The defenestration of Julia Gillard by Kevin Rudd as Australian prime minister

[Note by Brian:  The following is a blog post written for Ephems by an Australian friend of long standing about the Australian Labor Party (ALP) leadership contest on 26 June 2013 between the then prime minister, Julia Gillard, and her predecessor, Kevin Rudd, whom she had herself displaced as party leader and prime minister three years earlier.  A ‘spill’ is a leadership contest prompted by a challenge either to an incumbent leader by a rival or vice versa.  A ‘caucus’ is a meeting of all the MPs and Senators of a party in the Australian parliament. ‘John’ is the writer’s husband. Australian elections to the House of Representatives are due to take place in September 2013.   Now read on…]

I’m furious, devastated, incredulous…. at Julia Gillard’s defeat by Kevin Rudd.

When we heard that there’d be a leadership spill, called by Julia, at 7 pm, I said to John that I’d put my money on Julia. Not because I thought that she’d win the September election so should be supported, but because she is so determined, so feisty, whereas Kevin Rudd has been a wilting lily when it’s come to leadership contests. The rumoured leadership challenge in the last few days looked as if it was in the same category.

So it was a shock that Julia lost 45 – 57 to Rudd.

As one commentator said, it was a case of caucus members assessing their electoral chances. The polling has been devastating for Labor. So in the last few weeks when leadership speculation emerged, yet again, it was against the background of the possibility of Labor losses such as the party hasn’t seen since 1966. In other words, lots of jobs lost.  You could ask, well what’s changed recently? And the answer can only be, time. It’s getting closer to the election date, 14 Sept, and as it gets closer I guess incumbent politicians lose their nerve.

What is infuriating is that Labor, under Julia Gillard, has introduced some very progressive policies – a carbon tax (OK, they were pressed into it by the Greens, but that was more a matter of timing than of policy itself), a disability insurance scheme, a new and significant education funding mechanism, general dental care, plain packaging for cigarettes, increased funding for mental health care….  and that’s just off the top of my head. But recently an opinion poll showed that people supported the policies of Labor, but not the Labor Party itself.

So, why?

Could it possibly be because Julia Gillard is the first female PM? Sounds very defensive, until  you take into account the attacks from the shock jocks and the Murdoch press. Alan Jones’s references to ‘Ju-liar’ now seem so mild. Oh, he did say that she ought to be taken out to sea in a chaff bag, hopefully to be sunk there, but that is all mild compared to the sort of obscenities that have emerged since. It’s not mainstream, admittedly, but it defies reason to suggest that the appallingly sexist, disgusting stuff that’s been circulating hasn’t had its effect on mainstream commentary.

You over there could well ask what’s the difference between the tossing out of an unpopular PM, Julia Gillard, and the tossing out of a popular PM, Kevin Rudd, 3 years ago? To my mind, Kevin Rudd’s deposition was one which only the Canberra insiders – and the ALP numbers men/women – understood. In vote-winning terms:  it was a loss of nerve, as Rudd’s popularity, although declining, was not at election-losing level. However, he hadn’t delivered much. Much was the promise, but….  So I was willing to go along with that assassination.

The public however was not. It wasn’t until last year that Labor politicians bared their breasts and admitted to why they’d axed Kevin: he was impossible to work with. Meanwhile the public perception was that Julia had knifed Kevin. Paul Keating was allowed to knife Bob Hawke, the incumbent PM, in 1991, but Julia, a woman, was not.

Julia has been dogged throughout her term as devious, a PM-slayer. Various slips – like the “no carbon tax under my government” – as they have been publicised, have contributed to the image of untrustworthiness. All bollocks, but what can you do with a print media dominated by Murdoch?

In the next few years or decades there’ll be a major revision of Julia Gillard’s reputation and record. She’s been a terrific driver of policy, an extraordinarily effective negotiator, right from the day she negotiated the arrangement which created stable government out of a hung parliament, and an incredibly courageous person.


The morning after:

I’m not the only one to be devastated at the treatment meted out to Julia Gillard. Debate is raging over whether she was or was not the victim of misogyny. And if so, why.

Julia_GillardPeople who know her personally, politicians and press alike, say that Julia Gillard is a warm, witty, likeable woman. Coming from a migrant background – her  parents came from Wales to Australia when she was a child – she has acknowledged that the work ethic of her working-class parents, and the opportunities open to them and their children here in Australia, are what inspire her to work for a free and fair society. Education has always been a priority, as have workplace relations where she made a name for herself in opposition when she faced off then Minister for Workplace Relations, Tony Abbott.

But somehow her warmth of personality couldn’t penetrate the TV cameras. And has she been criticised!  For her (strong Australian) accent, her nasal tone of voice, her nose, her ears, her choice of clothes, her choice of partner….

Is she to the Right or Left in the party? Once upon a time she was labelled Left, but that label slipped years ago when she engineered, or at least supported, the ALP’s cringeing policy towards asylum seekers. That was in 2001, and in the elections of that year, Left-inclined ALP supporters took their vote elsewhere, swelling the Green vote to an unheard-of 10%.

Since coming to office, the Left label has fallen off completely: why do a deal with the miners that would satisfy them but reduce by billions the projected revenue from a super-profits tax? why go back on her own policy of holding non-government school funding at current Australian dollar  levels while increasing government school funding in real terms? why propose (pre-2010 election) postponing for three years any price on carbon? (and then go back on that?) why undo the humane treatment of asylum seekers and for that matter go perilously close to failing Australia’s obligations to the Refugee Convention which we’ve signed up to?

Because she could.  Because she had to, in a hung parliament. Therein lay the conundrum. From very early on it was hard to see what Julia Gillard stood for, but that very problem had as its flipside: that she could negotiate, and she could get results. No mean feat in a hung parliament. She did what the Opposition leader, Tony Abbott, defied her to do – led a government that went its full term.

And just the opposite to Kevin Rudd who promised much but achieved very little other than a huge and growing in-tray. It was a well-known Canberra secret that departments leapt at the chance to put up policy documents for signature by Deputy PM Gillard when PM Rudd was out of the country. She always cleared the backlog!

Another opposite is her grace and her dignity, exemplified by her offer to quit politics if she lost the ballot. And she has kept her word. Kevin Rudd, by contrast, never stopped undermining her leadership, from way back before the election of 2010 when (his) damaging leaks unsettled the Gillard campaign, to his destabilising efforts throughout her tenure of office. He has hung around and hung around;  Julia Gillard has always been fighting Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition and at the same time the disloyal former prime minister and one-time Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kevin Rudd.

The brutality of her treatment was not confined to Wednesday 16 June, but has been a constant for three years. And yet she has introduced reforms which will make big changes to Australia for decades – and I mean ‘reforms’, not merely ‘changes’.

But it is the morning after. I find myself sharing the sadness in the looks of those of her colleagues who deserted her, clearly reluctantly. Yet there is at least some hope now that Tony Abbott will not win the election, and there is even an expectation that the size of his victory if he does win will not secure him control of the Senate, hugely important in ensuring that the legislation of the present government will not be overturned.

At least there’s going to be a real contest.

A reason for tuning in again to what has been a very depressing scene for the last year or so.

Jill Greenwell

(former head of classics at Canberra Girls’ Grammar School, and author of ‘Vietnam Diary’ and ‘What’s Jill doing in Bhutan?’ on this website)


10 Responses

  1. Margaret Kane says:

    Well written Jill. Your disgust and frustration at this travesty was palpable.
    Waleed Aly has also written a very good article about rewarding bad behavior in voting Rudd back in.
    I thought Julie was so strong and dignified through this whole process. The attacks on her, including from so-called feminists like Germaine Greer (who will ever forget her vacuous and sexist outburst at Julia’s expense on Q&A?). She fought an uphill battle and she fought it hard and she achieved so much while still fending off the critics, the misogynists, the saboteurs and the downright ignorant. 
    Well, now, like many of Julia’s colleagues, we must reluctantly get behind her avenger and chief saboteur. If we cannot prevent a Liberal win we must at least prevent a landslide and Liberal control in both houses as we know what that means!
    Margaret Kane

  2. Kay Rollison says:

    Jill is pretty much spot on. Gillard supporters like my family are devastated, but caught in the bind that opposing Kevin Rudd helps only Tony Abbott, which would be a very stupid thing to do. Readers might be interested in this assessment of Julia Gillard, which I reluctantly accept has some truth in it.
    Kay Rollison

  3. mary Scott says:

    I too was totally devastated by the outcome – my reaction on the night is probably best pursued through my text communication with my daughter
    Me Well the ALP  is dead dead dead.  What a selfish lot of small minded “me” generation f’wits in caucus.  I certainly won’t be voting Labor
    Daughter: Neither Rudd nor Abbott are made of anything like the consitution of that woman.  I am so disappointed but will reluctantly vote ALP to make sure I can’t help that little on the right.  All I can hope is that the libs only last one term and a new ALP leader is adopted.
    Me: Sorry I won’t vote ALP again until they some principle and backbone.  I didn’t agree with lots of what she did BUT – she was never given “clean air” and the media were much more interested in the “story” than the policy.  They fell for the three card trick and connived with the opposition to ensure everyone thought Lady MacBeth had blood on her hands, or that it was a carbon “tax” not a price on carbon. Media too lazy and gossip ridden to focus on issues.  History will show she did an incredible amount – particularly for someone running a “minority government”.  At least she will do better there and I hope somone focuses on the “dispassionate and objective” role the media has played. I am disgusted.  I will never vote for Rudd. Perhaps better to vote for Abbott in the hope that people learn what he is really like.  I wish!!
    Daughter:  I understand but dont think people will learn very fast.
    Me: Be interesting to see what happens.  The two independents who have both announced their departure at the next election have given no guarantee of support for the government if there is a change of leader.  This could lead to an interesting constitutional issue because I think the GG has to appoint a PM who commands a majority in the house.  That is not guaranteed now.
    daughter:  the mad hatter Latter has pledged Rudd support and I think Wilkie did as well but it will be interesting as there have been so many resignation tonight I’m not sure how that will go.
    MeExactly.  Interestingly all the resignations I have heard about are mend.  None of the  women have done it as far as I know.  I wonder if there is a tactic there.  The media really drive me nuts.  The ABC is equally as bad as the rest.  they exhibit such glee about the story but are silent about the implications and their role in it. 
    Daughter:  I actuallty think there has been some signs or mourning – which is a bit introspective
    Me: Oh – you mean they think that the person “who stands for nothing” actually demonstrated that she was superhuman after all and didn’t cry.  I think she was and has been extraordinary.
    Just a litte bit of the historical narrative on the evening there.  I don’t feel any better about Rudd on the day after either Jill.  I suspect the bounce in the polls will be ephemeral and I don’t believe that kind of extraordinary bad behaviour which he engaged in should be rewarded as it has been.

  4. mary Scott says:

    Kay I think the Guardian article is in fact the best and most dispassionate/ balanced article I have read.  I nonetheless believe that the Australian press corps  (in its entirety )went out of its way to give the first female PM as little room as possible – and from the get go. Their (unwitting or otherwise) collusion with the opposition to ensure that the impression of an ” incompetent” “lying”  and “chaotic” administration resonated with a public which was given nothing else to debate or think about. People believed that Rudd was who they had voted for and that their electoral choice had been removed.  This was all part of the opposition scenario. The fact that people  vote in a party and not a leader is not something the general public understands or wants to acknowledge.  Politics is about charisma in the media – not competence in government.  The art – which the opposition exploited to a T is to ensure that people do not focus on the issues.  The awful part of this is that they are right and that an ephemeral bounce in the polls will not save anyone from an Abbott government which will get there without any scrutiny on policy or personality at all.  What a shame. This is not democracy.  The opposition relies on the fact that no-one wants to know what they can do for their country at all – only the reverse – even if it is a sham. That’s what the opposition wants – just for one small term in power.  Certainly nothing for the good of the society as a whole. I give up completely.

  5. Christine Goode says:

    I share the views of Jill, Mary and others who have added comments. I want to add some further comment about the perception fostered by the media over the 3 year period of the “illegitimacy” of the hung parliament. The conservative side of politics here operates on the basis that they have a born right to rule and that any other party in power is somehow illegitimate. This was added to over the last 3 years by the constant commentary by them and a wide range of press commentators that somehow the parliament was not legitimate. There was little understanding of the facts: this was a parliament properly elected; members of the Greens and the various independent members were all legitimately there, and had been voted in by considerable proportions of the electors.
    This was the scenario Julia Gillard worked with, effectively and properly. She forged a coalition of interests for important legislation. Others have all pointed out her great achievements in that regard. But somehow the notion of an “illegitimate” parliament spread, and this re-inforced the notion that her winning of the leadership was not done legitimately.
    The state of political debate here in Australia, the absence of facts, and the one-sided media slant does indeed make one despair

  6. Jill Greenwell says:

    Christine‘s is a very powerful point, and underlying it is another of the failures to recognise Julia Gillard’s ability: she was the one who managed to negotiate a government. As Christine points out, there was nothing illegitimate about it at all. It was just something which an Abbott-led Liberal Party couldn’t effect.
    The other abuse of her government was that it was not stable; “unstable”, “illegitimate”, terms used mindlessly as interchangeable. Not only did Gillard create the government but she managed to see it through to its full term and to see that over 500 pieces of legislation passed both Houses.
    Brian writes: Thank you for this interesting contribution from the writer of the post. I think it worth noting that although Britain too has a hung parliament, which has compelled one of the two larger parties into a coalition with the smallest of the three, the resulting coalition government, although the subject of numerous criticisms, has not generally been described as ‘illegitimate’, at any rate to the best of my recollection. The senior partners in the coalition, the Conservatives, often chafe angrily at the relatively minor constraints imposed on their freedom of action by their junior partners, the LibDems, who in turn boast of their alleged successes in restraining the more extreme and illiberal right-wing ambitions of the Tories. The so-called Coalition Agreement, hastily cooked up between the Tories and the LibDems immediately after the election, is treated (absurdly) as if it constituted an electoral mandate despite the fact, rarely remarked on, that not a single voter had voted for it: at the time of the election, it didn’t exist. Despite the widespread liberal middle-class enthusiasm before the 2010 election for Proportional Representation (PR), which would have ensured perpetual hung parliaments and post-election inter-party deals, the unsatisfactory aspects of a hung parliament and coalition government seem to have reminded people of the advantages of government by a single party with an overall majority, far likelier to result from First Past the Post than from any form of PR. But no-one seems to have concluded from this that the present government, for all its glaring faults and failures, is actually illegitimate. Indeed, LibDems and even Tories occasionally make the nonsensical claim that the electorate deliberately voted for a hung parliament and coalition government, implying that this makes the government democratically legitimate, despite the fact that there’s no way to register such a vote; and when something vaguely resembling PR was submitted to a referendum soon after the 2010 election (on the insistence of the LibDems and as required by the Coalition Agreement), it was heavily defeated.

    Another major difference with the Australian situation is that we in Britain have already experienced a woman prime minister, still hero-worshipped on the right (including by elements of New Labour) and detested on the left, in ways that really have nothing whatever to do with her gender. So perhaps that issue has been successfully drained from our politics.

    Despite being a keen admirer of almost everything Australian, and while recognising the continuing influence of sexism in UK life, I am fairly sure that sexism is even more strongly rooted and influential in Australia than here, and that Ms Gillard has been in part a victim of it. Politics are much more openly brutal in Australia than in the UK, and it’s much easier for a male politician to get away with some macho brutality than for a woman acting in exactly the same way: brutality is simply unfeminine.  

  7. mary Scott says:

    I think the next fascinating chapter in addressing both the history and the future of the Labor Party will be in reading the newly released “The Stalking of Julia Gillard” by Kerri-Anne Walsh (a former press gallery journalist).  Based on her interview on Radio National this morning this will make fascinating reading about the collusion of the Rudd camp and the press gallery, which combined with the actions of the opposition made Julia Gillard’s position untenable.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this. It does indeed sound interesting, and worrying.
    Incidentally, I think it’s a little sad that the author of this blog post and all those who have commented on it (apart from me) are women. Will no Australian or other males come to the defence of Ms Gillard?

  8. James Dunn AM says:

     Brian Barder drew my attention to your article. I agree with most of it, though Julia could have played a stronger leadership role in recent months, However she will no doubt go down in history as one of our great leaders on the basis of her extensive reform agenda. James Dunn

    Brian writes: Thank you for this comment by such a wise and experienced commentator on national and international affairs.

  9. Jill Greenwell says:

    A comment on Brian’s observations about hung parliaments.
    The current Australian parliament was returned in 2010 with 72 seats each for the 2 Big Parties. (The total number of seats in the House of Representatives is 150). The challenge for the leader of each of the big parties was to gain the support of 4 of the 6 independents. This is what Julia Gillard did and Tony Abbott failed to negotiate (he even turned off one independent by offering too much financial support for a local hospital!).
    However, what the Labor Government did not do was to form was a coalition. The agreement with the four independents was that they would vote for Supply and for the Government in no-confidence motions, on condition that the ALP met various specific demands – but there was no Coalition. No offers of portfolios, no broad agreement on policy compromises, no guarantee of support for any general legislative programme.  So each piece of legislation had to be negotiated separately.
    This is very different from the coalition government in Britain, even if the coalition could be fractured at any time that the minor party had the courage to exchange position for principle.
    A really interesting question is whether the hung parliament was any less satisfactory than an un-hung one. Was it impossible to get legislation through? No. Did the major party (ALP) get its legislation through? Yes,but with modifications. Were those modifications a bad thing? No. And I don’t just mean that they had to introduce a price on pollution before they said they would. There were many areas, like the Murray-Darling Basin water conservation which was put to community consultation before decisions were made, that were dealt with differently from the ALP agenda – and with more widespread support than otherwise. Was the government unstable, i.e. likely to be overthrown at any moment? No. Was there a broader point of view taken into account? Yes.
    We don’t often have hung parliaments at the Federal level in Australia – the last was in 1941. But we do have them more frequently in the State parliaments (all but one of which, I might say, has preferential voting, as does the Federal House of Representatives, not Proportional Representation). A State leader of one of those hung parliaments, Steve Bracks (ALP) said that in his opinion the hung parliament produced more legislation reflective of the views of the general population than he’d experienced in a majority government.
    So tight was the vote that Julia Gillard was driven to one of her less palatable acts in bargaining over the position of Speaker  – install a disaffected Liberal Member as Speaker so that the ALP incumbent could take his seat, and his vote, in the House. What ensued there is another story……

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Jill. We’re not really comparing like with like here, though. The arithmetic of the Australian election result virtually ruled out a coalition (a majority comprising one of two parties with equal numbers of MPs plus a few independents would not be a true coalition, which requires two or more parties in government). I have argued here and elsewhere that a minority Tory government in Britain governing with a confidence and supply arrangement with the LibDems would have been preferable, from the national point of view, to the coalition between the Tories and the LibDems which is what they landed us with. It would have enabled Labour and the LibDems between them, plus the more liberal of the nationalists, to block extreme Tory legislation and policies, whereas in the coalition the LibDems have been dragged, more or less unwillingly, into acquiescing in some of the most destructive policies of any government since the 1930s. But the LibDems were desperate for the taste of ministerial office and a chance to show that their leaders were serious politicians who could manage government departments, and they succumbed to Tory blandishments. It’s quite possible that their decision has destroyed the LibDems as a party. The UK election arithmetic ruled out either a Lab-LibDem coalition or a minority Labour government with a confidence-and-supply arrangement with the LibDems, since Labour plus the LibDems still wouldn’t have had an overall majority in the House of Commons.

    I don’t think you would find many politically active people in the UK who would agree that a hung parliament produces better government and legislation than government by a single party with an overall majority. The principal advocates of Proportional Representation in Britain have tended to be either political neutrals or LibDems (because PR would almost always produce hung parliaments which would effectively give the LibDems the power to decide which of the two major parties should get the keys to Downing Street, and often a bunch of ministerial appointments, regardless of which of the two major parties had won more seats than the other). Coalition since 2010 here has produced ramshackle, short-term, incoherent, unpredictable and directionless compromises which have satisfied no-one. Hung parliaments also have the major disadvantage, as seen from here, that the electorate has no say in government policy, since no-one has been able to vote for an agreement negotiated after the election between the party bosses as the basis for either a coalition or a confidence-and-supply arrangement. Unfortunately with the decay of strong and durable allegiance by a majority of the electorate to one or the other of two major parties, we are almsot certainly doomed to endure hung parliaments and policies determined by post-election horse-trading for the indefinite future, whether under First Past the Post or some form of PR or preferential voting. It looks at present as if the main beneficiaries of this will be the far right-wing, jingoistic, xenophobic, anti-European UKIP, already exercising a pernicious rightwards drag on a thoroughly scared Conservative party.

    But I can see that some of this may not apply to the Australian political scene.

  10. Mary Scott says:

    I managed to get an E book from Amazon – in advance of its release in Australia — and it is riveting and makes sense of a lot of the appalled confusion I have felt over the past three years. I shall give you a taste.

    “This is my contemporaneous diary of an extraordinary time in Australian politics – that of the Gillard Government from June 2011 to April 2013. I scribbled notes, conducted interviews, chatted to people informally and kept media and personal diaries of the rolling events. Initially, my idea was to record the unfolding drama of how the government and Independents handled Australia’s first minority parliament since 1939, but it became quickly apparent that while the minority parliament was functioning remarkably well under Gillard’s leadership, there was a heaving political undercurrent being generated by a minority within the Labor caucus that kept threatening to derail its success. I noticed that as the months passed, the vast resources of the press gallery became more focused on Rudd’s ambitions for a comeback than anything the historic minority parliament had to offer.

    So these are my personal observations focusing on Team Rudd’s slow-death destabilisation campaign against Gillard, the media’s treatment of it and the combined effect on the government. It’s not a defence of Gillard; I didn’t talk to her for the book, and I don’t gloss over her mistakes. This does not pretend to be a definitive account of her government. It’s an expanded personal diary of observations, if you will, about a politician who was never given a fair go, not in the media, not by Rudd, not by some in caucus.

    I don’t dispute what a tough job it is chasing daily news; I did it for twenty five years in the federal parliamentary press gallery. I made mistakes and inflicted damage on politicians, and I put my hand up for taking the golden egg-beater to some yarns. I was also on the other side of the fence in the early 1980’s, trying to influence how the media portrayed the minister’s I worked for in the first Hawke government. I know what a bastard of a business politics and journalism can be.

    While there are rigorous, professional and highly competent journalists reporting from the press gallery, what confounded and disturbed me as the months passed was how many more got swept up in Rudd’s power play, giving undeserved momentum to his ambitions to reclaim the prime ministership. They became players, not reporters.

    There seemed to be a lack of appetite for rigorous assessment of Rudd the man and Rudd the politician, and of his motives, and the devastating impact he was having on the government. I noted how some of the best-paid journalists and commentators at News Ltd and Fairfax became Rudd’s mouthpieces in the war he raged against Gillard. He could seldom do any wrong; his antics were generally afforded benign, unquestioning prime-time media coverage. The underhanded work being done by his acolytes was respectfully kept in anonymous shadows while being given headline treatment.

    On the other hand Gillard was continually cast as a liar and policy charlatan, and lampooned for her hair, clothes, accent, arse, even the way she walks and talks. If ever the deck was stacked against someone, it was Gillard.

    Now three small quotes from the content. I am about half way through reading it at present. The last deals with the issue Christine raised about the legitimacy of a minority government.

    A year after her ascent, the undercurrent had become so poisonous that Gillard was forced into fighting a ludicrous battle against a man who had been removed from office because he was incapable of governing, who was despised by the overwhelming majority of his caucus colleagues and whose return many feared would plummet the government into the same chaotic state that had prompted his removal. In the words of a former high-level Rudd government policy adviser who penned a personal, unpublished account of his time in the Rudd Government, the way Rudd operated was ‘a powerful warding for future governments…The Rudd government was never and could never have been a functional government because of the man who ran it’. This adviser was in a trusted position; he was intimate with the running and functioning of Rudd’s cabinet and at the centre of much of its day-to-day mayhem. For those reasons, he will remain anonymous in this book.

    Once deposed, Rudd’s toxic ambition appears to have been either to return to the leadership, or to destroy both the government that had dumped him and the woman who had replaced him. In this pursuit he was abetted by political journalist who became pawns in his comeback play…..” “The oft-quoted fable that his crash in the opinion polls was the reason for his removal by his colleagues is hotly disputed by those central to Rudd’s fate. Anybody who had an ear to the ground in Canberra at the time of the leadership change knew that Rudd was in a bad way, that he’d been unravelling since the disaster of the December 2009 climate change summit in Copenhagen; that his office his department and the wider bureaucracy were paralysed by a prime minister who could not make the big decisions, but who sweated the minutiae of irrelevant tasks and board appointments; that he was so obsessed with his polling numbers and day-to-day politics that months into 2010, with an eye to the election, he was designing ever more extravagant and untenable policies that would provide him with the quick fixes of media limelight he appeared to need….His mercurial temper and his appalling treatment of any member of staff or bureaucrat he considered an underling was legendary; these traits were occasionally reported when he was Opposition leader, and again, sporadically, when he became PM. In the lead-up to the events of 23 and 24 June, these tendencies bordered on the manic. Of all his ministers, Gillard and Swan most intimately knew how unhinged Rudd had become in the first half of 2010; so, too, did most of his staff. Perhaps, in his heart of hearts, Rudd knew it about himself as well. He may have possessed an overweening ambition to succeed and slick PR skills, but he did not and still does not, have that essential mix necessary to lead a political party: a steely and steady personality, the ability to be calm under great pressure and under the weight of extreme criticism and consistently clear thinking. “

    “The tumult of the leaks and attacks on Gillard’s credibility helped drive Labor’s polling numbers down during the election campaign, resulting in one of the closest elections result in Australian history – seventy-two seats apiece for the two largest parties, with a gaggle of Independent and a Green making up the remainder of the 150 seats in the House of Reps. In the aftermath, the deft political skills Gillard deployed to successfully negotiate a minority government with the Independents after seventeen days of haggling should have turned around perceptions of her abilities and character. She had achieved what Tony Abbot could not, and had delivered government for Labor when many in the commentariat had written her and Labor off…..Public support for Gillard and her government started crashing in February 2011, after she announced she would introduce a carbon pricing scheme. Her critics claimed she had broken an ironclad elections promise not to introduce a ‘carbon tax’. During the election campaign she had stated: ’There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead, but let me be clear: I will be putting a price on carbon and I will move to an emissions trading scheme’. This is what she announced but not as far as those in the Opposition and hysterical commentariat were concerned….What was opportunistically never acknowledged by the Opposition, and never by the pro-Rudd and anti-carbon pricing commentariat, was that the art for a prime minister steering a successful minority parliament is to compromise with coalition partners; in Gillard’s case, the rural Independents and lone Green, all of whom had some form of carbon pricing scheme on their wish lists. It was both Labor and Liberal policy, also. Yet Gillard was flayed alive over the announcement and it dogged her days. That she made no headway rebutting attacks on her honesty and credibility says more about the campaign that was waged against her than her communicationskills, wanting though they were at the times she needed them most.

    The uproar also ignored the reality that promises made by a political party before an election can only become reality in a hung parliament if the governing party can navigate their acceptance through the maze of approvals needed from the disparate Coalition partners. In the May 2010 British parliament the Conservatives, led by David Cameron, formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats after a hung result. The wholesale redrafting of the Conservatives’ agenda as a result didn’t prompt relentless bagging of the British prime minister as a liar and a blaggard. Our political sophistication is clearly in its infancy.”

    I suspect that Democracy is too sophisticated a concept for Australian society to digest myself. There is also the question of how many psychopaths are attracted to the art of politics. I find it all profoundly depressing. But this book is a must read.

    Brian writes: Thanks for these interesting excerpts, Mary. The book seems to be available now, including as an e-book, from

    I’m not qualified to comment, except perhaps on the last paragraph of the excerpts. I don’t think Cameron’s performance in the coalition in the UK has been any less controversial than Julia Gillard’s management of her minority government (which I wouldn’t myself describe as a coalition): it has just been attacked on different grounds.

    Nor, with respect, do I agree with your own last paragraph. After a total of seven years observing Australian politics at close quarters, I would never accept that “Democracy is too sophisticated a concept for Australian society to digest”. Australian politics are certainly a lot rougher and bloodier than the UK version, at any rate on the surface; under the surface the skulduggery and unscrupulousness levels seem to me about the same. Few British commentators on UK politics generally, and our present hung parliament and coalition in particular, seem able to offer a sophisticated analysis of the implications, pros and cons, of governments whose senior party has no overall majority in the lower House. Australians seem to grasp these all too easily! But I agree that politics does seem to attract a certain kind of psychologically disturbed personality, in addition to perfectly well balanced people. Perhaps people who actively want to be politicians are by definition unsuited to practise politics, rather in the way that people who want to be prison officers or debt collectors ought to be automatically disqualified.

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