Gillard needs to bring women to the yellowcake party
When Julia Gillard rises at the ALP national conference Sunday week to urge uranium exports to India she will anger some of her closest supporters - women.
She will also rile the ALP left who will argue against yellowcake to the sub-continent, but it is a long time since Julia Gillard has been considered a leftie.
Of greater importance might be the response of women voters in general, a significant number of whom have stuck by Gillard since she toppled Kevin Rudd, bungled an election campaign and scraped together a ragged agenda of her own.
But women are more sensitive to the nuclear issue than men and this debate at the party conference could weaken support from one of the few groups of voters who have stayed behind Julia Gillard.
The nuclear divide is one of several in politics which separates the sexes. Another is Tony Abbott.
The most recent Nielsen poll found in mid-November that 55 per cent of women disapproved of Mr Abbott’s performance as Opposition Leader, along with 53 per cent of men. They seem in sync there.
The first signs of a schism come on the question of Gillard’s performance as Prime Minister. Some 53 per cent of women disapprove, but 60 per cent of men feel the same way.
And when it came to preferred prime minister, the split was complete.
The poll found 47 per cent of women went for Gillard and 43 per cent for Abbott. For men, it was the same figures, but in precise reverse order.
In all categories, women favoured the woman.
However, a survey by Essential Media over the weekend found the sorority comes unstuck on the uranium question.
The poll found just 30 per cent of all voters backed exports to India. Some 45 per cent of all voters rejected it. Even within the Coalition support group, which is more comfortable with nuclear energy, just 35 per cent backed the export policy change.
This means the Prime Minister will have to win a massive public debate, not just the one within her party, if she is to get endorsement for the India switch.
Males were split close to evenly on the issue, with Essential Media finding 43 per cent backed the exports and 41 per cent opposed. The picture was clearer among women.
Just 18 per cent of women voters supported the export of uranium to India. It was opposed by 49 per cent. So roughly half of all women voters - at least - think Julia Gillard is making a mistake.
Women are even more strongly opposed to Australia taking up nuclear power, despite the advantages of lower pollution and cheaper long-term electricity rates.
Essential Media found 56 per cent of men supported the adoption of nuclear energy here. Just 24 per cent of women said the same.
The majority of women either opposed nuclear power plants or had no opinion. This sizeable majority is powered itself.
Among all voters, nuclear power was backed by just 39 per cent, with 45 per cent opposed. Considering the relatively large number of men who think nuclear power might be viable, and the large number of Coalition voters (50 per cent) who think the same, it is likely that the argument was swung to well below 50 per cent by the women’s vote.
It is possible they made up the bulk of the 23 per cent of all voters who were not just opposed to nuclear power, but strongly opposed.
Gillard is right on this issue.
India already has nuclear power, but needs more. Cheaper electricity could lift the lives of the 400 million Indians who live every week on less than we spend on coffee. Much less. It might help them afford such things as electric lights and refrigerators.
In 2008 an executive in the Indian nuclear industry recalled to me how a food shortage during his childhood was eased by Australian wheat.
“It was well known in every household, that this wheat has come from Australia. And today we are importing coal from you. Why not uranium?” he said.
A senior government official also invoked a special relationship to urge uranium sales.
He said that, like India, Australia was not tied to its British colonial past.
“Ultimately, geography will trump history, and Australia will be part of Asia. Ultimately, you are with us,” he said.
But the terrible nuclear aftermath of the wrecking of Japan’s Fukushima reactor no doubt is influencing all aspects of the nuclear debate.
The Prime Minister must realise that women, in particular, will need to be convinced she is right.
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