Our Loss. Julia Gillard’s ‘wax on, wax off’ approach to Kerry O’Brien’s intelligent questions.

by |July 20, 2010

Last night on the 7.30 Report host, Kerry O’Brien interviewed the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.

Kerry O’Brien was clearly growing frustrated with the PMs adherence to her well rehearsed script – apparently she’s all about Moving Forward.

In one of those rare TV moments Kerry O’Brien took a deep breath and asked:

KERRY O’BRIEN: I know that political parties, modern political parties feel naked without their slogans, but don’t you think Australians deserve better in this campaign than party-generated slogans and clichés like “moving forward” and “hard-working Australians” and whatever else Labor pollsters come up with from the previous night’s polling. Is that what political leadership really should be about?

JULIA GILLARD: I’ve been using those words because they mean something to me and I think they mean something to the nation. I’ve used the term moving forward because I believe it captures a spirit about Australia. I mean, we are a confident, optimistic, forward-looking people at our best, and I think millions of Australians in their own lives have got a story about how they moved forward, how they seized opportunity and I want to be talking to the Australian people in this campaign about how our nation can seize the opportunities of the future.

KERRY O’BRIEN: Are you really talking about that or are you talking about moving forward from Kevin Rudd?

JULIA GILLARD: Well I’m talking about that. I’m talking about that confident, optimistic outlook. I absolutely believe, Kerry, with every fibre of my being, that the best days of this nation are in front of it, not behind it. I think we’re often invited to feel afraid of the future. I don’t think we should feel afraid. I done think there’s any challenge too tough or too big that we can’t overcome it if we work together. That’s why I’m talking about moving forward and I’m talking about policies that will make a difference for our future.

KERRY O’BRIEN: But is it really necessary to be so full of repetition? Paul Keating’s speechwriter Don Watson says the way you’re already endlessly repeating slogans is treating voters like imbeciles, trying to train them like dogs. It happened under Howard, it happened under Rudd. Don’t you want to be a leader that tries to break the mould, that isn’t just seen like every other leader in the relatively recent past as trying to manipulate voters with spin?

JULIA GILLARD: Kerry, I am who I am and I’m gonna talk about the things that I believe I bring to this job and I believe I bring to this job a sense of confidence and optimism about this nation’s future and I’m not gonna be dissuaded from talking about that. I also think …

KERRY O’BRIEN: But it’s not about being dissuaded from talking about real things, but you know exactly what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the cynicism, the disillusionment, the frustration that you must confront often in the electorate, in your own personal electorate, in the wider electorate. I hear it all the time; so do many others. You know exactly what I’m talking about. People are fed up with what they perceive as spin and superficial attempts at manipulation.

JULIA GILLARD: Kerry, I think you’re drawing in some ways a little bit of a false divide here. I believe I can be talking about the opportunities of this nation’s future and talking about real things.

Gillard under scrutiny :   Australian Broadcasting Corporation : Broadcast: 19/07/2010 : Reporter: Kerry O’Brien. To Read Full Transcript Click Here.

I quote this section in full because I think it illustrates many peoples’ frustration with modern politics. We want the truth, we want real people, we want them to think on their feet, we want them to express themselves and their policies with candour. But politicians feel that it is unwise to speak freely. It is safer to keep to a script.

Politicians seemed to have mastered Mr Miyagi’s ‘wax on, wax off‘ self-defence technique from the original Karate Kid movie.

The sad part is that the only candid comments we hear nowadays come from the unwise, those who cannot adhere to a script, those who get flustered, or those with nothing to say – Senator Fielding, for example.

Last night, Kerry O’Brien desperately wanted to interview the Prime Minister, the human being, but found himself, once again, talking to a slogan.

If Julia Gillard had been hooked up to some kind of brain wave monitor we may have been able to detect a flicker of brain activity after the first question quoted above and then another after the final question quoted above when Kerry finished with : People are fed up with what they perceive as spin and superficial attempts at manipulation.

There was the slightest glimpse of the real Julia Gillard in these two moments – an expression in the eyes which lasted a millisecond.

But that was all the life we were allowed to witness.

Kerry O’Brien has good reason to be frustrated. Over the years he has had the job of interviewing hundreds of politicians. How he must dream of interviewing Keating, or Hawke, or tackling Gough Whitlam! In these lean times he may even daydream about Fraser, Peacock or Hewson, or even, I hesitate to add, this is how lean the times are for interviewers, an early Howard.

Anybody who wants to know something of their politicians in this climate must turn to the political biography. Nowhere else can one find an in depth examination of the parts which make the pollie tick.

Anyone who saw the Channel Ten tele-movie HAWKE the other day would have been surprised to see politicians behaving like human beings. To many of the younger viewers it might have all seen a little bit far-fetched. Passion, vitriol, wit, wisdom, sex and charisma? In a politician? Nah!

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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  • toniwhitmont

    July 20, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    How appropriate then that we should have received this response from a customer entering our Popular Penguins competition:

    Hi Booktopia

    The Popular Penguin I am most looking forward to reading is Karl Marx, A Communist Manifesto, as I am feeling deeply despondent about our choices in the upcoming Federal election!
    (Just kidding, I’m really looking forward to reading Dave Eggers’ How we are Hungry because I really enjoy his unusual writing style and love McSweeneys.net, especially their Open Letter To Someone Likely To Respond section:  http://www.mcsweeneys.net/links/openletters/ (scroll down to Previous Letters, they are generally quite hilarious.) )
    I would seriously love to win this prize.
    Kind regards
    Elise Davidson

  • July 21, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    Great post. I’ve been away and didn’t see the interview in question, but you describe it perfectly…. just an exercise in rhetoric and frustration. Arrrgh! Everyone loses. Thanks for the review though- maybe I should just buy Jacqueline Kent’s book instead?

  • July 25, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    Great blog. And that’s the sad thing, because you hit the nail on the head – all the spin, the slogans and the relentless negativity mean that there is no possibility of any of us understanding what politicians are actually going to be like once we elect them.

    I have to admit, I had a little nostalgia for the days of Hawke and Keating – before it became a rule of thumb to pillory any politician who spoke his mind if the sentiment was ‘unpopular’.

    • July 25, 2010 at 2:46 pm

      Thanks, I too miss the good old days of candour and the intelligent discussion of the issues.
      Maybe we should run?

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