Latham's Law

Latham’s Law

10 July 2011

2:00 AM

10 July 2011

2:00 AM

Australia’s experiment with a female prime minister has failed. When she took the job 12 months ago, Julia Gillard needed to position herself as a centre-left Margaret Thatcher, an Antipodean Iron Lady, projecting strength and dignity in office. This would have addressed the concerns of male voters, worried that a woman was too weak for the job. It would also have kept alive feminists hope that one of their own could ‘handle the boys’ in politics.

Australia’s experiment with a female prime minister has failed. When she took the job 12 months ago, Julia Gillard needed to position herself as a centre-left Margaret Thatcher, an Antipodean Iron Lady, projecting strength and dignity in office. This would have addressed the concerns of male voters, worried that a woman was too weak for the job. It would also have kept alive feminists hope that one of their own could ‘handle the boys’ in politics.

Instead, Gillard has emerged as an anti-Thatcher, a frivolous, schoolgirl style leader, outmanoeuvred and outmuscled at every turn by the boys. Her troubles started days into her Prime Ministership, with Kevin Rudd’s vengeful leaks to Laurie Oakes. Instead of outing Rudd as a reckless saboteur, an egomaniac willing to bring down a Labor government, Gillard tried to mollify the madman, promising him the prized portfolio of foreign affairs.

Ever since, Rudd has had a licence to do as he pleases, snubbing Gillard’s authority and positioning himself as a poll-inspired leadership candidate. Female voters have been appalled, watching a vainglorious nerd walk all over their champion. In equal measure, blue-collar men view the Prime Minister with contempt, as someone who refuses to stand up for herself. Can anyone imagine the Iron Lady allowing Edward Heath to act this way? Thatcher’s attitude to her embittered predecessor was to prolong his pain for as long as possible. The lady was not for political appeasement.

Thatcher was such a dominant figure she even overshadowed her spouse. Not for her the humiliation of being told to stand outside the gardener’s shed at Chequers while Denis banged on about men’s health. Whenever Gillard appears with her de facto Tim Mathieson, as she did recently on my old show 60 Minutes, she throws the switch to ‘adolescent’. She is the great Giggling Gertie of Australian politics — again, the antithesis of Thatcherism. This immaturity has also crept into Gillard’s official duties. Consider, for example, her speech last month farewelling the head of the armed forces, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, directing her remarks to Mrs Houston:


Liz, I wanted to say to you tonight some words you might find quite hard to hear. And that is every woman I know is a little bit in love with your husband. I know that might be difficult news, but I’ve tested this proposition with the Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, who’s a little bit in love with your husband. I’m a little bit in love with your husband and Kate Harrison, who works in my office and was John Faulkner’s former chief of staff, is in love with your husband in almost an unseemly way!

What a bizarre thing for a prime minister to say. Under the constitution, the Governor-General is ‘Commander in chief of the naval and military forces of the Commonwealth’. Yet Gillard tells us that Bryce has been batting her eyes lovingly at Houston. Perhaps this is the reason why Australia’s military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan has been so ineffective. Our commanders have been making love, not war.

One of the many contradictions of Gillard’s prime ministership is her attitude to religion. Even though she is an atheist, she believes ‘it’s important for people to understand their Bible stories’. This is the latest version of the 1969 movie Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice — in this case, Tim & Julia & Adam & Eve. Significantly, the outgoing Labor Senator Steve Hutchins (from the rightwing Transport Workers’ Union) has no such ambivalence about the role of religion. In his valedictory speech to parliament in June he confessed:

I was under considerable pressure … from significant elements of my faith, the Catholic Church, to secure the No. 2 position [on the NSW Labor Senate ticket in 2010]. Incidentally, our ticket was the only group in Australia to receive Democratic Labor Party preferences.

In 1955 the ALP split following attempts by the Catholic Church to take over the party. The great Labor leader, Doc Evatt, stood up to the Groupers and outed them publicly. Anyone thinking that half a century later that the church has learned its lesson should think again.

Hutchins’ speech confirms the ongoing Catholic ambition for political control. He received DLP preferences because he was seen as a trusted representative of the church in the Senate. There is a shocking arrogance about this approach. At a time when, internationally, the Catholic Church is in crisis over the spread of paedophilia among its priests and schoolteachers, its hierarchy in Australia is still obsessed with party politics. The separation of church and state has been ignored.

Rarely do moral crusaders and parliamentary life mix well. This was clear in NSW last year when the Department of Parliamentary Services reported that computers in the office of the Reverend Fred Nile had accessed porn sites up to 200,000 times. In South Australia earlier this year, another religious recruit, a Labor government minister, was arrested on child pornography charges. He is a protégé of one of Federal Labor’s faceless men, Don Farrell, the head of the Catholic-aligned ‘Shoppies’ faction. In his valedictory, Hutchins paid tribute to Farrell as ‘a great bloke, the salt of the earth’.

The Groupers never really left the ALP. Instead, they buried themselves in the right-wing unions and now control the party’s right-wing faction. No wonder Gillard is reading her Bible stories. After a series of (political) deaths, St Matthew records how ‘last of all, the woman herself died’.

The post Latham’s Law appeared first on The Spectator.


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