The Labor National Conference is over for 2011 and now that the dust has settled and the ministers have gone home from their weekend in Sydney it has left us wondering just what the conference achieved. The conference has been shaping up as a showdown between Julia Gillard and the man that she ousted to get her job Kevin Rudd and the PM used her speech to make it plain to Kevin where she places him in the general scheme of things; but did the Prime Minister’s speech really say anything important or was it just Julia’s attempt at demonstrating her control over a deeply factionalized government?
She began with a plug for her pet project of having the aboriginals’ unfair treatment by white settlers recognized in the Constitution to show what a caring, new age gal she really is, and then followed this up by reminding her colleagues of those dark days on the opposition benches and of how they had all shared the hard times in the trenches together. To underscore the caring, sharing nature of the new Labor under Julia her speech was peppered with old fashioned testimonial examples of how Labor policy had had such a positive impact on so many people, detailing carefully how much a brain injury victim’s dog biscuits were worth online through Harrods- that’s the way, testify! Now because of Labor’s new NBN scheme isolated people in the outback can get unprecedented access to medical treatment. Bully for Labor, what a great party. But hang on, weren’t a lot of these ideas Kevin’s?
New age savvy Julia enumerated all of the good reasons for her Carbon Tax, summing them up in a stirring tale of a Brisbane tip that generates electricity from methane. Does that actually justify a $73 billion dollar tax or is it just more smoke and mirrors from the Gillard bag of tricks? Like all the talk that followed about fairness and doubling education funding. Are Australia’s nurses being treated fairly, or our teachers? How much of the health and education funding that Julia crowed about is going to trickle down into the pay packets of the people that actually do the hard work- who really are in the trenches every day? Apparently the conference would address those issues and the speech moved on.
Next she invoked the spirits of Labor parties past, invoking the great names that marked Labor’s glory days of times gone past. Her voice all aquiver she called on the sacred names of Curtain and Chiefly and then of Hawke and Keating, in a passage that even Julia must have thought was ironic as she recited them that “The responsibilities of Government are the responsibilities of hard choice.” After all she had made the same hard choice as her once predecessor did when she carved up Rudd in a late night coup over a year ago. But having said that has she made any hard choices, and have the choices that have been hard been made in spite of her and her government.
But the hard choices that she was referring to were all about reform, and that was going to be a hard sell to a union affiliate backed parliament who damn well know which side their bread is buttered on. And Julia must have felt a twinge of self consciousness as she brought up the subject of fundamental change to the Labor Party as only days before Kevin Rudd’s radical, and probably sensible, scheme for reform was shot down in flames by his colleagues in the house in no uncertain terms. We won’t be giving up our union backed campaign gravy train and the lessons of our contemporary democracies go unnoticed once again by our elected governors.
The next portion of the speech was perhaps the most entertaining as the Prime Minister informed the delegates that Labor was going online in a big way and then recited a list of slogans that read like Tweets, which is how her speech writer must have phoned them in. In total there are 31 consecutive sentences that have 25 words or less, qualifying them as Tweets, which Julia delivered in a staccato like fashion, as she extolled the ethereal virtues of “We can move to modern structures.” and in a gloriously tautological slogan of classic double speak “Showing the courage of your convictions does take courage.” It could be remarked that it also takes convictions, and makes about as much sense as vanilla tastes like vanilla. I ask, who is writing this stuff for Julia Gillard? Are her speechwriters on crack or something? If Julia didn’t have enough to worry about with the sound of sharpening knives in Kevin’s office does she need these people writing nonsense like this for her as well?
After delighting us with her succinct appraisal of Labor’s plans to use Facebook pay per click advertising to buy some votes Julia felt encouraged to wax poetical about the plumbers of the future and such fantastic pipe dreams as trading carbon credits with third world countries in the Asian Century. Whoa there big fella (I mean Ma’am), the Asian Century? Is this some new double speak? Is the Labor Party’s focus shifting to the vast Chinese market for our produce and primary products. Oh, but then we got to the keeping the doors open to trade, and with her avowal that Australia will sell Uranium to India a couple of weeks ago, the Asian Century is really just the first social media marketing slogan that Labor has come up with to sell Australia online. At the same time she promises to get at those fat cat magnates that cry poor when the tax man comes a knockin’ and to gouge a bit more out of the mining companies so that we all get our fair share of Australia’s great wealth. But how much of the cash will we really see and how much is about paying shylock when he comes for his pound of flesh next year.
So Julia’s speech made sure that the 46th Labor Party National Conference was conducted along exactly the lines that she set down before the conference even began. Important issues like education and health got the usual lipservice but total inaction, Julia told us about plans to buy CPC online advertising, we are still selling Uranium to India, we can have an ineffectual vote on same sex marriage and the government is planning to make shitloads of money out of mining to pay its bills. They could have told us that on Twitter.