The Last Days of Chez Gillard

Prime Minister Gillard plays to the gender stereotypes she purports to reject.

By Lyle Dunne

Last night I recorded The Last Days of Chez Nous. 

Or maybe I downloaded it. I’m never absolutely certain about the terminology. Recently my daughter looked at me blankly as I referred to the “Laptop”, then “Notebook”. I might as well have said “abacus”. “Oh, you mean the Tablet”, she said eventually, allowing me to make retrospective sense of her mother’s puzzling advice about unspecified medication. 

Anyway, the thing is, I’m not sure if I can bring myself to watch it again. Will it live up to my recollections? What about the scene of Beth and her father (played, as the rules then apparently mandated, by Bill Hunter) eating a bag of oranges at a fruit fly inspection point: will it still be hilarious and poignant at the same time? 

That’s the trouble with nostalgia: in time, the pictures gets rosier. Photos may fade, but the memories only get brighter – and simpler. 

I wonder if this will happen about the last days of the Gillard Government? 


Will people say to themselves, “Ah, if it hadn’t been for Rudd…”; “well, if only she hadn’t managed to alienate the entire private media, six months before the election”? 

(As I write — March 19 — the story about a possible leadership challenge has gone from being the exclusive concern of The Australian to occupying the entire front cover of the admittedly-diminished Sydney Morning Herald. Ironically, The Australian has been running Bob Carr denying that he’s lost faith in the PM.) 

At this stage, the story lacks the essential element for full-blown mythic status: the sense of having been robbed of the opportunity to achieve greatness by external forces outside one’s control, à la Whitlam. 

The media hardly attain to that diabolus ex machina status – although the story that “we lost because we dared to take on the might of the media, in a noble attempt to curb their burgeoning power” still makes a better epitaph than “we lost because we kept making bad decisions.” (Even if taking on the media was one of the bad decisions, in public-policy as well as tactical terms.) 

Neither would being deserted by the independents, even in the unlikely event that they abandoned her. 

And the Greens, as I’ve mentioned before, by declaring that they would support the Gillard government no matter what they did, have placed themselves in a position where acting on principle would appear unprincipled. 


From the perspective of Gillard’s personal story – if not that of the wider ALP — a leadership change might provide the required “we wuz robbed” story, especially if grafted onto the misogyny narrative. There seemed to be an attempt on the part of some commentators to revive this last week in honour of International Women’s Day. 

To give credit where it’s due, though, Gillard’s own comments on IWD seemed much more on the money than Abbott’s.  There’s always a risk that the international dimension of this event makes it appear that Australian feminists are trading on the real sufferings of women internationally as a kind of vicarious victimhood. 

Saudi women can’t drive, and have to wear burqas; Indian women are subject to gang-rapes and murder; Australian women have difficulty finding affordable childcare. 

African women suffer genital mutilation; Pakistani women face “honour killings”; Australian women are under-represented on the board of BHP. 

So it was a relief to see the PM focussing on people-trafficking, a genuine life-and-death issue for many women, including those enslaved in Australian brothels – even if forced marriages is not exactly the central concern, and the government’s refusal to deal with companies involved with people-smuggling more symbolic than real. (Nobody mention Craig Thompson. I did once, but I think I got away with it.). 

By contrast, Abbott’s renewed call for increased tax-funded maternity-leave payments for higher-income earners focussed squarely on “first-world problems”, as my kids’ generation calls them. 

Flight to gender

However, on the ropes over her media regulation package in Question Time this week, Gillard fled back to playing the Gender Card: 

“And let me say very clearly to the Leader of the Opposition, it [the election] will be a contest counter intuitive to those believing in gender stereotypes but a contest between a strong feisty woman and a policy weak man and I’ll win it.” 

This goes some way beyond her recent self-congratulatory comments that ”you’ve just got to be a pretty hard bastard to get it done” — back to the land of the gender wars. And of course, it plays to the very gender stereotypes it purports to reject. 

Describing oneself as “feisty” is a bit cringe-making, but this is designed to tap into a popular “you go, girl” attitude that considers any form of aggression by women toward men a good thing. (Of course, this only makes sense if one assumes, and thus arguably perpetuates, women-as-victims stereotypes.) 

In case there was any doubt about the gender agenda, it seems that, apropos of nothing in particular, Gillard followed this remark with the sotto voce observation that “misogynist Tony is back” – a comment she had to withdraw, but not before a display of “feistiness” on both sides which led to Christopher Pyne’s expulsion from the chamber. 

(But perhaps I’m wrong – perhaps the term “feisty”, with its implications of underdog status, does not readily apply to men. Perhaps it’s what the writers of Yes Prime Minister referred to as “an irregular verb”, along the lines of “I give confidential press briefings, you leak”.)

Nevertheless the government continues to be about as popular as an immigration official in a brothel, although Gillard herself continues to jockey for position with Abbott as preferred PM from poll to poll. 

Consolation prize

I always think “Preferred PM” is a kind of consolation prize, which may simply mean that people feel sorry for you. At best, it may mean they like you on some kind of personal level, irrespective of policies. Christina Kenneally and Anna Bligh both had a considerable degree of personal appeal (of slightly different kinds), but it saved neither of them in the end. 

It may be that voters can distinguish between a politician’s personal appeal, and the quality of their administration. It may be that they can see through the cynical retreat to the symbolic of a government who has despaired of winning the substantive policy debate. Heartening, either way. 

Meanwhile, as the government struggles to pass its media reform package, with the self-induced challenge of their artificial deadline, and all the media lead with stories of Gillard’s leadership under challenge, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that this most recent outburst of bravado was not so much about the election, but more about sending a message to caucus. 

Perhaps it’s also a desperate attempt to dislodge the media débâcle from the front pages of the same media – though you’d imagine even that would be preferable to leadership speculation. 

From the PM’s office, it must seem like September is a long way off. 


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