IT’S HARD in some ways to believe, but barely a month has passed since Kevin Rudd “resumed” the ALP leadership — and the Prime Ministership — in a desperate roll of the dice by Labor MPs to stave off electoral Armageddon under Julia Gillard. Has the move worked, and will it prove worth it?
A few weeks prior to the leadership coup that deposed the hopeless, hapless Gillard, I wrote an article in this column for a little crystal ball gazing on what would likely ensue if Rudd restored to the job he craves and prizes like nothing else: the Prime Ministership.
The article can be accessed here for those who either haven’t read it, or want to keep score.
I’ve reviewed it as well this morning and I have to say my broad view is that nothing has changed, and that I see very little to revise the calls I made in that opinion piece.
Certainly, the immediate and steep spike in the ALP’s opinion numbers has materialised, bang on cue; I don’t think there is anyone who denies that at this precise moment any federal election held over the coming weekend would be too close to confidently call.
But that’s the point: it won’t be held this weekend.
And I think therein lies perhaps the single greatest mistake Rudd has made thus far, although there have been others that we will come back to.
Shortly after his return, I wrote that Rudd should have had written advice to the Governor-General advising a dissolution of Parliament and a 3 August election with him the day he went to Yarralumla House to be sworn back in as Prime Ministership.
I felt — and I still do — that the longer Rudd left it until polling day, the slimmer his already poor prospects of re-election would be, as the “honeymoon” effect wore off and people began to remember what he was really like by the time he was dumped for Gillard.
The exodus of a bevy of ministers from the government was expected; Rudd handled this well by waiting until the flow of resignations had ended. The calibre of some of the replacements is dubious in the extreme, but I’ve resisted the temptation to start ripping into people either too inexperienced or too inept to perform in high office simply because I don’t expect them to hold those offices — or government — by year’s end.
So in that sense, the quitting ministers probably haven’t hurt Rudd in the way that I thought they might.
The delay of an election beyond 3 August, however, is another matter.
Just as the polls have rocketed Labor’s way, in relative terms, they have also now plateaued; a point the difference either way from now onwards will leave the current situation — averaged across the reputable polls as a 51-49 lead to the Coalition after preferences — more or less unchanged.
I think Rudd has been very poorly advised (sorry Bruce); not only is 3 August gone but by the end of the day today so too will be every other available date for an August election.
It makes polling day six weeks away at least.
The problem here is that the longer Rudd is off the leash and out and about, the greater his propensity to hurt himself and — in the process — the ALP generally.
His announcement of changes to the way Labor is to select its federal parliamentary leaders would be laughable under ordinary circumstances; those who know the beast well also know such proposals must first make it through an ALP National Conference (where unions have 50% of the votes) before they are adopted.
An election win makes no guarantee the changes Rudd proposes will ever occur; we will come back to this point a little later on.
The thing is, though, that the Rudd pitch on these matters was aimed squarely at those voters who polls say like Rudd personally but were ready to desert the ALP in historic and record numbers, and who know little or nothing of the ALP and the way its internal machinations work.
(For the record, the next ALP National Conference isn’t due until almost a year after the election, and there is no precedent for holding one in the meantime).
It was an exercise in spin, and — if you like — an enterprise built on the perceived stupidity of voters, whom Rudd and his cabal gambled would have little interest in the functionalities or otherwise of the proposal, let alone the inner workings of their party.
But this paled in comparison to the grandiose announcement that he would “axe” the carbon tax, an initiative that provided the first real glimpse of an unchanged Rudd who has learnt nothing from his failed stint as PM between 2007 and 2010.
Supposedly paid for by a crackdown on the Fringe Benefits Tax treatment of passenger vehicles, the direct consequence of the announcement was to inflict a killer hit on the motor vehicle leasing industry, and one which may yet reverberate in the direction of car manufacturers, driving them out of business and shutting down the industry as a whole.
To this end, Holden will get the $200 million it is seeking to keep it here until 2022; Rudd’s government has no political alternative to paying it in light of the FBT fiasco.
But this should not be in any way interpreted as a guarantee: only last year, Holden extracted $275 million from the government under Gillard as a “guarantee” it would continue to build cars in Australia until 2022 — the same timeframe attached to the latest handout it is seeking for mostly the same reasons.
And on the issue of cheaper energy bills for consumers, Rudd repeatedly proved unable yesterday in an interview with Andrew Bolt to guarantee that if the European carbon price — to which Australia’s Emissions Trading Scheme is to be linked — rose steeply, Australian consumers would not be far worse off.
And another, politically riskier, look at the unreconstructed Rudd came ten days ago, when his “PNG Solution” to the perennial problem of asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat was released.
This plan already looks like it’s finished before it is even started, with facilities on Manus Island likely to be overrun with greater numbers of asylum seekers than it is planned to cater for in the medium term within days.
Ominously, PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has already indicated that few (if any) asylum seekers are likely to be permanently resettled in his country as a result of Rudd’s policy.
So it seems asylum seekers, in the end, will remain Labor’s — and Australia’s — problem.
Of the three issues Rudd deemed he had to “fix” before going to an election, it’s this one that is likeliest to cause the most political grief.
Not only was Rudd PM when the Howard government’s Pacific Solution was abolished in 2008, he was instrumental in seeing it done — and, as viewers will have seen in the Bolt interview, Rudd stands by his government’s actions as the “fulfilment of a 2007 election commitment.”
The point is that by making policies on the run, as Rudd has been doing, he’s no different to before; and far from “fixing” anything, he’s actually creating a gargantuan time bomb that will explode in the ALP’s face if enough time is allowed for the fuse to burn out.
So where are we at?
As I have said, the polls have levelled off; some — including Newspoll, historically the bible for Labor of the published polls — have even begun to record small ebbs in ALP support.
Rudd’s individual numbers are better than Gillard’s, and mostly quite impressive. Newspoll again, however, paints a mixed picture of Rudd’s popularity, suggesting his actual support is far shallower and more brittle than claimed by the man himself and his advocates.
Kevin Rudd does himself no favours; his mien in front of a camera is pompous and lordly, and he wastes no opportunity to insert references to the fact he is Prime Minister of this country into as many such speeches as he can, as often as possible.
Eventually, people will tire of being spoken down to by a lunatic with a God complex.
And the ubiquitous Rudd slogans — typified by the likes of Kevin ’07, the Education Revolution, and all the “Cool Britannia” claptrap that worked for Tony Blair in the UK in 1997 and adapted for Labor here ten years later — are already beginning to resurface.
But slogans are spin, and spin is meaningless.
The big variable is the leadership of the Liberal Party; my position is as it has been throughout: stand firm, don’t panic, and Rudd will do himself a terminal injury.
The Guardian carried an opinion piece on precisely this issue a week or two ago, arguing that Malcolm Turnbull would be no friend as either Liberal leader or Prime Minister to the Lefties who skew his polling numbers.
And even some of the reputable polls are now surveying respondents on their standard questions with Turnbull’s name added into the mix.
Malcolm is a good and decent man — I have to be absolutely emphatic about this and resolute on the sincerity of my comments, not least as I have had good reason to offer criticism privately and publicly in the past — but his values, whilst well-suited to his inner-Sydney electorate of Wentworth, are not reflective of those of the country as a whole.
It is an open secret that the results of polling — showing Malcolm as even more popular than Rudd with voters — are skewed by Lefties saying they would vote for him because they like him, but who in reality would never do so because they would never ultimately vote for the Liberal Party irrespective of who led it.
And Liberal leadership ructions now (in favour of anyone, and not necessarily Turnbull) would probably hand Labor a third term on a plate.
Thus far, there is no indication of any unrest within the Liberal Party over its leadership. But it is a “sleeper” — if it surfaces, and I tend to think it’s a huge “if” indeed.
I still think the most likely outcome is that the Liberal Party will win the imminent federal election.
By how much will rest on how long Rudd takes to call it; remember, he is doing himself no favours, and it’s only a matter of time before the public is onto him.
Polling day must precede that event for Rudd to win, so he’s against the clock.
I think if Rudd goes to Russia to attend the G20 meeting in early September without having first faced the electorate, it will be the final nail in his — and Labor’s — electoral coffin.
And aside from any leadership rumblings at the Liberals, there is an additional sleeper issue on a slow and unpredictable burn.
It is this: there is no guarantee Rudd will be able to reform the leadership election rules of the ALP if he wins the election.
If he loses, the proposed changes will disappear like ice in a desert.
But if he wins, there is a very real prospect he will be overthrown and replaced by Bill Shorten, and anyone who says “they’ll never do that!” should reflect that it’s been done before, it was undone only for reasons of electoral politics, and if done again Labor’s backroom stooges would reason they had three more years before they had to worry about how to win a fourth election.
A lot of what happens from here is, ironically, in the Coalition’s court; prosecute its message properly, and pin Labor’s failures — over six years — on Rudd, and it wins, and probably still wins in a landslide.
Rudd is handing out ammunition to the Liberals on a daily basis. What they do with it will determine the result of this election.
My tip? Abbott by 20 seats.