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National Affairs

Rudd’s decisive defeat

27 February 2012

By challenging – and decisively losing – Kevin Rudd has at least done Julia Gillard a favour or two, writes Norman Abjorensen


Above: Kevin Rudd arrives at Parliament House for today’s vote.
Photo: Penny Bradfield/ AAP Image

Above: Kevin Rudd arrives at Parliament House for today’s vote.
Photo: Penny Bradfield/ AAP Image

KEVIN Rudd – the man with a great future behind him – is likely to leave an ambiguous legacy now that his immediate ambitions to seize back the prime ministership have been thwarted, apparently decisively. While he will always be acknowledged within the Labor Party for his feat of winning government from John Howard in 2007, he can now be listed among Labor’s great wreckers in the company of Billy Hughes, Jack Lang and Vince Gair.

Damaging leaks against Julia Gillard caused disruptive distractions during the 2010 election campaign, with all evidence suggesting Rudd as the source – an act as contemptible as a political act can be. The prime minister, rightly, called it sabotage.

Then, here in the crucial mid-term of a hung parliament and a minority government, Rudd launched an extraordinary public campaign against the prime minister and the very government of which he was a part until last week. The announcement of his resignation as foreign minister was made overseas and was calculated to inflict maximum damage.

The retention of a professional lobbyist to manage his leadership challenge brings yet another unsavoury American element into our politics, suggesting that influence can be bought and reducing politics to a glitzy media sideshow. The orchestrated street walk in Brisbane on Saturday was a case in point: pictures on all the television channels showed a smiling pop star–like Rudd being mobbed by what he likes to call the punters.

With his carefully publicised religious observance, his loyal and devoted wife by his side and his reported (but denied) description of Julia Gillard as childless, an atheist and an ex-communist, Rudd could just as easily be campaigning for the US Republican Party’s nomination using a coded language of moral values and raw populism.

The so-called people’s power on which he ran, based on snapshot opinion polls, is predicated on the flawed argument that it is the people, not the parties, or indeed parliament, that decides on the hiring and firing of prime ministers. History tells us that of the twenty-six former prime ministers in Australia, only ten lost office by way of election; precisely half were removed by their own party.

It is not without precedent for a former prime minister in Australia to be waiting by the phone for his erstwhile colleagues to come to their collective senses and plead with him to return. This was the case with Stanley Melbourne Bruce, who lost his seat and the prime ministership in 1929 only to return to parliament in 1931, serving as a junior minister before being posted to London as High Commissioner. With the conservative government being led by a Labor renegade in Joe Lyons, both Bruce and his supporters looked for an opportunity, but the delusional Bruce insisted he would not simply re-enter the political fray: he would have to be drafted. And the terms for that involved being unencumbered by party.

Rudd, in his campaign speech in Brisbane on Friday, was on a similar path: the Labor Party he would lead would have to change. Caucus would no longer exercise control over the vote; members could vote on any issue as they pleased. He was suggesting, in other words, that party discipline would cease to exist, as would the discipline exercised by the organisation over preselection. This formula comes delusionally close to the position of Bruce: no party, just me.

That “me” message from Rudd sends a chill through those who worked with him. As one of those who were instrumental in his removal in 2010 said to me: “The great fear we had was that before too long the real Rudd would emerge in public, and that would be the end.”

For all the trouble Rudd has caused he has at least done Julia Gillard a favour or two. The fact that a ballot was held cauterises the wound left untreated in 2010 and confers a belated legitimacy on the prime minister’s leadership. Further, Gillard’s inability to construct a persuasive narrative explaining those fast-moving events of mid 2010, and specifically her role in them, had cast her in the role of assassin, yet at her media conference in Adelaide on Friday she laid out the process, and more importantly the reasons, behind the leadership change. It was plausible, compelling and reasonable. It was a story that had to be told.

Of the other wreckers, Billy Hughes brought down a government, Jack Lang split his party and tried to smash a federal Labor government, while Vince Gair in his betrayal brought Labor rule in Queensland to an end, ushering in more than thirty years of conservative dominance.

Just how much damage Rudd has inflicted is yet to be seen, and nor do we know what he might do in future as he presumably waits for yet another opportunity. •

Show Comments


Alan Brown

28 February 2012

I would rather listen to Ms Gillard outlining her vision for the "Ostraylyan cumyoonidy" for the next several years than to Tony Abbott repeating the word "Noewuh".

But seriously, isn't it time we stopped discussing such trivia and concentrated a little on *policies*?

Michael R. James

27 February 2012

David Wall & Sara Dowse.

Further to my earlier post, I disagree in the sense that I believe the horrible grating aspects of Gillard when carefully reading from a prepared script is the result of media training! She slows down to a painful one-word-at-a-time crawl so that the listener feels revulsion at being patronized as an idiot 5th grader. She adopts a weird accent (all futcha, Orstralian pipple, etc) and goes into robo-auto-repeat mode (a la 4Corners) of predigested sound bites.

But when under stress, when unscripted (as on Friday's aggressive media questions, and as in QT in Parliament), dare I say it, the real real Julia comes out and it is quite appealing.

So what she really needs is media un-training. She needs an "intervention", to kill the cult of modern media training that has her in its thrall.

David Wall

27 February 2012

Julia's voice and accent are a bone of contention with some voters, even dare I say with many ordinary Australians. This is actually what was said to me by one of my Aussie mates when we heard about her win. If speech coaching was OK for Maggie, as suggested by Sara Dowse, how much more for Julia.

Michael R. James

27 February 2012

@Sara Dowse.

On the Gillard voice I have written many times in Crikey.

But it seems it is not the core problem. As Norman accurately reported, Gillard's explanation of the reasons for the 2010 removal of Rudd was excellent. There was no problem at all with her voice or her tone. While she had obviously rehearsed, in general terms, this response it is notable that it was not read from a prepared speech or auto-cue. It was in response to questions.

Endless commentary has been expended on this. It just seems so obvious. My own pet hatred is the plethora of genY advisors--Rudd had ONLY genY in his office, though interestingly he brought in a greyhead this time, Bruce Hawker, who has erased himself from any future role. Gillard's correct pronouncement that this is not Celebrity Big Brother means nothing to genY; witness that twit who caused the Australia Day blowback, they don't have a clue. Just like we never have a PM or leader under 50 (or thereabouts) there probably needs to be a threshold of say no younger than 40 for any senior advisor role.

Certainly I hope --but with little optimism--that Gillard finally junks her prediliction to be all soft, cuddly, smiley-touchy in public. Clearly it not only does not work, it is counterproductive. We want to respect our PM not have her as our BFF. Counter-intuitively this may be even more important for female leaders because the whole girly persona thing just reinforces the opposite of what we really expect of leaders--notwithstanding all popularity polls.

She and Labor need to take off the velvet gloves with the media. They need to fight back. It was magnificent to see Gillard in fighting form; note the positive reaction she got in media from her slapdown of that rude idiot (genY, goes without saying) News Ltd journo. No more cosy private meetings with News executives who are intent on assassination. It was also terrific to see the senior ministers unmuffled: Roxon, Plibersek, Emerson, Shorten, Crean and even Swan.

The common wisdom will probably be to stop, and to try to return to tranquillity, heal the wounds. I believe it is the opposite: they need to keep it up so the childish public get the message. All the "vitriol", "hatred" and "venom" was actually nothing but that rare thing from politicians: the truth.

Michael R. James

28 February 2012

Sara, I know what you mean. Something like what they (media managers) did to Maggie early in her first term when all concerned realized what a turn-off her voice and tone were. Well, they managed to lower her voice by half an octave or whatever, but really it was impossible to remove the schoolmarm scold. My contention would be that this is the same for JG. And of course she is already the result of media training/management (who at this level is not?).

On the other hand we are all aware that under certain conditions she already achieves a good tone of passion and sincerity. As Tony Walker wrote in today's AFR:

"Unfortunately, Gillard’s post-leadership ballot press conference did not reveal a new empowered Julia, or even the real Julia. In her set piece statement we had the same old wooden Julia reciting what sounded like a shopping list. ………she might contemplate several things: discard her badly drafted speeches, talk naturally to people without a script (notes will do) and not be afraid to reveal more of herself."

Clearly she has the skill to speak just from rough notes or bullet points, and still make coherent sense and maintain her theme and a real message (as opposed to some irritating spin repeated endlessly in prepared speech). She is no where near as good as Keating at this, nor Lindsay Tanner or Shorten (or Plibersek) but she is miles ahead of many others esp. Tony Abbott or almost anyone on the Liberal side (except perhaps MT), but most importantly she is way ahead of the other Julia.

Mike Wilson

28 February 2012

The 'presidential' orientation of the 'conflict' and of national politics - Rudd vs Gillard vs Abbott - fed by much of our Australian media has distracted us from the key political reality. How do we want our nation to be shaped? By the values of a Liberal/National coalition or Labor or the Greens? Is it too much to hope that the next 18 months will see this debated seriously?

Sara Dowse

27 February 2012

Norman, I could tell you stories about working for leaders that would make your hair stand in end. God knows what will happen to Labor for the spectacle of character assassination that came out of Gillard and her supporters will do nothing for the party. The one good thing that came out of this is that they've said goodbye to the revolving door strategy. That is what poisoned their chances from the beginning, not the alleged leaks or destabilisation. And please, while we're at it, get some coaching for Julia on her voice. If it was good enough for Maggie, it's good enough for her. It's been one of the reasons we haven't been able to listen to her. I'm serious.

Sara Dowse

28 February 2012

It's not Gillard's accent I'm talking about, it's her voice. There's a difference. I agree that she's been over media-managed. But the one thing that was essential in grooming her for leadership has been overlooked. That is her voice's register and hence her ability to persuade voters. This isn't trivial, even though it may seem so. It's far more important than how someone looks. Churchill looked like hell and Merkel's no beauty queen. And if Julia has 18 months to sell the government's policies to the public she will have to work on what I'm taking about.

Michael Ison

28 February 2012

Of course political stability is essential and leadership challenges are tiresome and inflict pain on the combatants, the political party and us! Much has been made of how much damage has been done by Rudd's challenge.

While we don't want this happening every other week, let's consider the alternative for a moment...a government, political party or organisation where the leaders are not challenged, never called to account, never face an election. Ummm, sounds like Putin's Russia, North Korea and lots of other despotic regimes around the world with their citizens praying for the opportunity to have a real leadership contest and a fair vote.

Let's stop whinging about leadership challenges and thank heavens there is some evidence that our democracy is a working example.

Nigel Thompson

2 March 2012

The PM's voice grates with me too, Labor loyalists though I am.

I can understand that, coming from Adelaide, she doesn't want to sound like Alexander Downer or Christopher Pyne. However, a hairdryer-like drone is just as irritating in its own way, especially as it is clearly a manufactured voice.

At times I even wonder whether the PM is consciously channelling that other notorious redhead, Pauline Hanson, in terms of both style and content. Prime Minister, please explain!

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