It’s been a big day for Julia Gillard. Up late last night with Kevin Rudd and John Faulkner, the ALP’s elder spokesman, doing one of the hardest things in politics which is to front up and tell someone that you have worked with closely that it is time for them to go. Rudd’s subsequent late-night stand-up showed a natural anger, the first stage of the grief process.
Today’s caucus endorsement of Gillard and Swan without a challenge was the first sign of his acceptance. After that a very different and understandably emotional stand-up by Rudd, where as sometimes happens with substantial people the personal wellsprings of his commitment were revealed for all to see. This was followed by a bravura press conference by Gillard, with an equally impressive showing from her at Question Time in Parliament. ALP caucus members will be feeling that, however hard it was, the right decision has been made.
I met Julia Gillard once, at dinner with the Australian ambassador five years ago. She is not flamboyant, but she evoked the old saying about still waters that run deep. It was clear that she was leadership material. Today she showed that to be true. It will be an interesting style of leadership, one that is quite new for the ALP. The first move today, to extend an olive branch to the mining industry, with a call to open their minds as she has opened her door, is only the start.
The ALP is a hard school; behaviour can be abrasive, putting it mildly. The Liberals are no different, particularly Tony Abbott, the current leader. Gillard has risen to the top in that school, and I am sure she can be as direct as anybody. She also has a fine sense of humour and a devastating line of parliamentary put-downs.
But her leadership style will be different. She is a superb communicator, she is self-aware, she is patient, and she does look for lasting solutions.
Gillard made the decision to move because as she said Labor’s is a good government that has lost its way. Rudd deserves much of the credit for the fact that it is a good government; the tragedy for him was that his full-on management style was part of the reason for why it had lost its way. Good on him though for coming to Question Time in Parlliament; courage wasn’t his problem.
The other reason for Gillard’s decision is that she is determined to get Labor back on the right path and win the next election, which she will call before the end of the year. There is a lot of steel in that lady; I think she will do just that.