Why Adelaide’s own Julia Gillard can sweep SA
It’s not often in politics that a single sentence can guarantee you victory in four vital seats which have historically been among the most volatile and closely-fought in the Federal Parliament.
But Adelaide’s own ex-pat Melburnian Prime Minister Julia Gillard may have done just that with one inspired and clearly-enunciated line in her debut press conference as Labor Party Leader.
“I grew up in the great state of South Australia…”
When I heard Gillard say that line - oddly enough while in South Africa covering the World Cup, lying in bed in my hotel room at 4am watching her first press conference as leader live on Sky UK - I involuntarily shouted “You beauty!” upon feeling a surge of genuine if mildly embarrassing state pride.
A lot of other South Australians would have done the same thing, regardless of whether they’re Labor, Liberal or ideologically ambivalent.
Australia’s most elegant and liveable state has long been under-represented in our national political leadership. In fact it hasn’t really been represented at all.
It’s a painful thing to admit, but even Western Australia and Tasmania have had prime ministers in John Curtin and Joseph Lyons. SA has never had the honour, despite some of the State’s more desperate boosters mischievously claiming Bordertown-born Bob Hawke as one of ours, despite the fact that he grew up in Perth and represented the Melbourne seat of Wills as Opposition Leader and then as PM.
And when it comes to our one solitary Leader of the Opposition, many South Australians feel a bit like the people of Florida do about their contribution to the Office of the President. Alexander Downer might have grown into a very effective and widely respected Foreign Minister - despite an early start in the portfolio which combined a deluge of damaging leaks with a spectacular episode of cross-dressing - but his heady eight month and three week stint as Opposition Leader in 1994-1995 owed more to stand-up comedy than politics.
Paul Keating’s description of Downer upon his ascent to the leadership as “the idiot son of the Adelaide aristocracy, born not with a silver spoon but the entire cutlery service in his mouth” was a typically savage assessment from the acid-tongued PM, laden with the crass South Australian stereotyping you’d expect from an uncouth product of convict Sydney. It also accurately presaged Downer’s hilarious stint as the alternative PM.
I am not sure whether it was rehearsed or spontaneous but Julia Gillard’s line about the great state of South Australia was a smart bit of button-pushing for a place that probably feels a bit forgotten on the national stage. When she made the remark I made a mental note to see what kind of treatment that line received in my old newspaper The Adelaide Advertiser; when I came home and caught up with all the coverage, there it was in large type on the front page, given due prominence in an extracted quote running over the top of that historic edition marking the elevation of our first female PM.
It is quite clear that Gillard feels a genuine affection for and affinity with SA, where her parents have resided since emigrating from Wales when she was a little girl. Unlike Hawkie, she really did spend her formative years here, growing up in Mitcham, attending Unley High where she became the head prefect, enrolling in Arts at the University of Adelaide before heading to Melbourne and joining the Australian Union of Students.
(As an aside, it’s funny to note how over here in the eastern States, Gillard’s references to attending a public school in Adelaide have been wrongly taken to signal some kind of Grapes of Wrath upbringing in a poorly resourced, low-achieving government school. The reality as all South Australians know is that Unley High is the private school you have when you’re not having a private school, about the only state school in SA which has a rowing program and takes part in desperately snooty Head of the River regatta, or indeed that the worst thing that has ever happened in the suburb of Unley is that all of the cafes once ran out of friands at the same time.)
As a result of all this, in the space of a few weeks Labor Party figures in South Australia have gone from being utterly terrified at the prospect of backlash against Kevin Rudd, who had lumbered himself with an ill-conceived and woefully managed mining tax, to being extremely relaxed with Julia Gillard.
Her ability to neutralise the mining tax so quickly has been part of that turnaround in resources-rich SA. But a big part stems from their conviction that Gillard’s SA links have been identified and welcomed by voters in the State, so much so that the four key Labor seats of Kingston (4.4 per cent) Hindmarsh (5.1 per cent) Wakefield (6.6 per cent) Makin (7.7 per cent) are now seen as being holdable. There’s even a bullish minority within the ALP which believes that if any seat changes hands it will be Sturt, held by senior Liberal frontbencher and leading moderate Chris Pyne by a worrying 1 per cent margin.
The possible downside for the ALP is in the Sunshine State, where party figures who have no real affection for Kevin Rudd still fear that there could be a voter backlash at the brutal treatment Caucus meted out to the local boy. Gladstone-based backbencher Chris Trevor might have got a few giggles this week with his hairy-chested statement that he was so distressed by the dumping of Kevin Rudd that he’d thought about quitting politics, but had now decided not to quit after all. But at the core of his comments was the feeling, backed up by reader comments on Queensland news sites, that Rudd had been done wrong. The extent of that feeling is unclear. It’s for this reason that Julia Gillard and the more prominent members of her team are likely to be campaigning harder in Queensland than anywhere else in the coming weeks.
As a long-standing resident of SA, Julia might feel that she’s spent enough time here anyway.
The one final point I’d make about her SA background involves the vital question of the SANFL. Much has been made of the fact that we now have a woman for PM. Surely of equal if not greater importance is the fact that we also have a Sturt supporter as PM, bringing with it the hope that, at long last, we may finally be able to hold a Royal Commission into the result of the 1978 Grand Final.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…