FOLLOWING this week’s replacement of Julia Gillard as Prime Minister by Kevin Rudd, Labor MPs are dropping like flies; walkouts from the ministry are almost at double figures, with many opting to leave politics altogether. It is mostly childish, and exposes others to a charge of extreme gutlessness.
Over the next few days — as Kevin Rudd’s regurgitated government takes firmer shape — we will be speaking in greater detail about the direction Rudd seems to want to head in, and how he’s shaping up.
The early portents are hardly promising; his insistence Tony Abbott’s policies would ignite a war with Indonesia being an irresponsible and petulant hint that despite his protestations to the contrary, he hasn’t learned anything in the three years since he was first deposed.
But tonight I want to take a look at those who deposed him, and — more importantly — things that were said about Rudd subsequently, particularly around the time of his failed leadership challenge of February 2012.
The one aspect of any return to the Prime Ministership by Rudd that was always going to be entertaining to watch was the kids in the sandpit packing up their bats and balls and going home, with some — petulantly — ensuring they could never return.
And so, as the days pass, it has increasingly proven.
In actions guaranteed to assist Tony Abbott to rip Rudd apart a second time as Prime Minister (and remember, had Abbott not taken him down in the first place, Rudd would never have been vulnerable to a coup in 2010), Labor MPs have expended a great deal of hot air talking about what a dreadful piece of work Rudd is.
He’s not a Labor man. He has no Labor values. He’s a maniac. He’s a psychopath. On and on it went, all gleefully stored in the Liberal Party vault for use in the runup to any election Rudd might subsequently lead Labor into.
Such an election is now approaching, and the first shot out of the locker has proven potent. For those who haven’t yet seen it, check this out.
With no irony intended, the chickens seem to be coming home to roost; and whilst not meaning to revisit the deliberately farcical effort from Liberal HQ earlier this year (OK, all right…you can view it here if you haven’t seen it) it seems clear that the queue at Labor’s exit hatch will take longer to clear, even now.
The latest departure is Climate Change minister Greg Combet; having resigned from the ministry immediately after Gillard’s loss of the leadership on Wednesday, he has added today that he will not contest his Newcastle-based seat of Charlton at the coming poll.
Combet’s retirement is said to have been coming for several months, although his support for Gillard was open and it is no secret he has little time for Rudd; even so, Combet himself admitted that the leadership change was “probably a catalyst” for his decision to quit.
I thought we would quickly run through who’s resigned from what thus far, and who — by omission — is glaringly obvious.
- Julia Gillard — dumped as Prime Minister, retiring from Parliament
- Stephen Conroy — resigned as ALP Senate leader and from the ministry
- Craig Emerson — resigned from ministry, retiring from Parliament
- Stephen Smith — serving as Defence minister until election, retiring from Parliament
- Greg Combet — resigned from ministry, retiring from Parliament
- Peter Garrett — resigned from ministry, retiring from Parliament
- Wayne Swan — resigned from ministry, contesting parliamentary seat at election
- Joe Ludwig — resigned from ministry, remaining in Senate
- Nicola Roxon* — resigned earlier 2013 from ministry, retiring from Parliament
So far, names such as those of Tanya Plibersek and Kate Ellis – trenchant Rudd critics whose continued presence in any Labor ministry would appear grossly hypocritical at best — are mysteriously absent from the gaggle of MPs refusing to serve under Rudd.
Finance minister Penny Wong — a staunch Gillard supporter — is not only remaining in the ministry, but has accepted election as the ALP’s Senate leader, replacing Conroy; and Jenny Macklin, another Gillard supporter (and someone this column has a fair bit of time for) simply wishes to remain in Parliament and do her job as a minister.
Overall though — what a cesspool.
And as obsequious and contemptible as Rudd might be — and if anything, the free character assessments so freely offered by his colleagues collectively amount to a massive understatement — he is probably entitled to the clear air the stampede out of the ministry should give him.
Which is why those who were happy to engage in a character assassination of Rudd whilst he was on the backbench should probably now take their own places there as well.
Swan — a surefire loser in his own seat of Lilley under Gillard — has, curiously, announced his intention to stand again; to me this smacks of the lowest form of pusillanimity conceivable: Swan was to some extent the leader of the pack against Rudd, and now Labor has hope of stemming the anti-Labor tide, Swan is going to try his luck at the polls.
Another Queenslander, Graham Perrett in the highly marginal seat of Moreton, is another who has been flushed out as a fraud; his threat to immediately quit Parliament and cause a by-election were Rudd restored to the Labor leadership (seemingly to bring the government down) has amounted, predictably enough, to nothing.
And it warrants mentioning that of the 102 Labor MPs who voted on the leadership on Wednesday night, 45 voted for Gillard; by my reckoning — taking into account the nine who have left the ministry already, and including the odious Roxon, that leaves another 32 potential tantrum throwers to go.
Politics is politics, and what has transpired this week is mild compared to some of the things that this country has seen over the years.
But the ones who were all talk and no action when it really came to it are symptomatic of a culture that, in the end, stands for very little.
And the continuing torrent of resignations — and be assured, there are more to come — will simply feed the perception that far from taking steps to get its house in order, Labor remains little more than a directionless rabble at the mercy of competing whims and egos.
*Nicola Roxon included on account of her vociferous and vehement anti-Rudd outbursts despite the fact her resignation from Parliament was announced earlier this year.