The mystery confronting visitors to Australia during the last three years was the fact that our economy and living conditions are amongst the best in the world and yet we loathed our government more than the populations of some military dictatorships.
Widespread dissatisfaction with the government can be traced approximately to the date on which Julia Gillard was installed as Prime Minister by her own party in 2010. This was an unusual act, but one which subsequent events have revealed could have been carried off successfully if:
a) it was attempted in another country; or
b) the PM so installed was not female.
Observing the vitriol directed towards the usurper of Kevin Rudd's position over the last three years has been an eye-opening lesson on the deep, ugly insecurities plaguing the psyche of the Australian men dominating public affairs.
Gillard's fate was sealed not by her acts as Prime Minister, but the means by which she claimed the job. The public opprobrium leveled against her when it emerged that she may have pre-planned her tilt at Rudd's leadership was indication that an abysmal double standard existed. In contrast, Paul Keating openly lusted after Hawke's prime ministership for months, but that was seen as a sign of healthy ambition, not disloyal un-trustworthiness. The treatment afforded to Gillard subsequently has confirmed that she was loathsome to a large number of Australian men (and women) by virtue of the fact that she was prepared to claim her power from a man.
Subsequently we observed the hatred directed towards the former PM by people she so aptly described as wing nuts: 'Bob Brown's bitch' was a memorable tag. The office of the Prime Minister was never so disrespected, a fact she took with good grace. There was the occasion she was called 'Ju-Liar' -to her face-by one of the country's most popular radio announcers. This month, another interviewer questioned the sexuality of her partner-it is easy to draw a link between this and the aggressive heterosexism prevalent in our society, accompanied by attendant misogyny and homophobia. The fact that Gillard was unmarried no doubt confirmed to many that as she hadn't committed herself to a man then she represented a breed of uncontrollable women- those we were told were 'destroying the joint'.
Notwithstanding the simian element of Australian society-now shown depressingly for what it is- there were other factors dragging Gillard like a concrete-booted corpse towards the electoral abyss. Our first female PM had the misfortune to walk into a 'perfect storm'. The superficiality and vapidity of politics in Australia plumbed new lows during her time in the top job. This decline has been fueled by the ubiquity of social media, a burgeoning culture of 'values-free' narcissism, and confusion among an indolent media (providing 'content' 24 hours a day) between entertainment and information. Added to the public's lust for scandal and instant gratification were the endeavors of a man whose lust for power borders on pathological-Kevin Rudd. Rudd and his minders played the media and the public to a tee through three (then two) 'challenges' over three enervating years, as described in dispiriting detail by Erik Jensen in The Monthly of May 2013.
The incessant media 'noise' about Gillard's right to govern and her alleged past misdemeanors quickly achieved their desired effect, overshadowing the government's efforts to capitalise on its own achievements and eventually becoming associated with the Prime Minister herself. A large number of the Australians who sought her removal had bought the spin that identified Gillard with the relentless negativity emanating from Tony Abbott, the Murdoch and Fairfax press, and the Rudd supporters in her own minority government.
History will remember Gillard as a trailblazer who performed admirably in a perfect storm; in light of what is to come, a sadly wasted talent. She was perhaps not our greatest leader, though she was far from amongst the worst.
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