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”.

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