Feb 15, 2012

Gillard: from lifeline to the tumbrel in a week

Julia Gillard is continuing to achieve legislative wins even as her prime ministership expires. The tumbrel rolls ever on.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

You may recall that just over a week go, the "besieged" Julia Gillard was "thrown a lifeline" by Fairfax’s Nielsen poll, which showed a big rise in Labor’s vote and a fall in the Coalition’s vote. Well, at least according to Fairfax journalists. There never was any "lifeline", in actuality. Labor's numbers were awful. And it had been two months since the previous Nielsen poll in early December. The "rise" in Labor’s vote was meaningless given the length of time that separated the polls. That’s not Nielsen’s fault, or pollster John Stirton’s fault, at all -- it’s Fairfax’s, because it refuses to pay for a fortnightly poll. Christmas had also intervened, doubling the normal length of time. Newspoll is fortnightly. Essential is weekly, with a fortnightly rolling average. Morgan is incessant. They can all provide a polling trend. It’s a lot harder with Nielsen, particularly when the previous poll was two months and a holiday break ago. Nonetheless, the "lifeline" idea took hold, despite its patent non-existence. Labor was said to be "buoyed". That’s what happens in political coverage. The truth is merely one narrative among many, and often only coincidentally linked to reportage, one not to be favoured over any other if it doesn’t serve. That’s why yesterday I nicked Updike’s metaphor to talk about how "investigation passes a threshold of commonsense and enters a sub-atomic realm where laws are mocked". Ditto now with the revisitation of June 2010, courtesy of a fairly poor Four Corners story notable only for leaving commentators wondering why on earth Julia Gillard agreed to an interview -- bearing in mind of course that politicians who don’t agree to interviews are routinely berated. But we’re at the same stage as previous leaders reached before their demise, when even the most trivial things are attributed significance. Get confused over your Roves, or be upstaged by your opponent who speaks Mandarin, or comment on a junior reporter’s outfit, and it dominates the media cycle, drowning out everything else. A politician needs clear air to communicate, and leaders die when the media cuts it off. We’re deep in the sub-atomic world here, carefully scrutinising evidence of what exactly Julia Gillard did, when speeches were prepared, when polling was waved in MPs’ faces, all in the cause of explaining … what? That Gillard’s ambitions and frustration with Kevin Rudd crystallised into action hours or days before she said it did? To what end? And who will ever know except Gillard herself? The electorate is getting on with their lives, oblivious to this stuff. Julia Gillard’s credibility is already shot as far as voters are concerned, and for altogether more substantial reasons that those currently obsessing sections of the press gallery. She’s a "dead PM walking" as one Labor MP remarked yesterday, felled by her own lack of judgment, poor advice and an incapacity to prevent others -- Tony Abbott, the media, and ultimately voters themselves -- from constructing her prime ministerial persona for her. That it’s happening at the moment that her government secured passage of the private health insurance rebate means test, which has been on the agenda since the Rudd years (Mark I), is an example of the one of the few things the Gillard prime ministership has left in plentiful supply, irony. Gillard has been a master of getting legislation through, securing passage of key bills through the Senate when she was deputy while others tried and failed, then negotiating her way through a hung parliament with a deftness and judgment entirely at odds with that Sadim touch she displays outside the chamber. She also rose in Parliament this morning to give an excellent speech in fulfilment of the government’s annual Closing The Gap pledge, tying health, employment and education outcomes into the broader process and history of reconciliation, in so doing paying tribute to Kevin Rudd and John Howard. It was a speech that demonstrated what sort of leader Gillard occasionally showed she could have been, but now never will be … at least not this time around. And when a new prime minister is installed, a new frontbench is revealed and various players take themselves off to the backbench or even out of parliament, once the dust has settled, the media will switch its focus to the future of the one politician in the country who, for all Gillard’s faults, is even less popular than her -- the bloke who sits opposite her at question time. The tumbrel rolls ever on.

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229 thoughts on “Gillard: from lifeline to the tumbrel in a week

  1. outside left

    wishful thinking, BK

  2. Jimmy

    “Gillard has been a master of getting legislation through, securing passage of key bills through the Senate when she was deputy while others tried and failed, then negotiating her way through a hung parliament with a deftness and judgment entirely at odds with that Sadim touch she displays outside the chamber.” SO doing what actually matters apparetnly counts for little while Abbott continues to promise everything for everyone no matter how big the black hole and he is doing a great job.

    I have said it before but if Abbott becomes PM those who vote for him need to own the disaster that follows. He will either break all his promises or dirve the country into recession, or maybe both.

  3. GeeWizz

    Kevin Rudd has shot like a rocket in the betting market as likely Labor leader come next election.

    He is now $2.15 compared to $2.32 for Gillard. Looks like Labor insiders are betting heavy against Gillard now, there is a rolling in the air….

  4. Oscar Jones

    More claptrap from Bernard Keane in his endless rehearsal to go mainstream.

    I bitched for years about Fairfax’s inability to produce a digital issue like The Australian has for 6 years and now they have finally done it I refuse to pay for a News Ltd lite as the SMH has become.

    Same same crikey.

    How about a good piece on a damned policy as presented in Parliament today such as health care rebate rather than 3 mindless pieces as presented by crikey today-yet another beat-up about the non-riot on Australia Day (apart from the AFPs over-reaction), “leadership” tensions and this article.

    We-are-not-interested. And I believe I speak for the majority.

  5. botswana bob

    Gillard is a politically dead woman walking as she has the political nous of an intellectually challenged amoeba. Anyone that gets into the PMs office ought to know what 4 CORNERS had in mind. They didn’t ask her on to crow about her government’s accomplishments, but to ambush her, which they did. She should have refused to appear. Video of her evasive answers will certainly feature in coalition adverts assuming she is still in the job. The canny Rudd obviously concluded some time ago that all he has to do is stay highly visible and that klutz Gillard will fall over. How an amateur like her could become PM is sad testimony to the nous of the ALPs faction thugs.

  6. calyptorhynchus

    Fact-free journalism….

  7. Jim Reiher

    Ironically the Rudd Gillard (maybe Rudd Gillard Rudd) years, will be looked back on, say,… in a decade or more from now… as incredibly successful years:
    – sorry day
    – signing Koyoto
    – paid maternity leave for the first time in our history
    – the Carbon price scheme – the start of action on climate change
    – saving Australia from falling into a world wide recession ( and in so doing injecting massively into the schools infrastructure around the country – I know I know, small business operators who vote for the Coalition ripped the govt off with their quotes and laughed all the way to the bank and the polling booth, … so lets have more regulation on small business operators when tendering … )
    – reducing the handouts to wealthier Australians (family tax benefit and now the private health insurance rebate) that were so much a feature of the Howard decade.
    – the NBN
    – the introduction of a national insurance scheme for those with disabilities (still coming… how is that coming along?)
    – a slightly better mining tax to help share some of the superprofits from the resources boom
    and lots more.
    – and who knows what else in whatever time they have left.

    The talk in Canberra is that Ms Gillard gets things done. Like this article says: she has that gift, or talent. She can negotiate and get things happening.

    Pity that is not highlighted in the media. The popular media has turned political discussion into shallow nonesense most of the time. We become like the Americans more and more every day: politics in the street, in the media, is all about “acting” and “appearance”. You have your minders, your script writers, your media people, your 7 second soundbites that you rehearse.

    But behind closed doors, getting the work done, and seeing change and impovement…. for some reason it is not newsworthy.

  8. sharman

    Julia Gillard has really crummy advisers. A lot of her media disasters come from poorly thought out media “strategies”. For example, “moving forward”, the “real” Julia, the Tony Hodges fiasco and the 4 corners debacle. If that had been Paul Keating, he would have just said “Yes, I was ready to take over. So what!”

  9. Jimmy

    Jim Reiher – Completely agree, I would go one step further though and ask what did Rudd actually get achieved and what has Gillard got achieved?

    Rudd couldn’t get a lot of his agenda through a much easier to negotiate parliament, Gillard has actually got things done. If she can actually steer this ship through the next 18 months things will look much better by the end. After all surely the media can’t keep running the “leadership” issue for another 18 months? Can they?

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