Julia Gillard: A practically left-wing PM in every way
On the day in the August election campaign that Julia Gillard chose to announce the ``real Julia’’ would be on offer to voters, she also gave an insight into her political style, now being tested more than ever.
It came during a conversation with SMH journalist David Marr and me on a bus ride out of Sydney, and the impetus was a joke by me which neither found funny.
I had suggested that an old anti-Vietnam war chant be adapted for Labor’s campaign: ``One is right, one is wrong, Victory to Penny Wong.’’
They couldn’t even manage polite smiles—and can’t be faulted for this—but on the positive side the failure led to a discussion of Gillard’s university days and her role as a left-wing student politician.
Essentially, she said she was a leftie because the left had the power and the numbers within the Adelaide University students’ union and the national body, the Australian Union of Students. To get things done, she went left.
She insisted that any review of her student record would show she used the factional power to look after bread and butter matters, such as student housing, campus services, and mainstream education in general.
She wasn’t always out marching for Palestinians or against uranium mining. She was an office radical, not a street fighter.
In 1983 she became vice-president of the AUS with responsibilities for education and moved to Melbourne University to complete her law degree. That same year she was elected president of the AUS.
By her own willing description, Gillard is a pragmatist, not an ideologue.
In her speech to Congress, the Prime Minister praised Ronald Reagan, the US President (1981-89) whose conservative takeover of US politics drove her left-wing colleagues to fury just when she hit the peak of student politics.
A familiar criticism of Gillard from the Coalition is that she stands for nothing. There is no Gillard vision of the world, no big-picture image of her ideal Australia, argue Liberals.
Liberals dismiss her as a ``negotiator’‘, as if this were alien to politics. But their point is that Gillard will fake anything to get her way.
She might not have a detailed political creed—apart from an emphasis on education—but the core of her approach is to get done the things that need to be done, and not be hobbled by external debates.
You have to be in government to accomplish good deeds and being pure on the sidelines is pointless.
So she accepts the protection of two of Australia’s most right-wing trade unions, and has given members of the left some of the biggest jobs the Government must complete.
Gillard is in office largely thanks to the AWU and the shoppies union, and has Greg Combet pushing climate change policy, Anthony Albanese managing tactics in the House, and Martin Ferguson negotiating with major miners.
That pragmatism is being focused on seeing through two major policy missions. One is to settle a tax on miners’ profits, and Treasurer Wayne Swan is close to putting together legislation for that, with the agreement of big mineral companies.
The other, of course, is the introduction of carbon pricing by July, 2012.
Wobbly Labor MPs and ministers are being reassured that the Prime Minister will dedicate herself to the carbon project, attending to both the attacks on her integrity and on the price flow-on of the scheme.
She will not be marketing it as a ``great moral challenge’’ as Kevin Rudd did. It will be a task to be completed on schedule for the economic, environmental and energy security benefit of the nation.
It’s not a crusade. It’s not personal. It’s business.
Plenty of Labor MPs will be watching her to measure whether she is up to the leadership test, and whether her political approach works or needs to be replaced.
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