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Goodbye Kevin, hello Julia

We have just experienced a Shakespearean moment. There is real excitement in the land, a sense of new beginnings, as the Elizabethan figure of Julia Gillard takes the reins as Prime Minister. 

It was a swift, clean transition. We were spared many more months of leadership speculation amid the steady draining-away of Labor's electoral support. The rightwards drift in the electorate will now be stopped. Gillard will win the next election for Labor. Rudd would probably have lost it.

Labor faction leaders acted with ruthless precision. Rudd, to his credit, has accepted the inevitable with grace and dignity. As Wayne Swan said, politics is a tough game. The loyalty compact between political leaders and their parties is that leaders must succeed. Rudd was starting to fail.

Gillard said rightly that a good Labor Government, despite its great achievement in saving Australian jobs from the GFC, had lost its way. As deputy PM, and a minister loyal to both her party and leader, she had no alternative but to accept the call of factional leaders for her to take the leadership.

To suggest that this is a case of personal ambition and disloyalty is tomisunderstand the special nature of politics. Politics is about gaining and retaining power in order to implement a policy program. For her to say no was not an option.

Gillard's first statements on climate change and the resources super profits tax were well judged. These two issues go to the heart of why Rudd had to go.

On climate change, Rudd first went wrong in July-December 2008 when he set out to broker down Professor Ross Garnaut's science-based recommendation for a 25 per cent cut in Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. He shrugged off Garnaut's expertise, bowing instead to pressure from the coal energy lobby to adopt an ineffectual 5 per cent 2020 emissions reduction target, to be achieved by shonky international emissions trading.

The resulting Emissions Trading Scheme destroyed Rudd's standing with voters serious about the climate crisis. His refusal to test his ETS bills in a double-dissolution election in 2009 drained away yet more support.

Gillard did not promise to return to an ETS. She said simply that she will advance use of wind and solar technologies, that she believes in climate change and that humans contribute to climate change, and that it is a disappointment to her as it is to millions of Australians that we do not have a price on carbon. In the future, she said, we will need one, but first we will have to establish a community consensus for action. If elected as Prime Minister, she concluded, 'We will re-prosecute the case for a carbon price at home and abroad.'

These words leave policy flexibility for Gillard to adopt Garnaut's recommendations for a domestic carbon tax. International emissions trading won't be going anywhere soon, and meanwhile something must be done to cut Australia's emissions.

On the RSPT, Rudd reached for this risky policy initiative when he saw how much credibility he had lost on the ETS. He was trying to inspire voters by invoking the Australian theme of a fair go for ordinary people against rapacious big miners. But he could not seize the day. An effective miners' campaign in a society now tied to the mining industry's fortunes through mass superannuation was draining away support from Labor.

Gillard, wisely, has turned the page on the RSPT. She has unilaterally cancelled the government's advertising campaign against the miners, and called on them to respond in kind. She has promised real negotiations, to be conducted by Swan as Deputy PM and Treasurer, and Martin Ferguson as Resources and Energy Minister. She has thus lanced the RSPT boil in a way that Rudd could no longer do.

Both Rudd and Gillard were the right choices for the times. In 2007, Rudd made us believe in him. He was the only Labor leader who could have toppled Howard. The electorate had become conditioned to accept as normal Howard's grey, bean-counting, Uncle Sam's coat-tails style of leadership. Rudd was sufficiently familiar to be unthreatening. Then, Gillard would have frightened voters off. Not now.

Gillard will successfully defuse the RSPT issue. But these are still early days for her policy leadership on the testing issue of climate change.

Gillard will be subject to the same powerful coal-energy vested interest voices. They will urge more phoney solutions in defence of the coal-based Australian energy status quo. She has a brief window of time to put her stamp on climate change policy leadership, to affirm that Labor will make a real start after the election on Australia's necessary path to decarbonisation. This will take courage, a quality she no doubt does not lack.

Finally, a personal view on Rudd's character. Was David Marr right — was he a leader fatally flawed by anger from a traumatic childhood? I don't buy it. Politicians of worth — as Rudd is — transcend tough childhoods.

I have known Rudd some 20 years. We were colleagues in Foreign Affairs in the late 1980s, where we worked closely together in the Policy Planning Branch. Later I assisted for a brief period in 2002 in his Shadow Foreign Minister's office at Parliament House.

Politics is a high-stress game and all leaders can be forgiven occasional bouts of bad temper. Reported incidents were no big deal, and are not keys to the man. Rudd is a decent, highly intelligent, energetic and well-motivated man, who has made great contributions to Australia. I wish him a continued, useful and satisfying role in public life. He would make an excellent Foreign Minister, if Stephen Smith were to move on to another portfolio.

Farewell PM Kevin, welcome PM Julia.

More on the leadership takeover:
It's a girl!
Gillard's win a loss for feminists
Moving forward with Gillard
Remembering Rudd

Tony KevinTony Kevin is the author of Crunch Time, a book exploring Australia's inadequate policy responses to the climate change crisis. 



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Existing comments

Gillard is a disaster for Australia. Her support of anti-Catholic programs is awful.No-one with true Catholic morals can support a Prime Minister whose views are so much opposed to God's Will. I thought Eureka Street was a Catholic publication. Why does Eureka Street give voice to those who are adamantly opposed to Catholic morals and Doctrine?

How about having articles that support the teachings of the Church, outside of which there is no salvation.

Trent | 25 June 2010  

While I wouldn't go as far as Trent, I agree JG is a disaster for Australia. Eureka Street is nearly as bad as the ABC with its relatively uncritical support of the Labor Party.

Julia says her lines well and that's why she got the support of the Machine. She'll be a puppet PM in the same way as the NSW premier Christina Keneally (who I feel immensely sorry for).

In the 1950s we had 12 faceless men. How many in the hegemony now? And do any of them actually know how to run a company, let alone a country?

How many times have we seen Labor dump a popularly elected leader for an unelected one? Sure it's permissible under a Westminster system but how often have the other lot done it? Can you think of any?

Ian | 25 June 2010  

Trent, we have moved on from the Council of Trent. In the Vatican II statement, the Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, we read "...the Church has always held and holds now, Christ underwent His passion and death freely, because of the sins of men and out of infinite love, in order that ALL may reach salvation."

Michael | 25 June 2010  

Where is God in all this political manipulation and power play? I too am curious about the Eureka Street support for Ms Julia. Mr Rudd is an honorable man who openly lived and proclaimed Christian values. While delivering his goodbye speech yesterday Kevin was flanked by his wife and children, although he was visibly upset he remained poised and stoic to the last. I was particularly proud of his reference to his God.
Tony Kevin made an important comment that Mr Rudd has transcended a traumatic childhood and this was obvious yesterday, grounded in faith and supported by his family, Kevin was graceful in what seems to be a mutiny.

Trish Martin | 25 June 2010  

My heart goes out to Kevin07. Unlike Tony I have not worked with him but I have worked with many ministers & know the hours they put in, often in vain. Our former P.M. was one who worked even more. He is clearly, on the material available publicly, a sensitive introvert.He is going through his own hell at present trying to feel as well as understand why it has all happened. In the weeks, months & years ahead he will ,I suggest, work & rework the events of recent days. Hopefully he will come to accept that, ultimately for his own good, he had to have the weight of the world lifted from his shoulders by a loving God. As to the naysayers that require anyone to be Catholic in order to receive a Catholic's vote, who do we vote for when there is no Catholic leading any of the major political parties? As always in life there is so much grey when it comes to ethics unless one denies that each of us has to choose & instead must follow blindly an externally imposed set of prescriptions! I suggest that we will be judged not on how well we knew & followed the text of the Catholic catechism but whether we met the test of the 2 great commandments of Love & the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount!

Graham Holmes | 25 June 2010  

I sat in Parliament House last week and listened to the PM address a group of 14 of us about our area of expertise - and where the Government had succeeded in our area with 90% of its policies. It confirmed to me that despite the major issues, so much more had been achieved. By staying out of the GFC, at least the GST isn't going up to 15% - that alone is commendable. Perhaps this nation may have been more appreciative if we had felt more pain.
This move wasn't about doing what is right, it was about an archiac movement (The ALP/Unions) trying to cling to power and the egos behind it all. I agree with Abbott - a disgraceful way to treat the Prime Minister of this country and reminds me as to why I never ever vote Labor and never will.

Phil | 25 June 2010  

I am not at all impressed by Trent's comments. Where is the evidence Trent? Ian, one thing is that JG isn't is a puppet any more than Christina Keneally is. Both are strong women - you have to be very very tough to be in politics. The days of the 12 faceless men has long gone-even if it ever existed. There are powerful forces on both sides of politics trying to force their wishes on the respective parties.Certainly the Libs can not claim to be squeaky clean either. Please note; the people do not vote the leader of the party (ALP/L/NP) into the leadership or the Prime Minister ship! The respective Party does through the parliamentary reps. When I go to vote I vote for the Party and that decision is strongly influenced by my perception of worth of the local Member or Senator and their policies/track record.

Last point; I would hope by now that most Catholics accept that God in hie infinite wisdom allows us the free will to seek him in our own way. Noone has access to the entirety of "Revealed Truth".Who/what gives us Catholics the right to condemn those who sincerely seek God through their own faith tradition/culture?

Gavin O'Brien | 25 June 2010  

To those who endorse the comments of the Opposition Leader Tony Abbot about disloyalty & factionalism in the Labor Party, what say ye about the role of Tony, a Catholic, in the removal of his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull also a Catholic?

There is factionalism in almost every human organisation, because that is the way we operate & behave as humans with all our imperfections! Sure we may judge it harsh & unjust at times but we need to be grown up about it.

Ultimately whilst we may feel good about being able to condemn the actions of others the only behaviour we can change short of infringing the integrity of others is our own! I am still having great difficulty removing the 'log' from my own eye after 67 years and it seems to be growing not shrinking!

Graham Holmes | 25 June 2010  

I totally disagree with Trent. Where is his evidence that the new PM is anti-catholic? I believe that Julia Gillard will be a strong and popular leader and not a disaster as forecast by some. The rhetoric that speaks of 'true Catholic moral' is judgmental to say the least and designed to curb difference of opinion.

I hope that Julia Gillard PM will be very successful.

Jeff Kevin | 25 June 2010  

Graham Holmes accuse Tony Abbott a Catholic of removing his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull also a Catholic. Tony Abbott had no choice: Malcolm Turnbull supported the Rudd ETS legislation and instructed the party to support the bill, despite significant disagreement among his colleagues.Malcolm is a small L (left wing), a convert to the Catholic Church, but he is at odds with the Church Teachings. He is pro-abortion and supported legislation relaxing restriction on abortion pill RU486. Malcolm a republican and also he was on the board of "AUSFLAG" (to change our flag) left in 1994 and in 2004 joined the Australian National Flag Association. Would you trust Malcolm Turnbull? Labor supporters did not trust Kevin Rudd.Would you trust Julia Gillard who was part of the gang of four? Let's hope and pray that Catholics will vote for Tony Abbott.

Ron Cini | 26 June 2010  

Hi Tony, I think Senator Minchin also had a fair bit to do with the downfall of the ETS. I don't think this next article had an airing in the Murdoch papers,not sure. SMH 16th June 2010. Heading. Super fund group calls for mining ad probe. 'When it comes to the retirement concerns of all working Australians the key issue is lifting compulsory super to 12% rather than focussing on short-term market fluctuations which arguably, are unrelated to the mining tax", said AIST chief Fiona Reynolds. I would say to Trent, there are several Catholics on the Coalition front bench in the the House of Reps. and in the Senate and you could not tell from their policies that they had ever heard of Jesus Christ. They are all a terrible advertisement for Catholicism. Labor on the other hand {those dreadful commies} actually show they care about the health and education of ALL Australians by providing much more funding, and until recently had a compassionate view of asylum seekers. I am a Catholic, but I wouldn't give two cents for the current Coalition. Thsy're a disgrace.

Anne | 26 June 2010  

This is utterly demeaning of you Tony and I am shocked that you don't understand that Gillard loved Ruddock's refugee policy.

And she killed the ETS and the last Morgan Poll for Rudd was 53/47 with him much preferred as PM over everyone.

I am sickened by this destruction of a man who did nothing wrong and sickened by this ugly attack from a man I respected.

Marilyn | 27 June 2010  

Thanks for all comments. I notice that Marilyn Shepherd has a particular dislike of Julia Gillard on boat people - she has commented on this on other ES essay correspondence threads as well as on this one. Let's wait and see what Gillard actually does in office. I don't yet see any real policy difference between Rudd and Gillard on boat people - both have always been politically sensitive to 'western suburbs' concerns, but I do not believe that either leader is xenophobic or racist (as I believe John Howard's government truly was). Kevin Rudd's record on boat people was actually not all that flash - his 2007 campaign rhetoric of turning back the boats and his overblown descriptions of people smugglers as scum of the earth, the recent suspension of Afghan and Tamil visa processing, the reopening of Curtin and other desert detention centres, the aggressive legal pursuit of long sentences for people smugglers and boat crews ... so I am not sure where Marilyn Shepherd's retrospective halo for Rudd is coming from. Though it is true that as Immigration Minister Chris Evans tries conscientiously to treat boat people with dignity and respect, and avoids the use of demonising language about boat people. And the ADF is actually trying to save boat people in distress at sea. I hope this restraint, and ADF observance of the maritime law of safety of life at sea, will continue under Julia Gillard.

Tony Kevin | 29 June 2010  

She told the Channel 9 people that we couldn't keep kids in detention no matter what we think of their parents.

Marilyn Shepherd | 30 June 2010  

And as Gillard is blowing a big, loud dog whistle as I expected her too I rest my case.

Marilyn Shepherd | 05 July 2010  

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