Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Julia Gillard, the New Warlord of Oz

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Julia Gillard, the New Warlord of Oz

Article excerpt

The Order of Mates celebrated beside Sydney Harbour the other day. This is a venerable masonry in Australian political life that unites the Labor Party with the rich elite known as the big end of town. They shake hands, not hug, though the Silver Bodgie now hugs. In his prime, the Silver Bodgie, aka Bob Hawke, or Hawkie, wore suits that shone, wide-bottomed trousers and shirts with the buttons undone. A bodgie was a 1950s Australian Teddy Boy and Hawke's thick grey-black coiffure added inches to his abbreviated stature.

Hawke also talked out of the corner of his mouth in an accent that was said to be "ocker", or working class, although he was of the middle class and Oxford-educated. When he was president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, his popularity rested on his reputation as a hard-drinking larrikin, an Australian sobriquet once prized almost as much as an imperial honour. For Hawke, it was the disguise of one whose heart belonged to the big end of town, who cooled the struggles of working Australians during the rise to power of the new property sharks, mineral barons and tax avoiders.

Indeed, as Labor prime minister in the 1980s, Hawke and his treasurer Paul Keating eliminated the most equitable spread of personal income on earth: a model for the Blairites. And the Great Mate across the Pacific loved Hawkie. Victor Marchetti, the CIA strategist who helped draft the treaty that gave America control over its most important spy base in the southern hemisphere, told me: "When Hawke came along ... he immediately sent signals that he knew how the game was played and who was buttering his bread. He became very cooperative, and even obsequious."

After the coup, capitulation

The party overlooking Sydney Harbour on 12 July was to launch a book by Hawke's wife, Blanche d'Alpuget, whose effusions about the Silver Bodgie include his single-handed rescue of Nelson Mandela from apartheid's clutches. A highlight of the occasion was the arrival of the new prime minister, Julia Gillard, who proclaimed Hawke her "role model" and the "gold standard" for running Australia.

This may help explain the extraordinary and brutal rise of Gillard. In 48 hours in June, she and Mates in the party's caucus got rid of the elected prime minister, Kevin Rudd. Her weapons were Rudd's slide in the opinion polls and the power and prize of Australia's vast trove of minerals. To pay off the national debt, Rudd had decreed a modest special tax on the profits of giants such as BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto. The response was a vicious advertising campaign against the government and a threat to shut down mines.

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Within days of her coup, Gillard, who was Rudd's deputy, had reduced the new tax and the companies' campaign was called off. It was a repeat of Hawke's capitulation to the mining companies in the 1980s when they threatened to bring down a state Labor government in Western Australia. …

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