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The Past | The Previous

The Devil You Know

And so, in coming full cycle, Kevin Rudd deposed Julia Gillard three years and three days after she deposed him, before an election.

It was inevitable: Gillard could never justify the political removal of Rudd as Prime Minister as anything other than a moment of political weakness on the part of the Labor Party. Despite the fact that she, personally, would display an almost three year run of political will that shook off two challenges and what appeared an endless parade of dissenters, Gillard fell to the same Labor Party weakness. It came from deep within the party, is part of the culture, the smile of 21st Century career politicians who value employment over morals, drive, and running that thin line of unpopular but good policy. The dare is gone: the last vision of it, John Howard taking on gun control after Port Arthur, will unfortunately allow good things to be said about him. Yet, there was a difference to the removal of Gillard, this time. Unlike those who deposed him, Rudd played his hand out in the public. The public was all he had, after all, and they appeared all to willing an audience, and his methodical, slow destruction of Gillard--aided by Gillard herself at times--left no doubt in the mind of the public why it had happened. Like it or not, you knew why at the end of last night, and you didn't need the sound bite to explain it.

Yet, it was culturally awful to watch. It revealed a deep, sexist thread that ran through Australia, and it tied itself to allowing an endless series of hate speech to exist. It was one of the most important tools to undermining Gillard as Prime Minister, and one that both Rudd and the conservative politicians of Australia played. Never forget that, in response to the menu that referred to Gillard's vagina as a 'big red box', Rudd said that, “It’s wrong, inappropriate and he (Brough) should donate every dollar raised to the RSPCA.”

That's right: rather that attack it for its very obvious sexism, Rudd himself took a piece of that pie.

In an excellent article on the Guardian today, Katherine Murphy wrote about Gillard:

It is absolutely true, as is the discomfiting reality that Gillard faced gratuitous attacks that were entirely gender-based. Over and over, we saw confirmation that there was a proportion of people in Australia who struggled with Gillard as a public manifestation of feminist progress. This pushback against the prime minister was, at times, extraordinary – and for a woman of my generation, depressing.

...

But the deep personal flaws were there too. Gillard could command admiration, but not respect. She shape-shifted. She confounded rather than connected. She was, in turns, too loyal and then too ruthless. The tempo of project Julia was ragged. She could not nurture a fractured government back to functionality. She did not command the caucus, the cabinet, the voters. She became a solo act, shrinking before our eyes.

Of course she would say her failure to reassure was an unnatural condition imposed on her by her enemies – the people who made it their business to keep her in tumult, to make sure her feet never touched solid ground. Abbott was utterly pitiless, forgiving his own severity and minimising it before highlighting hers. The hung parliament and its freewheeling characters were a backing track of instability. Rudd would not accept defeat, no matter how many times she outflanked him and won. He remained on the field, resolutely on the moral high ground, camped out in luxury, plotting and scripting revenge of the nerds while she dragged Labor behind her in a singular act of will that was as terrifying as it was admirable.

She would point in her defence to the toxicity of the media cycle. Before she could unpack her bags in the official residence the news cycle fragmented, chasing its own increasingly desperate shadow. Media outlets seemed to lose their will and their capacity to cover complexity, seemed to lack the courage to stand still. Gillard watched as her prime ministership was transformed into a soap opera. Heads she lost. Tails she lost. Commentators she had declined to flatter and court and appoint keepers of her personal mythology elevated rivals and critics at her expense, recording their laments in minute detail, playing gleeful stenographers to the disaffected. Her disintegration became grist to the hourly mill, a habit that the media could not kick. “Gillard’s woes” was a standing item on every news list in the country.

And then she would point to those haters. The culture warriors who resisted the progressive threat on principle. The type of Australians who could not accept a lady in the Lodge – and certainly not an unconventional one, with a sub-optimal boyfriend, no husband, no children, no God, no instinct to defer. Her steady prevailing, without flourish, without self-indulgence, without self-pity only gave fresh succour to their hatred. Who knew there were so many of them, lurking and fulminating in their self-righteous loathing? Stuffing her in chaff bags. Peeping through her window. Dinosaurs in a last desperate act of fire-breathing, consuming her and themselves – a bizarre and terrible immolation.

She’d be right in these assessments, more or less.

It’s all been part of the Julia Gillard story, an incredible tale where Australia chewed up and spat out its first female prime minister.


It has, as I said, been sad to see. For Australia, for women: because while, yes, what Rudd did to her last night is what she did to him three years ago, the way that it has been brought about has been an undermining of her as a woman. Yes, she was undermined also for poor political choices, but that was always second to the fact that her cleavage got shown, or her heel caused her to stumble, or that her misogyny speech was full of shit, or that she shouldn't talk to women about abortion (because, like, women shouldn't discuss abortion, no) or the countless other things that were said and done (chaff bags, is your partner gay, etc). There was never enough time spent on her entirely political based opposition to gay marriage that revealed the conservative core of Labor, her massive misstep with Nova Peris, the ridiculous use of Peter Slipper, and the frankly dismal ratcheting of racism that revealed that not just her, but all of politics in general, have not kept with the changing nature of Sydney's Western Suburbs.

The Labor Party will gain and lose in equal amounts at the election, and rightfully so. The truth is, after all this, if you do not want to vote for Labor because they are a dysfunctional, deeply divided party who are a shade to the left of the Liberals and Nationals in their coalition, you'd be completely within your right to do so. Yes, there are a few policy difference, but Rudd won't drive for education reform as Gillard did, and the promise of a good broadband in Australia is nice, but not a deal breaker for most, I believe. With luck, this will send some of the left leaning people to the Greens (where racism is, how shall we say, less, and gay marriage is supported) or to independents, rather than to suffer one major party or the other, but with the way that preferential voting works, it will probably not. Already people claim to hate what they have seen the Labor Party engage in, but they will vote to keep Abbott out of the seat, in a strange belief that somehow all this inequality we have seen will suddenly stop.

But that, of course, is exactly par the course in the two party system. It's the Devil you know, until the bitter end.