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Leading article Australia

An ugly strategy

20 October 2012

9:00 AM

20 October 2012

9:00 AM

‘Nobody will ever win the battle of the sexes. There’s too much fraternising with the enemy,’ said Henry Kissinger. It’s a great line, but also sound political advice. Which is why it makes it even more pathetic that crying ‘sexism’ is the political strategy to which Julia Gillard, Nicola Roxon and Tanya Plibersek have resorted.

While some women may have punched the air listening to Julia Gillard’s contrived outburst, as Mia Freedman, Anne Summers and others contend, the reality is that all the Prime Minister will have achieved is to alienate a large chunk of blue-collar males as well as embarrassing the army of proud, professional women who have succeeded in tough careers without resorting to such demeaning tactics.

Yet again, Ms Gillard’s communications director, the Scottish import John McTernan — or whoever it was who foolishly decided to try the ‘misogynist’ angle — has misunderstood the Australian psyche. This is not surprising. The McTernan strategy for ‘selling’ this government has been a) demonise Tony Abbott and b) demonise him again. Accusing Abbott of being ‘cowardly’ in Indonesia, for adhering to normal diplomatic protocol, is the latest effort. And like the other attempts, the ‘coward’ tag is bound to fall on deaf ears beyond ‘the beltway’.

Earlier this year, a junior member of Mr McTernan’s team, Tony Hodges, resigned over his putrid Australia Day idea of inciting aboriginal activists to attack Mr Abbott. Robert McClelland, Ms Gillard’s recently deposed Attorney-General (demoted for supporting Kevin Rudd), believes the ugly stunt must have been approved higher up the communications chain. ‘I personally don’t think a relatively junior member of a media staff would have phoned up … without higher authority,’ he told the Police Association of South Australia annual conference this week. ‘I’m not saying it went to the highest level, but I think from higher in the office.’

Intriguingly, this coincides with Mr McClelland’s criticism of Labor’s political strategy of character assassination. ‘I have found the personal vilification that has come into parliamentary debate and public debate to be more than unseemly,’ he said at the national conference of the Australian Christian Lobby the week before. ‘I might say to some of those [political] advisers who draft what they regard as very clever lines that it is entirely counterproductive and politically naive.’

Whether labelling such tactics as ‘un-Australian’ is Mr McClelland’s subtle way of pointing the finger at Mr McTernan — who has praised the role of ‘headkickers’ and ‘intellectual thugs’ in politics — is open to speculation. Mr McTernan apparently views the time Ms Gillard called Mr Abbott ‘a snivelling grub’ as a ‘towering performance’, and champions a communications strategy where ‘fear beats hope’. It says all you need to know about Ms Gillard’s famed lack of judgment that she is prepared to put her faith in such a strategist — and such ugly strategies.

Scaling Everest

It’s reassuring to see that Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten, and indeed the Gillard government, have their sights firmly fixed on increasing productivity. Obviously, with at least $147 billion to be repaid at some stage in the future, our esteemed leaders have cottoned on to the fact that a more productive workforce might help the government scale this Everest-sized mountain of debt. The solution is a nifty one. Rather than simply appoint another ‘expert panel’ of Labor sympathisers, university professors or union hacks at, say, five grand a day each, for a couple of months, as is this government’s wont, Mr Shorten has come up with a far more ambitious idea.

At a cost of some $12 million, Bill and his cohorts are setting up something called
a ‘centre for workplace leadership’. On board this particular bandwagon will be more union hacks and several opportunistic ‘businesspeople’. Somehow they will come up with a grab-bag of powerful principles and guidelines to increase national output that — astonishingly — private enterprise has failed to spot. We’re guessing it will achieve nothing. Or as close to nothing in terms of genuinely increasing productivity as it is possible to measure before being quietly disbanded sometime following the next election.

Ever the ideas man, Bill didn’t stop there. Importantly, the name of Fair Work Australia is going to be changed to The Fair Work Commission. Between the funky new productivity centre and the fab new name, a whole army of taxpayer-funded logo designers, government stationery printers and bureaucratic door sign-painters should be nice and productive, if nobody else.

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