Julia Gillard’s win in the Labor spill means we have our first female Prime Minister. It also means we have our first atheist female Prime Minister. The one-time secretary of the Socialist Forum is now up against Tony Abbott for a possible October federal election.
The win for Julia shows at least several things: the Labor Party is deeply divided; factionalism is alive and well in the Labor Party; and the powerful union movement still has a huge influence in the Party. It also shows that the person you vote for in an election may not be the person to remain in the job just a few years on.
Ms Gillard was born in Wales, is unmarried (but has a ‘partner’), is childless, and has no religious faith. She is also more radical than Rudd on a number of social issues, including her strong pro-abortion stance. Of course to win the election she will have to temporarily at least appear to be even more conservative than Rudd.
Thus she will likely do a compromise deal on the miners’ tax, and not dare to resurrect the ETS in the near future. The 48-year-old will also not rock the boat on other contentious issues. But if elected in October (or whenever the election is held – they have until late February of next year), then we can expect to see her roll out her more radical agendas.
Rudd’s undoing was due to several factors, but the main reason for his dumping was Labor saw him as unable to beat Abbott at the next election. So pragmatism ruled the day, and a spill had to take place. Rudd did himself no favours when he did major back flips on things like the ETS (“the greatest moral issue of our time”), and his pledge on political advertising.
His utter disaster with his insulation scheme, and his inability to keep boatloads full of illegals from pouring into the country did not help matters much either. His aloof, out-of-touch and autocratic style, his image as a ruthless bureaucrat, and his penchant for being a control freak, alienated many people, even many Labor heavyweights.
He was increasingly out of touch both with traditional Labor voters as well as many Australians. He will be remembered for a few notable things at least. He had the highest approval rating just over two years ago when newly elected. But he is the first incumbent Prime Minister to be chucked out before seeing his first term in office completed.
How Julia fares remains to be seen. She can hold her own as a Parliamentary performer, and probably is more capable than Rudd in taking on Abbott. Of course some will ask about her ambitions. Only a few weeks ago she was telling us it was more likely that she would be a full forward for the Western Bulldogs than seeing a change to the role of the Prime Minister.
She is further to the left than Rudd was, but will have to work with the Labor factions of the right that helped to get her into power. And if the election is held in just four month’s time, she will have to work hard to reunite her party, and present a united front to the electorate.
The question is, how much of her radical past will come back to haunt her? In her student activist days she worked for the Socialist forum, which advocated a number of radical objectives, including the introduction of a super-tax on the rich, the pairing of Melbourne with Leningrad, and the scrapping of the ANZUS treaty.
She of course is a long-standing member of Emily’s List, the radical pro-abortion and feminist group in Australia. But her days as a secretary to the Socialist Forum should make clear her radical leftwing views. She wrote two decades ago about how the radical left’s agenda could be worked through the Labor Party. As she wrote at the time:
“For the Left to make any real advance all these perspectives on the relationship to Labor in government need to be rejected in favour of a concept of strategic support for Labor governments. We need to recognise the only possibility for major social change is under a long period of Labor administration. Within that administration the Left needs to be willing to participate to shape political outcomes, recognising the need to except (sic) often unpalatable compromises in the short term to bolster the prospect of future advance. The task of pushing back the current political constraints by changing public opinion would need to be tackled by the Left through government, social movements and trade unions.”
She has tried to disown her involvement with the group (made up of a number of former Communist Party members), but it is clear that she was a leading light in the radical organisation. She of course has to play down her radical past in order to get elected.
The question is, if and when elected, which will be the real Julia to stand up? Will it be the former young socialist radical, or some sort of middle of the road centrist? Time will tell, but to be forewarned is to be forearmed.