RMIT’s Centre for Innovation was unable to confirm or deny the involvement of a clairvoyant in the scheduling today’s event “Passion, Politics and Power”, a one hour discussion with Julia Gillard in Melbourne today.

Rather than laughing mirthlessly for the full 90 minutes of the event, in a feat of gobsmacking self-restraint, Gillard struck a philosophical tone in her analysis of the ongoing Liberal leadership turmoil.

“I think it’s a little bit easy to narrow down and see this like a footy contest with a few key players, rather than look up at the big trends that are driving it.”

“It’s connected to some big trends in global politics that are worrying and need to be thought through for the future. On the conservative side of politics right around the world, we’re clearly seeing a fracturing of small ‘l’ liberal tendencies and those who are more conservative and much more nation centred. They want globalisation to stop,” she said.

“It’s come to Australia with some force, and that’s what we’re seeing in Canberra and have been seeing for some time.”

She also spoke to what she said were the unrealistic expectations the electorate can have of government, and in particular politicians.

“Because it’s complicated and the times are fractious, people look at politicians and say ‘I want to see you provide answers’ and often politicians can’t.

“I think we all have to take a step back, and a sort of calm down, and accept there’s not one answer, and it’s not going to be easy to work through this set of changes and try and find a new democratic rhythm that lets us do that.”

Leaning on the lessons of Trump, Brexit and the rise of the far right, Gillard had fighting words for those who would seek to combat a Dutton prime ministership.

“It’s that anxiety that, at the same time it leads to political instability here, it also feeding this hankering for a sort of strong man, that person who looks like they’ve got all the answers.

“If we underestimate that, then we empower the people who will try to channel it. They say ‘all of this anxiety will go away if we just had less trade, put some more tariffs on things. All of that anxiety will go away if we had less people from Africa in your community.’

“So we vacate the field for people like that and those sorts of political messages if we don’t get that anxiety. That’s the challenge for progressive forces worldwide.

“I think we’re pretty good at responding to economic anxiety, we’re less good at finding the words to respond to anxiety about that loss of sense of self and sense of place. That’s the social-democratic challenge around the world, and we’ve got to be up to it.”

Gillard also laid blame with the media, who she sees as feeding the feverish pace of public debate.

“The media cycle has completely shifted because of new technology and the rise of social media. I think people feel like they get to know their politicians more quickly than they ever did before they ever did before, get over them before more quickly than they ever did before, and that cycle is there.

“It’s harder now than in ages past to build and hold a political consensus for really deep-seated reforms. Not impossible, we did some very big thing, the NDIS and the like, so it’s not impossible, but it’s harder than it used to be. Just like everywhere. The temperature at which the whole thing is cooking has gone up.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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