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<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

Prime Minister On Hold

With parliament resuming amid leadership speculation, some in the Labor Party are wondering where is the tiger lawyer who can prosecute their case with the public. Can Julia Gillard carefully win back the party, and the people?


At first, Petra Weber was going to leave the little shoe on the ground. It could not be the Prime Minister's, she thought. More likely it had been dropped by a member of her staff. "I saw this shoe and I was about to go past and then I sort of hesitantly picked it up. It drew your eye. It was brand new. One of my friends looked inside and said, 'Oh my goodness, it's a six. It can't be hers. She doesn't look that small.'"

But this blue suede wedge heel - one half of a $148 pair - that Weber, a Canberra artist, picked up outside Canberra's Lobby restaurant on Australia Day was the Prime Minister's. It was the one sent flying when her bodyguard reeled her in close and half carried her from the Aboriginal protestors who'd surrounded the Lobby upon a misguided tip-off from a young Gillard staffer. It was the small shoe that Petra Weber stuffed into her backpack, intending to find its owner, but which she off-loaded to an Aboriginal elder when her pack became too heavy. It was the shoe that would be returned to the steps of the Australian Parliament the next day in a plastic shopping bag carried by a striking young Aboriginal woman - her face painted and wearing a kangaroo skin - accompanied by a police escort, lights flashing as television cameras rolled. It was that disobedient shoe that fled the Prime Minister's right foot, contributing to her stumbling exit and the imagery that will remain in news archives to be flashed up as the emblem of Julia Gillard's too-frequent cruel luck - or, for harsh souls, her too-frequent cock-ups - if her grumpy colleagues turn on her in the next days, weeks or months.

That bloody shoe.

That, you suspect, is what the Prime Minister really wants to say when she's asked by The Global Mail, in an interview in her Melbourne office a week later, if it has re-entered her wardrobe.

"We will work our way through that," is instead, the arch reply. Its banishment to an auction for charity is likely.

<p>Photo by Mike Bowers</p>

Photo by Mike Bowers

Abbott and Gillard face off.

You could, of course, also say that the lost shoe was evidence of Julia Gillard's ability to make a retreat from calamity, mount a calm recovery. And then deal quickly and ruthlessly with the cause - the resignation of the staffer who sought to use the Aboriginals to embarrass Tony Abbott was fairly quickly delivered to her desk.

Australians have known a Prime Minister to lose their trousers in Memphis, a marriage through infidelity, and a life in the surf - but never a woman's size-six blue suede shoe. There are, as Julia Gillard says, differences when you are the first woman Prime Minister: "I mean, for all of our nation's history, up until now, if you said to someone 'Imagine what a Prime Minister looks like,' of course they are going to imagine a man in suit, because they'd always been, at least in the modern age, men in suits. Obviously suits in the modern age are slightly different to suits in an earlier age.

"But men in suits. I am not a man in a suit, and that is going to make some things different."

Like the warm Sydney night late last month when the Prime Minister went to see Phyllida Lloyd's starkly off-beam Thatcher biopic, Iron Lady; a picture which, while viewing Margaret Thatcher's legacy to Britain and Europe through the fuzzy lens of her senility, at least accurately constructs her as the plucky underdog who defied a male political establishment.

“I am not a man in a suit, and that is going to make some things different.”

Less could hardly be said of Julia Gillard's own rise through politics. When she, accompanied by her partner, Tim Mathieson, and friends, former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke and his wife, the writer Blanche d'Alpuget, arrived to take their seats in the Hayden Orpheum Theatre in the north-shore Sydney suburb of Cremorne, a silence befell that audience.

"We caused a little bit of an incident, as you might imagine," smiles Gillard. "People were trying to munch on their choc-tops and then got quite startled."

Imagine that scene. It must have been rather like sitting in a play. There, amid the audience, sits "Our Maggie". The one we made here. Not as ferociously sharp as the first, as deeply menacing or scarily certain. But, like Thatcher, the daughter of a bright, striving father frustrated by his own opportunities for education, vitally interested in politics, determined that his daughter should excel; a man whose daughter long knew what was expected of her. Gillard became a lawyer, Thatcher a barrister.

They, of course, are the obvious, easy comparisons. Of others, we can be less sure. Thatcher, for instance, no matter how polarising, could not be said to be opaque in what she stood for, what she meant and what she'd do. And a lack of consistency is a charge levelled frequently by Gillard's critics.

<p>Photo by Mike Bowers</p>

Photo by Mike Bowers

Gillard and partner Tim Mathieson.

Talk to those in the Labor Party's higher levels and they will tell you they've raised the trust issue with her, forcefully and recently. Some now feel deeply frustrated that their advice was not taken when Gillard reneged in late January on her pledge to the Tasmanian Independent MP, Andrew Wilkie, to legislate gambling reforms by May. Gillard argues Wilkie's demands would have been defeated in the House. But others in the Party say she should have put them before Parliament in any case so as to be seen to keep faith with Wilkie and the public.

Julia Gillard herself says she understands that there is an issue surrounding her trustworthiness. She traces it back not to her removal of Kevin Rudd but to her promise in the 2010 election not to bring in a carbon tax - a tax she later introduced, she says, because it was the only way the country was going to get a viable emissions trading scheme, in the make-up of the post-election Parliament.

She can almost feel the target that reversal pinned to her back, and now says: "So I do understand that's left a mark, and it's for me to continue to explain and for me also to demonstrate, by doing in relation to the rest of the Government's agenda, that the things I say I am going to do are the things that I will do."

There is one lapse that bewilders those who've studied her and who have held high public office themselves: it is what they identify as the Prime Minister's failure - through caution or inability - to construct and milk issues that will grab attention and build her Government's case.

“People were trying to munch on their choc-tops and then got quite startled.”

Asked for an example, one former Labor Premier says on the morning after BHP Billiton reported its $22.4 billion profit in late August, Gillard should have called the producer of ABC Radio's AM program and asked to go an air as the morning's lead item.

She should have argued, says the ex Premier, that Tony Abbott could no longer hold to his promise to repeal her Government's mining tax - the Mineral Resource Rent Tax - in the face of such a bountiful profit announcement from the world's biggest miner. It was, he says, a wonderful and now lost chance not only to convince the electorate of the justice of the mining tax but to also skewer Tony Abbott and his promise to ditch it.

It is true that the Prime Minister is sometimes curiously reluctant to seize on those issues that leap out of nowhere and arouse great national passions. The billionaire mining magnate Gina Rinehart's move on Fairfax - owners of The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Financial Review - is an example. Here was Gina Rinehart, implacable opponent of the mining tax and climate-change sceptic, suddenly becoming Fairfax's largest shareholder. Rinehart is perfectly within her rights, of course, but is it imaginable that a Hawke, a Keating - even a John Howard - would have elected to stay mute amid such a ratcheting-up of her influence over Australia's media?

Yet the Prime Minister's response, when asked about Rinehart, seemed hide-bound in a lawyer's numbing caution: "I wouldn't be drawn on an individual's decision about share holdings, which is what it is at the end of the day." Surely a measured nod to the implications in Rinehart's acquisition for public debate wouldn't have been out of order - at the very least for the many Labor voters who are mightily concerned about it.

<p>Photo by Ella Rubeli</p>

Photo by Ella Rubeli

Labor Party National Conference, Dec. 2011.

Her communications minister, Stephen Conroy, felt no such compunction to hold back when, the next day, he told The Australian Financial Review that the Rinehart Fairfax play demonstrated the need for tougher media ownership laws.

We can safely say that this concern - raised by the ex-Premier and others - about Julia Gillard's uneven record in prosecuting issues in public is not for want of ability. She came to her job not least because she is the Labor Party's stand-out parliamentary performer. She rose up through the rough house ranks of student and ALP politics, finished a law degree and impressed her masters at the Melbourne law firm, Slater and Gordon, enough to become the firm's first female salaried partner. She was then 29 years old; Slater and Gordon had been going for 55 years.

Where is that real Julia, the one that the Prime Minister told us really did exist during the last election campaign, the one that gets up from her desk and walks to her doorway to greet a journalist she's never met before with a cheery "G'day" and laughs as though she means it at his lame joke about losing her soul in a Canberra restaurant? The one that will take a bold risk on policy, but not on herself? Could it be that, once in public view, she retreats under that lawyer's smothering caution, the training that wants to cover all bases, that renders airwave adventures risk-averse, that drowns her public language in qualifications, caveats, and dead, rotting words like "stakeholder"?

That real Julia needs finding. For Australia has entered a strange place. One in which its bursting economy, powered by incomprehensibly vast mining and gas ventures, is the envy of the world. At the same time, it is - through the dollar's run-away value - beginning to tip a troubling number of people onto the street as our manufactured exports become ever more expensive and therefore less appealing. Each new wave of layoffs will need to be explained, fears soothed, the encouragement of the big picture economy given. And above it all looms the prospect of a Europe in free fall.

“What the high dollar means is that we’ve got no choice. The only way to compete is on quality, not price.”

Can Julia Gillard tell the reassuring, convincing over-arching economic story of where Australia is headed in these times?

Here is what she said in her Feb. 1 interview with The Global Mail: "What the high dollar means is that we've got no choice. The only way to compete is on quality, not price. So we've got to lock in that strategy in high skill, high productivity, high quality, best possible infrastructure. It's an absolute imperative now. In other times in our economic history you might have preferred to compete on quality but you had a choice to compete on cost. So we need to compete on quality - that is a transformation in our economic structures and approaches and it's that that I am dedicating to the Government to do during the course of this year, by building, obviously in partnership with business and unions and educators, the people who bring skill to others, dedicating ourselves to driving the creation of this new Australian economy and getting everybody a stake in it."

What's missing here? There is a narrative, there is an argument, there is an aim. Yet, though real examples abound of enterprises that have made the adaptation she intends, there are no people to bring to life what the Prime Minister sees as the way forward. It is all in the abstract, and the words die. A Bob Carr, a Paul Keating, a Peter Beattie would have the flesh of the real to flash by Australians.

SHE HOLIDAYED in rural Victoria before Christmas with her partner "and just, you know, hung out," she says. She read Frank Moorhouse's Grand Days, Sydney restaurateur Tony Bilson's memoir, Insatiable, and Mighty Be Our Powers, by Leymah Gbowee, the Liberian feminist and peace activist who led a coalition of Christian and Muslim women in a public sit-in to persuade warlords to end Liberia's civil war.

<p>Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images</p>

Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Margaret Thatcher in 1975.

Parliament returns on Feb. 7, and with it intense speculation about Julia Gillard's ability to stare down a challenge to her leadership from the man she deposed, Kevin Rudd.

In the 23 minutes The Global Mail had with the Prime Minister the Wednesday before, she appeared warm and relaxed until the unavoidable question about the leadership speculation came. Her brow furrowed, her hands slightly clenched and her eyes lowered; it seemed a script, invisible to others, was in her hands.

"It's not my intention to keep dealing with this," she said.

You could sense the frustration in the room. And it may be as much frustration with those of her colleagues who are fermenting speculation on the leadership as with those of us tasked with writing about it.

On Friday, Feb. 3, she lamented that Bob Hawke had gained more media coverage for downing a beer at the Sydney Cricket Ground during the Australia versus India test than she gained for announcing a $95 million boost to cricket's infrastructure.

She's right, of course. And it does people like me no credit at all.

11 comments on this story
by Lorelle

Congratulations. Finally some journalistic quality, worth reading.

Now maybe we will get some proper understanding of issues. The use of the media as a political tool is quite scary and is taking away people's right to be given the facts, and for informed debate to take place.

I look forward to reading The Global Mail and sharing it with friends.

February 6, 2012 @ 7:21am
by Rob

A good start for The Global Mail — I look forward to ready many more such articles. As to the content of the article, the question was raised "where is the tiger lawyer..." Well, I think Julia Gillard has three main problems: Firstly, she seems much more concerned with being the first female Prime Minister than being the 27th Australian Prime Minister and, Secondly, she seems to have a very lawyerly approach to 'prosecuting her case' - one gets the feeling that, like the 'No Carbon Tax' promise, she is always pursuing a tactic that will get her to her objective - whatever that objective might be. Thirdly, she hasn't told us (in a way that we can believe) what her objective is.

February 6, 2012 @ 8:25am
by Steve K

It's good to read a thoughtful piece on the PM’s current problems. Now that a trend to the government is obvious in recent polls it would be good to read a piece on the relentless negative commentary which has oozed out from News Ltd and now damaging the Fairfax press and even our ABC. If you want me to name names I can do so although I suspect you know who the main culprits are.

February 6, 2012 @ 10:18am
by Samuel

I didn't get past the second paragraph of this article because of the following phrase: "Aboriginal protestors who'd surrounded the Lobby upon a misguided tip-off from a young Gillard staffer".

First, as has been documented elsewhere, not all the protestors identified as Aboriginal. It is lazy and harmful to generalise in this way.

Second, why was the tip-off "misguided"? Sure, most mainstream media outlets have used this kind of language (or worse), but I expected a more subtle approach from TGM. Whether or not the tip-off was "misguided" depends on many variables, such as when you think it is acceptable for a political staffer to inform activists of the location of a politician.

It is easy to oversimplify and naively say "it's never acceptable", but what about if the politician was proposing something that you believed to be entirely atrocious (genocide, for example). Similarly, characterising the tip-off as "misguided" suggests that protest actions, in a public space, are not appropriate ways for citizens to communicate with politicians. Such a suggestion might sound fine when you believe the relevant issue is unimportant, but would you want to rule out protests in all cases?

The point is that you cannot dismiss the staffer's tip-off as "misguided" (or praiseworthy, for that matter) without reaching a conclusion as to the merits of the reason for the protest. Furthermore, in my view, anyone who believes the staffer's tip-off was "misguided" does not fully appreciate the plight of Indigenous Australians and the need for urgent action. I believe that the seriousness of the problem completely justifies the staffer's actions and would justify many other actions.

If you don't believe that the plight of Indigenous Australians is serious enough to warrant political staffers tipping-off protestors, that's fine, but this is the argument that we need to be having. Casually characterising the tip-off as "misguided", without entering into any discussion as to why you believe it to be so, merely reinforces the simplistic message that has already been propagated by the mainstream press. And, again, I expected more from TGM.

If you didn't want to spend the words necessary to explain why you thought the tip-off was "misguided", you should have omitted the adjective altogether.

February 6, 2012 @ 11:03am
by Glenda

It's all there, the facts, the capability and style of the person. And so is the analysis of why this decent, clever and still popular leader is not being heard. Now it's down to her staff to use their expertise to pick up on the art of communicating. It is so awful to see how negative and untrue messages are made so palatable when the facts about the economy which should reassure ordinary people the way they reassure the business community, all this it seems cannot be translated for the ordinary reader.

February 6, 2012 @ 12:40pm
by Zannie

At last an honest acknowledgment of the gender issue often deeply (or not so ) disguised in stories about our Prime Minister. This piece displays a journalist in what is a far too rare self reflective moment! Now that he had seen the error of his ways he may begin to change them - this piece is a good start!
All I can say is the PM must be made of very stern stuff to have survived thus far - she is walking new ground even with one shoe off!

February 6, 2012 @ 1:44pm
by Faith

Dear editor,
I think your first "edition" has been stale, ponderous and uninteresting. I honestly expected The Global Mail would come out of the blocks with at least a couple of BBQ stoppers (or a cattle trade stopper). But no, instead of leading with top-class reporting and setting the agenda, you served up yet more verbose wank-dressed-as-insight commentary. Bernard Lagan's piece about the PM was a good example. Who gives a s--t about the shoe? Really? It happened back on Australia Day. Mr Lagan's opening 355 words about the shoe nearly put me to sleep. The rest was filled with speculation, un-named sources like the "ex-Premier", needless padding about Gillard's days at Slater and Gordon and little else. Mr Lagan said he got 23 minutes with the PM. Why didn't he use that time to ask 10 or 20 water-tight, crucial questions? No - he had to ask her about the shoe, didn't he? After all, how else would he justify the pedestrian 355-word introduction? It's a good thing you're not relying on people paying you money - I daresay you'd go hungry. If you wish to attract and keep readers, you'd be well advised to commit to reporting and breaking stories and dispensing with the verbose and irrelevant twaddle, like what Malcolm Turnbull is wearing ( " ... polished brown boat shoes sans socks, pale cotton slacks and a pressed shirt, long sleeves down.")
Sincerely,
Faith Ono

P.S. I thought the photo galleries were a joke. Seriously, I thought you were being ironic.

February 6, 2012 @ 4:53pm
by Paul

I think it's more than clear Julia Gillard is going to hold on. KRudd will never have the numbers and Caucus don't want him back.

Ask the question "Will Abbott hold on?" His standing in the polls is appalling and there is no sign of improvement. Our country will not vote a party under him in to power. Guarantee it.

February 7, 2012 @ 2:11pm
Show previous 8 comments
by Brett

Will that shoe be reincorporated into her wardrobe and more leadership speculation.
Pathetic.
The Global Mail.
Different how, exactly?

February 7, 2012 @ 2:23pm
by Doug

Prime Minister on Hold
I know that Journalists like to write the easy story but this lightweight effort belongs in the Womens Weekly or somewhere equally trashy. You spent half an hour with the Prime Minister and were not able to produce just one meagre attempt at analysis of a policy - you had the opportunity but instead chose to follow all the rest of the lazy media in this country.
To Monica Attard, I saw your piece on TV yesterday. You were espousing the need for good journalism and analysis of policy. This piece fails dismally

February 7, 2012 @ 8:45pm
by Michelle

I see this article as a start, a sort of entree or soup. I am hoping the next article on our P.M. will be a hearty meat dish. I want to understand what motivates her, I want to get a clear understanding of her passions and what our Prime Minister wants our Country to be. What is the essence of Julia Gillard, what does she really think, how does she really feel about any range of issues. What is her main philosophy about life. What is the vision she has for our Country. How has she endured and perserved through the tough years in Government. You need to spend more than 15 mins, you need to get to the heart of Julia Gillard. I have actually never seen an article that does her justice. I would love The Global Mail to be the first. We still don't know who this amazing woman is. She is still an enigma. We are still getting a one dimensional picture of Gillard and yes I do blame the media. Why haven't we got a journalist who has depth and can give me a real in depth analysis.

February 10, 2012 @ 10:30am
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