Thursday, September 9, 2010

Now it’s ‘game on’, Julia

It was the day she was sworn in as Prime Minister. The ink was barely dry on her commission and Julia Gillard had squared off against Tony Abbott in Parliament with that now-famous challenge: “Game on”. But it was more than two months too soon.

The finest writers in Hollywood could not have imagined the drama that has been playing out in Australia’s capital since we went to the polls. The nation inched forward, leader-less, with only a caretaker government in our first hung parliament of modern times, while the deal of a life-time was being hammered out.

Queensland Independent MP Bob Katter was the first chip to fall. True to form, Katter withdrew from the clique of “three wise monkeys” he’d formed over the past two weeks with fellow independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, to make his own statement. He was siding with the Coalition, bringing them tantalisingly close to their goal—and government—of 75 seats or more.

It was another two hours and two speeches before the nation’s misery was brought to an end. They arrived separately to announce their decisions and it was still possible that they would decide separately, too, delivering the ultimate photo-finish of 75 seats each. Then came the words that brought ecstasy for Julia Gillard and her supporters, and agony for Tony Abbott and his: both Windsor and Oakeshott were going to support Labor.

That’s all history now.

It’s what happens from here on that really counts—Julia Gillard can finally lay claim to being Australia’s first female Prime Minister without caveat. There was an election. She secured the most seats (or at least the co-operation of those who sit in them). Labor is back in government.

Gillard says she’s “learned some lessons” during her nail-biting ride to The Lodge, offering “a new style of leadership” and accountability. Using language better suited to a 1970s hippie ballad than the massive challenge of running the country, she’s promised to “draw back the curtains and let the sun shine in”.

Let’s hope she remembers that no-one really won this election—both the major parties lost it. Every day that passes will mean a fresh victory for Gillard and increase her hold on power—conversely, the sooner another election is held, the greater the Coalition’s chances of being returned to government. In the words of Senator Nick Xenophon, a new election is only a heart attack away.

Now, Julia, it really is “game on”.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Waiting for Gillard

The women of this country have waited a long time for a fellow female to ascend the throne of Australian politics. We’ve had female premiers a-plenty, some of our top cops have been female and women are even running AFL clubs these days. But with the swearing-in of a female Governor-General, the only prime job left ungraced by the owner of a double set of X chromosomes was that of PM.

The sad part is, in the ways that matter, some of us are still waiting. It’s not that she’s been rolled in some super-secret party spill. It’s just that some time after becoming Prime Minister, the Julia Gillard we knew and loved went AWOL and hasn’t returned.

She admitted as much when she said the “real Julia” would no longer be subjugated by pollie-spin and election-speak. She would get out there and talk to the real people, she said. Well, she’s out there, alright, but in the dying days of the election campaign, I’m not buying what she’s got to sell.

First, there’s the kissing of babies. I know it’s a campaign and all but do we really have to have such clich├ęd clinches? Much has been made in the past of Gillard’s single and childless status. I’ve got no problems with that—I don’t have kids either. But every time I see Julia cooing over a baby I want to throw something at the telly. It all seems more than a touch contrived, as if she’s suddenly uncomfortable with the fact that she’s not having any kids of her own. Perhaps it’s really the ALP spin doctors who are uncomfortable—they’re probably the same ones who advised Kevin Rudd to trot his wife and kids out every chance he could get.

While Julia Gillard is about as far from Sarah Palin as red is from blue, one of Palin’s most “sellable” qualities was her disarming authenticity. Cheesy it may have been, but Palin excelled at being herself. And Middle America loved her for it. We used to love Julia for the same reason, ocker accent and all.

Though I don’t claim to be a feminist, I did get a lump in my throat watching that very first prime-ministerial speech and maiden media conference. Gillard’s poise, confidence and sheer statesmanlike command of the room were awesome (in the original sense of the word). But where are those intelligent, impassioned and inspirational speeches now? Silenced, by the cacophony of campaigning.

In her defence, Gillard has copped criticism from all sides since she took on the big gig. Too much makeup, over-sized ear lobes, more talk about her polish than her policies—but that’s all the external stuff.

What women really want is to see the first woman to take over The Lodge in her own right, be the woman she made us believe she could be.