Open Letter to Jenny Macklin

January 2, 2013

Dear Ms Macklin,

I understand that being the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs in the Second Gillard government as well as the Federal Member for Jaga Jaga must be an incredibly difficult job. You have to participate in government debates and voting, wade through all that paperwork, open community centres, hold press conferences, and who knows what else. Then there’s all that travel – whew! All those demands on your time must be terrible.

So I can understand why you wouldn’t necessarily be sympathetic to those who are about to be booted off their sole parent pensions and onto Newstart. If you have to work, so should they – and they should stop whining about not having enough money to pay for all their little extras. Right? If they can’t stretch $35 a day to cover their costs, either they need to learn how to budget, or just get a job.

It’s great to see you leading the way on this, too. When our leaders set an example, it always makes me proud to be an Australian. You might want to talk to the people who issue your transcripts, though. Somehow your assertive statement that you could live on the dole got lost in the works. You should really work to find it – stand up for your beliefs!

It seems to me that you’ve unfairly come under fire lately, what with that ‘extreme Greens’ fellow, Mr Bandt issuing that absurd challenge. Fancy him claiming you couldn’t live on $245 a week. I’m sure you’d have no trouble cutting down from your current $6321 – and you could easily do without your travel allowance, accommodation allowance, electoral allowance and all the rest.

It’s all about tightening the belt, as I’m sure you know. Why, my friend @theriverfed and I were talking about this just today, and she was very much of the same mind. In fact, she came up with a little list that you might find useful. Perhaps your office would like to distribute it to those single parents who’ll be ringing you up in the weeks to come.

How to be a Single Parent on Newstart Allowance

1. Live somewhere really cheap. Get used to it being socially isolating, with bad public transport. It’s affordable. Estimate about 75% of your income = rent.

2. Use your $15 petrol/public transport allowance getting to half a dozen different shops to get cheapest the food possible, non-bulk (since you certainly can’t afford either a chest freezer or bulk food prices).

3. Never, ever go anywhere for social purposes. Even if you don’t need to buy a coffee, you can’t afford to get there.

4. Be really grateful that your sister pays for you to have a telephone and your mother buys your child shoes, if you are lucky.

5. In winter, when the park is out of the question, act like going to the play area at Bunnings is a really fun treat for the kids. Add a $2.50 snag? Luxury.

6. Forget about replacing stuff that breaks. Never going to happen. Even if it was a necessary thing.

7. Learn to live with paying bills late.

8. Get really, really stingy. Like counting squares of toilet paper stingy.

9. Get over the shame of buying stuff with 5 and 10 cent pieces. And learn to love Home Brand everything.

10. Learn to cut hair, make your own bread, and just eat whatever your child leaves on his plate.

11. Finally, try really, really hard to avoid depression. Chances are you won’t succeed and all access to support has
disappeared. But Lifeline is still free.

So in conclusion, Ms Macklin, I hope you will be encouraged to continue your campaign to shake single parents out of their complacent, easy lives. It’s about time we saw some tough love.

Oh, and Ms Macklin? Do get back to the Australian people when you’ve given up all your benefits, blocked access to your savings, bought a public transport card and restricted yourself to $245 per week for a few months. Perhaps you could borrow some children as well. I, for one, wait breathlessly to hear how easily you managed your extravagant new income to pay rent, childcare, school fees, utility bills, groceries, transport, etc.

It’ll be a real lesson, I’m sure.

Regards,

The Conscience Vote

(Credit goes to @theriverfed for her marvellous 11-point list.)

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A man of his word

January 21, 2012

We’re still two and a half weeks away from Parliament’s resumption, but the wheeling and dealing is in full swing. It was pretty clear something was in the works when former Speaker Harry Jenkins retired and Coalition MP Peter Slipper took his place. The buffer provided to Labor’s numbers in the House was too good to be true – they had the option now to get out of some sticky situations without risking their hold on government.

Not least of these potential issues was poker machine reform. Bringing in legislation to fight problem gambling was crucial to securing Tasmanian Independent member for Denison Andrew Wilkie’s support in forming goverment – but the campaign mounted by Clubs Australia was immediate, well-funded and brutal. You couldn’t have missed the signs if you went anywhere near a club or pub – giant cardboard stand-ups shrieking that the government was going to make us purchase a ‘licence to punt’, that local kids’ sports clubs would be deprived of dressing rooms and uniforms. Our whole Aussie way of life would be threatened!

(Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Honestly, I don’t know how we survive as a nation, with all these dire threats to ‘our way of life’.)

The reality, of course, was that Clubs Australia was flatly lying. The proposal was for mandatory pre-commitment technology – which is a fancy way of saying ‘individual smart cards that limit how much you can spend in total at any one time’. Along with this, more money for programs designed to help problem gamblers and the possibility of limiting just how big your bets can be via so-called ‘low intensity’ machines, which impose a maximum bet per spin and carry a much lower jackpot.

Nonetheless, the scare campaign was effective. Labor backbenchers, particularly in New South Wales, started seriously worrying about their chances for re-election as Clubs Australia brought pressure to bear on them as individuals. The Opposition chimed in with their own head-shaking and tut-tutting about ‘draconian reforms’ and ‘nanny states’. By the end of 2010 – if you’ll forgive the metaphor – the smart money backed the idea that Labor would find a way to renege on the Wilkie deal, and still retain government.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, accompanied by Families and Community Service Minister Jenny Macklin, delivered the deathblow today. Instead of introducing legislation that would mandate the installation of pre-commitment technology in poker machines across the board, the government announced a trial of said measures – that won’t start until 2013, and will be carried out only in the Australian Capital Territory. Just in case the trial has a good result – in other words, tallies with what the Productivity Commission has already recommended and the experience of other countries has shown works – new machines built after next January must have the pre-commitment software already installed. Not activated, mind you. That won’t happen until at least 2016 – in other words, well after the next election.

Gillard also ruled out imposing bet limits or mandating low-intensity machines, on the grounds that installing the necessary software in existing machines would be far too expensive. Never mind that it would be a matter of modifying existing software, which is far less expensive than complying with the stringent rules surrounding the implementation of entirely new software in poker machines.

Almost as an afterthought, she announced a daily $250 withdrawal limit at ATMs located in venues with poker machines. Oh, and there’ll be warning signs on the pokie screens.

It’s all about ‘the realities of minority government’, Gillard lamented. We had to make compromises on carbon pricing, and we just have to do the same thing here. She asserted that she knew legislation could not pass the House, and therefore wasn’t going to make the attempt.

Unlike carbon pricing – which Gillard repeatedly said she would establish – this is an unequivocally broken promise. Actually, it goes further – it’s breaking the written contract she signed with Andrew Wilkie in return for his support. This is exactly what happened when the Coalition reneged on its contract with the Independents to re-commit votes and pair the Speaker.

(Oh, and just incidentally … the Coalition also promised to introduce pre-commitment technology in return for Wilkie’s support. Not that you’d notice from the way they talk about it now.)

Wilkie repeatedly warned that he would withdraw support if Labor did not live up to its undertakings. Gillard’s called his bluff, and now the ball is in his court. Even if he does follow through on his threats, it won’t necessarily endanger the government – Wilkie’s already made it clear that he would not automatically support the Opposition, nor that he would always vote against the government in no confidence motions.

So what would it mean? For the government, it puts them back in the same situation as when Harry Jenkins was Speaker; holding onto power by the slimmest of margins. A single vote against them by an Independent or Greens MP could be enough to defeat legislation. It would be a case of ‘second verse, same as the first’.

The implications for Wilkie are far more profound. In his negotiations with both major parties, and in his personal conduct in Parliament, he’s shown himself to be relentlessly ethical. He stood up to the government on asylum seeker policy and live exports, and only supported carbon pricing after he was assured that the most financially disadvantaged Australians would be protected. His refusal of Abbott’s lavish offers of funds for his electorate, in favour of wider programs that would benefit the nation as a whole as well as his own area, sent a clear message; this was someone who support could not simply be bought.

Now he’s in a position where he needs to demonstrate that he’s also someone who can’t be taken for granted, or dismissed. If he withdraws support from the government, he risks being forever branded as the man who prevented pokies reform – regardless of the truth of the matter. If he doesn’t, he becomes a target for the Opposition, who certainly won’t hesitate to brand him an opportunist at best, a Labor lackey at worst.

When Wilkie signed his deal with Labor, I wrote that he was shaping up to be the government’s conscience. Now we’ll see whether he can resist the temptation to settle for a watered-down, toothless version of his dream reform – or whether he’ll remind the government that agreements work two ways, and that there are consequences for treating written contracts are optional and dismissing individuals as undeserving of their fidelity.

UPDATE:

Wilkie just announced that he has withdrawn support from the Labor government. He will no longer guarantee to pass Supply bills or back the government in no confidence motions. His agreement with Gillard, which he described as ‘a pact with the Australian people’, was specific; ‘a deal’s a deal. Our democracy is much too precious to trash with broken promises and back-room deals’. He stated that he had ‘no option’ but to withdraw support, and went on to give the Labor government a thorough serve. Being able to trust politicians is even more important than poker machine reform, he added.

He added that he will not block the government’s proposed pokies legislation, even though it falls well short of the agreed measures. Rather, he will treat it as a first step, and continue to work for real reform.

Watching his media conference, it was clear that this was difficult for Wilkie. He said he held out hope that the Prime Minister would honour the agreement, even as late as last night. He said he’d kept faith with his undertakings, even to the point of passing a Budget containing Social Security changes with which he disagreed. His disappointment and disgust with the government was unmistakable.

Even then, he praised Gillard for making a minority government into a workable institution. There was nothing grudging or half-hearted about it, either.

No doubt the Opposition will leap upon this announcement with glee. Expect Tony Abbott to crow that this is the consequence of Gillard ‘dudding’ Wilkie, as she apparently ‘dudded’ the rest of us on a whole slew of other issues. In fact, expect the Coalition to cruise on this all the way through to when Parliament resumes on the 7th of February. And let’s face it, the chances are good that Abbott’s pontifications are likely to get more air time than anything Wilkie can say.

But here’s what’s important: today an elected representative refused to compromise his ethics. Wilkie proved himself a man of his word when it counted.

That’s a rare trait in a politician; and it shouldn’t be. Wilkie demonstrating good faith should not be a cause for comment, but as our Parliament stands, he’s the exception rather than the rule. He’s a man with both idealism and integrity … and perhaps instead of regarding that as naive and a little bit cute, we could admire it and expect the same standard of behaviour from the rest.

Because it won’t happen until we demand it.


Dancing the Gillard Re-Shuffle

December 12, 2011

There’s a new dance show sweeping Canberra. It’s called the Gillard Re-Shuffle, and it’s hitting the boards just in time for the holiday season. Inspired by the retirement stylings of Nick Sherry, Minister for Small Business, these new fancy moves will undoubtedly put bums on seats for, oh, a matter of days. Of course Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, in his new, self-appointed role of the ‘grinch’ judge for Canberra’s Got Talent, is expected to provide his scathing commentary – but really, we expected that.

So who are the lucky Chorus members finally moving up to the front of the stage? Let’s take a look – and while we’re at it, we might spare a moment’s thought for those whose footwork just doesn’t keep up with the Prime Minister anymore.

Greg Combet, already dancing up a storm in Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, will also learn the moves for Industry and Innovation. In a sneaky switch-up, he’ll be backed up by Chris Evans, who takes over from Kim ‘Comrade’ Carr in Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research. Carr himself will be relegated to the Outer Ministry (or more accurately, the Outer Darkness) in Manufacturing and Defence Materiel.

Brendan O’Connor incorporates into his routine a sideways move, which will bring him into step with Peter Garrett on Education.

Jenny Macklin gives us some Disability Reform to go with her current role in Indigenous and Community Services, and Robert McLelland will display his skills in the excitingly-named but somewhat confusing role of Emergency Management, Housing and Homelessness.

Bill Shorten, long-time ‘faceless man’ of Labor’s Outer Ministry, steps up into a plum solo role in Employment and Workplace Relations, with a bit of Superannuation thrown in for good measure. His place in the supporting cast will be taken up by Mark Arbib, who’ll now be Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Small Business and Sport. As part of his new role, he’ll also be lead performer of business in the Senate.

Sadly, Shorten’s new move somewhat eclipsed the more exciting developments in choreography.

Mark Butler’s finally getting his big break; he’ll take his moves in Mental Health, Ageing and Social Inclusion to the spotlight.

Crowd favourite and QandA veteran Tanya Plibersek is going to wow us with her undoubtedly brilliant interpretation of the Health Ministry.

And finally, Nicola Roxon steps up to take on the traditionally male role of Attorney-General, with additional appearances in Privacy and Freedom of Information. This is a real opportunity for her to shine, especially with a Big Tobacco Freedom of Costume lawsuit looming on the horizon.

Of course, these big dance productions are always cut-throat, and we did have casualties. Comrade Carr was relegated and Kate Ellis lost her supporting role in Status of Women. A retrospective show-reel of their accomplishments will, presumably, be included in the upcoming DVD release.

So there we have the highlights. Few real surprises, some possibly interesting developments, and some sadly unsurprising appointments of Parliamentarians widely considered to be the major movers behind 2010’s shock replacement of former lead dancer Kevin Rudd with Julia Gillard.

‘The Gillard Re-Shuffle’ opens in February 2012. We’ll be watching with interest to see how this new company performs.

*****

(Oh, and if the tone of this article is flippant – it’s because frankly, I just can’t get worked up about this. All last weekend the media was full of ‘ooh, ah, faceless men, scary factionalism’ stuff, as though this re-shuffle was something both unique and significant. The reality? Nothing about this is either surprising or unprecedented. Prime Ministers regularly reward those who support them, and just as regularly demote those who break ranks or simply become too unpopular. It’s about as thrilling as a reality TV show or one of those interminable ‘talent’ quests. So this is all the time I’m going to spend on it – there are some real issues out there in the Australian political landscape that deserve some scrutiny.)


Constitutional recognition of Australia’s first peoples – at last?

November 8, 2010

Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced today that the government will take the first steps in keeping a key election promise, albeit one that gained almost no media attention. Australians will go to the polls to vote in a referendum aimed at changing the Constitution to recognise the first peoples.

Flanked by Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin and Attorney-General Robert McLelland, Gillard noted that the Constitution, the ‘foundation document of our system of government’, currently failed to recognise indigenous Australians. Although the Apology to the Stolen Generations was a critical step in healing the relationship between the first peoples and those who came to Australia later, she stressed that it was only one part of the process.

The government is putting a great deal of work into reforming early education, housing and services such as medical and mental health care (particularly in remote indigenous communities), but ‘More dollars are not enough,’ she said. It was necessary to reform the way those dollars were used, to help rebuilding the positive social and economic norms of family life. The next step, while continuing those practical measures, was constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

There was widespread community support and bipartisanship in the Parliament for this measure, she said. Former Prime Minister John Howard had spoken about it to the Sydney Institute in 2007. Tony Abbott supported it – in fact, it was part of the official policy suite the Coalition took to the last election, as did the Greens and Independent MPs. The notable exception in her list was Bob Katter, although Gillard did not elaborate on whether he opposed constitutional recognition or had simply not made his views clear on the subject.

As Robert McLelland pointed out, only eight referenda have ever been passed, out of 44 put to the Australian people to date. Crucially, he added, one of those that passed was the 1967 referendum recognising indigenous peoples as citizens, allowing them to vote. That constitutional change passed with around 90% support.

Part of this low number stems from the particular rules surrounding referenda. A proposition must first pass both Houses of Parliament, then be put to the people. In order to pass, it have the support of both a majority of the people and a majority of states. Territorians’ votes only count towards the national total. In at least five cases, failure to gain a majority of states defeated the referendum, even with overwhelming support from most Australians.

Gillard and McLelland were clearly aware of this potential problem. ‘If this [referendum] is not successful, there will not be another like it,’ Gillard warned. In order to head off any looming difficulties, she announced the establishment of an expert panel by the end of the current year. This panel will work throughout 2011 and report back to government by the end of that year. Made up of both indigenous and non-indigenous people, community leaders and constitutional experts, the panel will work with organisations such as the Australian Human Rights Commission, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, and Reconciliation Australia.

Part of the panel’s remit includes the actual wording of the proposed constitutional change, but a major task will be to build consensus throughout the Australian community. ‘This conversation needs to involve all Australians, and we look forward to their input,’ Gillard said. Asked if this would include town hall-type meetings, she replied that the panel would largely determine its own methodologies. ‘We want to encourage debate and discussion in as many different forums as possible,’ Macklin added.

Macklin went on to say that the Prime Minister would be writing to the Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, Greens leader Bob Brown and the Independent MPs, inviting them to participate in this process. She said the government also welcomed suggestions from all members of the community as to who could be invited to serve in this capacity.

‘Respect is critical to close the gap,’ she finished up. Australia must improve practical issues such as health, education and jobs, but respect and self-respect were critical to the success of these reforms. It was necessary, she said, that the place of indigenous peoples’ place in Australian society ‘should be understood to be that special place that many of us already understand it to be’.

Gillard quashed the idea that this was mere tokenism. ‘There’s a false divide between working practically and working to increase trust,’ she said. ‘In fact they go hand in hand … building trust can make practical things possible. To make a life you do have to feel that you are recognised and respected.’

Undoubtedly there will be those who see a parallel between this expert panel and the one formed to investigate options for placing a price on carbon. They are identical approaches to different problems – both are designed to bring about a desired end, while seeking consensus from the Australian community. Whether people will raise the same objections, however, is debatable.

John Roskam from the Institute of Public Affairs, speaking on Sky News, was the first to raise public objection. The Constitution was ‘not a place for symbolism’, he argued, nor to ‘make important moral sentiments’. Australians could respect indigenous peoples, but were likely to be ‘very wary of tinkering with the Constitution to achieve a symbolic outcome’. Worst still, he suggested that the ‘practical implications’ of this proposal had not been considered. What if it created ‘two Australias’?

The ‘two Australias’ argument is particularly insidious. It plays on fear of difference – in effect, is indistinguishable from the arguments against multiculturalism during the Hawke/Keating years. If we recognise ‘they’ are different from ‘us’, then ‘we’ will be divided. ‘They’ might get special treatment, and ‘we’ will lose out.

Reconciliation Australia has some very good answers to these fears. Canada has long recognised its indigenous peoples in its Constitution. Treaties exist between the United States and around 390 indigenous tribes, and the Waitangi Treaty has been in force in New Zealand since 1840. None of these nations are splintering apart due to this recognition.

As for ‘special treatment’, Reconciliation Australia notes:

Acknowledging Indigenous Australians in the preamble in a way that recognised and valued their special place as the first Australians would not give them more rights than other Australians. Changing the body of the Constitution to include equality and protection from discrimination would give all Australians the benefit of better rights protections. (my emphasis)

Then there’s the question of whether changing the Constitution is ‘appropriate’. Roskam there did exactly what Gillard had warned against – created a divide between symbolic and practical measures. As Gillard pointed out, constitutional recognition is a matter of respect, and directly affected the relationship between first peoples and those colonists who arrived later. In reducing this proposition to ‘mere’ symbolism, he’s implying that the issue is too trivial for such an important document.

I imagine that those who voted against the 1967 referendum thought granting citizenship to indigenous peoples was ‘trivial’, too.

It’s absolutely outrageous that Roskam should treat the issue in this way. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner Mick Gooda wrote passionately of how important constitutional recognition was to him.

Throughout school and civic life we are taught that the constitution is the fabric that holds us together. So what sort of message does it send when there is no recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in our constitution? What message does that absence send after Australia lent its formal support in April last year to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?

The potential, almost subliminal, messages people take away from it – especially younger Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – cannot be good for our self-esteem, sense of self-worth and value.

That pretty much sums it up, I think. This is far too important to be pissed away by xenophobia and racism disguised as ‘respect for the Constitution’.


Let Gillard be Gillard?

August 2, 2010

It could have been the singlest stupid remark made by a politician in this campaign.

As of today, we were going to see the ‘real’ Julia Gillard. Up to now, apparently, we’d only been seeing glimpses, because the ALP campaign was being run in an ‘orthodox’ manner – which is to say, scripted events, crafted speeches and hyper-awareness of possible gaffes. All that was about to change.

The politicians, the pundist, the media – and everyone else – seized on this with almost unholy glee. ‘Will the real Julia Gillard please stand up?’ asked Tony Abbott with his trademark ‘I’m-being-naughty’ smile. ‘Just how many Julias are there?’, ‘Who is the real Julia?’, ‘I’m Julia and so’s my wife!’ went through the Twitterverse and Facebook. ‘If we are going to see the real Julia now, who have we been seeing for the last two weeks?’

It’s an interesting question. Almost universally, both campaigns have been roundly criticised for being too cautious, too concerned with avoiding missteps. In a very real sense, it’s been a ‘race to the middle’ so far – the middle being a bland, uncommitted, slogan-laden series of carefully managed events with all the offensiveness of blancmange. And all the taste and texture, too.

Laurie Oakes, interviewing Abbott yesterday, pulled the Liberal leader up every time he uttered the Coalition’s ‘stop the waste … stop the boats’ slogan. Media have been counting the number of times Gillard said ‘Moving Forward’ in a single speech. After a while, you could almost hear the collective brain of the nation switching off as the spin started up.

That criticism, combined with polls that are now clearly showing a trend indicating a Coalition victory, obviously rang alarm bells somewhere in the Labor Party. The result? This morning Gillard came out against what she called ‘modern campaign orthodoxy’. She was ‘stepping up’ to show herself more fully to the Australian people.

So what does the ‘real’ Julia Gillard look like?

We got our first look at her in a speech and media conference held in the seat of Lindsay, where she announced changes to Family Tax Benefit and school governance. The event was certainly managed – not held out in a shopping centre, but at a school assembly. The speech was definitely scripted. But what about the media conference afterwards?

The first obvious change was the accent. Much has been made of the notion that Gillard worked hard to lose the ‘Western suburbs’ twang – but it was back this morning. Along with the accent came a tone we’ve rarely heard so far this campaign, and then only when Gillard appeared annoyed. Strident, forceful, a little bit nasal, a little bit grating – 100% Gillard.

The language was simple and strong. About the most jargon-laden comment to sneak in was ’empowering’ – although she did fall back on ‘deep and lasting community consensus’ when questioned on Labor’s climate change policy. Most of the time, she was talking at a level that could easily be understood by someone without specialised knowledge or a lifetime spent decoding pollie-speak.

And she didn’t hold back on her reactions, either. Asked if she had questioned the affordability of the new Family Tax Benefit promises – a clear attempt to trip her up on recent accusations that she opposed paid parental leave in Cabinet – her response was immediate and quelling: ‘You bet I did’. Was she even aware of Cabinet rules regarding the National Security Committee? She rolled her eyes and said, ‘I know some people want to make something out of this … Of course I’ve read the Cabinet rules’. She was blunt in her answers and scathing in her criticism of the Coalition.

The most telling moment, for me, came when someone asked if the Labor Party was going to change its position on same-sex marriage. Previously, we’ve heard a lot of spin about ‘Australian culture and tradition’ from Labor, coupled with a slightly apologetic tone. Today, Gillard was direct. The Marriage Act says ‘man and woman’, we’re not going to change that, but we’re committed to removing discrimination, here’s what we’ve done so far. No apology, no justification.

Now, her answer is completely unsatisfactory. It’s not even logically consistent, falling back on the Rudd government’s very weak argument that what’s already in the Act is the final word, and is somehow not discriminatory. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s complete rubbish. But it’s the way she answered it that I want to focus on here.

Gillard had to know that her party’s position is unpopular. Every poll conducted has shown that the majority of Australians believe that discrimination in marriage should be removed – is, in fact, long overdue. Abbott gets a bit of a pass on this issue – by far, Liberal voters are under-represented in that majority, and he can speak to his base without causing too many waves. Gillard’s situation, however, is far more problematic. She could have gone for the soft-pedal approach, attempting to excuse and justify the position with a lot of weasel words and spin. It wouldn’t have changed the substance of her answer, but it would have mollified some Labor voters listening out there.

She didn’t do that. She put it out there – like it or lump it, this is what we’re doing.

I don’t like it. I imagine many, many Australians won’t like it, either. But it’s something we haven’t seen a lot of in this campaign – a willingness to be unpopular.

And whether those positions are right or wrong, it’s refreshing not to have to struggle through the spin.

Simon Crean’s responses to media questions today have been similarly forceful and blunt. You could be forgiven for thinking that the old man of Labor was back. Likewise Jenny Macklin was having no truck with fancy speech and measured delivery – she sounded as though she was having a conversation in the supermarket, not fronting a media pack who had the power to shape her image for the nation.

And they all had the same look on their faces – a rather odd mix of determination and relief. It was as though, somewhere inside them, they’d reconciled warring voices. It was more than slightly reminiscent of a certain scene in the political drama The West Wing, when an incumbent President in trouble with the polls decides to stop worrying about offending people and be ‘real’.

In the television story, that strategy wins the White House. There are three more weeks to go in this Australian campaign. It remains to be seen whether the ‘real’ Gillard will show herself as consistently different from the groomed and well-managed leader of the early campaign – but if she does, it just might be the saving of Labor.


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