Posts tagged ‘Kevin Rudd’
The Prime Ministership of Julia Gillard rolls on after another extraordinary day in Australia politics. Regional Australia Minister Simon Crean fell on his sword after his ‘circuit breaker’ call for a spill failed to flush out Kevin Rudd. In the week leading up to the vote, the party remained solidly behind Gillard while the media bought the “Rudd BS” as Mark Latham called it. Latham said Rudd’s politics were based on what he saw as the “whatever it takes” culture instilled in the party by 1980s number’s man Graham Richardson.
Latham was never a fan of Rudd, but he was right the former Prime Minister always had a healthy dose of whatever it takes, hidden only slightly behind his very thin skin. A few days ago he used the bravura of a St Patrick’s Day speech to make an Ides of March declaration “I will challenge…”. The pause that came before the rest: “…any of the Liberals present to claim to have a greater Irish heritage than me” hid the real punchline: It was Gillard’s job he was challenging for. But just as Rudd’s Irishness is fake, today he proved he was no Cassius either. After consulting his backers, he realised he didn’t have the numbers again and decided not to contest the ballot. In a media statement, Rudd painted his decision as “honouring his word” not to challenge.
And so Gillard won her third ballot as leader, the two unopposed ballots sandwiching her one direct victory over Rudd last year. Television screens which boasted ‘non-stop coverage of the Labor leadership’ fixed on the sombre Prime Minister as she faced the Canberra press gallery after the vote. Over the constant whirring and clicking from photographers, Gillard said she would make a statement but would not take questions today, because “there is very much work to do”.
Gillard thanked the caucus for its continued support. She accepted it as Prime Minister and Labor leader, not because she sought office for its own sake, but to help Australia meet it challenges. Gillard repeated they had a lot of work to do to ensure “jobs and opportunity” and to ensure they were “getting ready for the future”.
Gillard outlined the Government’s purpose: implementing the NBN, rolling out Disability Care, fighting cost of living pressures, and above all increasing access to “world class education”. Gillard said the leadership battle was settled in the most conclusive way possible. “It has ended now.” Gillard said they would be getting on with the job “in a few minutes” and handed over to deputy PM, Wayne Swan, also re-elected unopposed.
Swan said there was strong support for the PM in the party room. “This Prime Minister is a tough leader, and a leader who is a great champion for our country and for the reforms that are required to create future prosperity,” Swan said. “Today’s result does end these matters once and for all.” Swan like his boss, ended with the promise to get back to work. After all, he has a budget to prepare.
Expect this mantra of “work” to be used a lot in the coming months as Labor clears the decks for the September election. But don’t expect the press gallery to pay any notice. Joe Hildebrand set the tone for things to come with a vicious attack on Gillard’s regime, outing himself as a Rudd supporter in the process: “For an electrifying few hours this week there was the tantalising prospect that Labor was not hurtling towards certain oblivion and there was a chance, however remote, that it might actually win the next election on the back of a resurgent Kevin Rudd.”
Hildebrand was right about the disaster of Rudd’s panicked overthrow in 2010 for which Labor is repenting at leisure. But putting Rudd back in now would be beyond panic. Electoral defeat in 2013 is still the likely outcome for either leader, given the polls and the contempt of the press gallery. Yet today’s events only show how much Rudd is still detested in the party for his overwhelming ego and his chronic failures to consult as leader.
The Germans, in their infinite wisdom, chose the word “shitstorm” as their Anglicism of the Year in 2012. Their jury defined shitstorm as a public outcry in which arguments mix with threats and insults to reach a critical mass, forcing a reaction. Shitstorm, they said, filled a gap in German vocabulary “through changes in the culture of public debate.” As ever, the hugely influential urban dictionary has a more pithy explanation calling it a “gigantic cluster fuck”. The 2010 book Shitstorm: Inside Labor’s Darkest Days by Lenore Taylor and David Uren is about the gigantic cluster fuck that was (and remains) the Global Financial Crisis. Taylor is one of the country’s most respected political journalists while Uren has written on economic issues for 35 years so they team up well to discuss how the shitstorm of the GFC impacted Australian politics and the country’s economy.
The book takes its name from a quote then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd used in a television interview. On March 8, 2009, Rudd appeared in front of a live studio audience on the Seven Network’s Sunday Night program where he about his government’s response to the GFC. Responding to opposition claims about the debt Labor created to fund its stimulus package, Rudd said it came down to a choice between letting the market fix it up or intervening with temporary borrowings. “People have to understand that,” Rudd told the audience, “because there is going to be the usual political shitstorm – sorry, political storm over that.” It seems reasonable to believe it was choreographed error from Rudd who left very little to chance during his tenure as Prime Minister.
Error or not, the choice of words was typical Rudd. The cover of the book Shitstorm shows a picture from that era with the four members of kitchen cabinet: Rudd, Linday Tanner, Wayne Swan and Julia Gillard. In the photo Rudd has his back to the camera. He is not interested in us, he is conducting his orchestra. But his players are not quite in tune. Finance Minister Tanner is looking off to right, Treasurer Swan is looking off the left and only Rudd’s deputy is looking vaguely in his direction, but with her own agenda. The gang of four formed the Strategic Priorities and Budget Committee (SPBC) that made most of the political decisions in the periodm any of which were remarkable and still-debated. It resulted in Australia avoiding a recession, when the economies of the world fell like ninepins around them.
Rudd was spot on about the shitstorm, but could not see he would be one of the casualties. His sensational sacking as Labor leader happened after the book was released. No one, least Taylor and Uren saw it coming. Then again neither did anyone else outside a small circle. The panic-stricken parliamentary putsch in June 2010 that cost Rudd his job as first-term Prime Minister left the Australian polity reeling, locked the nation into costly backflips, and severely damaged the trust between Labor and many of their own supporters that lasts to this day.
The Gillard government scraped over the line in October 2010 thanks to the negotiating skills of the new leader. But to win that election, she had to promise no carbon tax although both parties had agreed to it in 2007. The distant drum of the US sub-prime mortgage crisis had little effect on that election. It wouldn’t affect Australia where interest rates had risen 10 times in a row due to mining growth.
Both leaders knew the crash was coming but Rudd couldn’t risk talking about a crisis as it would highlight their inexperience while it was also inconvenient to Howard’s “don’t risk good times” message. Labor won but there was little time to celebrate. The first effect in Australia was the cost of borrowing money. The big banks who manage lots of short term loans were suddenly exposed as money fled the banking system. No Australian bank had to close its doors but there were times when the queue was down the street (prompting banks to consider how to keep large queues inside).
As the cost of money rose, the Australian banks took the near unprecedented step of rising interest rates without a signal from the Reserve Bank. The first bank tipped off Treasurer Swan in advance but the next one didn’t. So Swan advised people to switch banks but he could well see there was a problem brewing. While n summer holidays at Cotton Tree beach on the Sunshine Coast, he took a call from US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson that terrified him. Paulson said the US “might be able to see a way” through the crisis if house prices didn’t collapse. Swan could see it was a big if.
It was first items of business when Rudd returned to work after Christmas. Labor (or rather the SPBC) promised a budget surplus of $18 billion (around 1.5% GDP). But although China ate up Aussie minerals elsewhere the news kept getting worse. When Rudd went to Washington in March, he met the IMF’s Dominique Strauss-Kahn who stunned him by saying the sub-prime lending mess would cost a trillion dollars (a figure later upgraded to $3 trillion). Governments would ultimately bear much of that cost.
By May budget in 2008, Swan was under pressure to abandon $47 billion of election promise tax cuts. The Government held firm but had to hold back on cuts they hoped would keep the books in the black. This was a direct result of the growing crisis but Swan couldn’t publicly admit this, for fear of impacting consumer confidence. Matters spiralled out of Swan’s and consumers’ control in September 2008 when the US’s fourth largest investment bank, Lehmann Brothers went bankrupt with $613 billion owing on uncertain assets. Trillions in securities across the world guaranteed or counter-signed by Lehmans were now suddenly at risk. The US’s largest insurer AIG’s shared dipped 70% with $550 billion tied up in sub-prime mortgages . Largest US mortgage-lender Washington Mutual’s shares also nosedived and exposed mutual funds who had to dump securities to meet a run on redemptions. The bond market died as no one would lend for anything longer than one day.
Australia had $800 billion of debt, of which $500 billion was short-term subject to constant finance. As America’s financial wobble threatened to tsunami across the Pacific, Swan’s message to the press was simple: “We were not immune but better placed than most to weather the coming storm”. But an IMF meeting in Washington in October 2008 would tell him the climate was worsening: it was enough for a clean bank to have links with a toxic bank for it to be in trouble. China’s boom would not save Australia from this tempest.
Swan came from the meeting convinced Australia needed financial stimulus. Rudd quickly warmed to the idea too. Over Christmas Rudd had been reading the economic ideas of EG Theodore and his bitter regret over how Australian lack of government action delayed a recovery in the 1930s Great Depression. Rudd was not about to let it happen again. Panicky people had salted $5.5 billion out of Australian banks in ten weeks since Lehman went bust, and second tier banks like Suncorp and Bankwest were at risk of collapse. Rudd guaranteed all term wholesale bank funding and retail deposits. Mortgagees like Challenger Howard were not protected. In two years the four big banks increased their home-lending share from 60 to 85% .
While the SPBC was arguing over the size of a stimulus, it was startled by the news the Reserve bank had dropped interest rates by 1%. This was twice as much as Treasury recommended. Rudd had learned the lesson from Treasury relief package model which was to ‘go hard, go households’. The SPBC would also double Treasury’s recommendation with a $10 billion package – $8.7m in cash handouts and $1.5m was spent on the First Home Owner Grant. There was also $6.2m to build a green car. Rudd’s message was they were ‘deploying the surplus’ to secure the economy. Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull was so shocked, he gave immediate bi-partisan support. Labor’s own cabinet was equally in the dark about the proposal and unhappy about it. Rudd blamed the need for speed and ‘extreme market sensitivities’ but his downfall can be charted to this decision.
Meanwhile, the IMF predicted the world economy would stagnate in 2009. The stimulus kept Australian tills ringing through Christmas but business confidence was at a record low. The Government pushed hard to strengthen Howard’s G20 as a forum to make global recommendations. They were supported by the Americans who saw the G8 as too happy to install euro-centric banking controls that were anathema to the Bush Administration. In November 2008, the IMF told the G20 they needed to fund a stimulus in the order of 2% of GDP. This was huge, yet they were underplaying the situation. The IMF knew any higher recommendation would ‘scare people to death’ as its chief economist Olivier Blanchard said. Countries took notice and even mighty China announced $600b Keynesian spending on infrastructure projects
Yet it put the Rudd Government in difficult political territory. Spending would ease unemployment but it would kill their promise to fund a surplus. Rudd and Swan refused to say the word deficit for months until they finally admitted it was temporary. The linguistic games showed frustrated ministers that Rudd’s office had centralised decision making to an unacceptable level.
Rudd went on with the spending plotting a large-scale construction program to keep up emplyment. Schools were chosen because they didn’t need much lead time or lengthy council planning approvals. The $16.2b Building the Education Revolution program was soon supplemented by a $6.6b social housing program and $2.7b on a solar installation package. Labor lalso needed a quick ‘sugar hit’ and gave another cash handout of $8b designed to keep money circulating. The total package was 2.4% of GDP in the first year, beyond the IMF measure but reduced to 1.8% in 2010-2011. By the second package in February 2009, Treasury was predicting Australia would avoid a recession. It was a magnificent achievement but there were serious flaws. The solar rebate was so high, it led to huge demand and shonky work practices that had fatal results.
As well as the surplus, there was another major casualty of the downturn – Rudd’s emission trading scheme, in Ruddspeak, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. It was due for 2010 but Government agreed to delay by a year to include extra compensation Labor called a ‘global recession buffer’. Rudd decided to get his new “browner” plan through the Senate with the help of the Liberals rather than with the Greens who wanted tougher action. Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull was supportive but undone by deep divisions in his own party. The eventual compromise with Labor was torpedoed by Liberal hardliners led by Nick Minchin and a spill led to the surprise election of Tony Abbott as leader in December 2009.
Abbott immediately turned his back on the CPRS, leaving Labor stranded. Rudd was so sure the Liberals would support it, he had spent no time selling it to the public. It would be impossible to run a double dissolution election on a complicated scheme that to Abbott was a “great new tax on everything” . The failure of the Copenhagen climate change talks in December was the nail in the coffin and Rudd delayed the ‘great moral imperative of our time’ to 2013.
As Taylor and Uren’s book approached deadline, Labor’s three-year-long polling honeymoon was over and they were running neck-and-neck with the Liberals. The media were hammering them over their stimulus plan failures. Rudd axed the installation scheme and Minister Peter Garrett became the scapegoat. Meanwhile the audit office found a colossal amount of waste in BER including substandard work and inflexible design. The budget surplus was a mirage and the Government had troubling selling its economic message for different reasons than before. During the height of the crisis, minister could not be frank for fear of damaging confidence, now they couldn’t sell the recovery because it would draw attention to the spending issues.
To Rudd and Swan’s immense credit, they saw the GFC coming earlier than most. They acted quicker than most and deeper and with the help of the Reserve Bank and China, Australia emerged almost unscathed. Abbott ridiculed 25 months of Whitlamesque spending’ but Rudd saved the country from years of austerity with his infrastructure stimulus. What neither he nor anyone saw was that Australia would recover so quickly. His successor Julia Gillard suffered in the 2010 poll but held on with a debt burden that would cripple Australia’s ability to implement real change in the difficult decades to come. As Taylor and Uren concluded, the political shitstorm would be ‘wilder and more damaging that Kevin Rudd ever imagined’.
Along with fellow minister Bill Shorten, Arbib was behind that drama. He was the ultimate face of the faceless men who deposed Rudd in 2010. With senior minister Nicola Roxon admitting on the weekend she was unaware of the impending coup, it was Arbib and Shorten who Rudd would have considered the backstabbers-in-chief. Given he has not forgiven the party for his sacking, it is not beyond the possibility Rudd demanded a faceless head as his price for supporting Gillard post ballot. Certainly Arbib’s confusing resignation statement hinted there was something a lot stronger at issue than the “family reasons” offered as the main cause. And as a Senator he could leave without Labor facing a by-election.
Meanwhile Kevin Rudd seemed at ease after the ballot today. Perhaps he has exercised some of the demons of his 2010 defeat which occurred without a ballot. The initial reports were that he had just 29 supporters in caucus but it was soon revised to 71-31. This was a margin that seem to please everyone in Government. Gillard was handsomely re-elected with over a two to one majority. Meanwhile Rudd was not disgraced (those two missing votes getting him into the respectable thirties) without getting the 40 or so votes he needed for the legitimacy of a second challenge to the leadership. His speech afterwards was both valedictory and apologetic. He stood up for a belief in his achievements but acknowledged others saw it differently. Most importantly he saw the need to commit to Gillard for the life of her Government, effectively ending his leadership challenge until either she retires or is beaten at the polls.
This was also a coded message to the media: he was off the drip. With no other senior minister with a serious axe to grind, there should be few further leaks of the kind that has destabilised the Gillard regime from the moment it took office. The media will keep Rudd on the preferred prime minister poll question as they do Malcolm Turnbull. But just as they do now with Turnbull, Rudd leadership stories will run short of juice without a quote from a “Senior Government Minister”.
The similarities with Turnbull extend beyond this. Both men are brilliant intellectuals but brittle and difficult to work with. Both have probably burned their bridges with their caucus colleagues and may have to set up a third (or fourth) party if they are to ever re-establish their leadership credentials. Rudd in particular is damaged goods. The Australian hailed him as Labor’s best hope to defeat the Coalition in 2013, but his clear lead in the preferred prime minister stakes was in stark contrast to the respect in which he was held by the vast majority of caucus members.
It is the difference between having to vote for him and having to work for him. Rudd has mastered a media image of the socially incompetent nerd. It doesn’t appear to matter to voters he hasn’t a shred of genuineness in him as long as he is there with that smile to crash or crash through any awkwardness. Behind the scenes, other parts of his personality were free to do their ugly work usually far from public prying. 24 x 7’s Kevin’s obsessive desire for control, glass jaw and an enormous untrammelled ego led to an unhealthy work environment that any self-respecting OH&S officer would complain about.
While the self-styled “K Rudd” now sits chastened on the naughty back bench, Prime Minister Gillard seemed positively ebullient post-ballot. The all-out attack strategy was risky but necessary to kill off her challenger. She has given Abbott his election ads but they will probably be lost anyway in a tasteless and bland stew of negative messages. She also fended off Abbott’s Question Time attack today with ease making him look like a carping yesterday’s man while she was the forward looking leader. Such decisiveness may not last but it at least she can now attack without having to protect her flanks.
These two weeks have told us where the corpses are buried but so far the public is not bothered by the macabre spectacle. Indeed Labor got its best result in 12 months in the latest Newspoll today. The two party preferred is 53-47 to the Coalition which is in the margin of error for 50-50. It seems the punters don’t seem to mind the blood-bath when they can see exactly who is throwing the punches. It is also a reminder of the old mantra that when it comes to a vote “It’s The Economy, Stupid”. The Coalition remains all over the place in its economic policy in a time when Australia is in a relatively good position. Abbott’s policy-free zone was a safe bet only as long as Labor continued killing each other. Gillard’s win may not yet have given her clear air, but the fog of war has just got a little less dense.
But few people in Australia have questioned her right to be Prime Minister. Despite the very presidential style of modern elections, it is MPs that people vote for and these MPs can decide who leads them, and therefore the country. The media, so wrapped up in the exciting specifics of the overthrow, accepted the legitimacy of the practice without a murmur as “the Westminster system”.
In her first media conference as Prime Minister, Julia Gillard acknowledged she had not been elected Prime Minister by the Australian people. “And in coming months I will ask the Governor-General to call for a general election so that the Australian people can exercise their birthright to choose their Prime Minister.”
But despite the oft-repeated media narrative of her need to get a “mandate”, Gillard never once mentioned the word in any of her early statements. Merrion Webster defines the word mandate in this context as “an authorisation to act given to a representative”. According to that definition Gillard has all the mandate she needs, having been elected unopposed by her party with the backing of powerful union bosses.
But if the Australian media are mostly sanguine about this turn of events, opinions are more uneasy overseas where the Westminster system has less sway. US papers called it a party revolt and a mutiny. Craig McMurtrie from the ABC’s Washington bureau said a Washington Post columnist though it looked disturbingly like a coup d’etat. The Americans are right, of course. Sure, there was no blood spilled or tanks on the lawn. Nevertheless Gillard’s ascension shares this in common with coups more common to South America, Asia and Africa: it was ruthless overthrow of a country’s elected leader without the consent of the people who elected him.
Here in Australia we have been blinded to this fact by its commonness at State level where many premiers, most recently Kristina Keneally have been elevated into office by the backdoor. It is also common at the Federal Opposition level with both Labor and the Liberals changing their leaders many times in the last ten years when out of power. But it is surprisingly rare at the highest level of Government. Only twice has an Australian Prime Minister ever been dumped by their own party while in office – Gorton for McMahon in 1971 and Hawke for Keating in 1991. The 20 year symmetry wasn’t quite there for Kevin Rudd but the brutal machinations of backroom party politics were reminiscent of past coups. Even Gillard’s own Party has not yet caught up. The Australian Labor website still goes by the name of www.kevin07.com.au
Meanwhile Opposition Leader Tony Abbott came out with a curious denunciation of the coup. He called it a political assassination (though Rudd may yet rise from that particular death) and an “ugly process” and said “Prime ministers should not be treated in this way.” Presumably Abbott must think it is ok for Opposition leaders to be treated that way.
Though he probably has no intention of doing anything about it, Abbott is essential correct in his criticism. Prime Ministers should not be appointed out of backroom deals and there is no reason it cannot be changed. The Australian Constitution is silent on the matter of Prime Ministers and what exists are conventions that supposedly “assist the smooth operation of the legislature.”
Smooth doesn’t begin to describe the operation to depose Rudd. But it is easier to describe the shock, distaste and a sense of powerlessness among the wider public (despite goodwill to towards Gillard). That is not good for democracy. It is time for people power to assert itself and insist that the Prime Minister they elected is only removed when they say so.
Gillard’s self-deprecating sense of humour is one of the crucial skills she will need to have at her disposal after her stunning accession to the Prime Minister of Australia this morning. Most people believed that Gillard was destined to become the country’s first female Prime Minister but until a few days ago no one would have believed it could happen in 2011.
But with Kevin Rudd in disarray in recent weeks and private party polling clearly telling powerbrokers they were heading to defeat in a number of key marginal seats, it was suddenly time to up the tempo. Unlike Rudd and his opposite number Tony Abbott, Gillard had kept her personal popularity in the recent political upheavals. The time was right for the kingmakers to dust off the guillotine and depose the incumbent. Rudd realised overnight he no longer had the numbers and resigned without a fight this morning.
That outcome is the best possible given that the leadership spill happened. Labor has panicked unnecessarily and would have won the next election under Rudd but by terminating his leadership they have handed an unexpected fillip to the opposition. At least the clean nature of the execution means there is no residual leadership tension that could further undermine Labor. Indeed given Rudd’s stated intention to stay on, it is not beyond the realms of possibility he could be restored as Foreign Minister under Gillard after the election.
The focus is now on the new leader. Gillard was born in the South Welsh coal port town of Barry in 1961. Her father was a brilliant student but being one of seven children in a poor family he was forced to end his education early and work in the mines. When the four year old Julia was diagnosed with bronchial pneumonia, a doctor advised her parents to move to a warmer climate. The family (including elder daughter Alison then aged 7) moved to Adelaide in 1966 where Julia’s father worked as a psychiatric nurse.
Gillard said she left the value of hard work from her father. In her Adelaide University years she was an organiser with the Australian union of students and then involved with the Melbourne-based Socialist Forum. Political views were heavily skewed in the ultra-left scene of 1970s student politics. Gillard told Australian Story that being a Labor student “you were viewed as a right-winger, I mean, we didn’t really have that many sort of Liberals who were active in it to create that right-wing pole so most of student politics thought the Labor students were the enemy for being too right-wing.”
Gillard graduated from the University of Melbourne with an arts and law degree. She worked her way up to a partnership in Melbourne legal firm Slater & Gordon before several protracted and unsuccessful attempts to secure Labor preselection during the 1990s. She gained crucial government experience in her role as chief of staff to John Brumby when he was state opposition leader in Victoria during the Kennett years and she was finally elected to federal parliament in 1998.
ABC Radio National’s Peter Mares said that Gillard’s membership of the Victorian left of the ALP was “more organisational than ideological.” She is keen to promote social inclusion but wary of government heavy-handedness in social policy. “Gillard supports approaches that combine state and non-state actors in service delivery, encourage competition and individual initiative, yet maintain a safety net for those who fall,” Mares said.
Biographer Christine Wallace agrees Gillard is “no lefty” and said she is factional only so far as it is useful. Wallace described her as “transfactional” and said Gillard elicits an “intense, visceral response from voters, journalists and fellow political players.” Her talent was nurtured by Brumby, Simon Crean and Mark Latham. Gillard was one of the few Labor heavies not to suffer a tongue-lashing in the Latham Diaries and in return she is one of the few leaders not to twist the knife in Latham. By the time Rudd took over, Gillard was the obvious choice of deputy and since the election victory in 2007 she has revelled in the difficult twin roles of education and employment minister.
Wallace said what distinguishes Gillard from many female politicians is a genuine love of power. “Possessing it acts as a big political multiplier for her: the more power she gets, the better she performs and the more she accumulates as a result,” said Wallace. Gillard has now hit the jackpot when it comes to accumulation of power.
Her immediate task is consolidation to ensure it doesn’t just last a few months. But assuming she wins the 2010 election, we may see a new style of leader never before witnessed in Australia. Her policy record is mixed, but her native intelligence, a driving will to succeed and her indefatigable sense of humour will prove major allies in the fierce battles to come.
But first to Rudd, for whom the result will be the end product of three year’s of communications discipline and dedication to the task. This is something he learned from his predecessor John Howard, an equally ruthless electioneerer. Nothing else – be it the GFC, climate change, or reform in education and industrial relations – has come remotely close in Rudd’s everyday calculations. Ever since 25 November 2007, Rudd’s Government has been devoted to one task: how to stay in office in 2010.
Rigid control of communications is the key and Rudd’s closest acolytes are in is PR machine and kitchen cabinet (Gillard, Swan and Tanner). The downside of such a tightly-run communication strategy is that it has left Rudd looking inflexible, remote, humourless and without charisma. Having personally seen Rudd in action at one of the community cabinets in 2008, I can confirm that he is flexible, engaging, and humorous though he is never quite charismatic. But Rudd has been perfectly willing to sacrifice these attributes when dealing with the medium that still most decides elections: television.
His Government deserves credit too for mastering the strategy. With the possible exception of Peter Garrett (whose previous life allows him frequent gaffe credit points which he continues to spend at an inordinate rate), they have been a superbly efficient team that has also managed to successful communicate the message du jour. And despite the fact that Rudd is a somewhat isolated figure within the party and not attached to any of the factions, they have offered resolute and unquestioning support for his leadership.
It is the matter of leadership which has been the Achilles Heel of the Opposition and a direct consequence of Peter Costello’s refusal to go down with the ship in 2007. Brendan Nelson was a lightweight who offered only comic value as leader. Malcolm Turnbull was a brilliant mind but too out of touch with the zeitgeist of the party and too arrogant to even see there was a problem. Joe Hockey ruled him out with his ETS conscience vote (though I happen to agree with him voting on climate change ought to be a primary matter of conscience) and fell between the two precarious stools of the party room.
That left Tony Abbott as last man standing. But Abbott has enjoyed a good run in the media which is keen to run with his pitch as a virile outdoorsy leader standing in stark contrast to the nerdy PM. It is a risky strategy that could alienate as much as it attracts but so far it is working well. Each photo op of Abbott’s pre-dawn lycra excursions or weekend “budgie smuggling” manages to exude an air of virility that was lacking in previous Liberal leadership teams. It also acts as a distraction to the fact that the extreme right has taken over the party and he is surrounded by a bunch of ageing has-beens that looked tired in the Howard era and don’t look any more inviting five years later.
Abbott is the same age as Rudd so will feel he has plenty of mileage ahead of him. It is unlikely he will want to stand aside as leader in defeat and if he manages to keep the majority of his comrades in office he will be regarded with affection by sitting MPs who thought they were heading to the slaughterhouse as recently as six months ago. But the net result of Abbott retaining power in the party is to make a Coalition victory in 2013 more unlikely. Though the 2010 political narrative has been about the success of Abbott’s aggressive “opposition to everything” approach, it cannot be sustained in the longer run and will make the party seem obstructionist and negative. No one will be listening to him in 2012 if he is still spouting on about a “great, big tax”.
Of course on one level, Abbott is on the money: an Emissions Trading System is indeed a “great, big tax”. But working properly, that is what it is designed to do. It is designed to make traditional means of creating power more expensive so that we move away to non-carbon alternatives. If he was really serious about tackling this problem, Abbott could go further and attack Labor’s hypocrisy over nuclear energy it is prepared to sell but not use. But Abbott is heart a populist without the stomach for a campaign against the large NIMBY opposition it would attract.
Make no mistake, if Australia is to have any chance of getting to 2050 with 80 percent emissions reductions it has to go nuclear – and soon, given the long lead times to build power stations. It may only be a temporary measure for 20 to 30 years while the technology to convert solar or wind energy for mass baseload is ironed out. But that doesn’t make it any less urgent. Or unfortunately any more likely. Rudd is perfectly aware of nuclear possibilities but his dedicated eye to election mechanics stops him from looking too closely at it. The Greens are also too blinded by their environmental purity to actually do anything concrete to solve the problem (witness how they dealt themselves out of the ETS debate last year). And so when scholars of the future look back on the 2010 election, all they will see is squandered opportunity and rank political hypocrisy across the spectrum. Happy voting.
Lumumba Di-Aping has made the brave call that no Australia politician has been game to make and called Prime Minister Kevin Rudd a climate sceptic. The key negotiator at Copenhagen on behalf of the G777-China group told the ABC Rudd’s message to his own people was a fabrication which “does not relate to the facts because his actions are climate change scepticism in action.” Di-Aping was pointing the disparity between Rudd’s sayings and actions on climate change. “It’s puzzling in the sense that here is a Prime Minister who actually won the elections because of his commitment to climate change,” Di-Aping said. “And within a very short period of time he changes his mind, changes his position, he start acting as if he has been converted into climate change scepticism.”
Di-Aping is essentially correct. For all Rudd’s moralising about climate change as the world’s greatest problem, he has offered very little by way of Australian action to solve it. And Lumumba Di-Aping is the right person to remind him of his responsibilities. The Sudanese diplomat is the chief negotiator for the 130 nation bloc confusingly known as the G77-China group at the Copenhagen climate change talks. He was chosen because Sudan is the current chair of the G77. Despite (or perhaps because of) Sudan’s poor international reputation since Darfur, Di-Aping is proving to be a formidable opponent of vested western interests.
It was Di-Aping who led the criticism of the Danish Text which Rudd is also intimately associated with. The draft of the text which emerged at the start of the conference last week proposed a solution to stop global temperature rises at two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The UN played down the document as an “informal paper” put forward by the Danish Prime Minister. Di-Aping was having none of it and slammed the proposal. “It’s an incredibly imbalanced text intended to subvert, absolutely and completely, two years of negotiations, “ he said. “It does not recognise the proposals and the voice of developing countries”.
Once again Di-Aping had a very good point. The Danish Text was leaked to The Guardian who described it as a departure from the Kyoto Protocol principle that developed nations should bear the brunt of climate change. The Guardian said the draft handed control of climate change finance to the World Bank. More importantly it would abandon the Kyoto protocol which remains the only legally binding treaty that the world has on emissions reductions. Lastly it would make funding to poor countries trying to adapt to climate change contingent on a range of actions.
But what infuriated the developing countries most about the Text was the fact it was prepared without their knowledge. It smacked of colonialism. On the first Monday of the climate change talks, Di-Aping addressed an ad hoc meeting of 100 African civil representatives and a few African parliamentarian. He began dramatically by crying, putting his head in his hands and saying “We have been asked to sign a suicide pact.” Di-Aping may well have been milking the drama but once again his analysis was spot on. He said a global temperature increase of 2 degrees meant 3.5 degrees for much of Africa. This was “certain death for Africa”, and a type of “climate fascism” imposed on the continent by high carbon emitters. He said Africa was being asked to sign on to an agreement that would allow this warming in exchange for $10 billion, and that Africa was also being asked to “celebrate” this deal. “I am absolutely convinced that what Western governments are doing is NOT acceptable to Western civil society,” he said.
On Thursday, Di-Aping made a direct call for action from US President Obama. He said it would be embarrassing for the US not to be part of a solution “to save humanity”. Di-Aping reminded his audience that the US is the world’s largest emitter historically and per capita. He asked the US to join the Kyoto Protocol and take on its commitments as a developed nation. “This is a challenge that President Barack Obama needs to rise to as a Nobel Prize winner and as an advocate of a multilateral global society,” Di-Aping said. “We know he is proud to be a part of that community through his family relations in Africa.”
Frustrated by the lack of action from American and other Western negotiators, Di-Aping led the biggest gamble yet when he led the walk out of the G77-China group conference. Di-Aping explained his rationale for the walk-out with BBC Radio Four. He said it had become clear the Danish presidency was undemocratically advancing the interests of developed countries at the expense of the obligations it had to developing countries. “The mistake they are doing now has reached levels that cannot be acceptable from a president who is supposed to be acting and shepherding the process on behalf of all parties,” he said.
The Western media were becoming furious at the way the conference was being “hijacked” by an uppity nobody from the Third World. The Australian dismissed him as “hyperbole prone”. Toronto’s The Globe and Mail went further and called him “an ill chosen voice from Khartoum”. The headline was meant to damn him by association with long term Sudan’s dictator Omar al-Bashir. But this comparison is false. Di-Aping does not represent Sudan at the conference. He represents 130 nations who are not creating climate change, but who will suffer the most from it. Lumumba Di-Aping is a hero and one who should shame the West into hearing the truth of climate change as seen from the perspective of the poor.
Leaving aside why jurors are asking or answering questions when their role is simply to listen, it seems that the focus of the story changed as it travelled. AP’s point was how funny someone called Jesus didn’t seem to be acting Christian. But as originally told to The Birmingham News, the newsworthy element was simply that someone called Jesus was called for jury service. The Alabama paper confirmed the disruptiveness and her questions. And while their “efforts to reach Christ” were in vain, they did reach Court administrator Sandra Turner who stood up for her. Unlike some Jefferson County residents, said Turner, Christ did not try to get out of jury duty. “She was perfectly happy to serve,” she said.
I’m not sure what the moral of the story here is other than to always interrogate the moral of the story. Certainly those who love narratives will have a difficult task in prising apart of the moral of this week’s dizzyingly confusing story of Australian federal politics and the media. The last December before an election year is traditionally the killing fields for a tottering leader and so it proved again this year. A fierce and very public battle for the soul of the Liberal Party ended when arch-republican Malcolm Turnbull was rolled in a complex three-way ballot by arch-monarchist Tony Abbott. In truth, the monarchy/republic dyad had little to do with Abbott’s success but it was one of the many emblems that made the choice look quite stark and the twists and turns were enjoyable to follow from a distance.
While the fight was very public, much of the real decision making took place behind the scenes. The partyroom doors were firmly closed during the voting and this was one of the few times in the week the nation was not ruled by Tweet. One of the other critical moves of the week was the calculated decision to feature Tony Abbott photographed in the wonderfully named “budgie smugglers” at a Sydney swimming carnival. It signified common-man vigour and sexual dynamism that contrasted with the snobbish intellectual air of Turnbull and the jovial butchery of Joe Hockey.
The result was a shock for most commentators and an instantaneous defeat for Labor’s CPRS legislation. When Abbott appeared after his victory surrounded by Bronwyn Bishop, Sophie Mirabella and Wilson Tuckey, it was clear this was a win for the hard right of the party. Barnaby Joyce was brought in to cabinet fold. Somewhere out of sight, Nick Minchin was probably pulling strings. Loyal puppie Julie Bishop was kept on as a harmless deputy and a sop/mop to the narrowly defeated dripping wet side of the party. Senators Troeth and Boyes crossed the floor and Turnbull rattled the cage in the background but otherwise the liberal Liberals have taken defeat on the chin.
The commentariat quickly assumed their respective positions. The left spluttered their disbelief and assumed the Liberals had just handed the 2010 election to Kevin Rudd on a plate. Many commented on his failure to convince women. As former Health Minister he was in charge of many health decisions that were affected by his deep Catholic beliefs. New ABC appointee Annabel Crabb showed how this was an open source and a brilliant post by Kerryn Goldsworthy showed how Abbott duly ignored the question under the cover of the imfamous budgie smugglers. Goldsworthy’s conclusion is that Abbott in power would be dangerous “where biology meets the budget or the law”.
But Abbott’s media supporters were quick to emerge too. Within hours of the spill results, The Australian’s Miranda Devine had coined the term “Abbott haters” to describe the majority of journalists who immediate wrote off his chances in the next election. Devine’s point is that journalists are elitists who turn people off with their prognostications into the arms of those they criticise. The irascible Piers Akerman said Abbott’s duty was “to expose the CPRS as a nation-destroying fraud”. In the Punch David Penberthy also warned Labor about underestimating their new opponent and talked up his “potential electoral appeal”.
But the fact remains that the regardless of leader (as NSW Labor will also find out in 2011), opinion polls suggest the Liberal party is heading for a shattering loss in 2010. The outlier 53-47 poll since his election since Abbott’s election may give him hope. His negative politics on the CPRS and interest rate rises might save a few seats but every urban seat margin under five percent is vulnerable. And these seats are mostly held by the Turnbull wing. After the Liberals will be left as a skewed right-wing party that will have even less incentive to change its ways in order to regain power. At 52, Tony Abbott is the same age as Kevin Rudd. Both men may lead their parties for a long time to come. And like Jesus Christ (and they both do), they will be happy to serve. But only one will ever be Prime Minister.
Two weeks ago Kevin Rudd got angry with a group of Labor parliamentarians who were complaining about a drop in salary. They represented a considerable interest group who were unhappy with the latest cut delivered by the government’s much feared “Razor Gang”’. Lower house members were to have their printing allowance cut from $100,000 to $75,000 (a $3,750,000 saving over 150 members) and while senators went down from $16,667 to $12,500 (saving $316, 692 across 76 members). The grand total is a $4 million saving which will go a little to servicing a $58b debt. (photo by Derek Barry)
Having had a deputy soften them up, Rudd moved in for the kill when they met. He was in no mood to accede to the delegation’s demands and dismissed them with an imperious “I don’t care what you fuckers think”. The Age’s Misha Schubert reported reported the meeting though she coyly translated Rudd’s words as “I don’t care what you think, this is going to be done.”
The muckraking (but usually well-informed) Andrew Landeryou then reported that his language was much more colourful than in Schubert’s account. Landeryou quotes one attendee who said Rudd’s performance was “Mount Vesuvius meets Tourette’s Syndrome”. Landeryou thought there was nothing wrong with roughing up the troops a bit when they are straying from the cause of righteousness, but said it made for very ugly listening.
Landeryou got the ball rolling, but it would take the Poison Dwarf of Australian journalism to ensure Rudd’s swearing got the widest audience. In his Sunday Herald-Sun column this week Glenn Milne highlighted it as the most important part of his story about the meeting in his first sentence: “KEVIN Rudd has launched another expletive-laden tirade — this time directed at Labor’s factional bosses, including three female MPs!” Milne’s news value on a two-week old event was based on the dubious facts Rudd’s audience was mixed and were “shocked” despite being “hardened operatives”.
It is always dangerous to rely on Milne’s litany of unnamed sources – he is not averse to making things up. But amid the manufactured outrage, he does add one fact that Senator David Feeney was at the meeting and it was his question which was the straw that broke the camel’s back. After telling all present they were fuckers whose opinion did not count, Rudd singled out Feeney for personal attention telling him “you can get fucked” and asking, “Don’t you fucking understand?”
Feeney would not confirm or deny his understanding. But Crikey’s Guy Rundle (link is unfortunately paywalled) says it is credible. Rundle called Feeney the Cartman of Labor politics “bumptious, spherical, and obsessively concerned with the management of his Victorian right-wing microfaction.” Any encounter with Feeney for longer than 15 minutes, he says “would have most people praising the PM’s Christ-like restraint in sticking to verbal abuse and not stabbing him through the eyes with a biro, so as to better mash his frontal lobes.”
Rundle may not think highly of Feeney, but his question is valid: why does a micro-faction running number three Senator needs a huge mail allowance? However this point was lost in the scrabble to report the f-bombs. A quick check of Google News has found 437 stories (and growing) pontificating about Rudd’s coarse language and what it means for society.
Perhaps the attention is richly deserved given the freakish nature of his own micro-media management. And yet for a man given to opaqueness, Rudd made his own views “absolutely clear” on this matter: “that is that these entitlements needed to be cut back, and I make no apology for either the content of my conversation or the robustness with which I expressed my views.” He is right, the robustness is fine – the real problem lies elsewhere in Rudd’s use of English.
It is the sentences where he is entirely devoid of meaning we should watch. At the Major Economic Forum earlier this year, a journalist asked him a question whether there would be any climate change action coming out of the meeting. The response was classic Rudd: “It is highly unlikely that anything will emerge from the MEF in terms of detailed programmatic specificity”. Of course you can’t afford to be seen attacking the futility of the forum so you retreated to your Yes Minister training to disguise it with gobbledegook.
Rudd is a technocrat so providing mannerism fodder for a generation of comics is a small price to pay for commanding the message. But here is where the problem begins: the real message gets lost in the subterfuge and his ego is too big notice it. Perhaps, like the media, he needs reminding about the two inconvenient facts that are the real major news stories at the moment: The people he leads are the world’s biggest-carbon polluters and his neighbours in the Pacific Islands are drowning.
Instead of these inconvenient truths, we hear him leaking low expectations to the hosts about the December climate summit in Copenhagen. But Copenhagen can’t just be pointless like the Major Economic Forum was – it’s time to hear about some detailed specified programs to save the planet. Rudd is talking down the prospect of a victory for renewable energy because he has been captured by carbon storage. Australia remains locked in high carbon solutions after 20 years of climate change talks. That’s not good enough, Mr Rudd, and if you can’t support Kyoto II, then get out of the way of those who will support, just like your predecessor Howard did. Otherwise we’ll all be as fucked as Senator Feeney.
(Memorial Brigade Hill, Kokoda Track, Papua New Guinea by Arthur Chapman)Parliament was hushed today as Malcolm Turnbull asked PM Kevin Rudd today about the fate of nine Australians among 13 people to die in a plane crash in PNG. While my deepest sympathies go out to the bereaved families concerned, I have to ask why this Dorothy Dixer question was addressed to, and answered by, the Prime Minister of Australia? I appreciate that the proximity of so many deaths to the Kokoda Trail where Australians troops repelled Japan in 1942 gave the crash a hallowed feel. I am also sympathetic to Malcolm Turnbull’s genuine grief around his own father’s similar death. Yet I am not convinced the crash was the question of such national importance it was afforded today. Stephen Smith’s foreign affairs department could have handled this adequately.If that seems harsh, consider whether Turnbull (or any other parliamentarian) would ever open Question Time calling for a nation to mourn when the next nine people die on Australian roads. He or she wouldn’t have to wait long. As the average of almost five deaths a day shows, nine people will probably die in the 48 hours following tomorrow’s likely defeat of the federal government’s emissions trading scheme in the Senate.And unlike the fickle fate that ended the lives of the 13 people in foggy mountains short of a PNG runway, a discussion of the meaning of Australian road statistics is absolutely relevant to what Turnbull and Rudd were supposed to be discussing today. Car driving habits are one of the main reasons Australia’s carbon emissions are 4.5 times the global average, just behind the US. And car deaths are the result of car habits.This is the selfishness at the heart of our behaviour that our government and opposition seem incapable of addressing. And so while Liberals and Labor alike are noble and bi-partisan in the grief of an overseas accident, neither seem interested in forging an agreement over a coherent and comprehensive response to climate change ahead of the December Copenhagen conference. There is no point in waiting for that conference to act. As Rudd was (probably deliberately) overheard telling the Danish PM a few weeks ago, Copenhagen won’t change anything. It is likely the Chinese and Indians won’t agree to 50 percent targets by 2050 and can point to the selfish behaviour of western countries like Australia in defence of their own actions. The best Australia can do is take a carbon reduction policy to the table. Such a policy may not be perfect and will likely need fine tuning over the years to come. But it will be a start and it will get companies thinking seriously about the externalities of their actions. That campaign eventually needs to focus on people as well as companies. There is overwhelming endorsement for action – roughly three out of every four Australians want their politicians to take more action about it. But these people need to be shown they can do something about it too. According to the ABS, over 80 percent of all Australians journeys are made by car. Australian roads are so crowded it is a miracle that only five people die in accidents every day. It is this culture that Turnbull and Rudd need to change if Australia is to ever get serious about climate change action. In 2005, the transport sector accounted for about 14 per cent of Australia’s net greenhouse gas emissions. This means more than just agreeing on a pollution permits scheme (and god knows that is difficult enough) but a concerted campaign to change the way Australians live their stratified lives. A ban on car ads on television would be a good starting point. Every corporately-funded TV station (including SBS) shows at least one carmaker ad every commercial break seductively selling its wares and these are supplemented by ads for oil companies, tyre makers, and various car accessories. While all these activities are correctly legal (as is smoking) they should be banned from mass media ads as they promote a lifestyle that is increasing bad for people, and bad for the planet. It is also an increasingly arrogant practice. New AAMI research has found that 83 per cent of drivers believe yelling, swearing and gesturing rudely are justifiable responses to traffic indiscretions by other road users. Most drivers blame congestion for blowing their top. The human toll is growing – it is time driving was reined in. How many deaths will it take for Turnbull and Rudd to be bi-partisan about tackling this problem?