I’ve been planning for a while to write a post arguing that the one thing Julia Gillard can do to (at least, potentially) salvage her place in the history books is to secure passage of the carbon price package (and preferably the other outstanding items left over from the Rudd era, such as the mining tax legislation and health reform), then step aside, and let the Labor party choose a new leader. I was going to wait until the package was passed, but for various reasons, I’ve decided it’s time to speak up on this.
I’ve been very critical of Gillard, but I’m probably less hostile to her at this point than the majority of Australians. On the other hand, her success in holding a fragile government together, and in securing agreement on some complex pieces of policy, suggest she is much more appealing in person than her public persona would imply. My limited contacts with people who’ve worked directly with her support this view, as does the clear belief of her supporters that, if only we could see the “real Julia” we would all like her.
Unfortunately, that’s no longer a relevant possibility. After more than a year in office, there seems very little likelihood that the negative view of Gillard, based on her public record, is going to change, no matter how many rebranding exercises she undertakes. Her last chance, a big bounce when the release of the carbon price package showed the spurious nature of Abbott’s scare campaign hasn’t come off. Moreover, despite her contribution to getting the package together, she can never get past her promise that there would be no carbon price under her government. Only with a change of leader can Labor sell the carbon price.
As regards the choice of alternative, my natural inclination is for Rudd, but it seems clear that his colleagues won’t go that way, and he is doing a good job as Foreign Minister. Wayne Swan has been a good Treasurer, but he is too closely tied to the coup against Rudd and the dumping of the CPRS. Greg Combet would be my preferred choice, but Stephen Smith would also be good.
Given a change of leader, and if they aren’t forced to an election early, I think Labor still has a good chance. Abbott is incredibly unpopular, considering the circumstances, and the hostility towards Labor is very much focused on Gillard personally. If the government can survive long enough to see the carbon price in place, Abbott’s scare campaigns will collapse completely.