The West

A warm reception for Gillard in Labor stronghold
Julia Gillard and her Cabinet team take questions. Picture: Ben Crabtree, The West Australian

The night started with Gilmore College choir's rendition of the Leonard Cohen classic Hallelujah.

It was a divine prelude to what would be a godsend of a night for Prime Minister Julia Gillard in the Labor heartland of the Federal seat of Brand.

From a standing ovation to welcome in the 35th Community Cabinet meeting, the residents of Kwinana, Rockingham and Mandurah gave the Prime Minister a collective warm hug.

Setting the scene, Brand MHR Gary Gray said it was the second time in 12 months Ms Gillard had visited the seat - one of only three held by Labor in WA - as he described as "simply terrific" the interest being shown.

As she stood in a school hall, Ms Gillard then asked her students, members of the Cabinet, to tell everyone what they had done yesterday.

Parliamentary secretary Mark Dreyfus told the forum about his visit to Mrs Mac's pies, before others such as Veterans Affairs Minister Warren Snowdon and Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans used the platform to cheer on Geelong and the Dockers respectively.

During the one-hour forum, there were questions about the contentious Point Peron marina project, which also attracted a group of rain-soaked protesters at the front of the college.

Tash, from Mandurah, wanted to know why the media never reported how carbon tax money would be spent to which Ms Gillard explained her assistance packages and pension and family payment increases. Responding to a question about whether it would revoke the enterprise bargaining agreement approved for Gina Rinehart's Roy Hill project given mining companies' recent job cuts, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said it provided certainty for the project to proceed but should only be used where there were "genuine gaps" in labour requirements.

After Ms Gillard noted that questions from young people were often the toughest, a young girl asked why the Government was putting "fragile" asylum seekers in detention centres overseas.

Ms Gillard said it was a complicated issue but too many people we drowning on the journey to Australia.

The Government wanted to make sure there was "no incentive" for people to risk their lives.

Questions on aged care, nuclear energy, foreign aid, veterans' pensions and the Commonwealth's recently announced education reform followed.

Karen Duncan, Medina Primary School's principal, asked for specifics on how the reforms would benefit students at her school.

Ms Gillard talked about "improvement plans" for schools but failed to provide the detail Ms Duncan had requested.

It was a stumbling point in what was otherwise an easy ride for the Prime Minister.

The West Australian

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