Whatever one might think of Gillard, one has to admire the sheer professionalism with which the coup against Rudd was executed. Most of the attention has been on the so-called 'faceless men' who counted the numbers and staged such a rapid and clean kill (Peter Costello must be dying of jealousy). But just as impressive (if not more so) was the work of whoever designed and orchestrated the transition to office plan for yesterday and today. If this is the standard we can expect from Gillard's office, things are indeed looking up for the ALP. If it wasn't her Office, then she should quickly recruit whoever it was!
Some of the imagery, such as that of our female Governor-General swearing in our new female Prime Minister (pictured above, from the ABC site) was provided free of charge. A lot of it - such as the cutting lines added to her parliamentary replies to Abbott and Bishop - comes from the sheer wit, intelligence and competence of Gillard herself. But a lot of it reflected some very sound strategic and tactical thinking behind the scenes, and careful preparation of lines.
Her speech and press conference yesterday were virtually perfect - she came up with an excellent circuit breaker for the Resource Tax debate, had strong lines to cover off virtually every possible criticism, and showed herself strongly in control. Question Time was a masterpiece in the sequencing and selection of questions. And she pretty much conquered 7.30 Land.
The follow up today is pretty piccies of her first Cabinet meeting (below, photo AAP: Alan Porritt). I have no doubt her people are busily plotting out West Wing style her path over the next few days, weeks and months. No doubt every journalist, blogger and poster will throw in their two cents worth on what she should do. So here's a short wish list (of varying degrees of seriousness) from me.
I can understand Gillard's reluctance to move into the Lodge, desire to appease the sense that she hasn't been elected to the Office. But security nightmares aside (for her neighbour's as much as anyone else), it is a bad decision.
If there is anything the Howard and Rudd years should have taught us it is that a Presidential, highly centralized style approach to mandates and Government does not fit well with an Australian style parliamentary democracy. Whatever the punters might think at the time, Australians are in reality voting for parties and platforms not PMs, and moving into the Lodge now is an important part of the symbolism that goes with that.
Having real Cabinet meetings, genuinely treating Ministers as a team, and actually negotiating instead of imposing are all excellent steps. But there is a big hole in our democracy to repair, and she needs every tool at her disposal to repair it.
2. Reaffirm the Labor Party's election commitments to protection of the family
And on the theme of party platforms not personalities, a reaffirmation of some of the Party's commitments wouldn't go amiss. Many Christians will be worried about Gillard's endorsement by the pro-'choice' Emily's List. Time will tell whether or not this concern is justified - but in the meantime, Labor got into Government with the support of Christian lobby groups, and owe it to them to stay true to the commitments made.
More, if she is serious about her commitments to those who get up early and work hard rather than whinge, serious about social inclusion and social justice, a focus on looking at how we can strengthen the underlying social bonds that support our society and thus prevent homelessness, mental illness, social isolation and much more, is vital.
3. Marry your bloke
One way of going some way to meeting suggestion two might be marrying that nice chap on her arm. OK so 'living in sin', though a serious sin, is in my book actually not as bad a sin as rejecting your catholic faith in favour of some watered down protestantism.
And I understand and sympathise to some extent with where she is coming from - I too am part of the same generation, the one that simply didn't see the need for institutional endorsement of their relationships.
But most of us have subsequently come to realise the value and importance of these things, and the generation after us are marrying with enthusiasm, unable to understand the reluctance of their predecessors to try a little commitment.
And hey, the bloke himself sounded kind of interested in the idea when it was raised in interviews yesterday - so she should go ahead and do the romantic thing, and in the process go some way in neutralising one of the sources of unease with her.
4. Do a radical rethink on refugee policy, don't just tinker
Gillard has signalled she wants to do something in this areas and she has to - refugee policy is becoming one of those silly issues come every election, one that garners attention far beyond its real importance. Worse still, our current policies (let alone Abbott's plan to revisit the spend a zillion dollars to park em on a pacific island approach) are a ridiculous waste of resources (what between navy and coastguard patrols; detention camps on and offshore; distorted aid allocations and foreign policy objectives; and the psychological costs on the refugees themselves) with surely the worst cost-benefit ratio of any exercize of power on the part of Australian Governments.
So what is needed is not just some more tinkering at the edges to try and prevent Liberal wedging, but a complete, serious and creative rethink of everything Australia does in this area, starting with mandatory detention, which has notably failed as a deterrent. There have to be better approaches.
5. Find some short term wins on climate change
There are various levels of certainty when it comes to policy action that can help determine when action is required. The first, and most desirable, is when there really is a clear consensus about a problem that needs to be addressed. I suspect that, sceptics aside, there really is a strong enough scientific consensus on man-made climate change to pass this test, but even if there isn't, there certainly is on the second, prudential test, which is where there is enough evidence that the problem might be real exists - and the risks of not acting are so catastrophic as to merit action.
An example of prudential action was the swine flu outbreak last year - so far at least, it hasn't been the serious pandemic that health experts have feared. But it could have been (and if it mutates enough, still could be), and if sufficient action hadn't been taken the consequences in terms of loss of life could have been extreme.
When Rudd blithely abandoned his (admittedly appallingly badly designed) carbon tax scheme, enough of the electorate were concerned about the prudential risk of climate change for him to lose support. Gillard has signalled a consensus building exercise geared towards bringing a new try at this back.
But in the meantime, what about some serious support for the renewable energy industry, designed in such as way as to be phased out when a carbon tax makes direct subsidies unnecessary? Other countries are moving ahead on climate change; so should we.
6. Turn the tables on Tony and start a debate about ideals of public service and ripping of the Government.
OK so this one is going to sound a bit naive. But one of the things that appalled me about the problems in the various stimulus programs was the willingness of the private sector to rort government programs.
Yes the programs should have been better designed. Yes there should have been tighter controls and auditing of projects and service providers.
But funding for schools and insulation was funded with taxpayer dollars in the interests of the common good.
So why didn't the service providers feel any commitment or obligation at all to those broader public policy objectives - such as preserving jobs, reducing electricity costs, and providing good infrastructure to future generations of Australian children - as opposed to simply lining their own pockets? Didn't those put or kept in business feel any responsibility to provide a safe, good product to house owners rather than trying to rip off both little old ladies and the Government (as the installer of my mother's insulation tried to do)?
We need a real conversation about business ethics, and about all of our responsibilities as citizens, in this country.
7. Take a hard look at monetary and fiscal policy
One of the key issues Labor was elected on was tackling household costs - petrol, groceries and interest rates. They have failed miserably on the first two, and only sheer luck, in the form of the Global Financial Crisis and accumulated surpluses, has kept interest rates relatively low so far.
But the crude use of interest rates to manage inflation (and the flow-on effects of booms and busts in the resources sector above all) causes wild swings in household incomes and some extremely perverse incentives in housing and other markets. Put Ken Henry on rethinking this one instead of fiddling with taxes (unless of course he is for the chop, as he perhaps deserves to be!).
Oh, and on the subject of (inefficient) taxes, wasn't part of the rationale for the GST way back when supposed to be to allow the States to abolish a swath of inefficient taxes? Why not put that issue back on the COAG agenda - because a faster route to tax reform might be to take the view that if the States aren't going to do it, maybe the Commonwealth should take back that revenue and use it better.... (OK so yes, that last one is just naive wishful thinking. Just go for it Julia, abolish the States!).