11 October 2010

Feisty Overseas Advocacy - But Only If I Hafta

In an interesting 7.30 Report interview following her first overseas trip, Julia Gillard said:

KERRY O'BRIEN: This is your first overseas trip as Prime Minister. There must be something of a sharp learning curve in all this for you. All domestic portfolios until now; suddenly you're meeting 11 world leaders in a day. Have you found your comfort zone yet?

JULIA GILLARD: Oh, look, Kerry, I'm obviously working my way through. Kerry, I'm just going to be really upfront about this: foreign policy is not my passion. It's not what I've spent my life doing. You know, I came into politics predominantly to make a difference to opportunity questions, particularly make a difference in education. So, yes, if I had a choice I'd probably more be in a school watching kids learn to read in Australia than here in Brussels at international meetings. That's what took me into politics, that kind of education work. But obviously in this role I will serve as Prime Minister doing the full job, and the full job includes coming to places like Brussels to be a feisty advocate for Australia's national interest. And that's what I will do. It's what I'm doing here.

This is no surprise to us. As we said earlier:

Gillard is very much, as Trevor Cook put it, one of Whitlam’s grandchildren:

Throughout his political career, Whitlam pursued a philosophy of “positive equality”, and he sought to change the national debate and the role of the national parliament.

Positive equality is not about the old battles between capital and labour; it is about removing barriers to self‐improvement and overcoming disadvantage and deprivation through national approaches to policy areas like health, education and transport that emphasise universal access. For Whitlam, positive equality was also about community‐building and social cohesion. In many ways it is a middle‐class and gradualist reform agenda which envisages the use of government to ensure the benefits of economic prosperity are used to create better opportunities for individuals and communities.

The interview followed a mini-spat as to whether Tony Abbott should have accompanied Gillard to a trip to Afghanistan on his way to the British Conservative Party conference.

In the event, he was going to visit on the way back - although his excuse that he didn’t accompany the Prime Minister because he would be ‘jetlagged’ for the Conference looked and sounded dopey.

This, together with Liberal allegations the government displayed ‘low bastardry’ in allegedly leaking the fact he knocked back accompanying the PM was a fascinating scandalette.

Only one thing was missing – a treatment of the appropriate role of Australian forces in Afghanistan as well as the standard of their kit.

Both leaders are clearly at home dealing with domestic issues.

The concern we have is that when you have leaders who think government is a glorified state government – a mere service provider – and who place their policy emphasis in areas like education (important as that is) and deal with other issues such as defence and foreign affairs only when they really, really ‘gotta’ means that these issues don’t get the attention they deserve.

All the benefits of a federal system are lost – and the Australian national interest suffers.