One Party, Two Tribes: It’s Richo vs Hawker, And Richo Wins

LABOR’S LEADERSHIP contest seems destined to descend into a bitter fight over process, and Labor itself into a rabble; the stink bomb left behind in the shape of “reforms” by Kevin Rudd has the potential to rip the ALP apart, and now two of its best strategic brains face off on opposite sides of the abyss.

If this column were to adhere to its conservative political outlook in its truest form, I should be relishing this; the path the ALP appears determined to tread has put it on the front page of all the newspapers — for all the wrong reasons.

We’ve spoken often now about so-called “reforms” Kevin Rudd foisted on a meekly compliant ALP during his latest ten week stint as Prime Minister — most recently, yesterday — and why the changes to the way Labor chooses its leaders he sought is such a bad, bad idea (their intent to entrench Rudd in office forever notwithstanding, of course).

I’ve been flicking through today’s papers this morning, and two articles in The Australian neatly sum up the arguments that threaten to rent the Labor Party asunder.

It astonishes me how much I agree with Graham Richardson since he retired from the Senate, but — political preferences aside — he talks good, old-fashioned common sense.

On the other hand, master strategist Bruce Hawker (who has caused so much angst for my party over many years) is nonetheless a shrewd operator and — politics aside — not a bad bloke.

But I’ve felt for a long time that Hawker has some sort of blind spot when it comes to Kevin Rudd; how such an intelligent individual could tolerate such an imbecile is beyond me.

And why — why? — Hawker continues to nail his colours to the Rudd mast, when Rudd has finally been shown up as the electoral failure he was always destined to be, simply beggars belief.

It is these two gentlemen who form the basis for today’s discussion piece.

Hawker is first; in an article by Ben Packham (which links to the blog post by Hawker, in which he fully outlines his case), the most obvious element of his argument is the shrill, histrionic, almost melodramatic fashion in which that argument is framed.

The “reforms” introduced by Rudd, Hawker argues, are “critical;” to abrogate them would be to ensure that “these democratic reforms are stillborn.”

“That would be a travesty and set back Labor’s move to modernise and democratise itself,” Hawker says.

And in his blog post, Hawker points to the fact that other parties — conservative and “progressive” — around the world use rank-and-file balloting to elect a leader, suggesting the ALP has “lagged well behind” leading parties in countries such as the UK, US, France, Italy, and Canada.

What he neglects to say, of course, is that British Labour is led by a union stooge, for whom the better, losing candidate (his brother) quit politics in disgust; that the Conservative Party is led by someone so obsessed with being all things to everyone that he’s sold out his party’s core constituency; that the US process works so well it takes nine months to select presidential candidates; that Italy has been virtually ungovernable for decades…and on it goes.

Hawker does make a valid point in that the unions have too much influence over the ALP, with 50% control over the party in the face of representing “just 18% of the Australian workforce” (his representation figures are a bit generous there, but we’ll use them).

It was suggested to me recently by an ALP activist that the unions should have their representation at ALP conferences cut to 25% — which includes a premium over and above their level of workforce representation, in deference to their role in the ALP historically — which could later be increased in return for solid increases in union membership.

As much as I detest the union movement, I can’t fault his logic.

But I do think Hawker may be confusing two issues here; the method for selecting a parliamentary leader on one hand, and the internal ALP structures that apportion delegates to conferences, factional representation, and so forth on the other.

If Hawker wanted to throw his weight behind a “democratisation” of the ALP internally, along the lines he suggests, I don’t think anyone would object (except, of course, the hapless unionists themselves).

But Hawker wasn’t and isn’t advocating that — he’s stoutly defending the cack-brained “reforms” over the election of a parliamentary leader that Rudd introduced in a brazen attempt to remain in power forever.

And that brings me to Graham Richardson, who — as an ALP insider, former Senator and minister, and powerbroker stretching back decades — has mounted the best rebuttal of the so-called “reforms” I have seen from anyone on either side of the argument to date.

In fact, it’s a demolition, and to my mind there is no credible response to it.

Richo covers it all: the farce of the MPs versus the membership; the protracted period Labor is set to be leaderless; the potential for these “reforms” to destroy a prospective leader (Shorten) before he’s even assumed the role; and all the while (as I opined yesterday) handing the Liberals a potent weapon in the process, and one they would be certain to exploit ruthlessly and mercilessly.

Richardson even gets right into the nooks and crannies of the issue — like how to actually conduct a ballot of a predominantly aged members who do not or will not use a computer — and the particular complexities such detailed practicalities throw up.

Hawker doesn’t deal with specifics, of course, although that reflects more on Rudd: detail isn’t a concern, if you’re Rudd, you simply gloss over it if it’s inconvenient; his chequered history of policy on the run is strewn with examples of it, and this is just another.

The one thing that surprises me that nobody in the ALP has mentioned is the possibility — a very real possibility — that somewhere along the line, the ALP could find itself in Court over these changes.

It is known that for the Rudd “reforms” to be binding, they need to be endorsed in a vote of the ALP national conference, which isn’t scheduled until next year.

If the party proceeds with a leadership election based on the “reforms,” and if those “reforms” breach Labor’s constitution, it only takes one aggrieved, disaffected party to haul the ALP into Court — and then it’s game on.

From there the outcome could, literally, be anything.

But even if the ALP simply expelled the proponent/s of any litigation — which would probably be the party’s instinctive response — the matter would simply grow uglier, as the petitioner/s became more embittered and hostile, and the resultant media circus inflicted weeks (if not months) of adverse press scrutiny on the ALP.

That once-great party truly would become, in the classic sense of the word, a rabble.

I urge readers to read the articles from The Australian and the post from Hawker’s blog.

And as I said at the outset, if strictly true to my conservative leanings, I should be encouraging all of this, not warning against it.

The fact is that a government needs an opposition; in any case, some day — however distant — Labor will form a government once more, and when that time comes this nonsense will impact all Australians, not just the kids in the red corner who want to throw shit at each other and fight among themselves instead of doing what they were elected to do.

And at the end of the day, the reality is that Labor is quite capable of behaving like an irresponsible rabble at the best of times.

It hardly needs to be “reformed” by Kevin Rudd to make a certainty of it.

ALP Campaign Supremo Is Wrong: There’s No Good News About Gillard

AS LABOR people go, Bruce Hawker is OK; I disagree with his politics, of course, and he has caused my beloved Liberal Party a lot of grief. But credit where it’s due: he’s a smart guy, and pretty decent, but when I see him trying to defend the Gillard government over superannuation, I know he’s lost it.

Everyone connected to politics in any way — and many others who aren’t — know Bruce Hawker’s name; he’s one of the sharpest, shrewdest tacticians Labor has ever produced, and his reputation as a master political spin doctor is legendary.

Which is why I had to look twice at an article he has published to defend changes to superannuation being considered by the Gillard government, in which he begins his case with a movie anecdote about prison guards belting a prisoner senseless for insubordination.

According to Hawker, Gillard’s government faces the “same problem” as the prison guards.

I’m going to cover, very broadly, the proposed superannuation reforms tonight, but it’s Hawker’s defence of them — indeed, his entire convoluted, perverted logic in seeking to justify them — that I want to look at.

Readers will be aware that the inefficient, high-taxing, debt-addled federal Labor government is desperately casting around for ways to plug a budget deficit that is likely to top $20 billion in the current financial year.

Such a deficit flies in the face of solemn assurances from the Prime Minister and her glib, pious, smug, smarmy, conceited little know-it-all of a Treasurer that have been made on hundreds of occasions in the past few years that all but guaranteed a surplus, and which were quietly abandoned at the height of the last Christmas holidays.

Now, one of the cash cows Swan seems to have decided to plunder, in order to begin to redress the fruits of his own government’s economic ineptitude, is superannuation.

This is where Hawker enters the fray; The Australian today is carrying an opinion piece he has written, which is a blatant (and fatuous) attempt to spin the emerging politics of superannuation changes in Labor’s favour.

He also misses the mark completely.

Hawker’s gripe, on face value — and this is where the prison wardens laying into a disrespectful prisoner come in — is based on the refusal of the Australian public to take stock of all the good things Gillard and her government is doing for them.

Just like the prisoner who refuses to show respect to some thug who beats him half to death, so too does the voting Australian refuse to give Gillard any credit for her benevolent gestures of magnanimity.

Drawing this parallel at all is enough to make you question whether it’s even worth Hawker’s time to do so, but undaunted, he continues.

He seems to play a cat-and-mouse game around what is and isn’t going into the budget; this in itself is bizarre coming from an ALP insider, given the present Labor regime has made an artform of testing budget measures before the event, in the focus group of public opinion, for most of the time it has held office.

On the one hand, there’s “another six weeks of speculation, anxiety and growing resentment” before the budget is delivered; on the other, “ministers can’t even go out and lay the groundwork to justify the new superannuation arrangements because they’re worried about flagging what may be in the budget.”

Sorry Bruce, but you can’t have it both ways.

Anyone who has read/watched/listened to the news in the past few days knows that the ALP is seriously looking at doubling the rate of tax on superannuation contributions to 30% for those people earning upwards of $300,000 per year in the coming budget.

It is the latest in a long list of fiddles the Labor Party has made to superannuation; this time, higher income earners have been fingered to tip several billion dollars into Wayne Swan’s budget black hole by slugging them with double the rate of contributions tax.

Such income earners are presumably the people Trade minister Craig Emerson had in mind when he said such changes to superannuation should be considered for the “fabulously wealthy,” although he did decline to specify who the “fabulously wealthy” people are when questioned on the issue at the weekend.

But even this noble-sounding Robin Hood act is disingenuous; as Hawker himself says in his article, “those of us who follow these things closely know (any changes)…will be restricted to the wealthiest Australians. But most voters don’t follow politics that closely.”

And he goes on to say that “in Liberal Land” the Opposition has a policy that “would see three million lower-income Australians lose $500 a year in superannuation benefits they will receive from the mining tax, even with the lower than expected revenue raised from that tax.”

So here is Realities of Economics 101, just for the benefit of Messrs Hawker, Swan and Emerson, Ms Gillard, and alleged Superannuation minister Bill Shorten who refuses to participate in debate on changes to superannuation.

One (and this is an old story), yet another attack on those elements of Australian society that create wealth isn’t going to do anything to help lower income earners; those who subsist on meaningless jobs are dependent on wealth to provide them. It is another classic case of attempting to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.

Two, it won’t do much for the budget deficit, either; if anything, it will simply encourage those with money to find other, more tax-effective ways to invest it, bypassing superannuation.

Three, the removal of monies from the superannuation system by virtue of wealthier folk investing their cash in other places will actually hurt the low-income people Hawker et al claim to want to help; a superannuation fund isn’t some personal savings passbook, it’s dependent on the sheer weight and volume of money in it to deliver investment returns to the fund as a whole, from which all members benefit.

The more money available for fund managers to invest, the more (and better-quality) options there are for investment; if you push the people with the most money away from the system, the rest might as well make do with term deposits earning bank interest.

And whilst that may be strongly put, it’s effectively the end result of what would happen if the rumoured changes (that the government clearly is attempting to sell) were enacted.

Four, people are astute enough to know the mining tax has raised, in round terms, no money; voters have their faults but are by no means as economically illiterate as they once were, and consequently they understand that promises intended to be funded by taxes that don’t raise any revenue are likely to be doomed to extinction anyway.

And finally, there’s a really nasty undercurrent to all of this.

Labor is more than happy to identify sliding scales of wealth (“rich” households earning above $150,000 per annum, “fabulously wealthy” people earning over $300,000 per annum, etc) and declare open slather on them for tax purposes, but should a Liberal figure flag the abolition of an unfunded and unaffordable bribe, based on a false premise and Labor’s own incompetence, the ALP accuses the Coalition of running a “class war.”

Or in other words, the pot is calling the kettle black.

And remember, the earning potential of the superannuation dollars of the “rich” can do far more to lift the balances of the superannuation accounts of the “poor” than some $500 tax break that the government can’t even afford to pay for in the first place.

(As an aside, perhaps a better idea would be to take an axe to the bloated senior executive levels of the Commonwealth Public Service, which have ballooned by 42% since Labor took office and now cost the taxpayer $6 billion each year to pick up the tab for the payroll. Then again, public service job cuts that might put its own hand-picked people on the street explicitly contravene ALP policy, so the taxpayer will have to keep paying them. For now).

I don’t know what “good news story” Hawker sees in all of this; when reduced to its core, the putative direction Labor is taking on superannuation amounts to another half-arsed idea that would only ever do more harm than any intended good.

It speaks yet again to the utter incompetence of this government, and someone of the calibre of Bruce Hawker does himself no credit in stooping to attempt to defend it.

In the final analysis, any government initiative that is suitable for comparison with prison guards beating inmates brainless — irrespective of context — is a dubious initiative indeed.

Sorry Bruce, but you’re wrong.

Labor Leadership Shenanigans: Here We Go Again

Perhaps it’s only natural that an electorally terminal government such as Julia Gillard’s — mired in scandals of every hue, and anathema to the mainstream — is so hellbent on signing its own death warrant that mere weeks after the last leadership stoush, the rumblings have begun again.

More than a generation ago now, Labor’s most electorally successful Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, won one and probably two elections — in 1987 and 1990 — by campaigning in part on the slogan “if you can’t govern yourselves, you can’t govern the country.”

His reference point, of course, was the simmering hostility and bitter rivalry between Andrew Peacock and John Howard, which characterised Liberal Party politics for much of the decade following the defeat of the Fraser government in 1983, with the lunacy of the “Joh for PM” putsch of 1987 thrown into the mix for good measure.

History shows that the Liberal Party eventually learnt its lesson; largely unified under a restored Howard leadership from January 1995 until the defeat of November 2007, the Liberals governed Australia for nearly twelve years, winning four elections, falling only to the “It’s Time” factor compounded by a single overreach on policy during the final term of the Howard government — WorkChoices.

And having found the balance in its leadership in Opposition on the third attempt, it appears almost certain that the Liberal and National Parties will reclaim government within 18 months under the stable leadership of their most successful performer since Howard’s departure in Tony Abbott.

History also shows that since the defeat of the Hawke-Keating government in 1996 — and especially since Kim Beazley’s second defeat at the Tampa/September 11 election of 2001 — the ALP has forgotten the wisdom of Hawke.

Since 2001, the ALP has been led by Beazley; Simon Crean (2002-03); Mark Latham (2003-05); Beazley again (2005-06); Kevin Rudd (2006-10); and Julia Gillard (2010 – present).

In addition to six leaders in eight years, we have also witnessed unsuccessful leadership challenges by Beazley to Crean in 2003, and by Rudd to Gillard in 2012.

Clearly, changing leaders in the federal ALP is becoming something of an annual event, on average; it comes as little surprise when weighed against the track record of Labor’s NSW division, and when it is remembered the Sussex Street headquarters of NSW Labor has a large hand in the conduct of the federal parliamentary ALP these days.

And in fact, Rudd’s challenge earlier this year — brilliantly timed, as it was — not only saw him humiliated to the point where future rehabilitation into the leadership should be impossible, but also cast a dreadful pall over the Queensland ALP’s doomed re-election campaign and probably magnified the cataclysmic nature of the defeat suffered by Anna Bligh.

So it was with some disbelief — albeit with no surprise — that I noticed the trickle of well-backgrounded articles canvassing the next Labor leadership challenge begin to appear in the Murdoch press this week.

It’s almost inarguable now that the ALP is headed for certain oblivion at the next election under Julia Gillard; she is despised by the electorate at large, widely distrusted and viewed as a liar, perceived as manipulative, underhanded and treacherous, and has allowed the view to take hold that she will say or do anything to preserve what’s left of her tenuous hold on government — irrespective of the consequences, and irrespective of the best interests of the country.

Gillard has been a failure as Prime Minister; I have said many times that she is simply the wrong person for the job and the consequences of that stark reality are becoming clear.

But would a leadership change really help the ALP’s prospects?

There is now just 14 months until an election must be called; thanks to Wayne Swan’s arbitrary deadline of the coming financial year for the Commonwealth budget to return to surplus, the election can’t and won’t be delayed by more than a couple of weeks beyond the three-year anniversary of the last election in late August.

Two things make that certain: the commencement of school holidays around the country in mid-September, and the fact the final budget figures for FY 2012-13 will be published in September next year.

No government is silly enough to campaign across school holidays; and Gillard’s will want to bolt off to the polls well in advance of the final outcome of its budget, lest the figures show that it, too, has remained in deficit.

So there is 14 months for Gillard — or someone else — to turn things around.

An article in today’s Herald-Sun canvasses the prospect of Kevin Rudd launching yet another challenge to Gillard, this time in August this year.

Rudd, very simply, will never be Prime Minister again; the emphatic margin of the defeat he suffered at his last attempt in February is the simple proof of that.

If Rudd — or forces loyal to him — believe otherwise, then it betrays rank political amateurism; anyone with a passing interest can see that Gillard’s win over Rudd was not an endorsement of her, but an overwhelming rejection of him by his colleagues.

And let’s not forget that were Rudd to somehow wrest back the leadership of his party, there remains three MPs who have pledged to immediately resign from Parliament in disgust, triggering by-elections in marginal seats Labor would be certain to lose, and lose badly.

There is also the small matter of at least a half-dozen senior cabinet ministers who would immediately resign and go to the backbench, thus gutting what is left of the government in the process.

The Herald-Sun article also raises the prospect of a ticket consisting of Defence minister Stephen Smith as Prime Minister, with Workplace Relations minister Bill Shorten as his deputy.

This would seem a better idea; it would replace the electorally toxic Gillard with a reasonably popular figure widely regarded as a safe pair of hands, and it would set the ALP up with some sort of succession plan (for once) in the event it still ended up back on the Opposition benches after the election.

But this plan, too, has its faults.

I’ve made it known that I hold Smith in some degree of personal regard; his problem is that he is insecurely seated on a margin of 5.3% in his seat of Perth, and given the West shows every sign of a further heavy swing against the federal ALP, that margin alone is enough to raise questions about his tenure heading into an election campaign.

Besides, irrespective of what positives Smith might bring to the Prime Ministership, he is no Paul Keating when it comes to fighting and surviving.

This is a very relevant consideration; I’ve spoken privately to quite a few people this week who are either sympathetic to Labor or actively involved in that party, and the “Keating comparison” is a source of great frustration to these people, away from the prying eyes of journalists and from the obligatory mantra necessitated by a television camera.

It’s true that on attaining the Prime Ministership in December 1991 — on his second attempt — Keating inherited Bob Hawke’s polling numbers which, if anything, were worse overall than Gillard’s are today.

But Keating had two very important advantages: one, he was a master political tactician and strategist, a creature born of the game, with an innate and overriding instinct for survival; and two, he was faced by perhaps the most politically inept leader  the Liberal Party has produced since Billy McMahon.

Nobody in the present ALP caucus can boast political skills that are a patch on Keating’s; indeed, the smartest operator in the game today, when it comes to strategy and tactics, is leading the Liberal Party.

And Labor knows it: it’s the reason why the attacks on Abbott are so incessant, so shrill, and so divorced from reality.

It’s clear that no matter who — if anyone — the Labor Party installs as leader to replace Gillard, they face a near-impossible task even to simply be competitive.

Yet still the rumblings come…

Another report this week — this time in The Australian — suggested that Bob Carr would be offered a House of Representatives seat and the Prime Ministership in a take-it-or-leave-it package deal.

That report at least acknowledged that Carr — 65 in August — might not have the “energy” required to do the job.

But there is more to it than that: to become Prime Minister, he would first need to win a by-election, and there aren’t many ALP-held electorates in Sydney that could be considered immune to a by-election backlash.

And even were that particular hurdle to be cleared, does anybody seriously believe Carr would be leading Labor to anything other than, at best, defeat on a somewhat smaller scale than it is presently headed towards?

However this plays out in the end, readers should not be remotely surprised that having had their go two months ago, the mutterers are again muttering.

This isn’t going to stop; it will keep going, and going, and going, until either Gillard cracks and quits, or until someone musters the numbers and manages to knock her off as leader.

In the meantime, the government will lurch from crisis to crisis; the scandals will continue, as will the cover-ups to keep the lid on as many of them as possible; and the country will suffer.

In the final analysis, this government has now become so self-obsessed that nothing — nothing — now matters to it other than its own internecine warfare, run and conducted by and on behalf of its own squirming bag of toxic, conceited egos and subterranean agendas.

All I can say is roll on a federal election; Australia deserves better than this from its government, and when safely ensconced in Opposition — which is where it surely now belongs — the Labor Party can tear itself to shreds over its leadership arrangements until the sun rises in the west as far as I am concerned.

Thoughts?

Rudd’s Political Obituary, And What Gillard Can Expect Moving Forward

After an interesting day in Canberra, things are clearer; we can write with confidence the political obituary of Kevin Rudd, and look at what faces Julia Gillard as she moves forward (sorry, I couldn’t resist). And we can state, with real confidence, that Gillard’s woes have only just begun.

But first of all, in keeping with the occasional trend here at The Red And The Blue, I have a very special YouTube clip for Kevin Rudd to reflect on. Indeed, this is the third time he has earned the YouTube honour here, and the second time in five days — thus far, a record.

In terms of Rudd’s political future — or, at the very minimum, of his prospects for advancing an inch beyond the post of Foreign Minister, which he threw away some days ago — I think the melancholic nostalgia, of things lost that can never be recovered, that oozes from the piece I have selected for this article fit Rudd’s circumstances perfectly.

I even felt a little sorry for him this afternoon: I have never liked or trusted Rudd, and have certainly never had any respect for the man. But the dose of humble pie he was forced to eat — apologising for this and that, ruling himself out of this and that, and pledging himself in explicit terms to the support of Gillard — was almost too excruciating to witness.

Yet as I have said previously, he has only himself to blame; passed over as a serious leadership contender in 2003 and 2005, he was endorsed by his colleagues out of  near-desperation in late 2006 to take the fight to then Prime Minister John Howard. Of course, Rudd beat Howard the following year in a modestly comfortable — but not runaway — election win.

Subsequently, his treatment of his ministerial colleagues, other MPs, many staffers, elements in the media and beyond virtually ensured his days as ALP leader and Prime Minister were numbered.

So it came to pass, on 23 June 2010, that his papers were stamped: faced with the prospect of Julia Gillard winning a minimum of 80 votes (out of what was then 110) in the following day’s ALP party meeting, Rudd declined to even stand.

Circumstantial and anecdotal evidence tends to prove the charge that ever since that day, Rudd (or those loyal to him) embarked on a systemic program of destabilisation designed to result in the destruction of Gillard’s leadership and his own, triumphant return as Labor leader and Prime Minister.

Today’s events have been the culmination of that endeavour; Rudd has been annihilated by a 40-vote margin, 71-31, in the Labor Party leadership ballot.

And this, my friends, spells the end of Kevin Rudd as a force in Australian politics.

He is finished and, on balance, good riddance.

The only question is whether — and for how long — he intends to remain in Parliament as the Member for Griffith.

He has said that it is his intention to stay, and to recontest the next election; but such declarations made in the present tense are as likely to be revised in the cold light of morning a day, a week, a month or a year down the track.

With one caveat — and I will get to that later — it appears to be a conclusive case of “Farewell Kevin…” and I don’t think he will be missed, remotely, when all has been said and done.

The one real surprise I had today (and I apologise to readers for an erroneous guess last night on this score) was that the margin of the vote wasn’t closer; I genuinely thought that given a secret ballot, some of the pledged support for Gillard would break off and transfer to Rudd.

In other words, the trouncing I expected him to receive ended up being more of a poleaxing — and I realise that not only had support against Rudd crystallised, it had calcified and fossilised.

To the point that the only votes that broke away from anywhere were chipped out of Rudd’s tally to further inflate Gillard’s.

And this brings me neatly to Gillard; to her victory today; and to what may now ensue.

Contrary to the valiant attempts at spin that have been played out by senior ALP figures in the media since this morning’s vote, the result is not an emphatic endorsement of the leadership of Julia Gillard: it is an emphatic rejection of Kevin Rudd.

It’s an important distinction.

Much has been made in the past week, by those in the ALP either bitterly opposed to Rudd or professing near-unbridled hatred of him, that most of the woes Gillard has faced as Prime Minister derive directly from the plotting and scheming Rudd has undertaken since he was dumped.

Certainly, this may have been a complicating factor for Gillard, but as I have been saying to people today, Julia Gillard doesn’t need Kevin Rudd to get herself into trouble — she is perfectly and monstrously capable of achieving that all by herself.

The riot one of her staffers attempted to incite on Australia Day, in a foolhardy and baseless attempt to damage opposition leader Tony Abbott, had nothing to do with Kevin Rudd.

The promise not to introduce a carbon tax prior to the 2010 election — subsequently broken, and the root source of so many of Gillard’s, and of Labor’s, political woes — also had nothing to do with Kevin Rudd.

The deal Gillard made with Andrew Wilkie, promising to legislate dubious but well-intentioned reforms on poker machines — which she subsequently reneged on — was something Kevin Rudd had absolutely nothing to do with.

The speech Gillard gave at the recent national conference of the ALP — the toe-curling and embarrassingly cringeworthy “We Are Us” speech — had nothing to do with Rudd (apart from the fact, in an attempted poke in the eye, Rudd was the only Labor Prime Minister Gillard did not name in her roll call of “Great Labor Prime Ministers”).

Let’s continue.

Kevin Rudd had no input into or involvement with Julia Gillard’s much-vaunted “solutions” on illegal asylum seekers; these were meant to be the issue, in her own words, that would define her government; instead, they have been an abject failure and — the truth be told — an abject source of international embarrassment to Australia.

The fact this country averted a recession four years ago is widely credited as an achievement by the Labor government; yet even now, sovereign debt in Australia continues to skyrocket at a time of moderate GDP growth.

Let’s not forget that the so-called GFC was nearly four years ago now; the excuse is wearing thin when it comes to the billions of dollars of additional debt being racked up each month.

The likelihood of this government ever delivering a budget surplus, short of doctoring the books or a massive assault on spending, is nil.

And Rudd isn’t — and wasn’t — a Treasury minister at all.

I could detail dozens more such examples; the simple fact is that whilst Rudd had and has giant flaws and faults, much of what he has been blamed for had nothing to do with him.

And I defend Rudd with clenched teeth, and seeking a blackboard to run fingernails down.

The point is that Rudd was correct about something: the Australian people have lost all trust in Julia Gillard.

If you doubt this, go and look at her approval ratings in yesterday’s Newspoll.

People don’t like her; they don’t trust her; they don’t believe anything she has to say; and they certainly don’t support her.

There has been a lot of rhetoric from Labor types today about the imperative to all come together; to “heal;” and to “unify.”

All of that is noble sentiment, but the problem remains: Rudd might have been a disloyal troublemaker, but ultimately the government’s problem is its leader.

And this is why I say that Gillard did not receive an emphatic endorsement today; she benefitted from an emphatic rejection of Kevin Rudd.

And some of the “unity” rhetoric is implausible, even if you accept Rudd’s attempt to be gracious in defeat at face value.

For instance, the resignation from the ministry and from the Senate of NSW Right Labor powerbroker Mark Arbib — supposedly as a gesture to help “heal” the party — loses the credibility of its presentation when it is revealed that his primary purpose was to spend more time with his kids.

As someone with a toddler I fully understand, but the grandiose, noble gesture isn’t quite so noble when the real motivation for it is uncovered.

The fact Rudd and arch-critic Wayne Swan shook hands after the ballot is, frankly, nothing.

And not one of the most trenchant critics of Rudd — Swan, Nicola Roxon, Simon Crean, Tony Burke — have uttered a syllable in public by way of reconciliation.

Instead, a new line of spin has become apparent: ALP members and ministers appear to be queuing up to compare their leader’s 40-vote party room win with the one-vote margin Tony Abbott achieved in his successful challenge to Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership of the Liberal Party in 2009.

That’s the first point, right there: Abbott won as a challenger.

But secondly, there has only ever been three successful daylight assassinations of sitting Prime Ministers from within their own party since Federation: Billy McMahon over John Gorton in 1971, Paul Keating over Bob Hawke in 1991, and Gillard over Rudd in 2010.

Yet on opposition benches — and by both sides of politics — such leadership coups are monotonously regular.

Indeed, Labor did it three times in three years between 2003 and 2006.

And third, like him or not, Tony Abbott — with his one-vote win — has subsequently reinvigorated the Coalition’s political prospects; for the only time in the modern era, he erased a first-term government’s majority at an election; he has held the Coalition in a consistent election-winning position for 18 months; and he has the political and tactical smarts Gillard so obviously lacks.

Pull on a Liberal leadership ballot now and Abbott would win in a canter, and the Labor Party knows it.

It’s fair to say the ALP is terrified of Tony Abbott.

And it is fair to discount what they have to say about him on this measure.

I think that this government will continue to lurch from crisis to crisis; its penchant for self-inflicted mistakes to date is such that nobody could expect anything less.

I also think that when the polls return to the overwhelmingly negative position for Labor that they consistently recorded prior to any hint of Rudd’s return, that the mutterers in the ALP will again begin to mutter.

It is very clear that the Labor Party will never again embrace Rudd as its leader; hence the appropriate epitaph written for him at the outset of this article.

But it is equally clear, even now, that if things do not improve for Gillard in the next three to six months, and if she and her government continue on their gaffe-prone path, at some point she will find herself tapped on the shoulder, with most probably Stephen Smith lined up to take the leadership, and to attempt to salvage some dignity for his party at the election that even now is appearing as a bump on the horizon.

Provided an early election, by virtue of whatever of the various possible triggers exist, isn’t forced on the ALP in the meantime.

I could say more, but as lengthy as this article has been from the necessity to cover the ground, I think that will suffice.

But I will add one more point — the caveat I alluded to early in this article about the career of Kevin Rudd.

Margaret Thatcher once said (of the “wets” in her cabinet) that it was “better to have them with you, even though they try to drag you down…than to have them on the back benches, where they are free to make as much mischief as they like.”

If Julia Gillard and her colleagues really are serious about unity, reconciliation and the rest of the blather they have spouted this afternoon, then Gillard should as a matter of course offer Kevin Rudd his job back as minister for Foreign Affairs.

It would lock him in, given his undertakings today; it would give some substance to the rhetoric about unity and healing; and it would put a readily terminable Rudd on a very, very short leash indeed.

It won’t happen.

What do you think about today’s events?

 

Nowhere To Hide: Rudd Quits, But It’s Not Over Yet

Today’s contradictory events see Kevin Rudd resign as Foreign Minister, in apparent anticipation of his sacking from Cabinet next week; the game is over for Kevin Rudd, and yet this story still has some way to go before it is concluded.

Before we get into it, though — here’s a clip that is most suitable, given this afternoon’s events. If you can’t click it, paste it into your browser.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_2VRDkudyA

There’s no need to outline the background to the leadership ructions that have been underway in the ALP for the past year or so; everyone knows that.

But forces close to Julia Gillard determined to bring these matters to a head; today it was circulated that next Tuesday she would call a leadership ballot, and that if Rudd failed to stand, or if he stood and lost, he would be sacked from the ministry.

Today, at 5.30pm Melbourne time — and at 1.30am in Washington, which is where he is — Rudd resigned as Foreign minister, and from the Gillard government.

As someone who has been critical of Kevin Rudd ever since rumours began emanating from the Queensland public service in the early 1990s, which Rudd ran at the time, I can only say with some satisfaction that I believe this to be the end of the malodorous and noxious political career of an imbecile so self-obsessed as to have displayed a complete and utter contempt for his colleagues, his party, and for the Australian public.

In his press conference this afternoon — again, Melbourne time — Rudd sought to take the moral high ground; that he did not enjoy the support of his leader and that consequently “attacks on his character” had gone unrefuted, and that as a result he saw “no honourable course” other than to resign.

If only it were so simple.

It is common knowledge that Rudd and/or those close to him have, since the precise date of his deposal as Prime Minister, have undermined, backgrounded against, frustrated and thwarted Gillard at every available opportunity.

And the simple fact is that despite having led the ALP out of the wilderness in 2007 after 12 lean years in Opposition, he systematically and completely alienated so many of his fellow MPs that they now find a crushing election loss preferable to allowing him to resume the leadership of their party.

That’s the nub of the matter but again, it’s not really so straightforward.

It’s inarguable that on the present trajectory, the ALP is headed to a cataclysmic defeat at the hands of Tony Abbott — whenever the next election occurs.

It is also inarguable that Julia Gillard is electoral dead meat; a Prime Minister so reviled and distrusted by the Australian electorate that she could tell the people that the sky is blue, and they wouldn’t believe it.

So here we are. What happens?

I am reliably told that in a hypothetical leadership ballot against Rudd, Gillard has a minimum of 70 of the 103 caucus votes in the bag.

Little wonder Rudd resigned today.

It has further been reported in the press this evening that — just for the look of it — Gillard plans to declare her position vacant when the caucus reconvenes next week, and to invite nominations.

My strong advice to Rudd is not to bother.

I understand his hurt at losing the Prime Ministership, and I understand his grievance at the way in which that event occurred.

I also further reiterate that he probably only had himself to blame for it, based on the method with which he executed his approach to that office.

But the party that turned to him in 2006 and dumped him in 2010 refuses to embrace him; to stand would be a humiliation; and to attempt to make a second stand some months hence would almost be the act of a masochist.

Again, what happens?

Rudd may stand against Gillard; he would be humiliated, but the fact a contested ballot had occurred would ensure the instability in the ALP continued.

Rudd might opt not to stand; even then, forces loyal to him (and again, understandably outraged at his fate) would likely keep chipping away at Gillard, and the crisis would ensue.

It is one of those things that Gillard is unelectable, and will lead Labor to certain decimation if she ever fights another election as Prime Minister, but Rudd must realise that this is no longer his battle to fight.

And even if — some months down the track — a Smith or a Crean assumes the leadership and Prime Ministership in a bloodless leadership transfer, the agenda will be the minimising of electoral losses, not the winning of an election.

And for the record: Kevin Rudd is as unlikely to lead the ALP to election victory in present circumstances as any other candidate, current or prospective.

This must burn at Rudd; it is the hard cold fact of the loss of his life’s dream.

Yet he must move on.

Some might say that what I think should happen is self-serving, given my conservative political outlook, membership of the Liberal Party, and sometime political ambitions of my own.

But the best thing Kevin Rudd could do is to go the step further, and resign from Parliament; he is never going to be Prime Minister, and he is unlikely to ever hold ministerial commission again. It is logical for him to depart.

And should he do so, he should go in the knowledge that whilst the loss of his seat in a by-election might bring down the government, so too may so many other factors in relatively short order — not least, the mysteriously-delayed FWA report into Craig Thomson, and criminal charges which may arise from it.

Today’s events will make no difference at all to the tenure or prospects of the federal government; despite Gillard being a complete incompetent, and even when the egomaniacal Rudd was in charge, the problems were and have only ever really been about policy.

And on policy, the ALP is culpable.

Best for Rudd to slink off quietly into the night, and leave the remaining MPs in his party to get on with what they are doing.

(And to console himself with the knowledge that in 18 months, there won’t be too many of them left).

In the meantime, he can be satisfied that he — Kevin Rudd — did it “His Way.”

Thoughts?