Another time, another place,
Or if they’d been a different race,
This girl-child’s father and her mother
Had no constraint to smother
Her, or have to run and hide
While waiting for a ride
To hope, across an open sea.
Their littlest one, weak in her chest,
Was able still to pass the test
For passage to Australia.
No risk there of failure –
An ideal migrant family!
Not surprising then or sinister
She’s become our Prime Minister
Determined not to leave to chance
Her life’s clear mission; to advance
Australians to fair and equal opportunity.
Are you in any doubt about what drives our Prime Minister, or what she is trying to achieve? I’m not! I’m pretty clear in my mind that Julia Gillard’s legislative program of reform is about a fair go for as many of her fellow citizens as possible, and not just a priveleged few. A fair go for me means access to an opportunity for the good life for anyone willing and able to grasp it, and support for those who through age or disability can not.
I think she’s been taught those values by her parents who appreciated the opportunities they and their children have had, including perhaps that ten pound passage from the United Kingdom to Australia. Back then in the UK, little Julia was a weak chested toddler, needing warm clean air if she was to get well. She grew up in South Australia to become a healthy and happy young woman who had the advantage of a good state school education which enabled her to attend University and become a lawyer. In that profession she chose to specialise in industrial law, working as an advocate for unions struggling for better pay and conditions for working class people, already showing her concern for others.
You can read about her brilliant career in law and politics right up to today if you don’t already know it, but Wiki’s account, objective and lucid though it is, doesn’t tell you about her motivation, her mission and her vision for our country. Which brings me to the most unfair of the many unfair criticisms thrown at our Prime Minister. She is often accused in our main stream media of lacking vision and having no overarching narrative to tell (or do they mean sell?) to the Australian people about what she and her government hope and plan for their country’s future.
Even Paul Keating is said to have criticised her for the lack of that narrative in a 7.30 Report interview. Well, that’s what the media said he said! Read the transcript and you’ll find that he carefully demurred from criticising Prime Minister Gillard’s performance, but he did discuss the need for all political leaders to get a “storyline running – but it’s gotta be real. It can’t be made up. It can’t be done by the pollsters. It’s gotta be your story….”
I admire Paul Keating but I agree with Peter Brent, in his Mumble Blog, that Paul’s own ‘narrative’ seems only to have become clear in retrospect! Although a great reformer he was PM for just five years, winning only one election and, like Julia Gillard, he too became very unpopular because ground breaking reform is hard for some people to accept.
Like Keating, Julia Gillard is bringing in some tough reforms but she does have a narrative, and her party’s agenda should should be widely known within that narrative. I can see that it’s about achieving and maintaining equal opportunity wherever possible, not just leaving people to find their own way, hoping for good luck. It’s about organising a fair go for everyone, not leaving it all to chance. It’s about creating employment through innovation in industry and working with business and unions to improve conditions. Or like supporting the recent claims for equal pay in the not for profit sector where women like her own mother have given a lifetime of service to the disadvantaged and disabled, often for low wages and long working hours with little recognition. It’s also about opportunities to train to become qualified for existing jobs and being ready for employment in yet to be created jobs in the new economy which will develop as we move into our clean energy future. That’s where the unfairly maligned carbon tax will make a contribution to improving life for everyone, not just the wealthy few. At the same time it’s about helping those who through the chance of an accident or from birth have disabilities which prevent them from working outside the home get the kind of help they need for as fulfilling a life as possible.
The big ticket items in Julia Gillard’s reform agenda like health and education, even the NBN, are all about creating more opportunities for an improved quality of life for more people. In remote areas better communications via the NBN for doctors and nursing staff in rural hospitals mean that opportunities for training and for modern medical treatments will be greatly enhanced. I see the income from the mining tax, now so fiercely resisted by mining magnates, who can well afford it from their vast profits, being used to fund increased superannuation for many working people and for building nationwide infrastructure. In the same way the so-called Carbon Tax will be paid by huge industrial polluters to discourage further deterioration in the earth’s atmosphere to the benefit of all the world’s people, present and future generations. Another plus of this price on carbon paid by big polluters will be its funding of tax concessions to large numbers of lower paid workers in Australia.
My little pome above tries to encapsulate what I feel could well be in Julia Gillard’s mind, driving her to work for equality of opportunity in this country to which she had the good fortune to come almost fifty years ago. It was chance, you might say a stroke of luck, that she contracted bronchopneumonia as a child and caused her parents to emigrate here for her health’s sake. They were just the kind of family the Australian government of the day wanted. Some of you reading this will ask why she doesn’t want to give the same opportunity she had to all refugees, asylum seekers and the boat people of today.
I think she would like to, but she has to achieve a lasting and practical solution to this controversial problem. Julia Gillard’s forte is in negotiation and reaching compromise and consensus in issues of social conflict. In this case, however, there seem to be irreconcilable differences between the extremes of libertarians who want to open our borders up freely to asylum seekers and the xenophobic conservatives of the Coalition who want to return to the tight border control policies of John Howard.
The attempt to achieve off-shore processing by negotiation with our Asia Pacific neighbor, Malaysia, has been ruled illegal by our Supreme Court. Meanwhile she leads a government which has increased its refugee intake very substantially and is resisting Opposition pressure to re-introduce harsh Temporary Protection Visas. She won’t give in to popular clamor about the increased number of leaky boat arrivals which may or may not be caused by her ‘softer’ policies. Her newer bridging visas and community detention for family groups are far more humane than John Howard’s policies which Tony Abbott wants to restore.
She has made what I think is a genuine effort to get Tony Abbott and the Opposition to cooperate in finding a bi-partisan policy for border protection and is continuing to work with the UNHCR and with countries in our region like Indonesia, East Timor and Malaysia to find an offshore solution to people smuggling through the Bali Process. The offer to accept even higher numbers of refugees who have long been waiting for resettlement is, I think, more than just a bargaining chip in negotiations with our over-burdened neighbors. This suggests to me that she has grappled with the practical and ethical issues here and wants to solve a problem which has assumed obsessive levels in the Australian psyche. I’m sure that privately she also wants to follow her heart.
Opinion polls aside, it hardly seems humane to allow an exploitative and cruel trade to flourish and leave to chance or fate decisions about who should reach our shores. People smuggling causes the deaths of so many desperate people, among them many innocent children. I think our Prime Minister, along with her Minister for Immigration, genuinely wants to bring an end to people smuggling. She also wants to offer an opportunity for a better life to many more of the unhappy souls whom chance has left languishing in refugee camps for decades.
Julia Gillard knows the difference between chance and opportunity.
Pip, 15/02/12, Great post patricia.
The United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, is visiting Australia and joins us to discuss the issues facing asylum seekers in Australia and around the world. 7.30 transcript. http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2012/s3429799.htm
If you look at numbers, about 6,000 people came to Australia last year, but to Italy and Malta, 58,000; to Yemen, 100,000. So this is a global problem, in which the numbers in Australia are still relatively small and that is why we believe that this debate has sometimes been inflated out of proportion with the reality of the problem in itself and that there is – there should be a scope for a calm and rational approach to these questions in a way that could meet the protection requirements of people.
Patriciawa, 15/02/12 Thanks, Pip. You’re so right about the small numbers who try to reach here as asylum seekers compared with elsewhere in the world. The ocean around us is of course the big barrier, which is what helps the people smuggling trade to flourish in those leaky boats, and leaves it to chance to decide their fate. I’ve slightly tweaked my comment on that. Thanks again.
Pip, 24/02/12, Patricia, your point that
“She is often accused in our main stream media of lacking vision and having no overarching narrative to tell (or do they mean sell?) to the Australian people about what she and her government hope and plan for their country’s future” highlights the fact that the Press Gallery won’t allow PM Gillard’s narrative any oxygen!
Patriciawa, 23/06/14, Nowhere on ‘polliepomes’ have I mentioned former PM Julia Gillard’s great new job offer by a UN agency earlier this year, which gave me the chance to air this pome again at Cafe Whispers http://cafewhispers.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/julia-gillards-new-job/. You can read all about it over at the Cafe.