CANBERRA OBSERVED: by national correspondentNews Weekly
Julia Gillard's survival strategy for the New Year
, December 22, 2012
Given the ruthless determination Julia Gillard has displayed over recent months to maintain her grip on the prime ministership, an autumn 2013 election, as a means of both staving off would-be challengers and seizing on Tony Abbott’s slump in popularity, cannot be ruled out.
The most likely time frame, however, remains a conventional full-term election around November.
Regardless of the actual election date, speculation will be ongoing throughout 2013 as to when Ms Gillard will pull the election trigger while an actual slow-burn election campaign is run at the same time.
Ms Gillard will be calculating that Tony Abbott’s great miscalculation — that her minority government would have crumbled by now — will be his eventual undoing.
By prosecuting the case that Mr Abbott’s uncompromising “oppositionism” throughout his time as Liberal leader is in fact a true reflection of his political style, Ms Gillard will be banking on the hope that protracted election tension will expose Mr Abbott’s character flaws and show he has little to offer other than being a negative saboteur and thus unsuitable to be prime minister.
Mr Abbott, on the other hand, will be working to portray Ms Gillard as a person who was both a participant in, and a protector of, union venality and serious misconduct (e.g., the AWU slush fund and the HSU scandal).
Mr Abbott will be further reminding people of Ms Gillard’s own great miscalculation — that she thought she could go to the people promising not to introduce a carbon tax and then doing that exact thing just months later with the broken promise still ringing in people’s ears.
But the coming election goes deeper than questions about character and judgment.
Rather, it will be a choice between two clearly different ways of running the country. In fact, it will be about two different ideologies on the role of government in peoples’ lives.
The Coalition will be pitching for a national government that lives within its means, allows the economy to grow and encourages business. It will be pushing for greater self-reliance on the part of its citizens, and less red — and green — tape.
Under Ms Gillard, Labor will be offering Australia the big government route — perhaps an expanded vision for the role of government than any that has gone before it in the past 60 years. The Gillard vision is based on a strong belief that governments and bureaucracies can fix all social problems and inequities.
Ms Gillard will be trumpeting a range of different Labor schemes, common in two respects — they will cost a lot of money and there is ambiguity about delivery and what they may be expected to achieve.
From the national disability insurance and dental schemes, to massive expansion of federal education spending, including the provision of school halls, through to broadband Internet cabling being delivered to every Australian home, Ms Gillard is happy to do the ribbon-cutting.
But it will be up to future governments to attend to the details and up to future generations to pay for their implementation.
Contrast the Gillard approach with electorally the most successful Labor government — the Hawke-Keating administration — which shunned the big-spending policies that had characterised the chaotic Whitlam administration and sought to earn economic credibility in the eyes of the business community, even though this meant pursuing controversial policies such as deregulating the banking system, enmeshing Australia with economic globalisation, abandoning old protected industries, means-testing the old-age pension and encouraging self-reliance in old age for workers through superannuation savings.*
That having been said, it must be admitted that Bob Hawke, on launching Labor’s election campaign on June 23, 1987, recklessly made the promise that “by 1990 no Australian child will be living in poverty”.
As the AWU scandal surfaced after years of festering in secret among Labor/union/legal circles, Ms Gillard has been able to deflect whatever role she had in the affair through stonewalling and defiance.
Despite the moral outrage and the bravado, Ms Gillard has been damaged by revelations that she was — at a minimum — the unwitting vehicle for individuals to engage in serious union corruption for which no one has ever been charged.
No one knows how much exactly, but several hundred thousand dollars were embezzled from construction companies through the AWU Reform Association, some of the proceeds of which were used to purchase and renovate a house in which Ms Gillard lived in the mid-1990s. Ms Gillard maintains she did nothing wrong.
By portraying herself as a victim of misogynistic attacks, and by rolling out grand Labor schemes, Ms Gillard has managed temporarily to get people to look ahead rather than behind.
But it does not mean she is in the clear, and, as the unfinished HSU scandal drags out, voters will start to link it with the AWU slush fund.
Ms Gillard may want Australia to look to the future, but her past and her present are likely to drag her down.
* The contents of paragraph 15 were amended on December 20 (after News Weekly went to print) to avoid giving online readers the impression that News Weekly or the National Civic Council endorsed the Hawke-Keating administration's support for economic deregulation and globalisation.