xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: A Rendezvous with Triumph and Disaster

Saturday, 29 June 2013

A Rendezvous with Triumph and Disaster

It was British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson who said, “A week is a long time in Politics.”
I am sure former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard would agree with him. So too, would the sacked  Australian Cricket Coach, South African born, Mickey Arthur. He was sensationally dismissed by Cricket Australia after a string of team losses and the appalling behaviour of some Australian cricketers. Arthur’s sacking caught many by surprise as it was made only two weeks before Australia faces up to England in the Ashes Test cricket series.

Arthur was replaced coach by Darren Lehmann, who has some good credentials for the position. Lehmann’s nickname is “Boof”, a title which would seem more appropriately applied to some of the pampered prima donnas currently in the Australian cricket team.

They say that these sorts of things occur in threes, so I am wondering who will be the next cab off the rank. I just checked my pulse and am still here so, whomever it is, it is not going to be me. Not just yet, at any rate.

Julia Gillard’s removal from office, although it came very swiftly in the end, was actually three years in the making after she, with the support of the entire Labor Caucus, sacked Kevin Rudd in June 2010. Unlike previous sacked or defeated leaders, Rudd did not gracefully depart the scene. Over time he worked strenuously and deviously to destabilise Gillard and promote himself as her replacement. Events have shown that he was very successful in doing just that. Predicably, the media which was singing Rudd's praises last week are now lining up to fire pot shots at him. In the meantime Tony Abbott continues to live in a media friendly "no policy questions asked" zone.

Perhaps more than any other Prime Minister, Julia Gillard suffered the outrageous slings and arrows of her political opponents and the bulk of the mainstream Australian media. She was denigrated on national television  with signs saying she was a bitch and witch. Her political opponents happily stood in front of these sign.

She was infamously vilified as someone who had caused her father to die of shame. It was said repeatedly on the radio that she should be put in a bag and dropped in the ocean. Cartoonist lampooned her Australian accent, her dress sense and her figure. One cartoonist, Larry Pickering, depicted her in such  grotesque and repulsive ways that much of his despicable work could not be published in Australian newspapers or on TV. 

She was obscenely described in an expensively produced menu that was allegedly used at a Liberal fundraiser dinner. Soon after the contents of that menu became known, various Liberal Party members who had attended the dinner quickly apologised for its contents. A few days later the owner of the restaurant claimed that he had done it as a private joke and that only he and his son saw the menu. The same Liberal Party members who had apologised profusely about the menu two days before then claimed that they had never, ever  seen the menu. Some people are still wondering about that one.

Apart from her well publicised  “Misogynist” speech in the parliament, Julia Gillard generally focussed on the policies. Recently in Perth in an interview with radio shock jock, Howard Sattler, she was asked if her boyfriend was a homosexual. This outrageous question eventually cost Sattler his job. Julia Gillard, perhaps noting that Sattler has a medical problem, smiled and responded in a bemused and gracious way and made no attempt to enter into an aggressive discussion. We can only wonder what would have happened to Sattler if he had asked a similar question of Bob Hawke, Paul Keating...or Tony Abbott.

Perhaps Ms Gillard  was aware of Margaret Thatcher's  remarks that “I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think well, if they attack me personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.”

The morning after defeating Julia Gillard in the Caucus vote, there was a sense of Deja Vu in Parliament as Kevin Rudd stood once again as Prime Minister and proceeded to give a glowing tribute to the lady who’s political career he had just terminated. In fact, so glowingly did he describe Ms Gillard’s  parliamentary record that Tony Abbott was quickly on his feet asking Mr Rudd why, if Julia Gillard was as good as he said she was, had he replaced her?

It was good question, but, of course everyone knew the answer. Kevin Rudd had replaced Julia Gillard because the Labor Caucus thought Kevin Rudd had a better chance of defeating Tony Abbott in the forthcoming election. Even Mr Abbott knew that. The fact that the Labor Caucus had reversed its party  leadership decisions of June 2010 and on two subsequent occasions, the last in April year, was a ringing endorsement of Paul Keating's observation  that if you are going to bet on anything, "always bet on Self Interest. At least you know it is trying."

Ironically, the Guardian newspaper (The Guardian Australia Online Version, June 28, 2013) has now produced figures to say that Julia Gillard’s minority government was the most effective government in Australian federal history. This statement was made by the Guardian journalist, Nick Evershed, who counted the total number of Acts of Parliament passed under each Prime Minister and divided this sum by the number of days each  Prime Minister was in office. This gave Mr Evershed the rate of Acts of Parliament passed per day for every Prime Minister since Edmund Barton stepped into the office on January the 1st, 1901.

Julia Gillard tops this Legislative Effectiveness list with a Rate of 0.495 Acts of Parliament per day, followed by Bob Hawke at 0.491 per day. Malcolm Fraser, in third place, is the top conservative PM at 0.481. Paul Keating is next at 0.476 and John Howard is in 5th place at 0.452. Kevin Rudd is ranked 8th at 0.374 and Sir Robert Menzies is 11th at 0.247.

Even Mr Evershed admits that there are flaws in this way of measuring a government’s effectiveness but, nevertheless, the figures are interesting. Some of the illustrious names of the early years of Federation such as Alfred Deakin, Andrew Fisher and Sir George Reid have rather low rates, but this is largely due to the fact that in those early days, Federal governments passed relatively small amounts of legislation.

Demonstrating that statistical analysis is not an infallible measure, it is notable that John Curtin, whom many respected political commentators regard as Australia's greatest Prime Minister, appears on the list in 15th place with a rate of 0.157. Of course he and his government were rather preoccupied with World War 2 at the time.

The fact  remains that Julia Gillard led a minority government that produced a huge amount of legislation, much of it nation building, that will impact on Australian lives for the next fifty years or more. Her minority government was not expected to last twelve months, let alone three years. Its legislative record is doubly remarkable because her minority government achieved this notable feat despite the fact that the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, did not recognise Gillard’s government as legitimate. From Day One he tried desperately to destabilise it, calling almost daily for another election and working steadfastly to bring it about.

There is something ironic about Mr Abbott’s constant complaints about the legitimacy of the Gillard government, which was only able to claim a majority in the House of Representatives by negotiated agreements with the Greens and several Independents. The fact is that since 1949 many Liberal governments have not had a majority of seats in the House of Representatives and have only governed  by forming a coalition with the Country Party, previously known as the National Party. Apparently, according to Mr Abbott, it is quite legitimate for the Liberal Party to join forces with non Liberal Party members in order to form a government but definitely illegitimate when the Labor Party does exactly the same thing.

Donald Trump has said that “What separates the winners from the losers is how a person reacts to each twist of Fate.” Both Julia Gillard and Mickey Arthur have demonstrated, according to Trump’s criteria, that although deposed from their positions of power they are, in the truest sense, still winners.

Gillard’s retirement speech on national television, a half hour after her removal from office, was a Tour de Force. In defeat Julia Gillard impressed even the most avid Gillard haters with a speech that transfixed the nation.

Likewise, Mickey Arthur conducted himself with dignity after his dismissal. Adrian Barich, a Channel Seven journalist, reported in The West Australian of June 28, that after a long flight from South Africa, Mickey Arthur was happy to meet the waiting journalists at Perth Airport. He could have slipped out the back way or claimed he was weary and jet lagged, but he did no such thing. According to Adrian Barich he even had a friendly smile for the reporters as he answered their questions. He accepted responsibility for the Australian team’s performance and accepted Cricket Australia’s decision to sack him. There were no recriminations or attempts to blame others.

Here was a man whose career had been abruptly terminated. He would have been thinking deeply about what would be the repercussions and the upheavals for himself, his wife and his children. To make matters even worse, soon after his dismissal he had received the terrible news of the death of his mother in South Africa.  Like Gillard the previous night, Mickey Arthur fronted the media and epitomised Ernest Hemingway’s description of courage by showing  “grace under pressure”.

Rudyard Kipling wrote that, "If we can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters both the same” then we will have demonstrated the noblest qualities of human maturity. In this past eventful week Julia Gillard and Mickey Arthur have both met with Triumph and Disaster and have each given an outstanding example to us all.

At present they will both have a deep sense of loss. It will be interesting to see where the lives of these two worthy people go from here. About two thousand years ago Marcus Aurelius, a Roman Emperor who knew a thing or two about winning, losing  and dramatic life changes said,“Loss is nothing but change and change is Nature’s Delight.”

No doubt Julia Gillard and Mickey Arthur will be hoping that Marcus Aurelius knew what he was talking about.

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