Gillard's winning Carr reversal

Far from damaging perceptions of Julia Gillard, last week's messy but ultimately successful appointment of Bob Carr could help highlight the prime minister's determination and authority.

Julia Gillard will be glowing quietly this morning as her new ministers are sworn in.

The game has changed. Within just a few days it went from a widespread public prognosis of disaster to triumph.

It all happened because of an excruciating own goal – not from Julia Gillard, but from the doyens of the Canberra press gallery.

The day she announced Bob Carr would be her Foreign Minister, Gillard awoke to Fairfax and News Limited news and commentary on how she had shot her sagging credibility, had been rolled by ministers, had lied, caved in, damaged Australia’s reputation and been snagged by the factions because of her failure to assert the authority of her office and get Carr on board.

It had been a fiasco and a high farce.

The commentary was vicious and almost personal. It was not unusual. The pundits knew what was going on. They knew that Gillard was not capable of leadership. The recriminations would be severe. The Rudd forces were right all along. They would now be re-energised. And so it went, paragraph after paragraph, paper after paper.

They obviously knew something the prime minister didn’t know.

Whoops, suddenly the game changes. At just after midday on Friday afternoon in the bowels of the Parliament House media room, in strode the prime minister to face the salivating scribes – with a grinning Carr at her side.

After the gasps, the gapes and all the murmurs and the reshuffle announcement came the questions. Gillard was rightly questioned about her qualified statements about not having offered the job to Carr. She had been unconvincing. Yes, she had spoken to Carr, but a formal offer was not made.

The Opposition, of course, went to town questioning her leadership, her judgement and her character. They had read the same reports.

Julie Bishop – foreign affairs minister in the Abbott government – called Gillard "silly, slippery, slimy and shifty”. Wonder if it’s still her view? Guess it probably is.

But, after all the microscopic examination of her words, and all the meetings and phone calls, Gillard, when it counted, produced a result. In the circumstances she had no choice.

And just as adroitly the learned commentary changed. History was quickly rewritten, papered-over and justified by the same people who had ridiculed the subject.

Have no doubt, the Carr appointment was a significant victory for Gillard – one that showed the key trait of her prime ministership: determination.

She may not be a marketer. She may not be smart politically. But she gets outcomes.

Carr made an impressive start. He praised Rudd’s foreign policy achievements and set out his broad themes and goals. He’s tailor-made for the job – and showed plainly that Gillard’s judgement was right.

Now, none of this may mean a thing when it comes to voter perceptions of Gillard and her government.

The Rudd-Gillard open war left the Liberal Party with an unprecedented treasure trove of already written ads, a bit like the ads the Democrats will use in the US as Obama seeks a second term.

And it may do nothing to alter the mainstream media narrative that Gillard is not up to the job.

Once the press gallery come to a collective view, it’s hard to shift. But – and this is a big 'but' – the Gillard victory may play out in the wider community in an unexpected way.

She may now been seen as a clever politician who has a measure of steel and resolve. They may see her battling through the media storm that surrounds her.

It points to that proven old maxim in politics: expect the unexpected.

Her reshuffle, caused by Rudd’s return to the backbench, is not the story of the week. The story is how she overcame what were seen by the Canberra pack as more bungles, more missteps and turned it into an 'up yours'.

She has started to act like a prime minister with authority, finally – behind the scenes, and well as in front of them.

Alister Drysdale is a Business Spectator commentator and a former senior advisor to Malcolm Fraser and Jeff Kennett.


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