Year starts with shoe off, trouble ahead is a shoo-in
Those in the business of applying the defibrillators to Julia Gillard’s prime ministership have been quick to talk up her grace and decency during the tent embassy mayhem, while also pointing an accusatory finger at Tony Abbott for inciting the chaos.
Whatever sympathy Gillard may have received after her frightening ordeal will now be undermined by the resignation late Friday of a junior staffer who had stupidly worded up the protesters as to Abbott’s whereabouts. Nevertheless the PM clearly handled herself with courage and compassion.
The footage revealing her asking the security service to ensure Abbott would also be safely escorted from the restaurant was a credit to her. She didn’t know she was on camera, and there was nothing confected about her concern. Laudable, too, was her comment later that day that her only regret was the violence had disrupted an event recognising the courage of emergency services crews. At a more human level, Gillard simply looked terrified as she was rushed from the building. Only the most jaundiced critic would have felt for her as she was dragged to safety.
But it is unlikely any of the above will deliver an enduring lift in her standing among voters. Equally, the attempts on the Left to fit up Abbott as the instigator of Thursday’s violence will be correctly dismissed as childish excuse-making.
Abbott’s solicited comments about the tent embassy were unremarkable. If anything they were notable because Abbott, who usually goes for the jugular, was thoughtful and respectful, saying only that he could understand why the tent embassy had first been set up, but it now had served its purpose and should move on. The remarks were described by Bob Carr, hardly an Abbott fan, as “entirely sensible” given that the very thing the embassy originally agitated for, the right to native land title, was now enshrined in law.
Federal politics might have burst back into life on Australia Day, but the heat and light of this clash has done nothing to change the political realities confronting the PM. She starts 2012 in a tougher position than she ended in 2011, and for the following reasons.
Pokie reform: Setting aside its impact on the parliamentary numbers, Gillard’s decision to confine mandatory pre-commitment to a modest and probably doomed trial at a couple of ACT leagues clubs has given her critics fresh ammo in their assertion that she will promise one thing and do another.
Indeed, when a political leader is being credited by Graham Richardson for an ability to reshape a promise, you know you’ve got a bit of a problem.It would have shown more political courage to have tested the reforms she claimed to believe in on the floor of the parliament, rather than timidly declaring they wouldn’t pass anyway and ducking a fight.
Minority rule: Gillard is now just one seat away from oblivion and this has shone new light on the character of those who keep her in power. Chief among them are Liberal rat Peter Slipper and former union boss Craig Thomson. There’s no suggestion Slipper is a crook, although clearly he has memorised every tributary, eddy and byway of parliamentary entitlements.
As for Thomson, still the subject of inquiries into his use of union credit cards on activities of a horizontal nature (he denies any wrongdoing), his brazen decision to burst into print on the subject of pokie reform reminded everyone what a shameless political liability the member for Dobell truly is.
Kevin Rudd: An algorithm could have been drawn up last year whereby for any positive coverage Julia Gillard enjoyed there was an immediate corresponding flurry of activity from the Rudd camp.
Indeed, the term “Rudd camp” is regarded by Labor people as a cute euphemism for Rudd himself, with the smited former PM’s recent indications that he wants to be the face of Labor in the looming Queensland campaign being seen as a warning that 2012 isn’t going to look any different from 2011 in the leadership department.
Carbon: The delusional take on the passage of the carbon tax bills last year was that it showed Gillard to be a strong leader who had provided business with certainty and shielded families from economic pain. Polls suggest the voters viewed it somewhat differently. Labor’s hope is that when the law takes effect on July 1 people will see the sky hasn’t fallen in, and that Abbott’s often-hysterical claims that everything would cost more were just that: hysterical.
The devil will be in the delivery after July. Labor is still confident the tax will be bedded down and sublimated into the background by this year’s end, as it goes into an election year in 2013. That of course presumes 2012 won’t be an election year. In this most uncertain of parliaments, you wouldn’t put your house on that.
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