The Knot

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Gillard: Haunted By The Ghosts Of Backstabbing Past

Left: PM Julia Gillard and her deputy Wayne Swan

I phoned my father this morning and he very proudly informed me that there was a photo of him in his local newspaper alongside his views on the election.

"I told them I hope the Liberals win," he said. "I don't like the way that Labor got rid of our Prime Minister. We voted him in we should be able to vote him out."

My father did in fact vote for Labor in the last election, assisting Kevin Rudd's rise to the nation's highest office. It was a very big deal for my father to vote Labor. A card carrying member of the Liberal party for all of my youth - my parents used to stand outside the local primary school on election day and hand out how to vote cards for the Liberal party - dad chose Rudd over Howard who he perceived to be racist. He voted with his heart.

Never one to fence-sit (or mince words), dad's passion for not voting Labor again was overwhelming.

"I don't like backstabbers," he cried (almost literally). "When Gillard did that to Rudd it reminded me of when your boss did it to you."

I moved on from my backstabbing former boss long ago (although I remain adamant that if he was burning in the street I wouldn't throw water on him), but clearly my dad hasn't. It wasn't until I'd had this conversation with my father that it dawned on me why so many otherwise rational Australians were turning on Julia Gillard for what I believe to be an 'all's fair in war and politics' act. This election is entirely personal for many people. This isn't an outpouring of support and affection for the former PM. Almost every eligible voter has been the victim of a backstabbing at some stage in their lives and when Labor handed its leadership baton from Rudd to Gillard in an effort to save the party from what they thought would be a certain loss at the polls, they unwittingly ripped the scab off a painful wound in the backs of the electorate.

The thing is though that my dad really dislikes Tony Abbott, almost as much as I do. He shares my distrust and is hoping that the Liberals will return Malcolm Turnbull to the leadership. But here's the rub: when questioned he admitted that he'd be happy for the change to happen after a Liberal party win at the next election. I can't criticise him for that or the twitterverse that's packed with Turnbull-for-PM tweeters (or is that just the group that I follow?); I'd be praying for that too should the unthinkable occur.

But how does a Gillard grab for power differ from a potential Turnbull ascension post Abbott-as-PM?

It's the elephant in the room, isn't it. When a man does it he's taking control but when a woman does it she's a backstabbing bitch.

The office of Prime Minister does not belong to any one man or woman. We vote in a political party and the party of the day decides who best to lead them to office, or to hold onto it. Labor believes they have their best hope with Gillard at the helm; the Liberals are hanging their hat on Abbott.

So while Australians remain haunted by their backstabbing ghosts of the past, there seems to be an almost blissful ignorance of the core issues that will affect the progress of this nation. Call me idealistic, but hair colour, dress sense, lack of religious persuasion and propensity to backstab are not what we should be focused on when deciding where our country should be heading. But it's up to Gillard and Abbott to brand our minds with a vision of their future Australia so that ordinary Australians like my dad and I can work out how to vote with our head instead of our heart.