Monday, November 1, 2010

Time to give "gravitas" a hand movement

It feels like we've entered the news' silly season a bit early this year. Julia Gillard has gone off to Malaysia and Tony Abbott is competing in triathlons, so it almost feels like we're on a break politically speaking (aside from pesky committees into the BER).

And if we had to give a name to this pre-silly-season silly season, it would have to be the "Gravitas Season".

Suddenly gravitas is what is needed, gravitas is what makes a country strong - it defeats mean bank CEO's, quells disruptive audiences and brings stability to a nation. Oh if only we could bottle it, think of the killing we could make!

Firstly we had Joe Hockey telling us that the banks were ignoring Wayne Swan's 31 warnings because he lacks gravitas - you know the stuff apparently Peter Costello had in abundance besides jelly knees whenever John Howard stared him down. (And yes these banks have ignored Swan 31 times by not putting up their interest rates - what cunning buggers they be, I can't wait till they start listening to him) .

Today we had Errol Simper over at The Oz saying, apparently without sarcasm, that QANDA host Tony Jones had the right amount of "gravitas, humour and authority". Gravitas. Really?

Also in The Oz today we had Peter Brent telling us that:

Several observers have commented that after four months Julia Gillard is not yet looking prime ministerial. She lacks that hard-to-define ‘something’: gravitas; authority. This might account for the absence of a post-election opinion poll bounce.

These observers may have a point.

Ah those "several observers", gotta love 'em. They're always so good. Yep, they may have a point. They also might be just talking out of their backsides but who can say? I might have to find some more observers to tell me.

Brent, who had been floating this thought bubble on Twitter yesterday, reveals to us what is one of the likely reasons for this mystifying lack of gravitas on the part of our Prime Minister:

Are Gillard’s hand movements contributing? She insists on inserting the things into every head and shoulder shot and waving them around. It was learnt in politician school - something about trust and open palms, nothing up sleeves. But her words, however convincing, are negated by those flapping hands. She seems defensive and rehearsed. Like a job interview.

Yep, hand movements. Silly me here I thought the reason Gillard lacked gravitas was her hair style, her earlobes or her lack of a handbag.

To Brent's credit he suggests her lack of gravitas could also be due to her needing to get comfortable with the whole role of being PM, and he may have a point - she has only had the job for 4 months, but he ends with a nice:

She could start by moderating the hand show.

Yeah, that'll do it, because then we wouldn't be reading stories about how Julia was moderating her way of speaking because she was worried people didn't think she was PM enough...

Here's the thing, I never once thought John Howard displayed any gravitas in his 11 years as leader. Dignity? Quality of substance? Depth of personality? Nope sorry, never detected any of that. I just saw a guy who was determined to be PM for as long as he possibly could and who would do whatever it bloody well took to ensure that would happen.

I thought Howard a good performer at the dispatch box, but a poor speech giver. His voice you see... it lacked gravitas of tone. And those eyebrow really needed some trimming - how the hell could anyone take him seriously with those bushy things growing ever higher as the years passed? And don't get me started on the tracksuits...

Ah Bob Hawke, there's a leader with gravitas - he knew how to be PM. Guess what, plenty of people thought him a disgrace, a joke. What the hell was he wearing when Australia II won the America's Cup? What's all this talk of "silly old buggers", and for the love of God could he stop pulling his bloody earlobe? Bob Hawke had such gravitas that it seems amazing that Max Gilles made a career out of taking the absolute piss out him...

Ah Keating - now he had gravitas in spades. Even "several observers" would agree with that. And the electorate kicked him right in the gravitas in 1996, in favour of a bloke who at the time adopted a target so small you wouldn't have been able to find any gravitas with a microscope and a pair of tweezers.

Oh but yes he grew into the role - Howard gained gravitas? Really? Says you. For me he remained a politician. He still is - for all the calm and grace he had last week on QANDA did he ever answer a bloody question?

What about Rudd? Well in February 2008 when he gave his sorry speech, I'd have said he had gravitas pouring out of every orifice. Great good that did him.

Now look, I don't think Gillard is quite PM yet either, but she is showing good signs.

Several observers (like me for one) want some reform. Well I don't know about you but putting a price on carbon would be a bloody big reform - and a hell of a lot more important than a flat tax scale.

Here she was last week in parliament on the issue:

Ms GILLARD—Of course, what the Leader of the Opposition is seeking to distort is the nature of this debate. The reason that you put a price on carbon is to create incentives to engage in economic activity and, when engaging in that economic activity, to not produce the same level of carbon emissions—that is, you want to create an incentive structure so that people reduce emissions. Let me adopt the words of Marius Kloppers to explain this to the Leader of the Opposition, because I think he put it elegantly:
… carbon emissions need to have a cost impact in order to cause the consumer to change behaviour and favour lowcarbon alternatives.

If the Leader of the Opposition has not found that persuasive then I would refer him to the editorial of the Australian Financial Review where it says:
If the Coalition wants to play in this game, it will have to abandon its opposition to “a great big new tax”, acknowledge that a carbon price is inevitable and desirable, and lend its weight to the effort to find the best formula. There is opposition and there is opposition for opposition’s sake, but this is a necessary reform that the Coalition should support.
Across this week the debate in this parliament has been focused on those who support economic reform and strengthening our nation for the future. To those that believe in opposition for opposition’s sake and simply wrecking reform, and clearly the Leader of the Opposition does, I would say it comes at the ultimate cost of the strength of this nation and the future of Australian

Here is a Prime Minister acknowledging that a price on carbon will (brace yourselves) raise the price of things.

It may sound like a small thing to those of us who have been advocating a price on carbon for a while, but for a politician - the Prime Minister no less - to admit it is a big step. I don't recall Kevin Rudd ever going that far - for him it was always talk of offsets and pensioners and working families not being worse off etc etc. But here is Gillard laying it all out - you put a price on carbon to change behaviour because costs go up (good old supply and demand).

Now yes we are a long way off getting there - and the final legislation may be weak (though less likely given the make up of this parliament) - but if you want to end up with this huge reform you need to start with the right attitude, and here she has it.

Gravitas? Who knows - or cares. Some people (including several observers) will never think she has gravitas (just as I never did of Howard). So let's drop the dumb term and any focus on superficial things she may have to do to please those who will most likely never be pleased by anything she does.

Focus on results - and also let's realise we're four months in, and I seriously doubt anyone would think to judge Hawke's or Keating's or Howard's or Rudd's Prime Ministership after what they had done after that length of time.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Grog. The voice of sanity and reason, yet again.

Maybe gravitas is the flip side of arrogance. That's another accusation levelled at successful politicians that I have never understood.

Anonymous said...

Yep nice article.
Well it must be cos that's what several observers told me.

Oh and BTW, I like Julia's hand movements.

Its interesting that her body language and her verbals are in agreement whereas several observers have noted that that Abbott's body language screams macho aggression at all times no matter what he is umming and arrring about at the time.


Andos said...

Ooh, snarky.

The media commentary on politics recently has been so incredibly vacuous. It's hard to keep paying attention.

lapuntadelfin said...

It seems the political reporters are yet to treat their readers to the not-so-banal event of making policy.

Yes, we know the sausages analogy thingy but standing up in front of a nation with a policy that will change price sensitive behaviour by penalising those that resist is- by Yes Minister standards -a courageous decision.

Let's focus on the hand movements instead and identify the courageous ones. Those with sufficient gravitas.

No need for the banalities of Hansard in this picture book world

Bill said...

Who was the politician (maybe it was Churchill even?) who said words to the effect of "the less you see or hear of a PM the better, for it usually means they are actually doing their job, rather than trying to appear as if they are doing it".
Gillard should (and inevitably will) be judged on her results.
And as for John Howard's (lack of) gravitas one only needs to pose the question: How many jokes did Howard ever crack? None. Like you said - no dignity, no gravitas, no substance, but worst of all, no sense of humour

Anonymous said...

One persons opinion I do not agree with is ex PM Mr. Howard saying PM Gillard run a shrill campaign. There is nothing shrill about the woman. Now Mr. Pyne is another matter.

Anonymous said...

Is it a chick thing? That is, is it a way of denigrating someone's sex? I note that Karl Rove doubts that Sarah Palin has the gravitas to be US president in 2012. I think that lack of gravitas might be the least of her deficiencies.


Gravitas (from Latin) is a quality of substance or depth of personality.
An expensive quality to project in politics.

I’m old enough to remember JH when he was young.
Gravitas non.

I remember Joh , whom I hated, in town one morning strolling about with the local joke.
Joh didn’t need gravitas. In my books he was just bloody infuriating Joh.

And I remember his predecessor.
He didn’t last more than a few weeks as premier but a day or two before he started as premier he visited my home, paid his respects to my mum and delivered her his sympathy after the death of an old friend of his, my grandfather.

Now he had gravitas and courtesy by the bucketload.

Or perhaps I’m biased?
I reckon, Greg, that these days we have mostly forgotten about ‘class’.
Our elect are unable to show much class because undoubtedly anything they say will inevitably be misconstrued by mostly everyone.

So many hint that Jules is intelligent yet by my rules all she has been doing is avoiding saying anything we really need to hear.
Has me completely stuffed what motivated the coup.
Kev undoubtedly would have won the election with a fair majority – decided it was a prick of a job and dumped it on her midway through next year in the same way that Beattie fitted up Madame Bligh.

Meanwhile Tones – if he doesn’t suffer a seizure shortly with all the frustration of being ‘groomed’ and what?
Like being muzzled by his minders like a greyhound being walked down Parramatta Road – then John Howard is a monkey’s uncle.

Gravitas, courtesy, manners, ethical conduct, Bushido – variously, the way.
All societies have standards that if broken or ignored by the lordly ones means future trouble.
Contempt and masterly inactivity – apparently our latterly adopted standard, has never sufficed in the past and shall not in the future.
As I’ve said elsewhere if the planners in this government don’t get their act together the end, compared to the finish of the Weimar Republic, could risk looking like a church social.

Which reminds me that I’d written to you about establishing my own effort of a weblog at your advice. -

I’m new at that sort of thing and gave you a plug on my ‘maiden speech’.
Gravitas – Hmm?

Calligula said...

Oh the stress !

“if the planners in this government don’t get their act together the end, compared to the finish of the Weimar Republic, could risk looking like a church social.”
Should read -
if the planners in this government don’t get their act together, by comparison, the end of the Weimar Republic could risk looking like a church social.

I would humbly submit the decision of the last election, out in the regions, the reasons why voters in those regions gave that message was all about a historical precedent – no taxation without representation.
Too difficult to imagine – isn’t it?

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

"Several observers have commented that after four months Julia Gillard is not yet looking prime ministerial. She lacks that hard-to-define ‘something’: gravitas; authority."

Or a penis. She lacks that hard-to-define penis. That's what they really mean, and they don't even know it.

Rowan said...

I don't think these MSM commentators actually know the correct use of the word gravitas. It primarily means behaving in a dignified manner, or with a serious demeanour. I have never seen Gillard be anything *but* dignified and serious when engaging the public, especially under the onslaught of the shrill and aggressive media (and opposition) attacks that we see daily.

BTW, although I like her, I've always disliked the hand movements. It reminds me of 80s boy band choreography!

Anonymous said...

And with all the problems in the region all Gillard is doing is whining about a couple of thousand refugees who dare to think that because we promised the entire world we would protect any refugee in our territory they should not expect to be alloeed to come here by boat.

It's a fucking island, she came on a boat. What is she on about and why is the OZ advocating everyone stop paying for transport and stay home and die?

Gillard is just awful.

Anonymous said...

Would it be wrong to suggest that Julia Gillard is simply being a realist? If she brings major policy reform forward at present, with a hostile senate, she will be lambasted as failing. If she does nothing, she'll be lambasted for doing nothing. Could she not be buying time until the new senate is formed, enabling her to deliver on policy initiatives?

Hillbilly Skeleton said...

Um, agree, 'shrill' is another one they're trying to pin on PM Gillard. Not quite a 'shrew', but then, well, that would be a bit too obvious from the perpetual criticism machine that is 'The Australian', and the other News Ltd toadies.
Honestly, Julia Gillard could bring about the apocryphal World Peace, and the next day The Oz would have tasked Greg Sheridan with writing a takedown pointing out how it would send American Military Industrial companies to the wall. Oh the horror of JG creating all that extra unemployment in the US! The Australian et al is THAT predictable. They are best ignored.

Stafa said...

Greg, every time I read the paper and think, they have got to be kidding with the ridiculous diatribe, I think someone should take them up on it (i'm too lazy)... then I log on to your blog and my thoughts are already written down. And in a better way than I could write them.

Thank you!

2353 said...

Several observers told me this post has gravitas - well done Grog.

Gillard is "growing" into the job - most other recent PM's have had an opportunity to "develop" their PM character prior to getting the job in the first place.

Did the bloke that threw the shoes at Howard on Q&A the other night have more or less gravitas than Howard - tricky questions - heh?

Anonymous said...

Bloody marvellous

Pip said...

Well said Kerryn Goldsworthy.
"That's what they really mean, and they don't even know it". For those "several observers" it just looks wrong, wrong wrong.
I can't remember one example of PM Gillard sounding shrill, but watching [under sufferance] Senate Question Time last week I noticed a couple of Coalition women who were very shrill and angry. Maybe those observers missed that.
Maybe they haven't noticed the Opposition Leader sounds like a fifth grader when he's reading his speeches, but never mind, they're only interested in the failings of the PM.
As usual Grog, you've nailed it.

Jim's Iguana said...

"several observers"

I can see that one becoming a favoured meme for the piss takers.

Anonymous said...

I don't think my comment on Peter Brent's blog will not make publication. I expressed a similar view using expressive 4 letter words. Hopefully we are looking at low point when it comes Australian political journalisms. I say, fire the bloody lot of them and start again.

Thank god I can read your blog for a sane summary of the days events in Canberra.

Anonymous said...

Opps a double negative, a second reason why it won't be published, poor proof reading.