CANBERRA OBSERVED: by national correspondentNews Weekly
No easy policy options for new PM Julia Gillard
, July 10, 2010
Despite the euphoria inside the Labor Party over Julia Gillard's rise to the nation's top job, voters will still need a lot of reassurance about whether Labor can deliver on the key questions of economic security and competent governance, given that the new PM played a central role in every one of its major decisions over the past 30 months.
To borrow one of Kevin Rudd's favourite hackneyed sayings, Labor is "not out of the woods yet".
Ms Gillard's sudden, though not entirely unexpected, elevation to the prime ministership has already delivered Labor a much-needed fillip in the opinion polls, and most pundits are declaring that Labor is now a near-certain winner at the coming election.
Indeed, Coalition MPs were crestfallen at the thought of Ms Gillard becoming leader because people on all sides of politics acknowledge her abilities, particularly in terms of communication skills, engagement with voters and her political toughness.Prediction
Opposition leader Tony Abbott's reported joint party-room prediction made just a day before the Rudd coup that the Coalition was "in reach of a famous victory" may come back to haunt him.
At the time, Mr Rudd was floundering over the mining tax, and the morale of government MPs was sinking lower with each passing day.
Forty-eight hours later, Ms Gillard was Prime Minister.
Ms Gillard's advisers will be urging her to go to the polls as soon as she can in order to capitalise on the goodwill from being the first female Australian Prime Minister and from the sheer novelty of there being a new person at the top.
The first bungle she commits will remind voters of the accident-prone Rudd Government.
But it will also be difficult for Ms Gillard to simply paper over the many policy inconsistencies between her government and that of her predecessor.
In fact, Ms Gillard will need all her political skills to achieve policy solutions which will satisfy the voting public on the mining tax, on proper control of the country's borders, and on any measures designed to seriously cut back on man-made carbon emissions.
Ms Gillard's political, management and personal skills are undoubtedly superior to those of Mr Rudd, who never made the transition from bureaucrat to politician.
Mr Rudd ran a chaotic office, shunned experienced political advisers, interfered with his ministers in an ad hoc manner, and was aloof from the broader Labor movement. Ms Gillard will do none of those things.
Incidentally, one of the great ironies about Kevin Rudd, exemplified by his final emotional press conference after he resigned as PM, was the mismatch between his public policy persona and his private dealings with people.
No one could deny that Mr Rudd had a genuine commitment based on his Christian convictions to use his time as Prime Minister to do good things for the community in terms of reducing homelessness, improving the living and health standards for indigenous Australians, and promoting cancer treatment and research.
Yet, at a personal level, Mr Rudd's autocratic, bullying behaviour created lasting enemies and his personal style no doubt contributed to the lack of support inside the party when he needed it most.
But the real reason Mr Rudd lost the prime ministership was his monumental policy failures, and it is these that Ms Gillard has to sort out.
Taking the heat out of the resources super profits tax (RSPT) debate by discontinuing the Government advertising and asking the miners to do the same, was a good start.
But the Gillard Government now has to find a compromise tax arrangement with the miners which will also bring in enough tax revenue to fulfil the new PM's renewed pledge to return the budget to surplus by 2013.
The RSPT was meant to pull in $12 billion in revenue in its first three years of operation. Ms Gillard cannot abandon the tax altogether because it is integral to the Government's economic credibility.
The mining industry, having been so successful in bringing the Government to the negotiating table, will now be pushing for a very hard bargain.
Similarly, Ms Gillard has to find a solution to the flood of asylum-seeker boats reaching Australia's north.
Returning to the tough policies of the Howard Government will alienate her supporters on the left; but Ms Gillard knows she has to fix the problem because the vast majority of voters want assurances that the Commonwealth Government can control the country's borders.
According to reports, it was Ms Gillard who convinced Mr Rudd to abandon his fight for a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme after the Copenhagen debacle.
Now, she has pledged to re-introduce an emissions control policy, possibly a carbon tax, once "widespread community support is reached".The Greens
Many of the Labor voters who fled to the Greens after Mr Rudd's carbon backdown will flock back to the Greens if Ms Gillard does not come up with a serious concrete plan on carbon emissions.
But Mr Abbott will also pounce on any Gillard pledge to introduce anything remotely like a carbon tax.
The Opposition leader will be able to argue that giving a Gillard Government a second term will be putting not just one, but two, great big taxes on everything.
These are not easy policy dilemmas to resolve, but Ms Gillard has only a few weeks to do so before she faces the people.