Gillard's five-day visit to western Sydney is a fine idea. But when good ideas are poorly executed, the final result can be ugly.
For a couple of years in the 1980s I was a security guard, working for a now defunct Parramatta-based outfit called Westgate.
It was well before there was any proper industry regulation and I was given a licence after attending a two-day course run by a former policeman.
The "training" was supposed to include firearms but we never got round to going to the range.
So, the first time I was assigned to what was designated as a "gun job" I felt compelled to point out that my only weapons experience was firing a single shot from an air-rifle.
The guy behind the counter grunted, took a .38 Smith and Wesson out of the gun safe, and flicked open the cylinder.
"The bullets go in here," he said, handing over six cartridges. "Don't shoot anyone."
So gun in holster, a PR24 baton and a Maglite torch on my belt, I arrived well equipped to protect the late-night shopping crowd at Mt Druitt Market Town (now Westfield).
That job became one of my regular beats. I got to know its ebb and flow and, by trial and error, worked out how to survive. The key was being able to read the crowd, to spot trouble as it was brewing and talk people out of confrontations.
So, months into the job, I was alarmed by a conversation I overheard between two management types.
"Wrestling," the publicity man said.
"Wrestling?" the centre manager repeated, as he weighed the idea.
As I eavesdropped, the publicity guy warmed to his pitch. A ring would be set up in Centre Court to coincide with late-night shopping. An internal and external advertising blitz would draw the punters in droves and there would be a shopping bonanza before and after the bouts.
"I don't think that's a very good idea," I volunteered.
I knew this intervention wouldn't be welcome. People make judgements about you based on your station in life. Wearing a uniform that marked me as an unskilled labourer meant most assumed I was an idiot.
"What would you know about it?" the publicity guy sneered, annoyed that his patter had been interrupted.
I explained that Thursday was payday for most and that meant the pub, let's call it The Bloody Stubby, located about 100 metres from the centre's front door, would be chock full.
I had seen the well-lubricated patrons pour out of its doors to watch spontaneous fights before and the spectators routinely turned into enthusiastic participants. I feared wrestling would draw the pub crowd into the centre and they wouldn't be there for the shopping.
"I don't think we asked for your opinion," the centre manager said as I finished.
The next week the centre was littered with posters advertising a wrestling extravaganza scheduled for the following month. On the Monday before the big night I rang Westgate and asked to change shifts, starting at 9.00pm rather than 5.00pm.
When I arrived that night it was to the sound of cleaners hosing blood out of Centre Court. As I approached the broken chairs and other detritus around the ring I saw a guy dressed in the familiar green uniform of Westgate. His right arm was bandaged from wrist to elbow and he was tightly clutching an envelope in his left hand.
"What happened?" I said.
He turned, his glazed, dilated pupils looking pitifully from a whitened and sweaty face. Slowly, and painfully, he relived the evening.
About 10 minutes before the wrestling was due to start The Bloody Stubby emptied and its patrons flowed like stale beer through the doors of Market Town. The crowd was restless. The show inside the ring began at 7.00pm; the brawl outside it started about 10 minutes later.
Terrified wrestlers fled as several, much more authentic, fights raged. Wisely my replacement decided against intervening in the scuffles between the men but, chivalrously, stepped between two women who had squared off. This was a mistake. One of them sank her teeth into his forearm.
The police arrived, the scene settled and the guard, along with a group of battered combatants, was taken to the nearby Mt Druitt Hospital. His impressive wound required 17 stiches and the envelope in his hand was a referral for an AIDS test.
He finished with a plaintive question.
"Is it always like this here?"
Actually, serious trouble was rare. There were routine nuisance-level disturbances but, largely, Mt Druitt's then Sydney-wide reputation as a bad neck of the woods was overblown.
It did have more than its fair share of social problems and less than its fair share of money but it suffered most from bad planning, a lack of services and bad publicity.
And, that night, it suffered from a bad idea dreamed up by a self-basting publicity tool who thought he was a genius.
Memories of eight years living and working in western Sydney came flooding back this week with the announcement that the Prime Minister will spend five days there.
That's a fine idea and not unusual; as the member for Greenway, Michelle Rowland told 7.30, the Prime Minister has been there 17 times since 2010. It is, after all, home to 1 in 11 Australians.
And the daily stresses on the residents of western Sydney are more acute than in other parts of the country.
Demographer Bernard Salt points out that entry-level homes there cost $400,000, so large mortgages are borne by people on average wages. That means few dollars are left for all the other costs of living and even modest price hikes bite. They know they live one crisis away from poverty and worry about their job security and their children's future.
The people of the west have the longest average commuting times in the nation, through badly congested road networks and on crowded trains and buses. They feel the press of people about them because they live in the front line suburbs where most of Australia's large immigration intake actually lands, far from the inner city where the policy makers live and where the worthy shake their heads at the intolerance of the ignorant masses.
On top of all this, state and federal politicians have played on people's sense of grievance for years and heightened expectations about what governments can actually deliver. When life doesn't improve it breeds resentment and fuels the belief that all politicians are liars. And on the nightly news they see former Labor powerbrokers marched in and out of the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
So it shouldn't surprise anyone that an acute sense of resentment and disempowerment has bred among the residents of Sydney's greater west. Their one chance to exercise any power comes with elections and their frustration with Labor was brutally expressed in the 2011 state election and still evident in the 2012 council elections. Federal Labor MPs fear that the community is not done punishing the party and is impatiently awaiting the only poll that counts.
Julia Gillard has little choice but to go west and meet all this head on. There are risks, but Labor isn't in a position to play risk free politics this year. But any promises will have to be more than window dressing or things could go very badly. And while the Prime Minister is there she will have to declare war on her own party and pledge to exorcise it of the corrupt, the hacks, the time-servers and the urgers.
So there is much to do in the west and spending five days there seems reasonable, given its size and diversity. But there are a couple of things about this trip that jar.
First, it is utterly at odds with a declaration the Prime Minister made in her opening salvo of the year, the Press Club speech where she named the election date as September 14.
"I do not do so to start the nation's longest election campaign," she said.
"Quite the opposite, it should be clear to all which are the days of governing and which are the days of campaigning."
This might seem a small thing but it cuts to the heart of one of this Government's perceived weaknesses: truthfulness. One wonders why a sentence like that was ever included in the speech when it will be tested and ring false time and again between now and August 12, when the formal campaign will begin. And a motif of this Government has been to keep parroting a line way beyond the time when it is apparent to all but the mentally infirm that it is bulldust (budget surplus and mining tax revenue).
The second thing that jars is a prime minister with a Sydney residence booking into a Sydney hotel for a week. That makes this tour very different from the 17 that came before and makes it look like the west is a foreign land. In the words of one seasoned political professional, that makes the whole exercise look like a desperate and tawdry stunt.
So what began as a fine idea is damaged in the execution, something many Labor MPs grimly point out as another hallmark of this Government.
I sometimes wonder what happened to the guy who conceived the wrestling bout in Market Town all those years ago.
Maybe he got a job as a political adviser.