In my lifetime, there have been a few outstanding political speeches: Paul Keating at Redfern; John Howard’s speech after the Bali Bombings; Gough Whitlam’s “It’s Time” policy speech; and Barack Obama speech to the 2004 democratic convention. All these speeches in profound ways changed the course of history,and are testaments to the power of words and the how great ideas, properly communicated, change people.
Julia Gillard’s recent speech in the Australian parliament was such an occasion. It is worth watching it again in-full to appreciate its impact, power and skill. Not only did it get her back into the political game, it demonstrated to many people, both supporters and non-supporters, or simply those who have been indifferent who are probably the majority, that here we have a woman of substance as prime minister; a woman of strong beliefs who is prepared to advocate them forcefully and very effectively. (By the way, for those who think Gillard has no sense of humour, check out this vignette from David Cameron, the British Prime Minister).
Before this, it was as though she had been on a leash, which led many to think the she was diffident and incapable of making sound decisions, and especially was unable to communicate her program effectively. Such was the power of the speech that I predict it will change the political landscape. How? First, it will greatly impress those ex labor voters who have defected to the Greens over the course of her term in office, both male and female. Secondly, those inner city left leaning voters, especially women, will now be more inclined to join the Gillard camp and advocate more forcibly for the Labor program. Thirdly, the inner city female voters inclined to vote conservative but liberal on social policy (the so-called “doctors’ wives”), will not only be hugely impressed but many I think will see in their prime minister reasons to now support her rather than voting conservative while holding their noses with having to put up with the aggression and misogynist behaviour of Tony Abbott. Fourthly, the unaligned general public, men and women, could not fail to be impressed by the competence, guts, intellect and tenacity of the PM in full flight. It has not been seen before since she came to office, and if continued will rapidly change the negative perception of her and her government.
An interesting sidelight of this is the press and public reaction to the speech. In Canberra, amongst the Press gallery, mostly made up of men aged 40+, the analysis was on the rights and wrongs of the Government seeking to defend Peter Slipper and to allow him to keep his job. They all totally missed the POLITICAL implications of what they were seeing i.e. for the first time as PM, Gillard was on the front foot and displaying the skills and aggression which put her in the job in the first place. Slipper was irrelevant to this larger narrative. Thousands of people around the country who had supported Gillard when she came to office, and had become disillusioned with her and her government’s political competence, were turned around by this brilliant 15 minute speech. This was all about the PM not only gaining back the confidence of her party and her rusted on supporters, but also the wider public. Many people from all walks of life now saw a formidable and capable figure, whereas before they tended to support the Abbott narrative of an incompetent and bungling government. I suggest that has now changed, as will the polls when they come out next week.
The result of all this will be by Christmas Labor will head the Coalition in two party preferred vote, which will result in chaos in the conservative parties as recriminations fly as to how Abbott managed to potentially turn victory into defeat. By March, Malcolm Turnbull will be Leader of the Opposition and will sweep into power at the election at the end of 2013 with more than 60% of the vote, giving him such power that he will be able to lead not only a socially progressive government, but one which will be committed to making the hard economic decisions and undertakibng a new round of badly needed economic reforms. In the meantime though, we can anticipate with Abbott gone, political discourse will return to a more civilised and constructive form, with more emphasis on policy difference, and less on personal abuse.
It will not be before time.