Gillard brought this upon herself





Gillard brought this upon herself

June 17, 2013

Amanda Vanstone

Amanda Vanstone

Former Howard government minister

The responsibility for whatever happens to her leadership this week or, if she survives, on September 14, is entirely on Julia Gillard's shoulders. It is all her own work.

The Gillard forces may seek to blame Kevin Rudd but that just will not wash. It is hard to undermine a strong, popular and effective leader. By failing to rise to that standard, she has herself opened the door for Rudd to be seen as a better option.

Quite why Julia Gillard constantly chooses to vacate the high ground to which her office so readily lends itself I cannot imagine. It is as if some type of demon is constantly drawing her downward to the scrappy place usually reserved for desperate leaders of the opposition.

Illustration: Jim Pavlidis.

Illustration: Jim Pavlidis.

The position of gravitas, the high ground, the prime ministerial perspective, is left vacant for Tony Abbott to occupy. The Prime Minister hands it to him on a plate. Uncontested.

The tacky lack of judgment by the restaurant owner at a recent fund-raiser for the former minister and federal Liberal candidate, Mal Brough, presented the Prime Minister with an opportunity to be seen as prime ministerial, to rise above the day-to-day fracas and call on the rest of us to join her in debate about the serious policy choices we face.

With her polling so low, this was a chance to be grabbed with both hands. Incredibly she couldn't see the opportunity and just passed it over to Tony Abbott.

The Coalition leader was quick to reject the sort of humour evident both at the Mal Brough fund-raiser and at a union dinner at which distasteful comments were made about Abbott's female chief of staff. Rightly, Abbott says that we should all be appealing to the better part of ourselves. He chose the high ground.

The Prime Minister was left calling for the sacking of someone who apparently didn't prepare the menu or distribute it. That's her new standard: if you were anywhere near something unattractive, Gillard will call for your head. That seemed more important to her than important matters of state. That's the low ground.

In another example of her capacity to display how out of touch she is with the real world, the Prime Minister has ordered Labor MPs to be at the school gate selling her Gonski education funding package. Does she really think busy mums and dads dropping the kids at school and heading to work have the time or inclination to stop and be harangued at the school gate? She lives in another world.

The other problem with that idea is that even if there were mums and dads willing to listen, what would you tell them in a few short minutes that they didn't already know? Yes, yes, we all know ''Gonski'' means more money for schools. (Maybe the government is a bit hush-hush about how far down the track the money is.) What we haven't been told how that will translate into better educational results for kids. Try doing that in a few minutes.

Mums and dads have seen this government pour public money into programs and then grossly mismanage them. Think pink batts and covered learning areas at schools - a program that went under the risible title of an ''education revolution''.

After all the time spent on Gonski and all the PM's professed commitment to education, it is inexplicable that she has not developed a way to promote Gonski that says more than ''more money''.

For only 100 or so women to turn up to a pro-Gillard women's function in Sydney last week is a very bad sign for the Prime Minister. As an omen of things to come it would have been frightening to Labor members. To watch the video of her giving the speech was excruciating. The women behind her looked to me as though they would rather have been just about anywhere else.

What has the once great Australian Labor Party sunk to when, in the lead-up to a federal election, all the Prime Minister can do is run a bit of a ''poor me'' campaign and then alert us to the hitherto unknown perils of men in blue ties? Can you imagine any other prominent political leader stereotyping people of one gender who make a particular clothing choice? It seems to me that Gillard needs a rest.

If the stupidity of her remarks isn't clear, ask yourself what we would say if Abbott made a speech about the need for us to watch out for women taking over, especially the women wearing jackets. I, for one, would think his sanity had left him. In her indulgent tirade, Gillard committed the sins of which she accuses Abbott. It was cheap gender politics with no substance. We don't want cheap, we don't want gender politics and we do want substance. Therein lies her problem.

With an election looming, the Prime Minister's supporters look to her for uplifting and inspiring vision. They want to feel energised and uplifted. She just seems incapable of giving them that pleasure.

As an indicator of her weak position, consider this. The Labor member for Adelaide, Kate Ellis, told the world early last year that Kevin Rudd had made some fairly unattractive remarks at the Stag Hotel in Adelaide about the Prime Minister having no children and not being a believer. If Abbott had said anything like that, heaven alone knows what Labor members would say. And yet now the guy who allegedly did say those things is far more popular with Labor voters than she is. Hmm.

Here is a lesson for Abbott and his team. Winning government is not the end point. It is just the beginning of your chance to govern well. Govern poorly and you will be held in poor regard.

If you take people for granted and do as the numbers allow, ignoring the needs of Australians, you will be regarded with contempt. Don't take my word for it, just ask Julia.

Amanda Vanstone is a columnist for The Age and was a minister in the Howard government.



 














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