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Gillard's grace under pressure may not be enough

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Inside Julia Gillard's character

How well does the PM hold up under intense pressure? Solicitor Peter Gordon offers his insight into the Julia he knew when they worked together as lawyers.

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Somebody who knows Julia Gillard well and works closely with her once remarked that her greatest attribute was her outward calm.

"You wouldn't know whether she had just declared war or won the lottery," he said.

Julia Gillard ... shows no sign of conceding. She mocked the deadlines which keep being set for her leadership.

Julia Gillard ... shows no sign of conceding. She mocked the deadlines which keep being set for her leadership. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Two weeks ago, while Gillard was in Singapore and Turkey and while the Peter Slipper affair was raging at home and the pressure on the government and Gillard's leadership was building, she kept her calm demeanour at all times. Not once did she show signs of the enormous strain, be it publicly or internally with staff.

On her return home, a few cracks began to show. During the press conference in which she announced the sidelining of Slipper and Craig Thomson, she at times became snippy and aimed a few gibes at journalists.

But, overall, Gillard's signature strength throughout her time at the helm has been just that - strength.

Jibes at journalists ... Julia Gillard announces Craig Thomson's departure from the Labor Party on April 29

Jibes at journalists ... Julia Gillard announces Craig Thomson's departure from the Labor Party on April 29 Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Kevin Rudd, the man she replaced, could not cope with unpopularity. It ruined him. When Rudd knocked off Kim Beazley for the leadership in December 2006, he was an immediate hit in the polls. He outranked John Howard all the way until the November 2007 election at which he became prime minister.

After that, his poll ratings - both personally and those of the government - stayed in the stratosphere. They were at levels that were always going to be unsustainable and caused concern about what would happen when they inevitably fell.

When Tony Abbott replaced Malcolm Turnbull as Coalition leader in December 2009, and soon after Rudd's climate change dream became a nightmare with the collapse of the Copenhagen conference, reality kicked in. Rudd, according to those close to him, could not cope.

Breaking point ... Kevin Rudd sheds a tear during a press conference after he was deposed by Julia Gillard in June 2010.

Breaking point ... Kevin Rudd sheds a tear during a press conference after he was deposed by Julia Gillard in June 2010. Photo: Glen McCurtayne

As the polls began to tighten and the hard work of government became apparent, Rudd became increasingly erratic and unable to make decisions.

At first, people made excuses for him. "Kevin's just learning to be unpopular," said one of his ministers at the time. But when the government ditched the emissions trading scheme in April 2010 and the polls went into freefall, faith in Rudd evaporated.

According to one of the key players in Rudd's June 2010 removal, it wasn't the fact Labor had plummeted in the polls that was the problem, it was the stark realisation among colleagues that Rudd had no ability to get the government out of the slump. "He wouldn't listen to anybody, he wouldn't make a decision."

Whether it was the right or wrong thing to do, Gillard replaced Rudd.

When Rudd was running for the leadership two months ago, one ardent Gillard supporter said people should consider just how Rudd would have fared under the constant pressure Gillard had faced since she took the leadership.

This has included an election campaign destroyed by leaking, negotiating a minority government with a grab bag of Greens and independents and negotiating and implementing a carbon price, and all in the face of diabolical opinion polls, leadership speculation, a hostile media and constant haranguing by a tenacious Abbott.

"She has been swimming upstream in a river of shit for 18 months with her mouth open, and she's still smiling," the supporter said. "Rudd would have drowned long ago."

Gillard's strength and toughness have got her this far and those who once thought she would be the kind to tap the mat should she realise she could not lead Labor to victory, are rethinking.

Gillard shows no sign of conceding. On Thursday, she mocked the timelines that keep being set for her leadership.

Since the middle of last year, people out to depose the Prime Minister have set various deadlines, ranging from the visit of US President Barack Obama, the ALP National Conference in December and Christmas, to the Queensland election in March.

Now, anxious MPs are suggesting a move by the end of June should the budget fall flat.

"Clearly, over the past few days there are stories about deadlines and all of that kind of thing," Gillard said. "If I was someone given to keeping newspaper clippings, I'd have filing cabinets overstuffed and toppling over with stories written about deadlines.

"So you'll have to excuse me if that's not my focus. My focus is getting on with the job in the nation's interests."

If her colleagues want to change leaders, they will have to blast her out.

Gillard can be as calm and resolute as she likes. If the grudging respect this generates does not translate into a lift in the polls, her MPs do not plan to go to an election on a primary vote at or about 30 per cent.

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191 comments

  • Hmm, judging from the tweets of Fairfax journos recently, they are absolutely terrified of Labor losing power. Just be honest, when the latest newspoll came out, and Tony Abbott extended his lead as preferred PM, and Labor had a primary vote of 27%, how many Fairfax journos were openly weeping?

    Commenter
    Phoebe
    Date and time
    May 07, 2012, 12:29PM
    • Absolutely terrified? Do you read the Fairfax opinion pieces? Grattan, Hartcher, Sheehan, Henderson et al haven't stopped campaigning against Gillard since the get go. Even those with rather less bias - Coorey, Taylor etc. have been relentlessly focused on gossip rather than substance. Where do you see the terror in the article above for instance?

      Commenter
      jofek
      Date and time
      May 07, 2012, 12:45PM
    • Well, unless they stop speculating about our PM's future and who may replace her the Fairfax journos will be uttering a self fulfilling prophecy. If they want to "save the Labor government" they need to stop the chatter and report the unedited and truthful news. That is what journos are paid to do. Let the pollies spread rumors and speculate about future events in self serving fashion, that is what we expect them to do.

      Commenter
      Billnix
      Location
      Western Sydney
      Date and time
      May 07, 2012, 12:59PM
    • Julia Gillard is just like everyone else - with an extra bit of Anglican stubborness. She looks absolutely woeful at the moment - because she knows the tide is turning. Don't listen to her droningly calm voice - look at her, really look at her. One picture is worth a thousand words.

      Commenter
      EBAB
      Location
      St Lucia
      Date and time
      May 07, 2012, 1:55PM
    • Agree, jofek. I've stopped reading most of what's written about the PM in Fairfax media, it is so patently biased I'm surprised it's still considered news. And it's really boring. The PM is doing a fabulous job IMHO - getting through some tough, forward-thinking policy in a really hostile environment. Exactly what government should be doing.

      Commenter
      ninepieces
      Date and time
      May 07, 2012, 1:56PM
    • jofek this jihad by the media against Labor argument is simply nuts. It defies all commonsense, if you have a situation where the governing political party has constant leadership tensions, relies of couple of malefactors like Thomson and Slipper to hang to power and constantly has to do deals with the Greens etc. It is natural that the press has it's focus on immediate events that threaten the survival of the government and its PM rather than examing the minute of policy.

      Commenter
      SteveH.
      Date and time
      May 07, 2012, 2:07PM
    • ninepieces - LocationDate and timeMay 07, 2012, 1:56PM
      Just what tough, forward thinking policy are you referring to? I think I'd like some of whatever your smoking.

      Commenter
      Right Said Fred
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 07, 2012, 2:13PM
    • SteveH, if you can't see outrageous bias in our media (particularly Murdoch media) then I'm not about to convince you. Having said that, I was responding to Phoebe's comments regarding Fairfax bias towards Labor. If you think calls of bias against Murdoch media are nuts surely you surely must call double-nuts on claims of bias towards Labor?

      Commenter
      jofek
      Date and time
      May 07, 2012, 2:30PM
    • Well said Phoebe succinct and too the point, Fairfax should be ashamed, the quality of reporting is tracking their share price.

      Commenter
      happy dayz
      Date and time
      May 07, 2012, 2:37PM
    • jofek 12.45pm: you constantly talk about media bias against Gillard, but cast your mind back to the Rudd Prime Ministership - who was leaking bad stuff to the media and the American Embassy to help assassinate him? None other than Gillard's backers. Who went on the ABC and tore Rudd to shreds the night before the coup? Howes, that's who. Keep your perspective...the media (in general) give Labor a bad time - but Rudd has copped a battering. And who used the media to stab him again in January? The Melbourne-based ALP!

      Commenter
      EBAB
      Location
      St Lucia
      Date and time
      May 07, 2012, 2:38PM

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