Mourning Kevin Rudd


Rudd and Gillard leadership spillToday marks one year since Kevin Rudd fell from the Labor leadership, making way for Julia Gillard's ascension. One year is a long time, and also no time at all.

It is common to mark the first anniversary of a loss or change; to reminisce and feel renewed regret. If only, why, and what if questions plague us. What might life be like now if the death blow hadn't occurred? Has the outcome proven this to be a misjudged decision or a cruel twist of circumstance?

Professor Andrew Samuels, author of Politics on the Couch, who has been political consultant to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President Barrack Obama, proposes the importance of politicians owning up to their human imperfection. The vision of the heroic leader is doomed to be deflated. The not-perfect but good-enough leader is more sustainable.

In this Samuels borrows the analytic model of the 'good-enough' parent, who is basically trustworthy and principled, but is not infallible. In the heyday of Obama's 'Yes We Can' campaign Samuels was relieved to hear the future president declare 'I'm not perfect' twice.

Samuels contends that in political leadership there is an initial idealisation, an inevitable failure to deliver, then denigration. In other words, the hailed messianic leader is likely to fall from great heights, as disillusioned followers discover his or her human failings.

Rudd and Obama were both invested with the high hopes of many. Obama became the first black president in the wake of the disastrous Bush presidency. Rudd slew the Howard dragon after a decade of arrogant and oppressive rule. In these two wins, intellect seemed to triumph over machismo.

But by the end of his first year in office, each of these leaders was being slammed in the polls. As Rudd fell, the new saviour was installed. Gillard was hailed as Australia's first woman prime minister, which was seen as a great achievement that was destined to raise the fortunes of Australian women.

Gillard was going to lead us (as the previous government had gotten lost) through the wilderness and out of the mire of the mining tax dispute. She would sort out the chaos of border protection and wrestle with the threat of climate change.

But Gillard, too, has fallen. One merciless headline declared her to be 'Madam 31 per cent'. This is even lower than Rudd's famous nosedive in 2010 to a 34 per cent approval rating.

The latest Nielson Poll shows Labor's approval is at its lowest in almost four decades, and that 60 per cent of Australians want Rudd back as leader.

During his first in-depth interview following his being dumped from the Labor leadership, Rudd twice stated 'What's done cannot be undone'. This is a quote from Shakespeare's Macbeth; it conjures up the brutal slaying of a king by those he trusted.

So have we erred in the deposition of Rudd, and should we advocate ditching Gillard?

It's possible that opinion polls provide a true measure of people's deeper judgment. More likely, they reflect the mood swings of the fickle political psyche. We may fall in love; but after the honeymoon, become disenchanted. We search again for the euphoria of a new hero or a quick fix on the rebound. It's an old recipe for non-sustainable relationships, disconnection ... and bad political choices.

We are now between a rock and a hard place. If an error was made to depose Rudd, at the fading of his bloom, for the untried Gillard, can or should this be undone? There were as many ready in the wings to feast upon Rudd's remains with facile analysis of his personality and style as there are now for Julia. Perhaps David Marr's scathing analysis delivered an opportunity for a coup de grace.

But we all have fallen at times to the folly of over-idealisation, followed by cruel disapproval when the fallen man (and now woman) proves to be a disappointment.

This is not to say that we should not have appropriate expectations or be critical of important failings. But if we accept that even the best leaders are not infallible, we can take more responsibility for our own political awareness and action, and keep our leaders accountable.

To that end we must decide who is good enough. In my view, Tony Abbott is not, and the jury is still out on Gillard. But it seems many of us believe that Rudd was. It remains to be seen whether 'what is done' can, in fact, be undone.

Lyn BenderLyn Bender is a psychologist and social commentator. 

Topic tags: Lyn Bender, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, Labor, Liberal, Coalition, election, mining tax, spill



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Existing comments

Sure, none of us is perfect. Does that mean that anything is good enough and failed leaders should not be deposed? This article is thoughtful but does not address the central question of failed, rather than flawed, leadership and, possibly unintentionally, judges Rudd by the perceived failure of his replacement.

I suspect the real issue that we need to face is the apparent serious leadership deficit in most of our political leaders. At least Gillard is grasping the climate change nettle at last, the area of most dramatic failure on Rudd's part. If she fails on this, we'll then on present indications have an opportunity to assess Tony Abbott's leadership - a man who displays no understanding of the global threat of climate change and no commitment to addressing it.

Peter Johnstone | 24 June 2011  

Lyn should print her labor Party Card number next to her credentials. Her article leaves us in no doubt as to her sway.

Laurie | 24 June 2011  

Abbott made a good point in parliament yesterday - even if he did not agree with all of Rudd's policies, at least one knew where he stood on issues, what he thought. With Gillard, it is a different matter, she changes with the weather. As Abbott pointed out, Rudd was the leader that Australians elected. Nothing can change that. It was a huge mistake to put Gillard in. And increasingly Abbott is getting my vote.

Skye | 24 June 2011  

Lyn, in dismissing Tony Abbott as "not goot enough" you are letting your tribal beliefs get in the way of rational judgement.

Have you met the man? In terms of intellect he is clearly so far ahead of either Rudd or Gillard that there's just no contest. As with Paul Keating, don't let the public persona that's necessary for a politician in opposition to rise above the noise and spin fool you. Although in Keating's case it was playing to the constituency. Abbott doesn't feel the need to do this, which is refreshing.

Ian Robertson | 24 June 2011  

As I understand it, Kevin Rudd was deposed because of his micro-management of issues and a lack of ability to manage many people ('24/7' being a case in point'.

Interestingly those who enjoyed his management and patronage were people able to be permanently 'on call'). His lack of interest in backbenchers came back to bite him when it came to a ballot.

The wider Australian public is not privy to such actions - my own interpretation of Kevin Rudd as revealed in the media is positive.

According to those in the know, Julia Gillard has performed better that Kevin Rudd in terms of not 'micro-managing' and having superior interpersonal skills. Of course, the Labor party will never admit that it came down to internal management and instead made the leadership change about the polls.

In hindsight, a better course of action for the ALP would have been an 'intervention' of some kind of succession plan - whether or not Kevin Rudd would have accepted it is another matter.

MBG | 24 June 2011  

It is not surprising I suppose to discover those who remain blind to Kevin Rudd's shortcomings mistaking the self-satisfied glow of nostalgia for a well-made fire.

w. hamilton | 24 June 2011  

Lyn,the real tragedy if you like is that Kevin Rudd blew it. The current situation is also a measure of his failure. Even now he can barely see why he failed, and turned so many of his colleagues against him. It's ironic, though, that many of the things that I disliked about Rudd's way of operating have merely been taken up by Julia Gillard. It seems he is not the only one who hasn't learned from what happened and why.

Kate | 24 June 2011  

Well said, Laurie, I could not agree more. This is one of the most blatantly biased articles I have ever read on Eureka Street. No analysis, no justification for her anti-Liberal comments. It is just assumed that this are self-evident truths, up there with "All men are created equal."

Patrick James | 24 June 2011  

It is clear from the comments, what the writer prefers.
We are all imperfect..
No leader is so experienced that they can provide expert leadership right across the board, and so ALL leaders have to rely on either their internal bureaucrats, or their preferred external knowledge-base.

So I do wonder how one could make such an emphatic observation "Tony Abbott is not", when the other two, have shown and proved their frailties to have delivered significant and dramatic costs for failed programs, to the unimpressed voters. Their views for the future are equally as flawed.

My question - "Are we as voters and tax-payers, expected to accept flawed public policy, simply because NO ONE is perfect, and yet we are told certainly "Tony Abbott is not".

Do I see a bias ?

Peter Atkins | 24 June 2011  

I can't honestly say I enjoyed Lyn Bender's article. Nor would I email it to any of my friends. We, my friends and I, dislike commentators who use the generic first person plural (WE) as if all their readers shared their position, opinions, responsibility, etc.
We (my friends and I) had nothing to do with the deposition of Rudd. We did not vote for him or his party, so we do not claim to have elected him. Our opinion on him, either as PM or Foreign Minister, has not been been canvassed either through focus groups or opinion polls. As to the plethoric multiplicity of variables that operated within the Labor caucus that deposed him, I and my friends have no credible and reliable information.
While I appreciate something had to be written on the anniversary of the election by a parliamentary caucus of Australia's first female PM, I would have preferred an article that examined and commented upon the factors, not just political but also, with deference to Ms Bender's profession, psychological that brought about that watershed event.
There is something to be said for the old adage: "The King is dead, Long Live the King!"
Let's move forward.

Uncle Pat | 24 June 2011  

Perhaps the time is right for democracy itself to be revisited, incorporating the effects of human nature in our leaders and our expectations of organisational policies. Many businesses are introducing dual roles with a leader who deals with the financial aspects, and another who deals with the day to day interactions and undertakings of 'staff'. Maybe we are asking too much of the role of prime minister, or they are taking on tasks that should be delegated.

The existence of a known or unknown 'number-cruncher' is not a position the public has a vote on, and yet this role appears to have greater powers than that of the respective elected leader. We've seen Governor General's and caucus make decisions on the public's behalf regarding elected leaders. Is this part of a democratic process? Polls are not enough to gauge the public's sentiments and this has been proven through elections resulting in outcomes not predicted through this process.

Now appears to be the time to review public expectations of politics as well as political obligations to the public. Journalism appears to be the preferred arena for the public voice in society today. Reviewing this is also in order.

SCOTT | 24 June 2011  

Rudd's popularity was underestimated by those that installed Gillard. He was influential in getting the party elected, regardless of the fact that a party is voted in, not a person. I for one, would not have voted for Labor if Gillard was leader and I won't next time. I admired Rudd's perspective and learning, whatever faults he had. I still do. I don't admire Gillard at all. She's done no favours for the ALP for exactly the reason given above, that she appears to stand for nothing but electoral success.

RBH | 24 June 2011  

The so called Gillard coup of Rudd is a healthy reminder of the deomocratic safety valves afforded to us by our Westminster parliamentary system - the we don't technically vote for our PM, we vote for our local member and they members decide who will take the top job. Public outcry at the toppling of Rudd suggested that voters have become primed to a personality-oriented election campaign that neglects the grass roots issues of each electorate. Also Rudd's sobbing and bitterness shows he's more concerned with his personal career path than the good of his part, the government or the nation - like most politicians I guess, especially the increasingly boorish Abbott who, like a spoiled child, predictably contradicts and opposes anything just to prop up his ego.

Lefty | 24 June 2011  

Lyn, you write that Rudd slew Howard's "arrogant and oppressive rule". But Mr John Howard served 4 terms as Prime Minister, that means that Australians elected him 4 times. Prior to 1998 election he promised that he would introduce the GST and Australians re-elected him 3 more times. You say that 60 per cent of Australians want Rudd back as Leader. It would be more correct to say 60 per cent of Labor Party supporters want Rudd back as Leader. It is obvious that at least 60 per cent of Australians do not need a Leader swap, they need a better government. Lyn's view is that Tony Abbott is not good enough. My view of Tony Abbott; he has successfully exposed the faults,failures, broken promises and incompetence of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. Tony Abbott is Pro-God, Pro-Family and Pro- Life. He is the best choice.

Ron Cini | 24 June 2011  

Both Abbot and Gillard are unpopular. Abbot stands for nothing except opposing everything and anything that Labor puts forward. Gillard has been frightened into the dead end of doing what the focus groups tell her. The state of political discourse in Australia is at rock bottom. Some of the blame must go to the leaders, but a lot must also go to the media.

The Murdoch owned media in particular has been relentlessly aggressive and partisan against Rudd and Gillard from day one. The ABC is an echo chamber for Murdoch. There is virtually no serious, objective, long term analysis in the media. This contributes to the short termism of the thinking of politicians. Maybe we get the media we deserve and the politicians we deserve. But until the quality of reporting is vastly improved in Australia, most people will be swayed by spin, shock jocks, sensational headlines and the latest opinion poll.

Mike H | 24 June 2011  

Be very careful. You may just find that Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party are what is needed. Too much more of this downward spiral and we will possibly rue the day we elected Rudd over Howard. How does the writer so dismiss Tony Abbott? He has the doggedness required - and could not be worse than the current 'new paradigm'!!!

Jane | 24 June 2011  

The so called Gillard coup of Rudd is a healthy reminder of the democratic safety valves afforded to us by our Westminster parliamentary system - the we don't technically vote for our PM, we vote for our local member and they members decide who will take the top job. Public outcry at the toppling of Rudd suggested that voters have become primed to a personality-oriented election campaign that neglects the grass roots issues of each electorate.

Also Rudd's sobbing and bitterness shows he's more concerned with his personal career path than the good of his part, the government or the nation - like most politicians I guess, especially the increasingly boorish Abbott who, like a spoiled child, predictably contradicts and opposes anything just to prop up his ego.

Lefty | 24 June 2011  

Rudd reportedly upset a lot of people because of his unreasonable demands for work and a bullying, non-consultative style to achieve his goals. Those goals did however address a fair modicum of the human virtues. Tony Abbott, although a brawler and capable of very significant political no-brainers, also embraces the human virtues in his own life.

The current Labor government's problems have been in the development phase since the destruction of much that represented human virtue instituted by the Whitlam "reforms" in education and the law particularly. The current rabble that continues to call itself the Labor Party (a great misnomer when considered alongside the traditional Labor movement which in the past contributed so much to this country) is simply the fruit of the abandonment of human virtue in place of self and humanistic pragmatism.I have not voted for either the Liberal or Labor party for the last 15 years (not that my vote would matter much!)There was always justification up until Whitlam for C

john frawley | 24 June 2011  

Tony Abbott's intellect? Play to the lowest common denominator.

folkie | 24 June 2011  

Appreciate Lyn Bender's article, thankyou.

pvbouma | 24 June 2011  

I don't have a problem with the term 'we'. 'We' are a community of Australians most of whom would have had the opportunity to vote.

I agree with the comments about Tony Abbott though. I am not a fan (I prefer a Petro Giorgiou Liberal style) but the final paragraph reads a little judgmental.

Apologies for the typos in my previous comment; the final sentence should read 'intervention AND some kind of succession plan.'

MBG | 24 June 2011  

What the change to Gillard has shown is just how naive & incompetent the current Federal parliamentary Labour Party is. To panic like they did because of poor opinion polls shows just how little they understand the electorate and history. If you look back at the last 3 PM’s before Rudd they all at times had catastrophic poll results but all lead governments of two terms or more and all their poor polling occurred at times that they were introducing massive reform. There appointment of Gillard was a tacky attempt in my view to try and garner votes through the fact she was a women and we should give her a fair go. Rudd love or hate him made decisions and had a dig, Abbott again love or hate him at least he knows how to govern. Gillard looks like a sad stereo type for an old fashioned indecisive kept women, it is so sad.

John Styles | 24 June 2011  

Greg Combet is now the one who should be PM. He is has the goods for the job. He could be Labor's salvation.

LouW | 25 June 2011  

I think that raking over past events is unhelpful in both the political sense concerning a party's electoral fortunes. It is also taking focus off of the root cause of the problems for the ALP. The main issue, as I see it is simple. The ALP needs to restore the collective and specifically the ability of Caucus to determine who becomes the parliamentary leader as well as who should hold the ministries. A Leader or sitting PM should not decide.

Michael Webb | 25 June 2011  

I've always believed that as a 'young country' we're unbelievable medieval in our political concepts. We can't see the woods for the trees. In the 70s we missed the opportunity to be a country that would mean something to the rest of the world, if not for ourselves.

We allowed the son of a garage owner deposed one of the most imaginative politician a decade or so later. Then recently, those witless back room boys got rid of a potentially brilliant Labor politician, only to abandon our first woman PM.

Really, how many opportunities have we as a nation lost? What was that Bedouin proverb about lost opportunities? The caravan doesn't past your tent again for another 20 years. On that score, if Labor loses the next elections, we'd have an Oz version of a US Tea Party for the next 2 decades. It really isn't a prospect that I look forward to for my grandchildren's sake.
I think this is the cue for a divine intervention,don't you think?

Alex Njoo | 25 June 2011  

It seems that Lyn Bender takes opinion polls as the final arbiter of whether someone has failed or not. Rudd failed because he made very poor decisions ie dumping the CPRS, sold good policies poorly such as the introduction of the Mining Tax and government's overall agenda, and finally managed the business of Government (esp. Cabinet) dictatorially. His own fellow party members rebelled. This was not just about the latest poll, whether above or below 31%. For the record, I disagreed with the manner of the deposition, which harmed Gillard more than it did Rudd. But she won the next election as leader, and the people endorsed her government, even if it is a minority government.

Gillard's poll rating is now low for a number of reasons, including some poor decisions and unfortunate statements e.g. not being good at foreign affairs, but mainly because she faces a much more energised and incredibly agressive and un-cooperative opposition than Rudd ever faced. Abbott has taken politics to a new low, however this analysis is too shallow.

Rudd should not be allowed to return unless he can demonstrate a capacity to work as a team member with his colleagues. Not evident yet in my view. He is still sulking, just waiting for the Party to ask him back. Antics like advertising his anniversary party should be seen as the actions of a loner taking potshots from the outside, not a team player working for the government's success. Not likely to get back on that basis!

Pat | 25 June 2011  

Kevin Rudd was disposed of as the federal ALP leader because he alienated himself from the Federal caucus. He 'shot himself in the foot'! He was a one man band. One should also not take Polls seriously. It seems to me that there is a meaningless poll every 5 minutes and their questions are always 'loaded'. The problem with our current political leaders at both the federal and state level is a lack of statesmen/stateswomen like qualites. Most of these people lack imagination and vision. Their political philosophy and idealogy is superficial at best. The same can also be said for most Australians. Most people are apathatic about politics, because we live in an affluent country that has never had political instability, wars or significant natural disasters. Most of the mainstream media provide a very poor service - the coverage of news, current affairs, politics, economics, sport and the arts is mediocre and superficial. Most of the content of the popular media is trivial and celebrity nonsense.

Mark Doyle | 02 July 2011  

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