Political Rock Bottom

Public trust is a fragile gift. Often slow in being established, it can disappear in the blink of an eye…or be betrayed by a single defining moment. While most Australians like to give others the benefit of the doubt, they are not fools and recognise when someone can be trusted and when they cannot.

Julia Gillard is now firmly established in the latter category. If not already labouring under the yoke of her ‘no carbon tax’ pledge, this week’s Four Corners interview where she was evasive and curt in refusing to answer questions directly sealed the deal.

How did we get to the point where a Prime Minister is so discredited by her own words and actions?

I think it starts with betraying your true self. Most people can suppress their own instincts and personality for a brief period. They can pretend to be something they’re not in an attempt to appeal to a different group of people.

This is the much talked about ‘tell people what they want to hear’ syndrome that the public is so cynical of. Some of the real chameleons can even sound like they genuinely mean every contradictory remark.

However, in the age of citizen journalists, 24-hour news and mobile phone recording, it is only a matter of time before the hypocrisy and deceit is exposed.

The political spin doctors even try to use the public cynicism of politicians’ credibility to create an advantage. Labor did so during the last campaign with the unveiling of the ‘real Julia’. Of course, this manufactured new version of Julia Gillard was even more contrived than the previous version but the stunt bought them a few hours domination of the all-important media cycle.

Most of the public understand there is a certain theatre to political announcements but they will not stand for being treated like fools by their political representatives. But that is exactly how many voters are feeling the Labor Government considers them.

With ever more brazen attempts to deceive, mislead and dispute, it is not only our Prime Minister who is broadly discredited in the public eye. The entire federal Labor Party is now considered to have the ‘NSW Labor disease’ of seeking power only for power’s sake.

Which takes me back to the importance of being yourself in public life. It is foolish to suggest that every politician enters politics with the same ambition, ideas, capacity or motivation. Yet there seems to be an incessant demand for everyone of a particular political stripe to reflect a single viewpoint, with any departure from the script viewed as dissent.

This is where Julia Gillard has got herself into so much trouble. She doesn’t know who she really is any more. Is she still the Fabian Society activist, the union lawyer, a loyal member of the left faction or a right faction puppet? Well, she’s all of them and none of them.

The denial of her true self in pursuit of her blind ambition has given us a Prime Minister that no one can trust. Her potential successor is not much better. In the words of one Labor pundit: ‘no-one in the Labor Party trusts Kevin Rudd but we can’t trust Julia not to stuff everything up’.

It all starts with having a few guiding principles and being true to yourself.

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