Yesterday Prime Minister Julia Gillard opened the inaugural Gough Whitlam Oration with a few words “adopted from John Curtin, but ever identified with Gough Whitlam”. Set against an increasingly hostile political environment, this speech opened with a welcome gesture — Gillard sensibly pointed to the “politics of inclusion”.

Gillard pledged, that as “prime minister and federal Labor leader, it is my role to define what it means for Labor to be its best self”. She promised Labor has “always understood that we must be the interpreters of the future to the present and must shape the future so it is one of fairness”.

She used words such as “optimism” and terms like “tough decisions” and said “reform” at least five times.

But then she stopped borrowing from Labor luminaries and took out a loan on the politics of envy. Inexplicably, she also conjured up images of conjunctivitis:

“…we have always acknowledged that access to opportunity comes with obligations to seize that opportunity. To work hard, to set your alarm clocks early, to ensure your children are in school. We are the party of work not welfare, that’s why we respect the efforts of the brickie and look with a jaundiced eye at the lifestyle of the socialite.”

But she saved a special insult for the Greens — that party that now lays claim to a sizeable chunk of voters and are about to hold the balance of power in the Senate, one she would never throw at the Coalition. In fact, not even for the crowd who stood on her lawn a few weeks ago and proceeded to call her a “witch” a “bitch” and a “liar”. No, Gillard reserved her criticism for Abbott on that count. Of the Greens, she charged:

“The Greens will never embrace Labor’s delight at sharing the values of everyday Australians, in our cities, suburbs, towns and bush, who day after day do the right thing, leading purposeful and dignified lives, driven by love of family and nation.”

Greens leader Bob Brown has hit back this morning. And rightly so.

This kind of language is divisive, uninspiring and vaguely nonsensical. It also takes the fetishising of ordinariness to heights that John Howard never reached.

And the assumption that “everyday Australians” — whoever lays claim to wearing that label with pride — aspire to nothing greater than setting their alarm early insults everyone.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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