10 August 2010

Questioning Mother Julia

I watched Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard with compere Tony Jones and a studio audience in Adelaide, on ABC1's Q&A program last night, 9 August 2010.

She's certainly a clever and accomplished politician, with a plenty of negative schtick for her opponents. My abiding impression however was that it was like watching an over-confident suburban school principal dealing with questions in assembly. No one dared challenge her on her display of well honed defensiveness about her ruthlessness, although there was the occasional cheeky little boy who tried to play it for some laughs.

It was not a debate and there was little policy substance.  She returned whenever she could to her saintly parents, sacrificing themselves, emigrating from Wales and doing it tough in suburban Adelaide for the sake of the children, Julia and her sister. This stuff clearly must poll well in focus groups. And I must not be very focused. My mind wandered back to when another sentimental would be Welsh miner, US VP Joe Biden, plagiarised the UK's Neil Kinnock stump speech harping on about mine shafts and the boyos in the valleyos. The anglosphere seems to be rich lode for leftists seeking political colour. But I digress.

The most interesting observation of the night was a comment in the, mostly irritating, continuous Twitter feed at the bottom of screen during the show. Someone observed there that she had a very good technique in affirming a question and the questioner. Yes. You got the sense that she is very practised and carefully schooled in one-on-one inter-personal political combat, not just the politics of public affairs. If this was the real Julia, then she is one scary and calculating mother.

When cornered, like nearly all politicians, she goes to enormous lengths to avoid directly answering an awkward question. And, what's more intriguing, she seems to get a pass on this from her interlocutors, even when called on it. Tony Jones pressed her a number of times on whether she had apologised to Kevin Rudd. She couldn't bring herself to say that she had not, even on the third try. We just had to take it that her repeatedly reconfigured non-answer, essentially that she felt that what she did to him was necessary in the circumstances, meant both that she didn't think an apology was necessary and that she therefore hadn't given him one. But that's not what she said. Gillard's persistent lack of grace about her shortcomings requires us to draw the negative inferences about her conduct ourselves.  By doing so she seeks to exploit to her own political advantage the generousity of spirit of many Australians. This deceptive trait could well bite her her on the bum one day. That's the day when the voting public (like Lindsay Tanner and John Faulkner before them) finally have had a gutful of her constantly holding herself out as a woman of conviction, when she is so clearly a purely pragmatic political animal.

I also continue to be mildly bemused by her brazen attacks on Tony Abbott over Work Choices and his economic competence.

It beggars belief for me that she gets a free pass from the media when claiming that Abbott's promise not to tamper with her Fair Work laws 'til the next election, should not be believed because he is ideologically opposed to the rigidities of her new labour laws.

How can this line of argument have any credibility coming from a politician who has been in the Left faction of the Labor Party all her adult life (she was even on the management committee of the Socialist Forum at Uni and was still a member of that quasi-communist front body as recently as 2002), but who now is spruiking herself in this election campaign as a fiscal conservative who believes in strong border protection and who doesn't have an agenda for pricing carbon. If, as she would have it, Abbott can't be believed on a clear promise to leave the existing labour laws in place for one more three year term, just because he's always been in favour of liberalising the labour market, where does that leave her promise to put the Budget into surplus within three years and not raise taxes, when 'til now she's always been a working class Union warrior reflexively sprouting all the usual big government pieties of the progressive Left ?

The commentariat have also negligently avoided challenging this Prime Minister on this line she is selling about an increase in the company tax rate for big business under Abbott's plan to fund his parental leave scheme, inevitably leading to higher grocery prices at Woollies and Coles. This argument of hers is misleading political voodoo economics. Commentators should be calling a foul on her.

Just a few short weeks ago Ken Henry, the Government's own Treasury Secretary, testified on national television before a Senate Committee, that the proposition that an increase in a tax on company profits increases the price of goods sold by the company, is a fallacy anyone interested in economics learns in High school. So why haven't the press pressed the Prime Minister on this?

Our friends at the taxpayer-funded ABC were delighted at the time to be able to embarrass the Liberal Party senators questioning Mr Henry on this, by broadcasting his testimony on their 7pm national news bulletin.  So why are the ABC now being silent about this intellectual neanderthalism when the Prime Minister openly sprouts such economically illiterate bull for political point scoring in an election campaign?

Amazingly there was even the hint of a suggestion at one point, initiated by Tony Jones putting Abbott's re-opening of the Henry Report to her and the PM's somewhat ambivalent answer, that the time might be becoming ripe during the next parliamentary term for a genuine flat tax debate. Now that would be a debate with some true policy substance to it.

The Prime Minister's answer to the last question of the show from Lowitja O'Donoghue pretty much summed up the emptiness and hypocrisy of an old leftist, reformed from the folly of pursuing ideals,  now that she has obtained power. Lois asked Julia why all the parties were silent on indigenous issues in the campaign.  Julia answered that Labor has not been silent on indigenous issues in this campaign.  She in effect said:

 "..look; Kevin has apologised, my education policies are helping and Jenny Macklin is looking into constitutional recognition...".
There lies a politician.

It seems however that because she survived this "test", didn't look uncomfortable and there were no "gotcha" moments, that the media now think the populace is more likely to elect her.  We really do set a low bar for public leadership these days. It's not about the quality of the political vision or the soundness of the policy proposals under analysis.  Mere survival without major embarrassment through the glare of an intense public spotlight is all that is now required to be considered fit for leadership.

All the anodyne stuff you're required to say and do is just so much colour and movement for the cameras. It seems that if you risk getting in front of current perceptions of popular sentiment, then you will be humiliated publicly, so any opinion leadership on matters moral, strategic or cultural, is now considered too treacherous for an aspiring leadership candidate.

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