Should Julia Gillard resign or be terminated as Prime Minister? My answer is a clear no!
I am not particularly a Gillard fan and have been quite critical of both her and the directions of her government. However, few prime ministers, if any, have met my standards of how they should act, so I need to judge against others and my criticisms are not to be seen as a desire to see her go.
She has many characteristics I admire: a strong sense of who she is and what she stands for, many negotiator skills, the ability to stay cool and collected under considerable pressure, a good parliamentary performer, and I suspect, a warm personality up close.
It would be a wrong to blame her for the general behaviour and direction of the party she formally leads as she is not solely responsible for the mess Labor is in at present. She wanted the job and helped dispose of her predecessor but that only proves the power of the party itself. She has done a good job in holding together a diverse and quite difficult group of votes in the Senate and House of Representatives and has pursued the business of government with some efficiency, with many bills going through unopposed and many others passed with narrow margins. In that sense, her role, as the head of the executive processes of government, has been impeccable. So why suggest she goes?
Would removing her make a serious difference to the quality of the social policies on offer? I doubt it. These are mainly driven by another female senior cabinet member, Jenny Macklin. Her portfolio changes can be briefly described as indigenous and welfare paternalism and, unfortunately, show considerable bipartisanship with the Coalition's approach. The ALP claims their main interest and difference is their commitment to helping working (modern) families, which doesn't seem to include any concern for those not employed.
I have sounded off publicly about the sexism of the policies of putting sole parents, including those already with paid work, onto an inadequate Newstart payment. It is misogynist because it fails to value the unpaid time-demands that even children over the age of eight put on (sole) parents, mainly mothers. Add in the expensive failure of income management controls, the mess with asylum seekers and other bad social policies and this ALP government sounds hollow when claiming to stand for a fair go.
Replacing Julia Gillard would not deal with any of the above complaints. Fixing the problems of ALP policy making requires more than changed leadership. The control by party machine men and relying on bad research to justify egregious policies that prove the government is tougher than the opposition, would still be there if the PM was removed or left.
And there is the gender issue. She is the first female PM and her being there is symbolic. She may not be a great PM, but very few are and she is certainly good enough. We are still not used to seeing women in positions of power and, therefore, the media, opponents and public still judge women in power differently. Were Gillard to be replaced, her demise would be greeted with considerable joy by the real misogynists. I still get too many calls from journalists asking me whether the failure of one senior woman proves women can't hack it. No one ever blames all men for the failures of those who stuff up. More is the pity.
So my judgment of whether Julia Gillard should stay is not gender based. I can and will be critical of her government and sometimes of her performance on the basis of what she does, not who she is. As there is no evidence that her removal would improve the policy performance of her government, she should stay. If a change meant more voters for the ALP, we'd still be stuck with bad policies and probably a Coalition win. Gillard being there, however, is already putting some feminist issues on the agenda as she and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott fight for women's votes. So that adds some benefit to her staying there.
Eva Cox is Professorial Fellow, Jumbunna, at University of Technology Sydney and convenor of the Women's Equity Think Tank.