How far should feminists be supporting Julia Gillard as PM because she is a woman and the first one in this job? I agree she has had some rough rides with some s-xist judgments and criticisms and unwarranted interest in her private life. However, these experiences have not seriously weakened her position as PM but the general direction of the party is a problem she and her supporters don’t recognise.

Is her steely determination enough to swing voters? Do they see the ALP policies as positively as the parliamentary party does? The politicians promote the idea that their problems with voters and the media were caused by K. Rudd undermining their program by his leadership project. This claim ignores the fact that it is the party vote that is the problem, not just Gillard’s popularity. The Coalition vote is strong despite Abbott not being, or just being, preferred by a minority over Gillard.

There are clues in the popularity of Rudd. His main pitch at all times has been on the policy issues, on selling some sort of vision that rises above the rather dreary economistic goals that drive the ALP at present. Leadership requires more than good management of an admittedly difficult political coalition. People want a sense of visions that exceeds the rather pedestrian fixes that are presently on offer. The only two that could stir people’s sense of fairness and excitement are the Disability Insurance Scheme and Gonski’s fairer education, but both are caught in the surplus obsession time warp.

There are sins of both commission and omission by the current government in those areas often defined as “social” policy rather than economic policy. The constant political appealing to “working people” with exhortation to get a job is a very limited future vision. It leads to cruelly underpaying those who have difficulties in finding paid work, including those with disabilities increasingly pushed off the higher payments, and sole parents.  Similarly, extending so-called conditional welfare, the failed NT/WA models of income management, to more welfare recipients in areas such as Shepparton and Bankstown, makes the ALP look more and more like the Coalition.

This similarity continues in their failure to recognise the problems that their indigenous NT policies have wrought. There is little evidence that any of them are working, yet their proposed extension to some bad programs is in the Stronger Futures bill presently in the senate, despite being rejected in consultations. Good policies that are developed carefully in conjunction with those affected should be examples of core Labor values rather than imitations.

The redistribution of the mining tax is also suss. Over-compensating rich men on super savings while delaying help for those with disabilities is not a good look. Pretending that finally returning overpaid super taxes to the lowest income earners is a bonus is crappy. Pretending the extra from 12% super will be good for women and low-income earners is not valid and was not recommended by Henry for that very reason.  .

Education sounds good but it is all about test scores and getting a job, not about good citizenship or social capacities. Even early childhood spending talks about later work successes. The emphasis in this area on markets and competition undermines the idea that early childhood services should be part of community, not market infrastructure.

The asylum seeker mess is such that even though they are doing processing on shore, they are too scared to admit it’s the right thing to do. So they are still officially pursuing an unjust policy.

The new party and new Gillard play for voter support must take into account the serious deficits in the ALP visions of the good society, if they want to attract voters who want a vision of a fair go, not just good management of what is.  The social policy initiatives mentioned above, and many others, are being neglected in favour of pushing economic credibility. This is necessary, but not at the expense of the disadvantaged groups the ALP purports to also represent. Looking too much like the Coalition in the “soft” areas of policy will not gain votes but lose them, as small l Liberals turn back to their usual party.

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.

 

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW