A day or so after I accused Julia Gillard on national television of being a bad actor,  we saw floods of tears in parliament, and from that moment on her performances haven’t looked back.

There was, of course, a lot of debate as to whether the tears were acted or genuine.  We’d all prefer them to be genuine, but even if they weren’t, the quality of her performance must have given great heart to all those in the Labor caucus who weren’t contemplating taking over as leader in the near future.   (There’s apparently absolutely no truth in the rumour that Bill Shorten has been telling all who will listen that he thinks she’s just as wooden as ever.)

Even when Julia has to read scripted stuff to camera these days she no longer looks like the headmistress lecturing a dull class.  Her pace has picked up, her animation has picked up and she no longer accents the wrong syllables all of the time.

Geoffrey Rush may have been secretly transforming her as he did for Colin Firth,  as while I wouldn’t say that her work to camera is now a joy to behold, it’s certainly better.  She’s a lot closer to the spry, witty and sometimes even impish persona she assumes on the floor of the house when she’s speaking off the cuff.

All of this of course should be totally irrelevant.  As I said last time, all that should matter is her policy leadership and policy implementation.  But that’s precisely why her performance to camera is important, as her pattern of backdowns and policy reversals  is something she’s going to have to work hard to convince us is just being politically savvy rather than weak.

Who knows whether the new health scheme is going to work better than the present one,  it’s all too complex for the mind of a simple playwright  to comprehend,  but at least she’s got something sort of agreed to, which is more than Kevin could pull off.  But has she given away too much?  To get all of the premiers to agree in half a day seems to indicate they got a hell of a deal.

Many people will welcome her announcement of a carbon tax, but will endless compromises on the way make the tax little more than a symbolic gesture.

One hopes that  her much-vaunted art of negotiation and compromise won’t  prove to be as much an Achilles heel as Kevin’s belief that he was a Ming dynasty emperor and the Sun God rolled into one.  (His one big backdown, the career-finishing ETS capitulation,  was one Julia and Wayne talked him into.)

There’s no doubt that one of her swiftly negotiated compromises is going to rebound on her for years.

A few days ago in the house, Joe Hockey was having a ball, laughing, as always, far louder at his own wit than anybody else was.  He was pointing out, accurately, that Julia has given away 60 billion of our money to the multinational mining giants as a result of them spending 24 million on television ads depicting them as heroic saviours of our way of life, fighting for their life against the ravenous socialist Canberra wolf pack ripping at their throats.

That anyone was convinced by these ads is a terrifying reminder of the gullibility of our electorate, but Julia, convinced the ads were working, rushed to offer the miners anything they asked for.  And they’re still not satisfied.

Not that the hypocrisy of the opposition hasn’t been noted on this issue.  They were not going to tax the mining giants at all, so God knows how much we were going to lose under their regime.

Nevertheless that 60 billion figure (some now suggest 100 billion) is going to reverberate out in the electorate for years as Australian come to realise that the mining advertising campaign dudded them totally.  And rather than blaming themselves for allowing their minds to be so easily turned,  Julia, who did the deal, is going to be the focus of resentment.

Do we have a national narrative of Kevin the immovable replaced by Julia the amenable?

If so, Julia’s new-found acting skills are going to be put to the test, as she struggles to depict herself as bloody bold and resolute in the face of a series of compromises that are in everybody’s interests bar our own.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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