Fear and Loathing in Parliament House

By Matteo Gagliardi

Julia Gillard will forever look back at the month of June, 2013 and shudder. For reasons that seemed totally out of her control, she and her collaborators in the Labor camp were faced with a lurid situation which even the bravest, most headstrong of politicians dread to even imagine: heading into an election with bloodcurdlingly low opinion polls and a bitterly resentful nemesis plotting to overthrow you from within your own Party ranks. This was Gillard’s own political horror story, played out for the whole of Australian history to witness and learn from.

To start off, the setting for this suspense thriller was a world ravaged by this thing called a “global financial crisis”, in which dread and panic were spreading to every corner of the globe. In this imaginary world, businesses and investors no longer trusted markets connected with Europe or America and any forecast of an economic downturn became a self-fulfilling prophecy, single-handedly driving down confidence in markets. It initially began thanks to the selfish exploitation of everyday people in faraway lands by cold-blooded bankers and it slowly flowed across into other borders like an eerie plague, turning people into the financial equivalent of zombies. The very thought of such a world makes you want to lock yourself in your own home and never spend money in people’s businesses again in an effort to save yourself from the virus.

From Gillard’s perspective, the other characters in this plot were all against her. Take the general public for one. Feeling threatened by massive retrenchments and the lack of faith in Australia’s economy from major businesses, whether from the mining or automotive industries, many Australians looked for someone to blame for the supposedly impending economic apocalypse. Even though Australia was a fortress quarantined off from the rest of the infected world – with the help of China, who had been feeding us with the antidote (although the virus was beginning to develop an immunity to it there too) – the defences weren’t always secure and the disease was slowly seeping in. And, like an angry mob carrying pitchforks and fire, the public came knocking on the Gillard government’s door, complaining it promised to lead them to safety with this alleged cure called a ‘surplus’.

The media continually reminded Australians just how bad the government was, spreading more fear around. Journalists and editors across the country looked to publish stories which were more likely to sell newspapers and get hits on their websites; they too were feeling the brunt of the GFC virus, staring down the barrel of losing jobs and facing company shut-downs. Their stories were imbued with their own anxieties and were thus more likely to entail conflict, scandal, and condemnation of the powers-at-be. Some of the worse ones even called for Gillard to be killed and her body chucked into the ocean. People afraid of the financial zombie virus wouldn’t buy newspapers, or click on links to articles which said, ‘don’t worry, the country’s doing just fine’. So, the media focused on the critical, negative sides of the Gillard government, making it appear incapable of stemming the flow of the virus, despite all of its efforts.

But the media weren’t the only ones stirring fear and distrust in the government within the public. The Liberal Party launched a scare campaign to capitalise on this climate of angst among the public and rouse a voter-rebellion. Led by a skilled necromancer in Tony Abbott, who had the uncanny ability to deceive the average person into believing anything he said and who could place a smokescreen in front of him whenever confronted by the media, the Party endeavoured to drive Labor out of town. This included persuading everyday Australians that the ALP was failing to protect them from a mysterious group of foreign invaders called ‘boat people’ and was making Australians even more vulnerable to the GFC virus by breaking down their immune systems with this thing called the ‘Carbon Tax’. Without the lucky antidote from China, he said, the foreign economic plague would be infecting everyone. And he was right, or so the population thought.

Of course, Gillard was brave and thought she could change the minds of the angry mobsters. But she was under threat by yet another enemy, this time from within her own ranks. So while she and the rest of the Labor party were locked inside their compound, with the angry mobsters yelling at them from the outside, this enemy began to sabotage all of Gillard’s efforts to figure out what to do in the situation. He was a renowned illusionist called Kevin Rudd, who was popular amongst the public but hated within the Party for his history of tyranny. He was out for revenge, after suffering a coup at the hands of Gillard and some ‘faceless men’ (how scary does that sound?) three years earlier.

fear and loathing
Artwork by Josh Evans

Taking advantage of the poor opinion polls – the angry mob – Rudd looked to instil fear into the already-anxious hearts of the Labor ministers and inspire a mutiny. The Party caught a serious case of claustrophobia and developed Stockholm Syndrome as a result, causing a whole lot of in-fighting and division.  They looked for a way out, and Rudd was more than happy to offer an alternative. So on the 26th of June, he and his new backers, all grim-faced and worn-out, turned on Gillard after she challenged him to a fight to the political death. He couldn’t contain his smile, as if three years of bitterness were instantly converted into this overpowering sensation of glee in this sweet act of revenge, when he brandished the knife and called Gillard out on her bluff.

For what it was worth, Gillard was as much to blame for her demise as everyone else. In fact, she was perhaps her own worst enemy. After telling people there would not be a carbon tax under her leadership and continuously promising to bring the budget into black, she set expectations so high that no leader in these times of an economic zombie epidemic could ever live up to them. Perhaps the creepily male-dominated upper echelon of Australian society is still an eerie place for a woman to be in. Or, maybe, it was all of these things and for Julia, it was just a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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