Managed to get internet access again last night just as the rumours started to circulate of a Labor putsch, and a scant 12 hours later, Australia has a new Prime Minister – the first woman in the Lodge, the first atheist (that we know of), the first redhead (I think) and the first from the left of the Labor Party in my lifetime. This is good news for Australia and for the Labor Party.
Following this news from Syria, it’s hard to think how I would explain the change to Syrian observers, who have been living in a one-party state since the 1950s, and under a hereditary presidency for the last half century. Syria has a lot going for it, but a healthy democracy isn’t part of it.
I guess we could argue the toss about whether a party-room knifing represents a healthy democracy or not, but instead I’d like to nominate a few things I hope Prime Minister Gillard will achieve during her time at the helm of the ship of state.
Given her background, I’d expect a focus on workplace relations and social justice issues to be central to her ethos, just as foreign policy and managerialism were hallmarks of Rudd’s. I hope we’ll see a new conversation about asylum seekers and new approaches to meeting our responsibilities ethically and compassionately. The detention centre on Christmas Island must be closed, and the hysteria taken out of the national debate through some real leadership in this area.
Climate change is the other big challenge and I hope the new government will go back to tors and redevelop their emissions trading proposal in a way that makes real reductions in emissions and sets the foundation for a zero-emissions Australia. Meaningful investment in alternative energy is desperately needed and the coal lobby’s influence in this area must be shunned.
On health, I hope the ALP goes to the election with some real game-changing proposals for health reform, beyond the paper-shuffling of the recent reforms. A national dental scheme would be welcome. I’d welcome the junking of the 30% health insurance rebate, but I suspect that’s a bridge too far.
On communications, the proposed national internet filter should be immediately junked, and if possible I would like to see Senator Steven Conroy locked in a small, windowless room where he can do no further damage.
For me personally, I want my relationship to be recognised, properly, formally and at the federal level, through same sex marriage (unlikely) or a national civil partnership law. If nothing else, I want the debate on this issue to move beyond the rote recitation of the “one man, one woman” shibboleth.
And for Julia, I hope she can provide the leadership, and the resistance to factional influence, that the ALP and the country needs. Watching Kevin Rudd’s presser last night in my hotel here in Aleppo, I noticed he referred to unnamed forces influencing policy on climate change and refugees – which I took to mean that he had been frustrated in these areas by factional forces. The ALP needs a strong leader who can keep the factions in check, and keep the party to its promises. Whether Gillard is that person, I guess we’ll know in due course.
Finally, to Kevin. I will confess to a mote of sadness in the way that Rudd was deposed. Like a lot of Australians I had tremendous hopes for him in 2007 and it has been heartbreaking to see those hopes dashed. Rudd brought tremendous energy to the role of Prime Minister and carved out the beginnings of an enhanced foreign policy agenda for Australia – I hear he has said he will recontest his seat at the election and will serve on the front bench if asked. I hope Julia makes him foreign minister. It’s a job he could excel at.