Julia Gillard: Same horse, different jockey in Australia

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s tears at his parting press conference will be the only tears shed for the end of his prime ministership. Arrogant to the end, still believing he was God’s gift to Australian politics, he continued to claim that he was elected to be Prime Minister by the Australian people. (But it was the Labor Party that made him prime minister.)


Kevin Rudd called climate change the “greatest moral challenge of our time” but didn’t have the moral or political will to do anything about it. (But then, neither did Gillard.)

For Labor’s poll-driven number crunchers, the massive dive of Labor and Rudd in the opinion polls sealed Rudd’s fate.

Labor will be hoping that Gillard’s leadership will be enough to boost its polling in the lead up to the federal election this year. But there will be no change in Labor’s political trajectory.

Gillard has been part of the so-called kitchen cabinet of Rudd, Gillard, Swan and Tanner that has been responsible for all the policy flip-flops that have disappointed and discredited the Rudd government.

Dropping action on climate change till 2013, freezing asylum seeker visas, re-opening Curtin detention centre, charging Ark Tribe, dropping the construction of child care centres, WorkChoice Lite – you name it, Julia Gillard has been part of it.

While Gillard is formally with the Left faction, her pedigree is with the right of the party and Labor’s right wing policies.

When Mark Latham was removed as Labor leader, she outlined her background with the right wing leaders in the party: “I was loyal to John Brumby when I served as his Chief of Staff. I was loyal to Kim Beazley as Labor Leader when I was elected in 1998. I was loyal to Simon Crean and then Mark Latham.”

She laid claim to drafting Labor’s policy in 2002 that included towing refugee boats back to Indonesia telling the 2004 conference, "We're here to get Labor elected. I never drafted policy to be the policy of a loser. I drafted it to win."

Gillard he was one of three Left faction members (along with Jenny Macklin and Martin Ferguson) to vote against the Labor for Refugees motion at that conference.

In January this year, when Australian of the Year professor Patrick McGorry declared that detention centres were “factories for mental illness,” it was Gillard that leapt to the defence of Labor’s policy. “We believe mandatory detention is necessary when people arrive unauthorised for security reasons in order to do health checks and in order to check identity, and we will continue to have a mandatory detention policy."

As employment minister, Gillard has been responsible for the introduction of WorkChoices Lite and maintaining Howard’s ABCC anti-union construction police, and she presided over a year long freeze on the minimum wage.

At the ACTU Congress in 2009, she was jeered with cries of "shame" and "you're the Liberal minister" by union delegates.

In April this year, at a union rally to defend Ark Tribe, Victorian Electrical Trades Union, state secretary Dean Mighell, told journalists, “It shocks and disappoints me enormously to see, you know, the likes of Julia Gillard who made her way through the Labor movement and was supported by the Labor movement, turn her back on workers.”

Julia Gillard has backed the racist politics of the NT Intervention. She now argues that European settlement of Australia was not an invasion.

As Minister for Education, Gillard has endorsed the Howard inspired funding model for non-government schools and argued that the public versus private school debate is part of "an out-dated culture war".

Even before the last federal election Gillard congratulated private schools for, "giving so many Australians the chance, through high quality education, to prosper and be successful".

Gillard has championed neo-liberal education policies and led the Rudd government’s recent confrontation with the teacher unions over My Schools and constructing schools’ league tables.

ABC journalist Peter Mares, in a recent review of a biography of Gillard, says that, “If anything, she emerges…as a Blairite Third-Wayer, influenced by Latham’s idea of a ‘ladder of opportunity’.”

Many people are entranced by the prospect of Gillard being Australia’s first woman Prime Minister. Australian journalist, Caroline Overington breathlessly twittered, “It’s the realisation of the great dream: she’s a woman, she’s got a defacto, and a house in working class Altona. Thanks, Germaine!”

But The Australian did her no favours by listing her alongside a rogues’ gallery of woman leaders such as Britain’s Margaret Thatcher, Israel’s Golda Meir, and more recent leaders such as Germany’s Angela Merkel and New Zealand’s Helen Clark. More than anything it showed that it is not gender but politics that determines what women leaders actually do in office. There’s a woman premier in Queensland but the government is still privatising forests and railways and refuses to decriminalise abortion.

Before he was toppled, Rudd was already backing down over the super profits tax, saying the government was “seeking a sensible and balanced outcome with the mining companies". Now, Gillard has declared that the “…doors of the government are open to the mining companies,” and re-committed to the war in Afghanistan.

Gillard has stepped into Rudd’s shoes but she is walking in the same direction – to the right. It is that shift to the right which has given space to Tony Abbott. To stop Abbott, over the mining tax, refugees, climate change, union rights, we are going to have to fight brand Gillard’s Labor just as we had to fight brand Rudd.