Simply trust

Mary Delahunty (Opinion, 11/3) joins a long list of commentators and public figures suggesting that Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s fight for legitimacy is fundamentally down to old-fashioned misogyny. Certainly the persistence of glass ceilings and salary discrepancies alone should warn us against doubting that a low view of women is some part of the equation. Sadly, it must be. However proponents of the Gillard misogyny theory too commonly overlook natural comparisons and at least one major event of still recent memory.

All Australian jurisdictions bar one have now enjoyed the leadership of a woman as head of government. To varying degrees most of those women have endured sexist attitudes in the exercise of their high office. But it’s frankly hard to think of one who has found the battle for the public’s trust quite so exacting or unyielding. At least on our admittedly distant observation, the same seems to have been true in overseas instances. Why then is Ms Gillard’s case different?

The answer may be a quality equally simple and old-fashioned: public trust. Australians will not quickly forget the June 2010 political assassination of Kevin Rudd and the circumstances in which it occurred. We watched the apparent genuine collegiality and even perhaps personal friendship of the then Prime Minister and his deputy. We heard the repeated pledges of confidence and loyalty on camera, some within a few days of the coup. Some of us even remember feature stories of Gillard spending weekends as a personal guest of Rudd and his family. And then we watched the clinical execution. And it was over.

We may not all articulate it the same way. But in the land of mateship and a fair go, there are many many better ways than that to win the trust of a nation.

Fair gone

Julia Gillard, and those chiefly responsible for her elevation to the party leadership, could belatedly recover the respect of many Labor voters with a simple transparent acknowledgement of how Kevin Rudd’s removal may have looked to the watching electorate. We’ve heard the rationale, the justification, the theories about the polls, the leaks and the collapse of the Rudd brand. But we also watched the sudden clinical disintegration of a very public partnership, if not indeed a friendship, a hastily rewritten script, and the tearful public humiliation of a respected, if frail, leader. And in our hearts we said: “Something just isn’t right.” The collective numbness was palpable. And so we were left with questions about loyalty, trust, humanity and the folkloric “fair go”. The answers do not lie in more spin.

That, I suspect, is why many ordinary people voted differently.