to arrange an early opportunity to visit. He will accompany Gillard and a delegation of Australian officials (including newly-appointed Minister Mark Arbib and Liberal Party heavyweights former Treasurer Peter Costello and Chris Pyne, Manager of Opposition Business in the House) to a meeting of the Australia-Israel Leadership Forum later this month.

LABOR REFORM PASSES

8. (C/NF) On March 20, the ALP’s reform of Australia’s Q8. (C/NF) On March 20, the ALP’s reform of Australia’s workplace relations laws passed (ref C). Gillard consulted broadly with business and the unions in drafting the legislation so that when the new law was finally introduced in Parliament, there was little left for either side to criticize. When independent senators in Parliament tried to soften a pro-labor provision in the legislation, Gillard stood her ground, and forced them to back down. Her tenacity in defense of workers’ rights did not go unnoticed. Right-wing ALP MP Richard Marles, a former official with the ACTU, told us recently that Gillard “hasn’t put a foot wrong” since becoming Deputy Prime Minister.

9. (C/NF) Gillard also managed to win the admiration of big business in the workplace relations consultation process. Katie Lahey, CEO of the Business Council of Australia (an umbrella organization representing Australia’s 100 largest firms) told Charge in March that Gillard was well respected by executives thanks to remarkable outreach and a “genuine” willingness to listen. While making her rounds with executives in the lead-up to the workplace relations law, Lahey said Gillard made you feel “as if there were nobody else in the room.” Executives unsurprisingly found items in the law with which they disagreed, but broadly say that they were adequately consulted.

THE EDUCATION REVOLUTION

10. (SBU) In his election campaign, Rudd promised an “education revolution,” to improve education and boost productivity and international competitiveness. Despite the opposition of the teachers’ unions and elements within the ALP Left, Gillard has supported a voucher system for vocational education and performance pay for teachers. She has also invited New York Education Chancellor Joel Klein to Australia. The Rudd Government’s second big economic stimulus package, passed in February, provided money for infrastructure upgrades for every school, public and private, in Australia. While this funding may improve educational outcomes, the political benefit for ALP politicians will be immediate: in the next twelve months, each school will have a ceremony celebrating the investment, presided over by the local ALP politician.

THE FRONT RUNNER

11. (C/NF) COMMENT: All the ALP MPs we have spoken to have enormous respect for Gillard. However, as one ALP Right MP told us, choosing a leader from the Left would be a massive cultural change for the ALP. Don Farrell, the right-wing union powerbroker from South Australia told us Gillard is “campaigning for the leadership” and at this point is the front-runner to succeed Rudd, conceding that the Right did not yet have an alternative. Agriculture Minister Tony Burke, one of the early NSW Right backers of the Rudd-Gillard team, confided that Gillard is the clear front runner to succeed Rudd and in the end, the ALP caucus will follow the opinion polls if she is the one the public wants. Two keenly anticipated books on Gillard are expected to be released within the next 12 months (one of them authored by the wife of Beazley’s former Chief of Staff). At present, the question of a successor to Rudd is probably two elections away. Several Rudd confidantes have told us that Rudd appreciates Gillard and sees her as a possible PM, but that he wants to avoid anointing her to head off a possible leadership challenge when his poll numbers inevitably sag. The PM’s brother Greg told us in April that Rudd wants to ensure that there are viable alternatives to Gillard within the Labor Party to forestall a challenge. Mark Arbib once told us a similar story, though he stressed that Rudd appreciates Gillard’s strengths. However, another Rudd advisor told us that while the PM respects Gillard, his reluctance to share power will eventually lead to a falling out, while Gillard will not want to acquiesce in creating potential rivals. In the meantime, Gillard has proven her value to the Prime Minister and we expect her to remain the most important member of the Rudd Government, after the Prime Minister himself. CLUNE

Peter Fray

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