Political Portents: If Rudd Becomes PM, What Happens?

IT MAY come to nought, but the mutterers in the ALP aren’t just muttering now, they’re talking panic stations — and more seem prepared to back words with actions. Under Julia Gillard, Labor is certain to be slaughtered at an election. But if Kevin Rudd were reinstalled, would it make any difference?

The short answer, of course, is no. But Labor may be stupid enough to try its luck.

We haven’t had a video clip for a while, so I’ve found a beauty tonight; it even features a ranga redhead: given the political shitfight of the century seems about to explode into reality, I think something a little lighthearted to get us underway is probably a good thing.

Is it bye-bye birdie for Julia Gillard? Maybe. But if it is, there will be yet another signature on the Labor Party’s death warrant, that document which already bears so many of its own autographs.

Regular readers know my belief that when the ALP is cornered, it does something, and right now it is cornered. Trapped. And destined to be slain in an ugly ritual kill at the hands of voters on September 14.

Since the 2010 election, Labor under Gillard hasn’t led after preferences in a single Newspoll; since her breaking of her carbon tax promise in early 2011, the polls have been virtually unanimous in their indication of impending doom for the ALP.

Until now, Gillard’s leadership has seemed immune from challenge; none of the so-called third party challengers — Smith, Crean, Shorten, Combet or even Martin “Ma’arn Ferson” Ferguson — have made any real attempt to organise or attract support among Labor MPs.

But the poor polls have kept coming: the closest Gillard has come to the Liberals in voting intention was in the immediate aftermath of her shameful “misogyny” speech; even then, the ALP’s poll numbers improved only as far as modest defeat, and even then, they quickly fell to where they had been for 18 months — in decimation territory.

And with the 14 September election date now just 13 weeks away, even Labor’s citadel in Victoria stands to be raided by victorious conservatives as up to 8 of the ALP’s 22 seats (of 37) in the Garden State seem destined to be snatched by Liberal Party candidates.

In the past few days, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been campaigning for Darren Cheeseman — holder of Corangamite, the most marginal electorate in Australia — and for Richard Marles, holder of the adjacent seat of Corio which, on paper, is a safe Labor seat but is regarded as vulnerable following Ford’s announcement that it will quit Australia and shut its operations in Geelong.

Rudd has been received in both electorates like a rock star; apparently this has caused previously staunch Gillard adherents, like Bill Shorten, to waver.

It all brings up what should be two unthinkable questions: will Labor turn, at the eleventh hour, to the man it not just dispensed with, but brutalised? And what will happen if it does?

The voting public largely does not know Kevin Rudd; they know only what he has opted to show them, and that is far removed from what he is really like.

His colleagues, of course, know exactly what he is like; which is why they gave him the Labor leadership in 2006, expecting John Howard to win a fifth election — and to destroy Rudd as a viable-seeming leader in the process.

Of course, Howard didn’t win, and Rudd — for two and a half years — led a shambolic and ego-driven government that promised much, but delivered very little.

It was under Rudd — who proclaimed himself an “economic conservative” — that the tax/borrow/spend model this government has become synonymous with was first deployed. The effect of this so far is $275 billion in debt the country didn’t owe six years ago: a figure rising quickly.

It was Rudd — beholden to compassion babblers, chardonnay drunks and mindless do-gooders — who dismantled the Howard government’s “Pacific Solution” to stop the flow of unauthorised boat arrivals. This led directly to the current reality that sees thousands of people arriving by sea each year, hundreds more drowning in the process, and a government unable to control the situation.

It was Rudd, grandstanding on the world stage and attempting to curry favour for support as the next Secretary-General of the United Nations, who first took the government down the path of an emissions trading scheme; the issue — which had already killed off one Liberal leader, and would soon claim another — was one of the pretexts later given by Gillard as proof of a “good government” which had “lost its way.”

(As an aside, here’s a reminder of Labor losing its way under Gillard).

And it was Rudd — supposedly to “spread the benefits of the boom” — who first attempted to introduce a mining tax; the measure was nonetheless implemented under Gillard by the common Treasurer in the equation, Wayne Swan, and has proven to raise so little money as to merit its abolition.

The point is that as far as policy is concerned, the Gillard government’s problems were the Rudd government’s problems — the only difference is that Rudd’s policies have had three years longer to mature into the stinking failures they have become.

Tony Abbott and his colleagues will have little trouble sheeting the ultimate responsibility for them home to Rudd should the politics require it.

When Rudd resurfaced 18 months after he was dumped to launch a leadership challenge, the bulk of his colleagues acted to destroy him; the talk of an egomaniac who was abusive, arrogant, possessed of an explosive temper and who was completely contemptuous of his colleagues was, if anything, an understatement.

This had been what they expected the public to see after Rudd won in 2007; when it didn’t automatically surface, his colleagues elected to air the dirty laundry themselves. I did say that the public didn’t really know Rudd, and they don’t. But his colleagues do, and it’s still an important point we will return to a little later.

And the election Rudd won in 2007 was fuelled, in no particular order, by three factors: a 12-year-old government and the “It’s time” factor; a $13 million media campaign by the unions against the Howard government’s WorkChoices laws; and a sloganeering, jingoistic campaign run by Rudd himself. Remember the “Education Revolution?”

The first two factors are not available for Rudd and his smarm to exploit in 2013, and as far as the slogans and jingoism are concerned, a cynical voting public will quickly see through them a second time.

Some of the earlier articles I have written on the issue of Rudd pushing his way back into the Labor leadership can be found here, here and here. There were plenty to pick from.

It is inarguable that Gillard’s management of the politics of government has been truly woeful; some point the finger for this at her imported spin doctor from the UK, former adviser to Tony Blair’s Labour government John McTernan.

But whilst McTernan has added no tangible value to Gillard’s government, to do so would be unfair to him.

Gillard exhibits no political acumen at all, and — whilst there are plenty of staffers and advisers who are known to have been behind numerous individual events that have transpired, the buck has to stop somewhere.

And her idea of “policy” is grandiose spending programs that sound good and attract expressions of support across the political divide, but which are not only unfunded but designed to sabotage the Liberal Party’s management of the federal budget many years after Labor leaves office.

It’s clear something has to happen, and it will: a change of government.

Many in Labor think Rudd would provide a circuit breaker to all of this; that he will reclaim the Prime Ministership in a blaze of adulation and glory, skip off to an election, and bury the evil Liberal Party and its nasty leader, the dreaded Abbott, in an avalanche.

The reality is likely to be different, and would run something like this.

By whatever the means (and God alone knows when it comes to the Labor Party), Rudd becomes leader and Prime Minister again at the end of June.

This is likely to be accompanied (or rapidly followed) by an announcement that the 14 September election is being brought forward to 3 August: Rudd will need to get to the polls as soon as possible to capitalise on any honeymoon effect his resurgence generates.

And he will need to get to the polls quickly simply because it’s the only way he will be able to stop a mass resignation of his ministers; in such a circumstance, don’t be surprised to see several of them follow Martin Ferguson’s lead and retire “for personal and family reasons.”

There will be an immediate — and steep — spike in Labor’s opinion poll numbers; this is the period in which the Liberal Party will need to hold its nerve. The numbers will be illusory, and any temptation to enact a leadership coup of its own, restoring Malcolm Turnbull to lead the Liberals to the election, would be the greatest error of judgement possible.

The Liberal Party campaign is likely to be fought on the economy, government waste, debts and deficits, and stopping the boats — the same themes it will use against Gillard of she survives to the election.

As the campaign wears on — and as Rudd is held to account for the political and policy failures of six years of Labor government, any poll lead will dwindle, and disappear, and reappear in the Coalition column.

2013 will be a difficult election for Labor, whoever leads it. I just wonder whether Kevin Rudd’s infamous glass jaw might finally break in public if exposed to the right blows from the right angle in a relentless Liberal Party onslaught.

Either way, in attacking Rudd head-on, the blame for all of the political and policy failures of the full six years of Labor government will be dumped in Rudd’s lap.

By the time Rudd makes it to polling day, there will be no honeymoon, no euphoria, no excitement, and no prospect of re-election. Rudd will have been killed off by Abbott, and all Labor will have to offer the country on election night will be bitter recriminations and infighting.

I personally think Rudd will lose just as badly as Gillard would; rock star receptions and hypothetical polls on popularity are well and good, but when people are voting based on reality and not pretend scenarios, the reality is almost invariably different.

It needs to be remembered that much of Rudd’s rock star-like image has been deliberately crafted by the man himself; there is little spontaneity about it, and I suspect his “popularity” runs in a pretty shallow pool in the electorate when all is said and done.

Even so, if Rudd were to win the election (and it’s a huge “if”), the likelihood of his colleagues simply removing him from the Prime Ministership again — probably straight away — is overwhelming.

We can go through the numbers and the seats and the issues pertaining to each, but I don’t see the point.

Waving “bye-bye” to Birdie, from a purely political perspective, would be a destructive action indeed for Julia Gillard’s colleagues, even though they don’t have so many more palatable choices.

As a final thought, readers should consider the NSW Labor government that was annihilated at the ballot box in March 2011.

A little over a year out from the election it, too, engineered a leadership change; it chose an extremely intelligent (drop-dead gorgeous) woman who was well-liked in the electorate, and who carried none of the political or electoral baggage of her predecessors.

Kristina Keneally lost in a modern Labor massacre. There is no reason to think a confected, tarnished, damaged and conceited egomaniac like Kevin Rudd — who boasts none of Keneally’s very real personal appeal — would do any better.

Australians want a change of government. They are tangibly fed up with the whole post-2007 experiment with Labor, which was arguably predicated on a lie in the first place.

And they want stable, competent government: something a further leadership change — even to Rudd — would simply underline Labor’s utter incapability of providing.

Horror Newspoll: 58-42 To Coalition; Annihilation Awaits Labor

THE FORTNIGHTLY Newspoll for tomorrow’s issue of The Australian is out, heralding a disaster for the Gillard government; a 58-42 lead to the Coalition after preferences, which would all but wipe Labor out. It raises the question of whether the ALP will make one final attempt at leadership change.

It’s just a poll…but in the context of the post-budget climate — and the outcry last week over “reform” of public funding of election campaigns — Newspoll’s findings simply must be taken seriously by ALP strategists as the looming election seems increasingly certain to produce a Labor bloodbath.

Opposition frontbencher Christopher Pyne attracted the ridicule of some when he claimed he had “reliable information” that one final challenge to Gillard’s leadership would occur “either on 3 June, or in the week of 3 June.”

Right or wrong his information might be, but if ever there were to be ideal conditions under which to execute another sitting Prime Minister, this poll provides them for Labor’s MPs.

And Labor, historically, is a party that has been obsessed with Newspoll and has executed several leaders in the past on the back of poor figures in Newspoll results.

Newspoll finds Labor now trailing the Coalition by 16 points — or 58-42 — after preferences; this is the ALP’s equal worst result on the two-party measure in a Newspoll since Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd as leader, the 2010 election, and the broken promise on a carbon tax: take your pick which is the most historically significant marker.

This 58-42 split represents a swing to the Coalition of 2% since Newspoll’s last survey a fortnight ago.

It breaks down to see the Coalition recording a 49% primary vote (+3%) among Newspoll respondents — close to the historic 50% mark the Coalition vote has sat at or near several times now this year, and historic in that no party has achieved it at a federal election since Malcolm Fraser led the Coalition to power after the Dismissal in 1975.

The ALP records a primary vote of 30% (-1%), with the Greens on 9% (unch) and “Others” at 12% (-2%).

On the “preferred Prime Minister” measure — which will also fuel leadership rumblings within the ALP — Tony Abbott’s incremental improvements become a surge in this survey, with 43% (+3%) indicating their preference for him as opposed to 35% (-4%) for Gillard.

And the individual leaders’ ratings hold no joy for Gillard either; Newspoll finds just 28% (-3%) of voters approving of her performance, with a mammoth 62% (+3) disapproving; Abbott’s approval rating is static at 37%, with his disapproval number edging down one point to 53%.

For comparison, Essential Research also released its weekly findings this afternoon, which showed an unchanged Coalition lead of 55-45.

At the minimum, it suggests there is a floor under the Newspoll result, rather than any prospect of the Labor poll numbers drifting upwards.

Yet by the same token, the fact Essential is a rolling survey with its findings drawn from consecutive weeks of research could well mask any upward trend in the conservative vote, and may even overstate it.

Aside from the general shambles this government has proven to be, there are two specific issues I think have fuelled the Newspoll result.

The first is the issue of a Coalition-led motion of no confidence in the Gillard government; this was threatened at the time of the non-coup in March over the Labor leadership.

After much to-ing and fro-ing — including an attempt in recent days to convince “Independents” Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott to support such a motion — this tactic to force an immediate election has now been abandoned on the basis of insufficient support.

Yet I believe it has backfired on Labor, not the Coalition, as Windsor in particular has since made great noise about moving a motion of confidence in the government, talking about its “achievements” from a perspective that Parliament has delivered on “the people’s wishes.”

Clearly, it hasn’t — and this poll shows that very clearly.

The other issue, obviously, is the secret deal Labor tried to strike with the opposition to increase public funding to political parties — and to backdate the deal to April just gone.

Both parties rightly came in for criticism over this measure; there may be a case to make for increasing public funding if private (and especially union) donations are heavily curbed.

But the secrecy with which the deal was negotiated enraged voters; and when Abbott abandoned it, the efforts of the ALP, Greens, and Windsor again to turn the backdown into an adverse reflection on Tony Abbott’s character (and on their own righteousness) has since added fuel to the fire in terms of Labor’s rapidly decaying public support.

And this brings us back to the question of whether the ALP will make one last, desperate attempt to rid itself of Gillard in a hysterical gamble on averting the rapidly oncoming electoral train wreck.

As we discussed last week, Kevin Rudd is now the only feasible candidate to switch to; it’s too late in the cycle now for anyone else to expect to establish themselves as a cleanskin in time for an election that is almost due.

Proof of this — were it required — exists in the form of the present Prime Minister.

It’s significant that respected ALP stalwart (and Rudd supporter) Martin Ferguson announced his intention to retire from Parliament last week.

It sends a signal to the rest of the disaffected Rudd supporters in caucus which they may follow, and it sharpens the distinction between the ALP of old and the one Gillard and her union masters have been trying to shape by influencing preselections, enforcing disendorsements, and so forth.

And let’s not forget the fact that whilst he has his adherents, Rudd is detested and reviled by a significant percentage of Labor MPs — with good reason, and based on Rudd’s own behaviour.

I personally think that it is now too late for Labor to avoid defeat, and that irrespective of who leads it into battle, the defeat will be catastrophic.

Yet as I have said many times, the ALP, when cornered, is an exceedingly dangerous beast, and it tends to do something.

If a change of leader brought with him the prospect of salvaging even five or ten additional seats (including, in Rudd’s case, perhaps his own) and containing the losses to, say, 25 seats instead of 35, then if the numbers are there to roll Gillard, it will only take someone to call on the spill to attempt to do so.

Despite the non-coup in March, there is no lack of will on Rudd’s part to return as leader: his decision not to stand was an acknowledgement that the numbers simply didn’t exist at that time to do so, and not a sign of weakness — as Gillard jubilantly implied.

Whether they do now or not remains to be seen, but if enough MPs are prepared to dump Gillard, my expectation would be that it will happen before the week is out.

After all, Newspoll — on which so many Labor leaderships have thrived and died — has given the putative plotters the perfect pretext on which to strike.

Is There One More Crack At Leadership Change Left For ALP?

WITH THE ELECTION now less than four months away — and the start of the “formal” campaign in nine weeks — the mutterers are again muttering; they haven’t stopped since Julia Gillard skewered Kevin Rudd in June 2010. But could Labor change again now, and what impact would such a change have?

I have stated, many times now, that a cornered Labor Party is a dangerous beast indeed; with its back to the wall it tends to do something, and right now the ALP is both cornered and faced with an existential threat, in the immediate electoral sense and in terms of its future viability.

Coalition frontbencher (and chief Parliamentary tactician) Christopher Pyne attracted the ridicule of some in Labor’s ranks last week when he claimed he had “reliable information” from within the ALP that one final challenge to Gillard’s leadership would occur “either on 3 June, or in the week of 3 June.”

Labor types would rubbish such a claim of course, true or not.

But I said after the non-coup the ALP indulged itself with in March that I felt the party probably had one more attempt at a move over its leadership before the approaching election; for it to happen it would need to happen very soon now, so at the very least Pyne’s timing is spot on — even if his “information” proves unreliable after all.

And it’s not as if Labor hasn’t been trying to “do something” for some time.

In the last seven months we’ve had Gillard’s “misogyny” stunt; superannuation “reforms” designed to curry favour with lower-income earners; the NDIS, despite the fact there’s not enough money for it; Gonski, which is almost completely unfunded (and which carries an attempt to cut increases to funding for non-government schools — a barb which has done no good against the Coalition, and may well backfire badly); and this month’s budget, which talks the talk but, typically, fails utterly to walk the walk as an economic management instrument and as a politically adroit statement.

None of it has ultimately worked; William Bowe, who authors psephological analysis column The Poll Bludger for Crikey, finds a small increase in Labor’s two-party average across the polls in the past fortnight.

But Bowe’s analysis still puts the Labor vote at 45.9%, which also just happens to be virtually identical to the figure I came up with in calculating an average polling result for Labor since the 2010 election.

It is well known — and has been widely reported for a long time — that Gillard remains “confident” of Labor’s electoral prospects in the face of published polling and despite every political indicator suggesting otherwise.

Since the budget, however, and increasing number of Labor MPs — from Gillard down — have been opining that they are “certain” the ALP will win this year’s election; ordinarily such sentiments expressed publicly would betray a dangerous hubris, but this is no ordinary election cycle for the Labor Party.

The direct consequence of Gillard’s “assassin at midnight” replacement of Rudd as Prime Minister has been the incessant leadership speculation that has bedevilled the ALP; thus far there has been one crushingly unsuccessful challenge from Rudd, and another abandoned when the party’s number crunchers found Rudd would fall several votes short despite a clear movement of MPs in his favour.

I tend to think that anyone in the ALP who is “certain” of an election win is delusional, or sitting on inside knowledge of a filthy political plot to undo Abbott so greasy and sensational as to be virtually unprecedented.

My inclination is to the former; even if Labor has something it could use, it has shown itself so spectacularly inept at political strategy and tactics that its execution of such a stunt would probably add votes to the Liberal tally rather than its own.

So it is safe to say — everything of the past three years considered — that if things remain as they are, the Gillard government is cruising downhill toward defeat.

I think if Gillard makes it to 14 September unchallenged, it will be purely because the number crunchers find a shortage of votes for a challenger, and will have nothing to do with solidarity with or any real faith in Gillard as a leader.

And Labor — under Gillard — will be electorally butchered.

In this context, Kevin Rudd’s recent (and highly public) conversion to the cause of gay marriage is significant; at face value he may very well have arrived at his new position on the basis of the purity of thought he claims.

But a more cynical reading of his conversion says that faced with the recognition a significant slice of the electorate also favours legalising the measure, Rudd’s switch is more about product differentiation in a leadership sense.

Similarly — in a direct play to the ALP caucus — Rudd has thrown his support behind a move to restore the selection of ministries within Labor to a vote of the party room, removing the right of the leader to select whomever he or she wishes.

It was Rudd who claimed the right to select his ministry in the first place in the wake of his election win in 2007, a practice continued under Gillard.

But there seems little doubt the measure — widely backed by Rudd’s supporters — is aimed at clipping Gillard’s wings in the unlikely event she survives the looming election.

This article — from yesterday’s Daily Telegraph in Sydney — also makes a reasonable case of the notion that Rudd and his backers are, at the minimum, tilling the ground for one last tilt at restoring the former PM as their leader.

But were Labor to change, would it necessarily be to Rudd?

Certainly, with an election this close, the damage from a mass resignation of ministers from Cabinet or MPs from Parliament would be reduced, but not altogether averted; aside from the dreadful imagery such a walkout would gift the Coalition and the adverse reporting it would attract, the primary risk from such a debacle would be a shortage of Parliamentary votes to stave off a no-confidence motion that the Liberals would almost certainly move.

If Rudd were to reclaim the leadership — and quickly — I would expect the 14 September election date would be dispensed with in favour of the earliest constitutionally allowable option of a House plus half-Senate poll on 3 August.

Rudd would thus calculate such a switch, and a snap election, would enable him to maximise the impact of any honeymoon effect emanating from his political resurrection. Crucially, however, it would also allow him to dispense with the final scheduled sitting weeks of Parliament next month before the election is held.

I tend to think that it is now too late for any ALP candidate other than Rudd to become Prime Minister this year, although it has to be noted that the desperate machinations of the ruthlessly power-hungry Labor machine can’t rule anything out conclusively.

Even so, Simon Crean probably had to become leader at the time of the March non-coup to have any real prospect of establishing himself in the role with credibility before an election, to give him time to prove to voters that his would indeed be a government changed.

The same can be said of Stephen Smith, who in any case is at real danger (depending on whose read of the polls you listen to) of losing his marginal seat of Perth at the election.

And Labor’s apparent leader-in-waiting — Bill Shorten — is unlikely to sign on for six to eight weeks as Prime Minister just to be permitted to lead the party to a bloodbath.

His ambitions in the longer run would be destroyed in the process, and even Shorten knows his interests are better served by waiting for the electoral cycle to turn again, even at the risk that the Coalition will remain in office longer than he does in Parliament before Labor eventually returns to government.

So I think any change will involve Rudd; not because he’s necessarily desirable or would lead a government any less odious or ramshackle than his first, but because a leadership change is the only card the ALP still holds, and Rudd is its only option in this regard.

Readers who follow Peter Brent’s Mumble column in The Australian will know that as much as he talks about the outcome of this year’s election, every article on the subject he publishes carries the clear disclaimer that were Rudd to return as Prime Minister, all bets would be off.

I’m prepared to go out on a limb and restate my view that even a switch to Rudd and a snap election will still see the ALP banished to opposition, and by a wide margin to boot.

The question, of course, is how wide.

Rudd, as a Queenslander, might — might — improve Labor’s dire prospects in Queensland to a marginal extent, no pun intended.

But even that is far from certain, and in the rest of the country I doubt it would make much difference to the election outcome at all — whenever he opted to hold it.

And Rudd remains at a very real risk of losing his supposedly safe seat of Griffith this year, Prime Minister or not; it was won by the Liberals in the landslides of 1966 and 1996, has been held by the Coalition for six of the 18 Parliamentary terms since 1966, and has a history of changing hands that dates back to its creation in 1934, so it is certainly possible that Rudd won’t even be in Parliament by Christmas.

Yet as I said at the outset — as I have many times this year — I still believe there is one attempt at a change of leadership left in the ALP.

The survival instinct of a dangerously cornered beast may well trump the visceral loathing many of Labor’s MPs bear, with absolute justification, toward Rudd; in the end, any challenge is likely to be successful, and will come down purely to a hard-headed calculation of just how many of their otherwise doomed electorates the change is realistically likely to salvage from the oncoming election debacle.

It would, however, send the clear signal of a party in turmoil, with four moves on its leadership in less than three years — something the Liberal Party will exploit with utter ruthlessness and, in all likelihood, to devastating effect.

If it doesn’t eventuate, take it as gospel the votes for a challenge are still simply not there, and that the party’s MPs are clinging to their leader like lemmings headed to the slaughter.

Which is what, as at today’s date, they are anyway.

Headless Chooks: If It Weren’t So Serious…

THERE’S a new TVC out today from the Liberal Party, and it’s a beauty; good for a laugh, but stripped of the mirth it’s actually a pretty sad reflection on the Labor Party and what passes for government in its current form. And, yes, if it weren’t so serious, it’d be funny.

If there’s one aspect of election campaigning in which the Liberal Party has had it all over Labor in the past ten to fifteen years, it’s been in the quality of its television commercials; it’s an area in which the party’s output has evolved into a major strength, with its hard-hitting and precisely targeted messages.

Late last night the Liberals released their latest TVC, and after I’d had a bit of a giggle over it I realised that it really is an indictment of the Rudd-Gillard government that something like this neatly sums up, in a pinch, everything that has been wrong with six years of Labor in office.

And it’s sad that a cartoon featuring the Oktoberfest Chicken Dance — of all things — is an apt descriptor of any federal government in this country.

Readers can view the TVC here.

I’d make the point that as much as was wrong with the Whitlam and Keating governments in the end, it’s difficult to imagine either of those gentlemen allowing the situation to arise whereby their governments could so readily be caricatured using headless chickens.

Certainly, Whitlam had Rex Connor, who acted against the law and against the specific directives of his Prime Minister, and Jim Cairns, who was more interested in his secretary than in his job; Keating had Brian Howe, whose escape from a testing press conference into a cupboard must rank as one of the most cringeworthy and symbolic moments in recent Australian political history.

And those divisive, inept governments, in turn, did considerable damage to Australia economically and — despite their self-congratulatory rhetoric about “social justice” — fostered deep resentment within the silent majority of Australians, with their emphasis on minorities and elites at the expense of the mainstream.

But even then, it speaks to just how bad this government is — indeed, I believe the worst in the country’s history, and far worse than Whitlam’s and Keating’s — that its track record can so easily and so farcically be pilloried.

The message of the “Headless Chooks” is deadly accurate.

If it weren’t so serious, it’d be funny. And if that’s the out-take from someone like me, what sort of message is this government sending to our friends around the world?

A visit to www.headlesschooks.org.au is also well worth a look, to meet “the chooks.”

See you all a little later…

Labor Leadership: Is Crean Mobilising As The “Third Option?”

FRESH from unanimously re-endorsing Julia Gillard as its leader, the ALP is seemingly more in need of a circuit-breaker today than it was just a few short weeks ago. And hot on the heels of his one-man stand against Gillard then, Simon Crean is pretty obviously up to something now.

This column, ever since I started publishing it, has followed the rather farcical history of the Labor leadership: the intrigues and the rumours and the muttering, all inextricably linked to a politically inept incumbent, the machinations surrounding a publicly popular but internally-detested alternative, and a record in government that is truly shocking.

I have consistently stated that Julia Gillard remains leader of the ALP mainly because of the deeply ingrained hatred of Kevin Rudd in the Labor caucus.

Whilst I don’t disagree with some of the assessments of Rudd that have been freely offered by Labor types, it says something about the state of the ALP that seething personal hatred of one man has led to a situation in which a majority of its MPs would prefer electoral defeat to a leadership change that might — might — at least save some of their seats.

So much for the party that brought Australia the idea of “whatever it takes.”

Even so, politicians being prepared to accept defeat instead of giving their leader the boot? And in the Labor Party indeed, the outfit that gave NSW four Premiers in six years?

We have canvassed the prospect that a change in the Labor leadership may well involve a third option beyond Gillard and Rudd; the most spoken about names belong — in no particular order — to Bill Shorten, Stephen Smith and Simon Crean.

Shorten can be discounted; aside from simply not being ready, he gives every indication of being prepared to wait until the smoke clears from the post-September election carnage.

Smith, it seems, will stay loyal to Gillard (which is a pity, putting partisanship aside).

Is Simon Crean mobilising, therefore, as the “third option” to give the ALP one final roll of the electoral dice, and to try to save some of its doomed MPs?

As readers will recall, the “non-spill” that took place in the Labor Party a few weeks ago was brought on by Simon Crean’s remarkable press conference calling for change, a vote on the leadership, and urging Kevin Rudd (whom Crean himself was happy to sledge a mere 12 months earlier) to stand in such a vote.

It was widely assumed that Crean was acting as a stalking horse to invite the candidacy of a more substantial figure: Kevin Rudd.

But events since that fateful doorstop press conference suggest otherwise.

In the end, Kevin Rudd didn’t stand of course; faced with certain defeat he decided he couldn’t, and so Julia Gillard was reselected — unopposed.

This was no definitive endorsement for Gillard, despite the jubilant triumphalism some of her acolytes have engaged in; simply stated, the alternative candidate knew he would lose, and that that reality rendered the contest pointless.

Gillard got off the hook.

Even then — despite some of them having to clench their teeth — Rudd would have scored at least 40 of the 51 votes* he needed to win a contest in March: again, the endorsement Gillard received was hardly a ringing one.

Yet the criticisms made of Julia Gillard’s leadership — internally by her own MPs, in the press and opinion pages like this one, in the business community and in the electorate at large — are all, fundamentally, every bit as valid today as they were a month ago.

Rudd has ruled himself out of ever contesting another Labor leadership vote, and made a great deal of noise about holding to his word from last February, when he pledged to never challenge Julia Gillard for the ALP leadership again.

On one level, he had to do that; to have his name near a third prospective leadership vote in a little over a year would stink of desperation and wilful divisiveness, and cruel what is left of Rudd’s political career forever.

But on another — more basic — level, had the votes been there to support him in a winning bid, nobody believes Rudd would not have stood against Gillard when the opportunity presented itself last month.

Naturally, this means Gillard will either lead Labor to the election, or be replaced by someone other than Rudd beforehand.

Enter Crean.

This is essentially a good and decent man in the “old Labor” tradition, when the party actually stood for something (even if it was wrong), and its footsoldiers didn’t just pay lip service to “Labor principles” — they were diligent and loyal servants to them.

True, he was an abysmal failure as leader, even if he never led his party to an election. But failure as an opposition leader is neither new nor a bar to the future prospect of a second, successful stint at the helm — just look at John Howard and Jeff Kennett.

But what at first looked to be a dummy run to bring Rudd out of the shadows now seems to be something else altogether.

With the debate over superannuation reforms now occupying (domestic) political centre stage — presumably because leaks, to road-test those reforms, have placed them there — Crean is again leading a very public revolt against the measures, speaking what many others in his party think but will not say, and drawing plenty of attention in the process.

“This (the mooted changes to superannuation) has got to be opposed,” Crean thundered a few days ago.

The suggestion has been made that he might cross the floor of the House of Representatives to scuttle the changes, voting with an opposition and at least one of the other crossbenchers who are resolutely opposed to them in their reported form.

Crean has allowed the suggestion to circulate, making no attempt to kill the speculation, although it is unlikely he would ever vote against his own party in Parliament.

And as someone who was resolute in his support for Julia Gillard until very recently, Crean would not be taking such an overtly suicidal political path for no reason.

The press conference that led to the aborted attempted coup, it has since transpired, was based to some degree on a false premise; Crean had understood Rudd would stand if there was a vote, whilst Rudd had privately committed to do so only if there was “a sufficient majority” of the votes in caucus guaranteed him if he did so.

So if you are Crean, and you are resolved to enact top-down change in the Labor Party in one final attempt to stave off electoral oblivion or at least to save five or ten additional seats — and your first attempt involving Rudd failed — what do you do?

Significantly, most of the other Rudd supporters followed the sacked Crean out of Gillard’s ministry; Albanese remains, of course, because without his tactical smarts and parliamentary direction of the ALP attack, Gillard’s government wouldn’t survive for the metaphoric five minutes.

Of the others, Kevin Rudd, Martin Ferguson, Kim Carr, Chris Bowen and Joel Fitzgibbon are some of Labor’s best performers, languishing on the backbench; they, and others like them, constitute what has been popularly described as “the government in exile.”

Murdoch press columnist Andrew Bolt got it about right, when he described Labor’s backbench as being stronger than its frontbench, a contention all the more credible for the fact that the likes of Wayne Swan, Stephen Conroy and even Gillard herself remain on the frontbench in the first place.

Certainly, the replacement of Gillard — accompanied by a wholesale cleanout of the ministry — could hardly reduce Labor’s political effectiveness or competence below the dismal level at which it presently stands.

A government with Crean as Prime Minister, Bowen as Treasurer, Rudd in Foreign Affairs and Trade, Kim Carr in Education, Ferguson in Industry, Infrastructure and Workplace Relations, and Fitzgibbon in, say, Tourism and Regional Development would start with a solid nucleus of reasonably competent people in many of the key roles around which a full ministry could be constructed.

And it would remove Labor’s single greatest electoral liability after Julia Gillard — the legend in his own mind, Wayne Swan — from any position of further influence.

By way of extra reading, I have included a link to a related article by Bolt here for readers’ interest; I also include a link to an excellent article by Graham Young (publisher and columnist at On Line Opinion) here that deals with the very same subject — but from a different perspective altogether.

(I also saw an article in The Australian earlier in the week by Ken Wiltshire, in which he advocated Crean and his mates setting up a totally new party to contest the looming election; I think this is fantasy-land stuff — for the moment — but depending on the scale of the ALP defeat, we’ll revisit it in the aftermath; I have long opined that reform of the Labor Party could transform it into a proper social democratic party along the lines of the mainstream Left in Europe, but it won’t happen this year).

I think there is one more attempt at a leadership change left in the Labor Party, this side of the election.

It is easy to forget that the bloc of votes that supported Crean as leader against Kim Beazley, and which made Mark Latham leader against Beazley, also forms the nucleus of Gillard’s support base; times change, and so does personnel, but there remains a solid core within the Labor caucus that was once loyal to Crean, and may again be so.

If the votes of the hardcore Rudd adherents, combined with those of disaffected MPs who have supported Gillard until now, reach 52 of the 102 votes in the Labor caucus, my bet would be on a leadership challenge from Simon Crean.

And with the Rudd consideration among Labor MPs removed, it is difficult to see Gillard prevailing over Crean in such a scenario — irrespective of how unlikely a Prime Minister Crean may seem at first thought, and as at today’s date.

It’s the only realistic circuit-breaker left for the Labor Party to try, and confronted by the prospect of posting its worst election loss in history, we know the ALP will try something.

*Two of Labor’s 102 MPs were overseas during the March leadership confrontation; had there been a ballot 100 MPs would have voted, making 51 votes a winning tally.

Gang Of Four: ALP Resignations The Start Of The Bloodshed

CONTINUING fallout from yesterday’s leadership shenanigans in the ALP has seen three more Gillard government ministers join the sacked Simon Crean on the backbench; with dismissal the alternative to going quietly, it sounds a sinister note of what lies ahead — for this is only the beginning.

Day One of Julia Gillard’s Brave New World Of Control over at the Labor Party has seen the number of frontbenchers aligned to Kevin Rudd and moving to the backbench swell to eight, with Martin Ferguson, Kim Carr and Chris Bowen joining Simon Crean — sacked immediately after his press conference yesterday for disloyalty — and four parliamentary secretaries and whips on the outer.

It has been made clear during the day that all of them (Crean aside, obviously) were expected to jump ship — and that if they didn’t, they would be pushed.

There are other Rudd supporters remaining in the Gillard ministry tonight — Anthony Albanese and Mark Butler most notably — and it remains to be seen whether they, too, are confronted with the choice between resignation and the high jump.

As the leader of her party — and especially one unanimously re-elected to the role — it’s true that Gillard is, nominally, free to manage personnel issues as she sees fit.

But for all the talk of a fresh start, and of leadership questions having been “conclusively ended,” these early moves are suggestive of a more sinister undercurrent.

It is probably true that Gillard has decided that she will brook no more; that having battled against forces loyal to Rudd — whether openly or behind the scenes — for the best part of three years, she has decided that enough is enough.

It probably speaks to an insecurity in Gillard that she does so: after all, her own midnight murder of her predecessor was plotted in secrecy and sprung without warning, and faced with the reality that she would be forever targeted for retribution, the prospect has likely haunted her ever since.

And it is certainly true that with the exception of Crean, all of the frontbench departures have been resignations, not dismissals.

Yet anyone with the most rudimentary grasp of how these things work knows that resignations can be sought and obtained, or are offered as a more palatable option to taking the metaphorical bullet on someone else’s terms — in this case, Gillard’s.

And it is clear that anyone identified as loyal to Kevin Rudd will be in for a rough time in the ALP, at least for the foreseeable future.

I tend to think the resignations can be taken at face value in terms of the words of each departing minister along the lines of honourable courses, appropriate actions and so forth.

It is clear that many people in the Labor Party are in vehement disagreement with its leadership, but not all are prepared to say so; those that have done so, however, really do have the one honourable option, and that is to give Gillard a free run.

It is difficult to disconnect from a leader whose entire agenda is regarded as anathema whilst nonetheless remaining in the parliamentary party; even so, sitting on the backbench does represent the strongest action these people can take without the added histrionic step of quitting the party.

But in terms of the looming catastrophe the ALP faces at the ballot box, it remains to be seen whether it will do them any good: I will be watching with great interest how the likes of Crean, Ferguson et al fare relative to others in the Labor Party on election night, but ultimately, they’ll be just as much in opposition as the remainder of the Gillard cabinet after 14 September — those of them, of course, who retain their seats.

Even so, the methods that Gillard appears to intend to use leave everything to be desired.

As I said, it may well be that she wishes to see out her term unencumbered by those allied to a man intent on bringing her down, and exacting his revenge.

But it also says a lot about the mean-spirited and brutal (and short-sighted) way Gillard and Labor play their politics that the purge has to extend so far down the ranks, and to otherwise reasonably effective personnel.

Experienced veterans like Crean, and effective ministers like Ferguson, are the exception in the Labor Party, not the norm; and the continuing Gillard cabinet will be the worse for their absence.

To compound the issue, incompetents of the ilk of Wayne Swan remain where they are, with the perverse reality that electoral liabilities are part of the Gillard plan, whereas less-supportive but competent ministers (who might bolster the government’s case) are not.

I reiterate again that those resigning have done so in the face of being tossed overboard if they didn’t — which doesn’t strike anybody as the actions of a leadership paying anything more than lip service to notions of healing, a fresh start, and the rest of the rhetoric deployed by Gillard and her coterie yesterday.

I also note that in one of the many debacles that have been self-inflicted by the Gillard government of recent times, the Prime Minister exercised her so-called “captain’s pick” to disendorse another known Rudd supporter — the NT’s Senator Trish Crossin — and replace her with a “star” candidate who is resented by the local rank and file, and little-known at close range in what is intended to be her electorate.

God knows who is next, but even the most conservative estimates of Rudd’s support before yesterday had him commanding 37 leadership votes; with eight gone so far, that leaves a lot of additional targets for the Gillard people to hassle.

As the next few weeks progress, it will become clear that the eight frontbench scalps that Gillard has taken with her new-found “authority” are merely the tip of the iceberg.

There will be a great deal more bloodletting and internal retribution in the ALP; hardly healthy at the best of times, but especially now, with the party in the deeply divided and highly charged state it is in.

And I reiterate a point from yesterday: to paraphrase, what the electorate thinks of all of this doesn’t seem to matter; after all, they’re only voters.

I have said before that I really don’t know why Labor continues to endorse Gillard’s leadership; after all, it’s been stunning only insofar as its incompetence, and for pure electoral appeal it has none — as the ALP will soon learn to its enduring cost.

The final word — for today, at least — belongs to Joel Fitzgibbon, who has resigned as Chief Government Whip; asked on Triple J whether he thought the ALP had yesterday chosen to lose the coming election, his answer was succinct: “I do.”

As ever, we’ll follow this issue, but it’s not likely to get any prettier.

And remember — we’re only voters, so why should our opinion of what the Labor Party is doing matter?

I’ll see you all tomorrow…

Lemmings Search For The Cliff: ALP Unanimously Re-Elects Gillard

JULIA GILLARD was today reaffirmed — unopposed — as Labor leader and Prime Minister, in a “spill” aimed at flushing former PM Kevin Rudd out of cover; the ALP is now beholden to a failure as leader, unable to replace her, and rocketing toward the cliff and an election that heralds its doom.

I have to confess, it was all a bit of an anti-climax really; the weeks and months of simmering leadership tension that finally bubbled over this week…into nothing.

It has long been obvious to virtually everyone outside the ALP that under Julia Gillard’s leadership, Labor is doomed; the public can barely stand her, and as Prime Ministers go, Gillard is one of the most inept to have ever occupied the role.

Moreover — and this is an old story — she is dishonest, manipulative, untrustworthy, deceptive, a schemer and a hypocrite; she has proven she possesses these characteristics in spades in the three years since knifing Kevin Rudd to seize his job.

Not that one has any sympathy for Rudd, mind — far from it. Readers of this column will be very well aware that when it comes to the former PM, there are few praiseworthy words that can be summoned to fill column inches at The Red And The Blue.

Tonight, it seems, the country and the Labor Party are stuck with the worst of all worlds.

Australia remains saddled with the Gillard government — for now — and this means, in practice, that the instability and backgrounding and dysfunction with which the government has conducted itself is set to continue.

It means that in a little over six weeks’ time, the country will be subjected to a budget that is either filled with pre-election sweeteners that are neither costed nor affordable, or — more likely — a horror budget that ratchets up the financial pain on middle Australia, with tax rises and steep cuts to initiatives such as the private health rebate and the family tax benefit.

The worst government in Australia’s history is now primed to make one final sprint to the end of its term; unmolested by the likes of Kevin Rudd and his ambitions, it will get on with the job of entrenching union rights, savaging families and small businesses, and running up the national debt to levels typical of a myriad of economically moribund EU countries.

It is difficult to ascertain why — rent asunder with leadership tensions and plumbing the lowest echelons of public opinion — after almost uninterrupted leadership speculation since the last failed Rudd challenge a year ago, the ALP has proven unable to find an alternative.

The failure of Rudd to challenge Gillard today had nothing to do with honour, or pledges of non-aggression, or any of the similarly lofty excuses given; it was very simply the case that he couldn’t put the numbers together.

Which is unsurprising: Rudd is an odious and noxious specimen who carefully and systemically alienated most of his parliamentary colleagues during his shambolic reign as Prime Minister.

His reputed misdeeds are of an ilk seldom forgiven, let alone forgotten.

Similarly — with the recognition the ALP cannot and will not stomach a return to Rudd under any circumstances — it beggars belief that an alternative could not be found.

For a little while over the past 48 hours, it seemed Simon Crean would be presented as precisely that; in the end, however, Crean was sacrificed.

I have no issue with what Crean did this afternoon, in engineering a fresh vote on the leadership and in stating publicly what everyone knows anyway: that Labor cannot win an election in its current state, and that Labor is effectively at a stalemate in terms of its leadership and the internal convulsions it has undergone over the subject.

For his trouble, Crean got himself fired from the ministry for disloyalty; it may have been a shade harsh, but it seems Gillard will brook no dissent now from anyone aligned with Rudd, and Crean — for reasons best known to himself — saw fit today to repudiate a year of vocal criticism of Rudd, and threw his lot in with him.

Harsh or not, the move deprives Gillard of an effective Minister in a Cabinet boasting relatively few such specimens.

And it comes as no surprise that at time of writing, no fewer than four other Labor frontbenchers aligned to Kevin Rudd have also resigned, and gone to the backbench.

It remains to be seen whether or not the true spirit of vindictiveness appears in the form of the sacking of other known Rudd adherents, but such a move would have to be regarded as plausible, if not highly likely.

Some will applaud Gillard for pulling on a leadership vote to crush any suggestion of a challenge once and for all; she did it last year, and scored a resounding win over Rudd.

The problem is that circumstances have changed: there is now just six months until an election, as opposed to almost two years; and the performance of Gillard, and that of her government, has since been woeful at best, and truly abysmal at worst.

The reservations held about Gillard a year ago appear to have now solidified into final judgements; with the exception of rogue polls — and the despicable “misogyny” stunt late last year — nothing Gillard says or does makes an iota of difference to the government’s standing; the poll numbers simply refuse to budge.

And Labor has handed Tony Abbott potent new weapons with which to bludgeon the government to death.

The suite of so-called media reforms is an excellent case in point, as they now allow the conservative parties to paint Labor as the party of censorship, state control, and the muzzling of free speech.

It doesn’t matter if these attempted laws never see the light of day again; the Liberals will forever be able to brand Labor as the censorship party, whilst holding itself out as the defender of freedom, liberty, and free speech.

As I said this afternoon, it’s one hell of an own goal to kick.

And all the while, as Australia cries out for strong, stable and competent government, the ALP today offered up yet more proof that it is capable of providing nothing of the sort.

The leadership chatter will not die off; everything that was wrong with Gillard and her government this morning is still wrong with them tonight.

Every opinion poll is going to receive the same treatment those that precede them have elicited to date: the political class and the commentariat awaiting each one, with bated breath, looking for the sign that Gillard may finally record the numbers that are fatal.

The next Newspoll — coming hot on the heels of a rogue last week, and after this week’s fiasco in Canberra — will be a barrel of fun for the ALP about which it is now effectively hamstrung from doing anything.

Labor is stuck with Gillard now; it’s a brilliant outcome for the Liberal Party, the fulfilment of whose wish list is missing only the narrow victory over Rudd in a contested ballot that would have signalled even more political odium and chaos for the ALP.

Still, I don’t know very many Liberals who aren’t cock-a-hoop with delight tonight.

And so far from achieving some brilliant triumph in pulling on today’s vote, Gillard has probably hammered the final nail into her own — and her government’s — coffin.

I make the point that this government has made governing Australia very much a secondary concern; for too long now, it has been completely self-obsessed, caring only about the feathering of its own nest and those in the Labor tent most closely allied to it.

When the likes of former Labor Senator (and master headkicker and numbers man) Graham Richardson — not a man given to hyperbole — describes today as possibly the blackest day in ALP history, then the party has a problem.

The gutless mutterers were too gutless to show their faces today, and that’s their right.

But the columns of lemmings in the Labor Party room opted to do nothing either; too afraid to commit to anything other than more of the same, and too lily-livered to utter a syllable in dissent, they lined up to cheer Gillard on, and endorsed her without qualification.

The end result is that the ALP has sealed its fate today, and guaranteed that the election loss it suffers under Gillard in September will be spectacular.

Its survivors will have many wounds to lick, and the recovery of the Labor Party is likely to take many, many years of hard toil in the wilderness of opposition.

If, indeed, it recovers from its defeat at all.

Yes, it’s been a good day for the Prime Minister.