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National Affairs

At last, the right words

23 February 2012

Julia Gillard has finally explained the events of mid 2010, writes Norman Abjorensen


Above: Julia Gillard speaking in Adelaide this morning.
Photo: ABC News

Above: Julia Gillard speaking in Adelaide this morning.
Photo: ABC News

IT MIGHT well have been her finest hour – but the hour comes late in the day. A poised, forthright and confident Julia Gillard responded to the challenge from Kevin Rudd – saying, in effect, bring it on – when she announced a ballot for the leadership next Monday. Displaying characteristic grace under pressure, the prime minister at last explained to the Australian people what they have long needed to know – and the fact of their not knowing has continued to dog her leadership. Why did she take part in the overthrow of Rudd in 2010?

Rudd’s continuing approval rating with the public exemplifies the disconnect between the political arena and the electorate outside it: the public sees the smiling, articulate politician, cruelly cut down by a combination of faceless men and Lady Macbeth, whereas those on the inside know only too well the self-serving deviousness and organisational dysfunctionality that characterised Rudd’s period in office.

That Gillard had never explained those fast moving events of mid-2010, and specifically her role in them, has cast her in the role of assassin, yet at her media conference in Adelaide today she laid out the process, and more importantly the reasons behind the leadership change. It was plausible, compelling and reasonable.

Why had she not done so before? Very humanly – but perhaps mistakenly – she had acted out of respect for her wounded predecessor. She also made it clear for the first time that the 2010 election campaign was “sabotaged.” Damaging leaks from cabinet repeatedly forced the government to defend itself when it should have been campaigning. It was common knowledge in Canberra where those leaks were coming from.

In what is probably the opening volley in what promises to be the longest election campaign ever, she ranged over the significant reforms enacted by her government, deftly contrasting them with Rudd’s going to water over the emissions trading scheme.

But while the prime minister showed herself in fighting mode, little will be resolved next Monday. Leadership challenges in Australia often follow a pattern of an initial assault followed by retreat, regrouping and a final assault that succeeds. It happened with Malcolm Fraser against Bill Snedden in 1975, Bob Hawke against Bill Hayden in 1982–83 and Paul Keating against Bob Hawke in 1991. Keating, after his first unsuccessful tilt, went to the backbench, refused to renounce his ambitions, and slowly garnered support for a final thrust at which he succeeded in December 1991.

If the Rudd challenge goes down that same path – and he declines Gillard’s offer of renunciation in the event of a failed first bid – then the next few months will be a rocky road indeed, and there will be but a single winner: Tony Abbott. •

Norman Abjorensen teaches public policy in the Crawford School of Economics and Government at the Australian National University.

Julia Gillard’s comments about the events of mid 2010 begin 10 minutes and 30 seconds into this recording of her media conference

Show Comments


john leslie

23 February 2012

Norman Abjorensen makes comparisons with the Snedden v Fraser, and Hawke v Hayden challenges: surely change in leadership is just a part of being in opposition. What makes the current situation, and the 2010 Gillard v Rudd so different is the fact that the latter involved an ambitious, scheming and deceitful (proven in her actions since seizing power) challenger against a recently elected and very popular PM. The Hawke v Ketating challenges also differ because they involved a long established, but declining, PM.

And as for his statement "characteristic grace under pressure" I guess that just proves the old adage, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I felt that she was most ungracious and carping against the man who ousted, in a General Election mind you, a long established and successful if not overconfident PM in John Howard.

Rob Kennedy

24 February 2012

While I have great respect for the author I must note that it was the pressure from the Sussex St. crew (Bitar, Arbib etc) and the ikes of Paul Howes who scuttled the Emissions Trading scheme. On the one policy matter where they showed some spine they were totally wrong. It could be argued that they caused the drop in polling support for Rudd. Another point that needs to be made (especially in revisionist history) is that these same people were ignored by Rudd precisely because of that fact; they were and remain dills.

The characterisation (which I don't disagree with) of chaotic, non-consultative management by the PM invites the question of where were the caucus? There has been and remains a degree of denial and dishonesty in the remarks of Ms. Gillard and everyone else (including Mr. Rudd).

Norm, there are bigger landscapes to view here; the structure of the ALP (Self-perpetuating patronage machine)and it's failure to remove a small oligarchy that neither understands nor represents voters.

The tension between a special interest party (workers)and the requirement for a broad, forward looking, inclusive and smart government is on show here. It is not a pretty sight.

Susan Lever

24 February 2012

I agree that the comparisons of the other challenges don't really hold. But the important point, surely, is that Kevin Rudd's speeches in the last few days reveal that he is delusional about his own powers. Everything he says seems to make the actions of his deposers appear rational. Labor is unlikely to win the next election (no thanks to Kevin) so it must keep putting reform through and achieve what it can, rather than go into election campaign mode again.

Jane Roberts

24 February 2012

I totally agree with Norman Abjorensen. Julia was very eloquent yesterday in her press conference and her confidence showed in the very fact that she was finally able to tell the original ousting of Rudd as it was. It was quite evident that a huge load lifted off her shoulders yesterday, and the same for her political backers. Rudd is squealing at the way senior politicians have so called 'attacked' him in the last week, when he himself has systematically been attacking and sabotaging the Prime Minister and ther Labour Party itself at every opportunity he gets. Julia definately deserves a chance to govern without Rudd's unrelenting, spiteful attacks on her.

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Climate change minister Penny Wong launching the government’s carbon reduction green paper last July. Mark Graham/AAP Image

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