Is the Political Climate really changing?

Originally published on www.thepunch.com.au

On Thursday Kevin Rudd stepped down from office and Julia Gillard took his place as Prime Minister of Australia. Between 9pm on Wednesday and midday Thursday, Australia’s leadership underwent a historic reform.

Rudd resigned in an unprecedented move during his first term, and the first female Prime Minister stepped into his place and delivered a speech full of resolve to get the Labor Party “back on track”

The hype surrounding this leadership change is somewhat akin to the fanfare excitement that heralded Rudd’s appointment to office in 2007.

Women (and anyone remotely progressive) are excited that a woman is filling the top political position. Liberals (with a little l) are excited by the possibility that Abbott has a new and stronger contender. The greenies are hopeful that Gillard will bring with her a renewed commitment to combating climate change…

But are the political tides really turning, or is this just more hot air being churned up by the Labor turbine?

Rudd’s farewell speech was moving.

He cried about unfulfilled commitments, and he probably cried with disappointment and embarrassment. He apologised for blubbering, which was one of the few things for which he had no need to apologise.

It was a refreshing change to see a glimpse of the integrity and emotion that Kevin07 symbolised, rather than the bureaucratic diplomat we are normally presented with. It is a great shame that this side of Rudd only came to light again as he fell into political shadow.

Julia Gillard responded to the tears with suitable composure. She spoke in the same decisive tone that Kevin07 once did when she declared her “commitments to the Australian people” as new Prime Minister of Australia. She too laced each commitment with conditions and limitations– clearly she’s learnt a trick or two as Rudd’s deputy.

Gillard spoke about “harness[ing] the wind and the sun and the new emerging technologies” but, like Rudd, she cautiously qualified this promise with the excuse that she would not put a price on carbon until a community consensus had been reached. She went on to say that “it is most disappointing to me, as it is to millions of Australians, that we do not have a price on carbon.”

It will be most disappointing to us if Gillard’s appointment as Prime Minister turns out to be yet another political ploy to provide the smoke and mirrors that cover up our politicians tip-toeing around the hard issues.

Gillard has thrown open the doors of Parliament House to the mining companies for negotiation, in a grand symbolic gesture of diplomacy and compromise. Negotiation and open discussion are admirable processes but only if they are accompanied with a concrete understanding of what needs to be done at the end of the day.

Gillard has promised to “lead a strong and responsible government that will take control of our future”. This means making hard decisions. It means not applying feng shui to the political agenda and clouding discussion with bureaucratic speak as Rudd so aptly did. Instead, it means thinking beyond getting Labor re-elected; and accepting responsibility for the present and future consequences of our actions.

Thursday was a historic day. But a change in political leadership means nothing if it is not accompanied with real, sustainable change in policy.

Rudd’s demise came about for a wide range of reasons, but his popularity certainly nose-dived when he backed down on climate change and left Australians worried about their future.

As Rudd buried his face in the sand (submerged beneath rapidly rising sea-levels), Gillard rode his wave of unpopularity into office.

His lack of leadership and long-term reform lead to his (now historic) face plant. Time will only tell if Gillard will sink or swim.

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