There is an episode near the end of the first season of The West Wing where due to a damaging leak from an advisor in the White House, and a general feeling that the Bartlet administration has been pretty poor, the staff become worried about the Government’s performance. The staff realise it is because they and the President have been too timid – too worried about the polls. There is a conversation between Bartlet and his Chief of Staff:
President Josiah Bartlet: We've heard it all before, Leo. You drive me to the political safe ground. It's not true.
Leo McGarry: I know it's not true.
President Josiah Bartlet: Good.
Leo McGarry: You drive me there.
President Josiah Bartlet: What the hell did you say?
Leo McGarry: We're stuck in neutral because that's where you tell me to stay.
By the end of the episode Leo resolves to “let Bartlet be Bartlet” – let him say what he wants and to back him all the way. It is a theme that recurs throughout the series – coming back most prominently in his re-election campaign.
Well after a leak from inside the Government – quite likely by an advisor – this morning Julia Gillard came out and gave a press conference where she let herself go and we saw the true Julia. The Julia which so many political watchers have been loving these past 2 1/2 years. It was the Julia of Question Time, where she attacks, where she counters with reason, where she uses ridicule, where she is just riveting to watch, and where she looks like a leader.
About bloody time.
Stephen Spencer from Channel 10 tweeted the line “Big lesson for Labor here: Let Gillard be Gillard” – it echoed what many watching the press conference were thinking (especially given many watching the press conference would also be politics nerds who view The West Wing as close to perfection!).
She dealt with the leaks about her supposed opposition to paid parental leave and the rise in the pension. I say “suggested” because all we had from Oakes was couple lines which were taken out of context, in that we had no idea when in the cabinet discussion they came. Oakes stated that Gillard had said that “the idea that paid parental leave would be a political winner was being misconstrued. That people beyond child-bearing age would resent it, as would stay-at-home mothers”.
Now that is not actually suggesting she opposed it. That is merely stating that she didn’t think it was as big a vote winner as others around the table may have thought. You can actually think that and still be in favour of it. She may in fact have been cautioning those in the room who thought it was going to be a boon for them in the polls.
But Julia’s response was to state that she did actually question the pension increases and the PPL scheme because she was worried about whether or not the Government could afford them – stating:
"I wouldn't have put this country in a position where we increase the pension and then have to increase taxes. It's not my way, so I had to satisfy myself that the pension increase was affordable. For paid parental leave I needed to do the same."
She said any hesitation in backing the welfare spending was pragmatic.
"You can be passionate about doing something and hard-headed about getting things done," she said.
She was absolutely passionate about her support for the PPL scheme. And on this issue I have to say her not supporting it doesn’t really pass the smell test – the highest ranking women in Australian political history, a woman from the left, not being in favour of a paid parental leave scheme? At worst the leak suggests she was too worried about the polls, but name me one politician who isn’t? And the thing is she had been advocating a PPL scheme long before it came to Cabinet, so again I say suggestions she opposed it don’t pass the smell test and as a result on that score I don’t think there’s much damage.
On the pension increase and the suggestion she said old people don’t support Labor, however the potential for damage was higher. Mainly because if she did say it she was only saying what everyone knows is true. But on this issue she knew there was no room for (as she called it) “shilly-shallying”. She emphatically denied saying it.
It was an excellent performance because she turned a negative into a positive. She made it about economic responsibility and also and made it into an issue about what she believed in – and she put forward a very forceful case.
She then went out and did a meet’n’greet in the streets and shops in Adelaide in the Sturt electorate.
She needs to do more of it.
She also needs to keep being Julia. This will be hard because part of her attraction is as an attacker and she needs to be positive as well. But I think there is plenty of Liberal Party policy that deserves scorn and rebuke, and she needs to do it. Be positive, but also show she can take down any opponent. Let fly with the barbs. Anyone telling her blokes won’t like her being strong are fools. The one thing blokes will worry about a woman is that she is too soft. They want to know she’ll kick arse and and heads if need be. Let the public see you rip into Abbott I say Julia. It will be a winner.
She doesn't need to worry about the soft side – that’s been taken care of by her front cover on the Women's Weekly where have to say I think she looks like Cate Blanchett’s older sister. It’s a very nice soft piece that doesn’t contain any of the controversies associated with Tony Abbott’s appearance earlier in the year. Don’t underestimate the AWW – 12% of the population read it – even if you don’t buy it you see it, and it will do her no harm whatsoever.
The next question of course is whether there will be more leaks? And of course who is the leaker? Some in the media have started reporting musings by Labor insiders as fact – ie because they’re shooting the breeze about who it could be means they actually think it could be that person. Some seem to be suggesting even that it could be Lindsay Tanner, which to me suggests they need to get a grip. My reading of him is that he is a Labor man to the core, and far too principled to want to undermine Gillard like this – plus he has no reason to do it. Yes they were combatants in the ALP Vic Left, but you only had to listen to Tanner talk in his valedictory speech in parliament of what he felt he owed the ALP to know he wouldn’t do it.
Rudd – or Rudd “supporters” (all what, 4 of them? 5?) – remains the most likely source. Rudd’s endorsement of Julia has been pretty lukewarm (if that). If it is not Rudd it has to be someone from his camp (suggestions it’s someone from Gillard’s camp doing it to take down Rudd are the stuff of spy novels, not reality – in election you don’t do such risky things – other times maybe , but not now). I’d be getting John Faulkner on the phone to Rudd and telling him in typical ALP terms that any leaks will be laid at his feet so he better bloody well shut them down if he wants to play a role after the election.
But then does he?
On the weekend I was talking to a Labor “insider” (as you do) and he suggested the feeling was there would be a by-election in Griffiths very soon after the election and Rudd would go off to some UN gig or some such. No one, he said, could really imagine him sitting around the Cabinet table.
So will there be more leaks? Who knows – but if there are Julia has shown she knows how to deal with them.
Last week I suggested that the campaign was in phony war mode and that it wouldn’t begin until today. I was right, but my reasoning was that today the inflation figures would come out and it would be crucial to an interest rate increase, not Oakes’ story .
The suggestion was that if the underlying rate for the quarter was 0.8% or above the RBA would have to raise rates. But today the ABS released the figures and the underlying inflation rate was 0.5%. Therefore chance of an interest rate rise have disappeared:
|Trading Day||No Change||Increase to 4.75%|
And thereby a massive part of the Liberal Party economic argument has gone. Expect the ALP now to ramp up some adverts focussing on interest rates. In November 2007 , when they came in with the interest rates were at 6.75%, now they are 4.5%. Now sure the GFC has been the cause of it, but the Liberal Party has no problems indulging in GFC myopia when it comes to talking about debt and deficit, so the ALP should as well. There’s a huge difference in mortgage repayment between 6.75% and 4.5% they should play that for all it is worth. And then play it some more. And more. And more.
On the economic front, Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey came out today to announce that they would drop the Company Tax to 28.5% – a whole 0.5% more than the ALP is promising (as blatant a “we’ll do better than you can” policy as you’ll ever see). The journalists immediately asked about the PPL scheme which will put a 1.7% levy on businesses, and does that mean the company tax for them will be 30.2%? Tony Abbott was very cagey saying:
"I just want to make it crystal clear that we will have a formal release, an election campaign release, of our paid parental leave policy in coming days. We will be formally launching, or relaunching if you like, our paid parental leave policy later in the campaign.”
Formally launching or “relaunching” a policy?? Hmm smells like a lot of changes afoot. Most likely given the heat they’re taking on the ALP’s “Woolies and Coles Tax” line that they will get rid of the levy and say they will pay for it through cuts or some tricky accounting – you know through selling Medibank Private or not doing the NBN.
The ALP should be quickly workshopping such an occurrence. They would do worse than start with Abbott’s appearance on the 7:30 Report in May where he said:
TONY ABBOTT: And, the point I tried to make at the time was that I didn't like the levy very much, but if we were going to have a paid parental leave scheme any time soon, a decent paid parental leave scheme any time soon, it had to be paid for and this was the least bad way of doing it.
Expect Abbott to be soon saying he has found a less bad way of doing it…
And so the campaign has now started for real. Tomorrow both Gillard and Abbott are in Melbourne. Game on. Enjoy.