Prime ministerial trump card

There’s been a lot written about Julia Gillard’s announcement that the election date would be September 14. Why did she do it, since that meant seven months of campaigning when nothing much was going right for the government?

The answer is simple. She didn’t have a choice. Michelle Grattan, in her last column, before she retired after 40 years of reporting from the press gallery for the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, had chosen it for her in her column in the Sun-Herald.

Michelle was almost the last of the gallery old guard, but not quite. Laurie Oakes is still there, and Paul Kelly, but he writes from Sydney.

When the government changed six years ago, those who run newspapers, television and radio stations, decided as if by agreement, to give the new government of Kevin Rudd a new contingent of bureau chiefs. It was an odd thing to do, and it was a pity.

The newspapers filled up with unquestioning reports of everything the government said, just as if they were true, which doesn’t happen any more, but it did for a long time.

Michelle was held in high regard by members of coalition governments, not because she was sympathetic. She wasn’t. Giving ministers the benefit of the doubt was not in her nature, which was rather painstakingly, conscientiously and persistently to ensure that everything she wrote was unchallengeable.  She wanted to get it right.

So she lasted 40 years, until she herself was ready to call it a day. Her last column was an illustration of that painstaking approach that characterised Michelle’s work.

The last possible date is in November. Julia Gillard gave an undertaking to the independents that shored up her government that she would not call an early election.

So the task became to find a date that did not clash with any of the four grand finals that mark the end of the football season. Huge chunks of the population spend those days at the game or in front of the television.

That left September 7, 14 or 21, Michelle wrote. What is supposed to be the prime ministerial trump card had been played for her. Two days later at the National Press Club, Gillard made her unexpected addition to the address. It would be September 14.

Does it matter? Her defeat and that of the ALP government, is inevitable. The ALP strategy can only be to minimise the losses, which on the most recent poll will be 25 seats.

Might she be persuaded to stand down, so they could draft in Rudd and call an early election before 25 turns into 35? Or just hang on and enjoy office until the date of execution.

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