I watched the Prime Minister appearing live on television last night at a community cabinet meeting in Adelaide. I was surprised.
Her voice was different, her whole manner was different. The aggression was gone. She seemed confident, knowledgeable, in control.
It was a far cry from the Julia Gillard delivering a stilted-sounding message to an Australian Workers’ Union congress or the supercilious mouthing of platitudes at a parliamentary question time. She listened to a question — invariably a critical question — and gave a considered answer; she was not patronising, but not defensive about not agreeing with the questioner, either. She treated her questioners politely as the sensible, serious people that most of them were.
Hey, this is a political performer to whom people might actually respond because she sounds both on top of her briefs and honest. This is the Julia Gillard that Labor needs to expose.
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So forget the photo opportunities wearing the fluoro vests and the funny hats. Leave the show business to the other team. Make Labor the serious lot. Instead of pretending interest when talking to manufacturing workers when walking factory floors, have lunchtime factory gate meetings where a Prime Minister actually answers real questions about things that worry real people.
Instead of set speeches about the importance of small business, make an occasional visit into the lion’s den of a local chamber of commerce and industry. Let the audience set the agenda in the way that worked so effectively in Adelaide yesterday.
And forget those daily door stops where idiot reporters ask idiot questions. Forget about breakfast television and shock jock radio. The 24-hour news cycle is the media’s problem, not yours. Go back to the past once every two or three weeks and have an old-fashioned formal press conference. But do it in the organised fashion of a US White House, where the parliamentary press gallery has to impose some order on the near-hysterical screeching that now passes for interrogation in Canberra.
Above all, make a reality of the claim that until the August drive to Government House the prime concern of the government is governing, not campaigning. Spend far more time in Canberra doing just that. Days when you are not all over the television, radio and newspapers means you have far more impact when you are.
And perhaps, after all, that really is the real Julia Gillard.
*Richard Farmer worked on the 1977 campaign of Gough Whitlam, for Bill Hayden in 1980 and for all Bob Hawke’s campaigns except for 1984