Labor's cult of Rudd-hate


Kevin Rudd looking angry'I'm sorry about this,' Pontius Pilate tells Jesus in a Leunig cartoon, 'but all the polls and the talkback are saying I've got to crucify you.'

A friend who drew my attention to the image saw it as a comment on the behaviour of the media in Australia's undeclared election campaign. Maybe, though I suspect Leunig was directing our attention to the fate of media hate objects in general.

Whatever one's political sympathies may be, Julia Gillard and the federal ALP make unlikely substitutes for the suffering Jesus, and there aren't any obvious contenders for that role on the other side, either. Clean hands are rare in politics, and innocent persons condemned to death 'for the sake of the people' — literally or metaphorically — are almost never found outside totalitarian regimes.

Democracies do, however, have hate figures aplenty. And one of the strangest aspects of this oh-so-strange moment in Australian politics has been the emergence of a pre-eminent hate figure.

Kevin Rudd may have declared that he accepts he will never be prime minister again, and it can be assumed that he won't be invited back to the front bench in what time remains to the Gillard Government. But he continues to have a function, at least for those ALP members and supporters who are resolved that he must never be more than the member for Griffith.

His role is to be hated, to wear the blame for what has gone wrong.

This is not to say that Rudd is one of the rare possessors of clean hands. His plight doesn't readily summon up Jesus before Pilate, either.

But the extent to which he is reviled does evoke another vivid image of baying crowds: the 'two-minutes hate' in Orwell's 1984, a daily ritual in which the citizens of Oceania assemble before screens bearing the image of Big Brother's arch-enemy, Emmanuel Goldstein, and scream out their loathing of him.

In the novel, the ritual has become so entrenched that what Goldstein said or done that was so wicked has become mostly forgotten and largely irrelevant. What matters is simply that Goldstein is hated, and so now it is with Rudd.

He has been cast in this role for some time. In February last year, when Rudd challenged Gillard for the Labor leadership, party elder Barry Jones lamented that 'Kevin Rudd has not yet been blamed for the bombing of Darwin, but that will come'.

This was only barely hyperbole: Labor backbencher Steve Fitzgibbon had described Rudd as a psychopath, and even though others in the Gillard camp demurred at the label it set the tone for the onslaught against him. The nature of his alleged psychopathology has never been precisely spelt out, but it appears to involve a perfectionist streak and a short fuse when the competence of subordinates is questionable.

By that measure, half the CEOs in Australia would be psychopaths.

When Gillard won the 2012 leadership ballot 71–31, Rudd announced that he would not challenge again. He left open the possibility of being drafted as leader by an overwhelming majority of caucus, should such a majority ever transpire. But he was adamant there would be no challenge, that another divided ballot would benefit neither himself nor Gillard nor the party, and he has repeated these things many times since.

In the week before the most recent challenge Rudd repeated it again, and reportedly sent Simon Crean a message asking that he not speak publicly about the leadership without consulting him first. Crean apparently did not read the message and made his call for a spill. Rudd did not challenge; most of his front-bench supporters have either been sacked or resigned from the ministry; and Labor, already trailing the polls, now faces a catastrophic defeat.

Who is to blame for all this? Logic and fairness might dictate that responsibility lies with the instigator of the farce, Crean, that senior statesman apparently devoid of supporters. Rudd, after all, had merely kept his word.

Yet many of those who had hitherto railed at Rudd for 'destabilisation' now complain that he did keep his word, which supposedly makes him a coward. That accusation has been levelled by many in a frenzy of recrimination on social media, and with only slightly more restraint by mainstream media commentators and politicians.

The latter are not all ALP members; Independent MP Tony Windsor said that because Rudd did not challenge he will now be remembered as a Costello rather than as a Keating.

That view probably will become the legend, though the details of the comparison hardly fit the facts. Costello never challenged for the Liberal leadership, but Rudd did challenge Gillard in 2012. Since then he has consistently said he would not challenge again, a stance his colleagues chose to doubt at their cost.

And it has consolidated the view of him as uniquely iniquitous, so iniquitous indeed that if the worst projections of pollsters are vindicated on 14 September and Labor loses all its marginal seats, the Gillard cheer squad will almost certainly apportion most of the blame to Rudd.

It will not matter that he is not responsible for the eviscerated mining tax that has garnered scant revenue; that he is not responsible, either, for the numerous non-solutions on boat arrivals, nor for promising that there would never be a carbon tax and then introducing one. He is not responsible for the fact that Labor has not yet persuaded the states to cooperate in the equitable reform of education funding.

Above all, he is not responsible for the fact that since August 2010 Labor has clung to power as a minority.

Rudd haters would disagree, citing leaks to the media that damaged the government. But the leaks, whatever their source, pale beside such campaigning ineptitude as 'the real Julia' and her plan for a citizens assembly to deliberate on climate change (why elect a Parliament?). It is difficult to see the 2010 election result as anything other than the voters' verdict on her deposing of Rudd.

No, Rudd is not responsible for the Gillard Government's stumbles. But he is to blame nonetheless, just as in 1984 Goldstein is to blame for the reader is never sure quite what.

Labor has had its hate figures before: Billy Hughes in 1917, Joe Lyons in 1931 and the Groupers in 1955. But they were all 'rats' whose actions split the party, aiding its enemies. In these post-ideological times, the hate figure is merely a man who didn't challenge an elected leader. 

Ray Cassin headshotRay Cassin is a contributing editor. 

Topic tags: Ray Cassin, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Simon Crean



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Existing comments

Many people find Kevin Rudd an easy person to hate. His reputation in Queensland in the 1990s is well known. So is the vituperation sent his way. I will not go into detail but he did do many things that annoyed people. However he also did things that no one else had the wit or finesse to do. Further, his ethical feel was very strong. If he gave his word that was it. Finally his determination was incredible and his ability to crash through barriers amazing. That he made mistakes as PM is clear. But that his successor has made even greater mistakes is just as clear. I do not think his political enemies have yet got either the measure of the man or foreseen his potential to contribute to a post September caucus.

RFI Smith | 04 April 2013  

He didn't reportedly tell Crean he was not standing, he did tell Crean he was not standing. Gillard is a dreadful PM who needs a scapegoat for her own awfulness.

Marilyn | 04 April 2013  

Thank you for this article - There are many of us who feel the same way but we face the endless onslaught of Rudd hate. Its strange really, Rudd has more support than Gillard even today, I hope we see him back after the election when many of these Rudd haters are gone! Its just such a pity that the party as a whole has to suffer because of the hate of a few!!

Katherine | 04 April 2013  

There is no Labor cult of Rudd-hate at all. What there is is an ongoing Labor leadership crisis that goes far deeper than the personality or promise of Rudd's or Gillard's leadership. It stems from a more fundamental political crisis in Labor itself. Labor is not a "Party" in any sense that their forebears would have recognised. It is simply an empty shell topped by a leadership clique that believes in little beyond its own re-election. It's all a question of ends and means making Laborites effectively political zombies - still walking the Earth in a putrid version of their old form, but dead from the neck up. Considering the chauvanistic fanfare that Eureka St indulged in when Gillard became PM, based on nothing more than the fact she was Australia's first female PM, you've got a real nerve to accuse others of the sins you are guilty of yourselves. If you want to know who painted Kevin Rudd as Emmanuel Goldstein, don't look at Labor, look in the mirror. You may not have the leader you want, but perhaps you have the leader you deserve.

DavidSt | 04 April 2013  

Rudd is a certainly genuine hate figure of Laborites and public servants. Possibly justifiably so, given his disastrously egotistical modus operandi. But their feigned hate is overwhelmingly for the "misogynist" husband and father Tony Abbott. That includes Gillard AND Rudd, both of whom, with the willing co-operation of the sedulously compliant Canberra gallery, persist in projecting that a vote for the Coalition is, a vote for something even worse, if that's conceivable, than their shambolic regime.

HH | 04 April 2013  

At the centre of power politics in Australia is the process whereby those in the Parliamentary party room of either major party discover, by judgement and elimination, who is most likely to be papabile and who not. The electorate is not party to this party process. But it is thus that Rudds and Gillards, Abbotts and Turnbulls, rise without trace to become the next contender for Numero Uno. But what is really going on? How is it that everyone in Canberra can know that Rudd is a manic micromanager, yet when it comes to the number crunching he is the one who seizes the moment? That Abbott is little more than an Opposition attack dog with no morals and no vision who could yet take the thorny crown and be king for a day? The public can read between the lines. Rudd is brilliant but no one can work with him, we don’t why, you have to be there at the time to know why. Gillard is probably a superb communicator in camera, but in the media she hasn’t had a chance. Abbott is patently no Menzies or Fraser or Howard, yet he has cowed his colleagues into giving him the authority. Turnbull is again brilliant, but no judge of character. And once they are given the job, bingo, stuff up. Yet still, we sit around wondering why. We turn these people into circus hate figures when in fact they are never more than themselves. Isn’t it obvious?

LEAKY BOAT | 04 April 2013  

For lack of a nail the shoe was lost. For lack of a shoe the horse was lost. For lack of a horse the battle was lost. By loss of the battle the throne was lost. Some time after losing the prime ministership, Kevin Rudd had his gall bladder removed. Much of what has been said about him is similar to the symptoms of someone with gall bladder problems. This includes the famous tantrum over his meal on the VIP jet, which raises the question: "What sort of air force can't get the prime minister's dinner right?" Will some future Dr. Norman Swan tell us that our present sorry state and our sorrier future under the unspeakable Abbott were caused by the state of K Rudd's gall bladder?

Jim Jones | 05 April 2013  

Political alliances are formed for one purpose only - the pursuit of power. This was the case with Rudd and Gillard, as it was the case with Hawke/Keating and Howard/Costello. A complication with Rudd/Gillard was the male/female dynamic, a first for Australian politics. Arguments can be made for and against Rudd's and Gillard's distinctive personalities, who stabbed who in the back, etc, but under a constant harsh media gaze,and an Opposition hungry for power in its own right, things were always going to get tricky. Rebuilding a political alliance under this gaze would be very difficult indeed. Imagine rebuilding a relationship where trust is an essential ingredient under a constant and analytical media gaze.

Pam | 05 April 2013  

Both of these labor leaders have made mistakes. Julia, through ambition perhaps, made her greatest mistake by challenging Rudd, and winning. But... she has been castigated, reviled, and negated constantly since, to a much greater degree than anyone else in the current political story, and her (many) achievements have gone virtually uncommented upon by the press. Turn the page, and media, perhaps a little positive reporting on Julia wouldn't go astray?

rosemary | 05 April 2013  

I think the more apt parallel is with Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" with Rudd in the title role. Caesar was, unlike Christ, a morally ambiguous figure, as were Cassius and Brutus. Will a Mark Antony arise? Has he/she already? Watch this space. This is Oz realpolitik.

Edward F | 05 April 2013  

I think Kevin Rudd has behaved most underwhelmingly restrained since he was metaphorically assassinated by Julia Gillard and her cohorts. I think the job he was doing was much more impressive than that of Julia Gillard's government and that he should not be maligned as he has been by media et al. He does have a moral compass and its a pity his naysayers do not.

Lynne Zahra | 05 April 2013  

Rudd's great mistake was that he emasculated the power brokers of the Labor Party when first prime minister by removing the power to elect his ministry from the factional interests and take that responsibility onto himself. Essentially he alienated the trade unions which currently represent a mere 8% of the Australian population but are represented in the Australian parliament by unionists and their hacks to the tune of over 50% of Labor parliamentarians including Gillard and her band of "loyal" (until a better opportunity presents itself) supporters.

john frawley | 05 April 2013  

Thanks Ray for an interesting article. It is quite obvious that Rudd is a brilliant man and one of his word and potentially a great leader; I have heard him in discussion with Frank Brennan and Philip Adams plus others - his knowledge, wisdom and capabilities is what is really needed, but he is probably too good for the Labor Party at present. The party is in total disarray and rotting at its core, having set upon a culture of disloyalty to its leaders, I cannot see it changing in the near future. Admittedly Gillard is clever, but unwise; she got there by foul means and this cannot be glossed over regardless of any good that she has done. The party is in ruins (our founding Labor fathers would be disgusted with current antics) and I think it will take some time before it can redeem itself - even if Pope Francis was to become its leader at present it seems that sadly the people will still go for Abbot, the 'thick headed climate denier' at the next election.

John Whitehead | 05 April 2013  

I don't think there is a culture of Rudd hate at all. Perhaps there is a general self-loathing at work in the Labor Party, for whom the general disconnect in contemporary western democracies of the apparatus of power from the voter would be most challenging. They are suffering intense dissonance because of this and not even realising it, while at the same time going through an enormous period of flux in party structure. Rudd and the surrounding brouhaha is amplified by these greater issues and a media that has no idea of the potential of deliberative democracy and its birth pangs. They only see the news cycle and the sales figures. Emotion is winning over deliberation and rationality again and it has appeared to have strayed into this column.

Lyndall Edwards | 05 April 2013  

Thank you Ray for this article. I am amazed at the vitriol against Kevin Rudd and how people respond when I say that I am a supporter. It appears he was guilty of everything short of crucifying Jesus. This vitriol came out aplenty in the comments after Frank Brennan's article on Rudd recently. Some of the comments were quite poisonous. One wonders why those readers of Eureka Street felt the need to vent their spleen at this man. I was told by someone "in the know" shortly after Rudd was elected prime minister that he would go and be replaced by Gillard -that she was being groomed for leadership. Perhaps people should look at the undermining of Rudd prior to his replacement by Gillard, rather than on what he has been accused of since his sacking. I find it unfortunate that the first female PM is someone I cannot support, any more than I could have supported Margaret Thatcher. If I say so, I am accused of not supporting a woman and not being a feminist. Hard work and being tough is not the same as good policy. Rudd is not a saint, but he is not evil personified.

Vivienne | 05 April 2013  

When Ms Gillard speaks about loyalty it really does smack of Rupert Murdoch attempting to protect the right to privacy. I will vote in September - and when I vote I will remember those former ALP officials from NSW who are now working for a particular private enterprise; I will remember the utter incompetence of the Gillard ministry and their betrayal of a sitting, elected by the people, Prime Minister; I will remember the hope so many of us had after the defeat of the disgraceful Howard government; I will remember the trust we had in that newly-elected government, led by Kevin Rudd, to represent Australia on the world stage as a country of which I could feel proud - proud of the apology to our indigenous brothers and sisters; proud of how we could deal with and care for asylum seekers; proud of how our government would care for single parents and so many under-privileged in our society; so much more - and when I vote I will remember how those trusts, those hopes have been betrayed by a government for which I have nothing but contempt.

John Nicholson | 05 April 2013  

I began to think the author Ray Casson had slipped on the role of Pilate - washing the hands of a great man who once defeated has not let up - Rudd has done enough damage and some of his mates have just perpetuated the campaign - poor form Mr Rudd and even in the latest contest Bob Ellis claims the vote would have been 37 Rudd - 60 for Julia...pretty clear win I would say. Most Labor Leaders in the past have put the Party before retribution - I doubt that has been the case. Good effort Ray to rewrite history but perhaps a step too far.

Gary Lockwood | 05 April 2013  

When Julia Gillard made herself leader of the grand old ALP through her complicity in the knifing of a first term PM, she set in course a series of events that have unfolded at an alarming rate. That the Unions empowered a woman, perhaps not ready for the highest office in the land, has added to total dissatisfaction with the govt. They have not handled much well and none of it is related to gender. Labor, under Julia Gillard, has lost its core: and they will need to find it in order to be an Opposition that holds the Liberals to account. Any good parliamentary system demands that there are solid members on both sides. The strategies employed by a govt, now on its knees, is tragic. They, and they alone, have handed the coming election to the Conservatives complete with a silver spoon: and they should refrain from blaming Tony Abbott. It is entirely their own work!

Jackie | 05 April 2013  

The article is a little gem

jl trew | 05 April 2013  

As far as I'm concerned, Rudd's biggest mistakes are 1) Advising Goss to introduce poker machines to Queensland. 2) Attempting to turn the entire economy into a derivative for derivative traders, instead of simply introducing a revenue-neutral fossil fuel consumption tax. 3) Refusing to admit he could possibly be wrong about 1 and 2.

David Arthur | 05 April 2013  

I agree with DavidST's analysis of the ALP, although I consider the ALP to be akin to a (partially) organised crime gang.

David Arthur | 05 April 2013  

Rudd isnt a psychopath, he cried. He might be more of a person with slightly autistic tendencies (very high functioning / Asperger's). You can tell by the precise way he speaks and his use of language is a little unusual - like when he told the press to "take a cold shower" but he used it out of context.

Val | 05 April 2013  

Where does Tony Windsor get his insights - Rudd will be remember more as a Costello than a Keating? Costello was never Prime Minister. Costello never led the Liberal/National Party coalition from Opposition to Government. Probably Rudd's greatest achievement was to win the leadership of the ALP, despite its faction-riddled structure. But once the prize of Prime Ministership was won, the spoils of office had to be shared. Like Julius Caesar Rudd didn't see it that way, and so numerous Cassius's sprang up in the caucus and in the Canberra Press Gallery. "And this man is now become a god; and Cassius is a wretched creature, and must bend his body if Caesar carelessly but nod on him." (Julius Caesar 1.ii.115-117) I only ever had one personal encounter with Kevin Rudd when he was PM. He impressed me mightily as a gentleman in the best sense of the word, as a determined man who knew where he wanted to lead the country, and as a man perplexed by the inability of so many in his own party to share his goals. It's an unfortunate fact of Australian political history that democratic-socialist governments are elected at irregular intervals to clean up the social mess created by agrarian socialists and laissez-faire free loaders. At the same time it is fortunate that the intervals are irregular, otherwise we, the ordinary citizens, might be required to bend our body before Big Brother if he carelessly but nod on us.

Uncle Pat | 05 April 2013  

Uncle Pat, on a point of history: "Costello never led the Liberal/National Party coalition from Opposition to Government." Neither did Keating - not that it matters all that much. What does matter is your linking of agrarian socialists with laissez-faire "freeloaders". There have been plenty of governments that have bowed to the whims of agrarian socialists in Australia - to the disadvantage of Australians generally. But what specific governments do you identify as "laissez faire"? I'm interested to know. Cheers & Happy Easter.

HH | 05 April 2013  

At last someone in the media who finally reports why the state labour of Queensland and WA lost so badly, the people spoke in Queensland's election telling the Federal labour we wanted Rudd back in power and ignore the voters at your peril. Yet they did and are now suffering unless he is presented as leader on 14th Sept the voters will again punish labour which will cost them many years in the political waist lands.

Paul C | 07 April 2013  

Hate of Kevin Rudd by Gillard and Co and the Union co-conspirators will be the downfall of the Labor Party.

Winston Close | 07 April 2013  

Dear HH, thanks for taking the time to comment on my comment. Your criticism is well founded. I was exasperated by Windsor's equating Rudd's failure to challenge Gillard as PM with Costello's failure to challenge Howard as PM. The whole history of the two pairs of protagonists and the background to the "challenge situations" are so dissimilar. As for my generalisation about democratic socialist gavernments being elected at irregular intervals to clean up the mess created by agrarian socialists and laissez-faire free loaders, I was using the expression democratic socialist governments to cover the various ALP governments at the state and federal level during the 20/21st century. As for the creators of the social mess rather than list all the non-Labour (or anti-socialist) governments and their supporters I limited myself to descibing two kinds of groups who helped form or supported non-Labour governments. National/Country Parties have always preached a form of agrarian socialism. And laissez-faire freeloaders found the Liberal Party and its previous incarnations "good for business" and hang the consequences.

Uncle Pat | 07 April 2013  

Crean and Ferguson are from the political "elite" born with a silver spoon in their mouth and know the political system and how it operates. None of us have "clean" hands but what Crean did was make Gillard's and the ALP task so much harder. Crean knows he is on the way out.

clem schaper | 08 April 2013  

Thanks, Uncle Pat - integrity, humility and intelligence appreciated, which I will endeavour to emulate, albeit I know imperfectly. Agree re. Nats.& agrarian socialism. But to me the Libs don't come within a bull's roar of that pure "laissez-faire" of which I'm a bit of a fan. Two examples: 1) Pennsylvania in the 1680s. No formal government AT ALL! for many years. Yet the colony thrived and its capital, Philadelphia, in that period grew to rival the much more high profile (but statist) New York "in trade and riches". 2) Hong Kong, 1955 - 1994ish. Income tax 10% (!). No tariffs. No pro-union legislation. Record: growth rate easily exceeding every other country in the world in that period. Moreover the standard of living of the poor rising with the rich. AFAIK, no liberal/coalition government in Australia has come close to these regimes in terms of laissez-faire. And, sadly for the Australian poor (and rich), never will.

HH | 12 April 2013  

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