Pokies farce is Gillard’s biggest stumble yet
I was sorry to see Julia Gillard fall on Australia Day – it’s strangely unsettling to see an adult stumble, and never more so than when it’s a person of power.
To my mind, though, a far more significant fall happened earlier in the week.
I understand the pragmatism behind Ms Gillard’s decision to dump her pokies reform deal with Independent MP Andrew Wilkie. She didn’t have the numbers in parliament to get mandatory pre-commitment legislation passed.
Her own MPs were rallying against the reforms under fierce pressure from the clubs lobby, particularly in NSW.
And with an already shaky leadership, it was not in her interests to have another year of key policies drowned out by a single issue and cashed-up clubs and pubs.
But that deal got her into government, so sadly I find myself agreeing with Mr Wilkie (and God forgive me, even Andrew Bolt) that she trashed our democracy by reneging on it.
In doing so, she also drained away the last remnants of goodwill among constituents like me.
How can she claim that she doesn’t have the numbers when she blatantly refused to prosecute the argument – not least that pokies are a scourge needing radical reform?
When the clubs lobby said it would cost billions to change over their pokie machines, she should have said (regularly and repeatedly): “You know what fellas, it will cost a bit. But you make billions annually out of pokie players and many of them lose their families, their homes and even take their own lives into the bargain. Australians have had enough.”
When the clubs lobby said thousands of jobs were threatened, she should have said: “It’s my job to protect the vulnerable – and anyway, think of the jobs that could be created if people spent their money on Australian products instead of pouring it into the pockets of pokie barons.”
Did our PM offer a counterweight to the multi-million-dollar pro-pokies campaign?
No. She left it to welfare groups, Mr Wilkie and fellow Independent Senator Nick Xenophon. (Community Services Minister Jenny Macklin was committed, but where was the backup from her boss?).
Imagine if Ms Gillard had been so passive in her former role as a lawyer, had sat mute while her opposition went hell for leather with their arguments. She wouldn’t have won too many cases.
Inevitably, the ‘no numbers’ argument was totally self-fulfilling.
Which is an insult to those who have stood by her through thick and an awful lot of thin.
When opponents accused Ms Gillard of knifing Kevin Rudd in 2010, I supported her view that a good government had lost its way and a leadership change was essential.
When critics started their Ju-Liar rant over her pre-election promise not to introduce a carbon tax, I accepted that she’d qualified her comment with a pledge to take some kind of major action on climate change.
Even when she announced her absurd Malaysia Solution on asylum seekers, I acknowledged the delicate balancing act between finding a more humane response to boat arrivals and trying to stop desperate people from risking their lives with people smugglers.
But with this latest move, coming on the heels of Liberal Peter Slipper’s slide into the Speaker’s position to give the ALP an extra vote in the Lower House, Ms Gillard has reached a new low in nakedly ambitious, unprincipled leadership.
Surely, reneging on the very deal that allowed you to form government exonerates everyone who believes the Prime Minister cannot be trusted, and makes a fool of anyone who’s persisted in giving her the benefit of the doubt.
You simply cannot continue to defend the indefensible.
In fact, the best thing I can say about Ms Gillard today is that she’s not Tony Abbott.
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