Divided they stand

Australia is best served by Julia Gillard remaining as Prime Minister.

Australia is best served by Julia Gillard remaining as Prime Minister.

OVER nearly three decades in public life, I've come to know many of our nation's leaders at both state and federal level. Some I know very well - and others not as well. All have their own strengths and weaknesses. None would claim to be without fault.

See www.theage.com.au for live coverage of the Labor leadership spill from 10am tomorrow.

I first worked with Bob Hawke nearly 30 years ago. He was larger than life, full of energy. He loved the Labor Party and its people, and he understood and respected its history and traditions. He was also a great reformer - he delegated, trusted his ministers, took people into his confidence and ran a true cabinet system of government.

If Bob had a problem with something you did or something you said, he'd call you in and talk it through. It didn't matter how busy he was - he'd listen and understand your point of view and work to get a solution.

He did that with me - a humble backbencher representing Bendigo - on many occasions on issues such as the assets test, the rural crisis and communications reform as he worked with the caucus, the community and the cabinet to implement enduring reform.

The big reforms in those early years - the assets test, means testing of family benefits, freer trade, floating the dollar, the capital gains tax, dividend franking - were all big, challenging and difficult reforms.

They wouldn't have happened without strong and inclusive leadership, and they wouldn't have happened without a genuine partnership between the prime minister, treasurer, cabinet, caucus and party.

So, how is all this relevant now? The federal parliamentary Labor Party has a very important decision to make tomorrow. It's not a decision about who sits at the top of a list of 103 names. It's a decision about who runs this country and who has the right skills, personal characteristics and attitude.

I first worked with Julia Gillard about 15 years ago when, as leader of the state opposition, I appointed her my chief of staff. I didn't know her well before that, but I'd seen her speak at party and public events, where her formidable intellect, public speaking ability and grace under pressure stood out above the pack.

From her work for me, I learnt many other things about Julia. Her quick mind and prodigious work output impressed me and the shadow cabinet. Her great sense of humour and respect for others made her a pleasure to work with. She led and inspired her team. She wasn't interested in the short-term fix - her focus was always on the medium and longer term.

Above all, she had a wonderful way with people. Unassuming, always respectful, always genuine. In meetings with different groups, she would always find a way forward - even when most would say it couldn't be done.

In government, before she was prime minister, Julia succeeded in pursuing reforms of the education system, including giving parents the information they need to make informed decisions about their children's future; giving principals around the country the autonomy they had already in Victoria; and providing a huge increase in university places for low-income Australians.

As Prime Minister, she has delivered some of the most significant reforms this country has had in decades, notwithstanding the fierce opposition she has encountered, and that the government does not have its own majority in the Parliament.

She has put a price on carbon; given Australians a share of the country's mineral wealth; made the private health insurance arrangement fairer; and, working with the states and territories, secured major changes to the nation's fragmented health and hospital systems.

For all the criticism and hysteria whipped up by Tony Abbott about the federal Labor government, the fact remains that Australia today stands out as a beacon to the rest of the world - with low unemployment, a strong economy, a triple-A budget, real plans to tackle climate change, and education and health systems that are among the best in the world.

Running the country is a hard and selfless exercise, which requires important personal qualities: determination, decisiveness, self-belief, loyalty, decency and a sense of purpose. It requires strong leadership - and with it an ability and willingness to work with cabinet, with caucus, with the Parliament and with the broader community to achieve lasting change.

Julia Gillard has these qualities in spades. She is a team player whose single motivation is a better and stronger Australia. Her record of achievement is testament to this.

Australia is best served by Julia Gillard remaining as Prime Minister, continuing to lead her government and the nation.

John Brumby was premier of Victoria from 2007 to 2010.

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