Julia 'moving forward' Gillard seems to be going backwards | Judith Ireland

The fresh new face of the Australian government has spent her first month copying Kevin Rudd, the man she deposed

Despite the surprise ditching of Kevin Rudd as Australia's 26th prime minister last month, a large proportion of Australians heaved a sigh of relief when he walked the plank. True, he once enjoyed record levels of public support, but people had become heartily fed up by the time he was "assassinated". Despite his tough talk about pulling Australia up by its bootstraps, there was a distinct lack of progress to show for it. Policy around issues such as climate change, asylum seekers and healthcare seemed confused and shambolic. Plus, Rudd proved to be a truly incomprehensible communicator.

So quite apart from the cheers that went up when Australia (belatedly) got its first female PM, there was a real sense of hope at Julia Gillard's self-appointment. Here was a heavy-hitting woman, known for her straight-talking ways and sense of humour. Indeed, with former PM Bob Hawke – Australia's beer-loving reformist – as her political idol, we assumed we'd be in for some conviction and some fun.

But just over a month since Gillard was sworn in, the buzz of the honeymoon has most definitely worn off. Call it Groundhog Day, but in Gillard, it feels like Australia didn't just get another PM, it got another Kevin Rudd. In her first address as Labor party leader – speaking about the importance of "hard work" and setting your alarm clock "early" – Gillard was eerily reminiscent of Rudd's 2007 vow that he would celebrate his election victory with a cup of tea and a biscuit. No partying people, there's work to do!

The straight-talking Gillard has gone with the wind. Since the start of the federal election campaign, she has been driving Australians to distraction with meaningless catchphrases. As former prime ministerial speechwriter Don Watson observed, she used the phrase "moving forward" 24 times in five minutes when calling the election two weeks ago.

Despite the pleas of journalists and online mockery, she has no intention of stopping: "I believe it captures a spirit about Australia. We are a confident, optimistic, forward-looking people". In the much-anticipated (insufferably boring) leaders' debate earlier this week, it took less than 10 seconds before "moving forward" was mentioned.

Even more alarmingly, Gillard is not offering any new solutions to the issues dominating Australia's public agenda. On climate change, Gillard has responded to public frustration at Rudd's inaction by reaffirming that the government will do nothing until 2013. In the meantime, she has countered the stalemate with more talk, announcing a "Citizens Assembly" to thrash out the issues and build "consensus".

The bungling of her government's response to the increased number of asylum seekers has all the hallmarks of Rudd, who was famous for rushing policy decisions and dismissing consultation. After announcing that Australian-bound boats of asylum seekers may be diverted to East Timor for processing, it emerged Gillard had failed to get East Timor completely on board before doing so.

In healthcare, things look no rosier. Earlier this year, Rudd government adviser John Mendoza quit in protest over inaction on mental health. This week, Gillard bumped mental health from the election agenda, announcing it would be a "second-term" priority for her government – prompting outrage from mental heath experts, including 2010 Australian of the Year, Professor Patrick McGorry.

To be fair, Gillard has only been in the top job for a month and is trying to negotiate the perils of an election campaign, complete with damaging cabinet leaks and bizarre jokes about the size of her earlobes. But as the fresh new face of the Australian government, it seems counterintuitive, ridiculous even, that she is trying to win votes by doing her best impression of the man she deposed.


Judith Ireland

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Julia Gillard: Canberra's soap opera | Editorial

Editorial: In the past week, Australia's Labor party has made Britain's New Labour look like a gentlemen's club


27, Feb, 2012 @10:00 PM

Article image
Julia Gillard can turn things around | John McTernan
John McTernan: Kevin Rudd lost his populist touch and started to speak as a technocrat, but Gillard is a robust performer

John McTernan

24, Jun, 2010 @2:00 PM

Article image
Julia Gillard: Labor's love lost | Editorial

Editorial: The real winner of Labor's years of infighting and meltdown in the polls has been opposition leader Tony Abbott


26, Jun, 2013 @10:25 PM

Article image
Julia Gillard becomes Australia's first female prime minister

Sudden change of leadership comes after Kevin Rudd steps down rather than face Labor party ballot

Ellen Connolly in Sydney

24, Jun, 2010 @7:57 AM

Article image
Julia Gillard holds on as prime minister – in pictures

Photographs from a remarkable day in Australian politics when Julia Gillard headed off an attempt to remove her as the leader of her Labor party and the prime ministership

Pictures: Penny Bradfield and agencies. Text: Warren Murray

21, Mar, 2013 @12:14 PM

Article image
Australian prime minister Julia Gillard calls for Labor party leadership ballot

Decision to settle matter 'once and for all' follows the resignation of the country's foreign minister, Kevin Rudd

Alison Rourke in Sydney

22, Feb, 2012 @1:23 PM

Article image
Julia Gillard now leads 'most unpopular Australian government in past 40 years'

A year after prime minister ousted previous Labor leader Kevin Rudd, only one in four Australians say they would vote for her

Alison Rourke in Sydney and agencies

18, Jun, 2011 @11:01 AM

Article image
Julia Gillard: The ten pound Pom who became prime minister of Australia
Family and friends pay tributes to 'little Julia', who takes over after Kevin Rudd steps down as Labor party leader

Steven Morris in Barry and Ellen Connolly in Sydney

24, Jun, 2010 @8:51 PM

Article image
Kevin Rudd challenges Julia Gillard over the Australian premiership – video

Former foreign minister and ex-PM will challenge Julia Gillard for leadership of the Labor party and the position of prime minister

24, Feb, 2012 @10:45 AM

Article image
Australia's gets new PM in British-born Julia Gillard as Rudd steps down

British-born Julia Gillard becomes Australia's first female PM as Rudd blames plotters within the party

Mark Tran

24, Jun, 2010 @12:25 AM