Thursday, June 24, 2010

Australia’s great leap forward:Julia Gillard

Today, Australia will get its first female Prime Minister, when the government caucus votes Julia Gillard to replace Kevin Rudd as its leader.

That’s by no means a global precedent. Nor is it a precedent that she’ll be sworn in by a female Governor General (Australia’s first).

But it is a milestone. One that is necessary to a sophisticated society, and one that is overdue, in world terms. Although history suggests it can make little practical difference, nevertheless it remains a meaningful symbolism.

The nature of the leadership change demonstrates one very real point of difference between a parliamentary and a (typical) presidential system. In other respects, Australia’s political processes have come to represent a de facto presidency inasmuch as a large proportion of attention is focused on the leader, at least informally.

In that sense, Australia was moving towards an election with both leadership options – Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott – facing significant public disapproval. Rudd in particular seems to have lost much of his expected support base due to delaying the implementation of an emission trading scheme, despite his own characterisation of climate change as the “most significant moral issue of our time”. In likelihood, part of the erosion of support would have been due to the intrinsic outcome, and part would have rested with the obvious gap between his words and his actions.

Broadcasts of parliamentary proceedings clearly demonstrate Gillard’s ability in that setting. How she will manage the transition to full-fledged leadership – and how the votiung public will react on a gut level – is something that has historically proven very hard to predict. Although Gillard had been a core part of the Rudd administration’s decisionmaking processes, leadership is another matter.


bazza said...

You read it here first folks!
I dropped in on your site yesterday but didn't have time to comment and today it's all over the BBC - just after the football headlines.
I had not heard of Julia Gillard before then. Interesting times ahead; maybe they'll bring in another 'end the monarchy' referendum! You're lucky Stephen we don't get the chance to vote the Quenn out.

S Simmonds said...

I'd note that Australia's previous referendum on becoming a republic was deliberately hamstrung.

A majority of Australians has favoured a republic for some years now. However, the government of the day, by putting up a specific republican model as a "take it or leave it option", effectively split pro-republican sentiment.

That particular model was the minimalist version, effectively replacing the governor general with a president. A not-entirely-rational public scare campaign put a stop to that. However, it is inevitable that Australia will become a republic in the not-too-distant future.

I do notice that the British system is becoming more democratic as the old traditions are being whittled away - the nature of the House of Lords in particular.