Prime Minister Gillard?

February 20, 2010

It may seem fanciful to believe that the Labor Caucus could “do a Hawkie” on Kevin Rudd during his first term in office, but it is less difficult to believe that Julia Gillard’s low public profile in recent weeks may be a brilliant Labor tactic to insulate her (no pun intended) from the messes that the Rudd Government has found itself in. That Labor may be keeping her in reserve as “Plan B” should not be such a stretch of the imagination.

Naïve extrapolation of current polling trends would suggest that Rudd is still a shoo-in to win this year’s election; but no one (other than a hard-line climate alarmist, perhaps) believes that naïve extrapolations are useful for anything significant in the real world. Labor optimists point out that the last one-term federal government was nearly eighty years ago; but the parallels are chilling: Scullin and Rudd won power from the only two Australian Prime Ministers to ever lose their seats. It has been reasonably argued that the surreal “out of sight, out of mind” conditions of the ensuing Parliaments created environments much more conducive to Australians rapidly forgetting the Prime Minister they voted out.

Labor desperately needs to rid itself of its ministerial dead wood — Garrett, Wong and Conroy — before the calling of the federal election; but for Kevin Rudd to do so this late in the game would destroy his credibility. Dumping Rudd in favour of Gillard, on the other hand, not only switches out a leader that Australians are increasingly unimpressed with, but moreover carries with it the implied prerogative of the new Prime Minister to determine her own Cabinet.

Whether such benefits would outweigh the embarrassment of dumping their own Prime Minister is a question that Labor’s power-brokers are undoubtedly assessing on a daily basis. But Julia Gillard has performed remarkably well while those around her have stumbled. Going slightly too far in industrial relations will not harm her; all she needs to do is fine-tune the system at the edges to restore clarity, certainty and fairness, and Australian employers and employees will quickly adapt. Tony Abbott, on the other hand, has surprised many by his treading into the dangerous territory of the ghost of John Howard — but at least he has shown that he has the guts that Australians expect of their leaders.

A Gillard versus Abbott election — with fresh faces on both sides — would be closer to the political battle that Australians have come to expect.

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