Rehabilitating Rudd and Turnbull


'Rudd and Turnbull' by Chris JohnstonKevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull, former Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition respectively, are two of the most important figures in the Australian Parliament today. Their continued presence in the Parliament is a surprise. Even more remarkable is their new prominence after both sat out the election campaign on the backbench, playing only cameo roles.

As Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Shadow Minister for Communications respectively, they have been rehabilitated and revitalised. Their past faults and misdemeanours have been forgotten and they have been charged with new responsibilities at the heart of Australia's domestic and international futures.

Rudd has been feted on the international stage and has already achieved a rise in our standing, especially in the United States, as well as favourable publicity for himself. He also has oversight of the regional resolution of the management and processing of asylum seekers. His success in this difficult task is crucial to the Government's domestic electoral fortunes as Labor must neutralise this issue.

Turnbull has not been given quite as senior a portfolio as Rudd, but his portfolio is crucial nevertheless, in terms of both good public policy and party politics. His role is central to the political strategy of the Opposition. He has been specifically chosen as Tony Abbott's wrecking ball. His job is to demolish the government's central infrastructure policy, the National Broadband Network (NBN), with two goals in mind.

The short term goal is to reduce the NBN to such tatters that the two rural Independents desert the Government for the Opposition. The longer term goal, if that does not succeed, is to make sure that by the next election the NBN is seen as a failure, a larger version of the pink bats and school halls policies.

Rudd and Turnbull have a common interest: action on climate change. This issue more than any other brought each of them down in their previous incarnations. Rudd saw climate change as the greatest moral challenge of our time but baulked at putting his Government on the line for it. Turnbull was willing to risk his Liberal leadership to achieve an ETS scheme but failed to convince his party to follow him.

Their joint venture eventually, after Turnbull's demise, failed to carry the majority of the Senate. But the issue lives on, though neither Julia Gillard nor Abbott has anywhere near the commitment that their predecessors articulated.

Now the Independents and the Greens want climate change action returned to centre stage. Can Rudd and Turnbull pretend to themselves that it is all in the past or will they be tempted to return to the fray, outside party discipline, in the House of Representatives?

The issue of team discipline poses a dilemma for Gillard and Abbott. The new leaders must maintain their authority over their potentially undisciplined colleagues Rudd and Turnbull while allowing them some free rein to pursue their interests. It will require sensitive management and good luck.

The other dilemma is that the new leaders must wish their vanquished colleagues great success in their new positions, but not too much. They must pray that their colleagues soar high in public esteem and policy achievements. They must be confident enough to allow this to happen, knowing that such success will elevate their rivals' profile. It may lead Rudd and Turnbull to dream once again of party leadership.

Gillard and Abbott must rely on the success of their troublesome subordinates. In the worst possible scenario, either Rudd or Turnbull could quit the front bench and even the Parliament though their own reputations would be shredded in the process. Rudd could bring down the Gillard Government by such actions and Turnbull, without quite the same leverage, could mortally wound the Abbott Opposition.

But the sting in the tail for both of them is that in doing so they would bring themselves down too because they would then be judged as traitors by their own parties.


John WarhurstJohn Warhurst is Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Australian National University and a columnist with The Canberra Times.

Topic tags: malcolm turnbull, kevin rudd, julia gillard, tony abbott, independents, greens, nbn, climate change



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Existing comments

"NEUTRALISE THE ISSUE"-please remember we are talking about people, people like each of us in most things, but unlike us in that they no longer feel safe in their own countries and turn to us for help. HOW THEN CAN WE "NEUTRALISE THE ISSUE'?

Anna C | 27 September 2010  

Why does Kevin Rudd owe Ms Gillard any loyalty? She has sure shown him none, none at all

We are so very tired of the leftie media darling Ms Gillard always going on about choices see that so proves that Gillard lacks the sophisticated overview to look at topics from both sides, ie beyond mere personal autonomy! Now there was no outgoing PM to welcome Gillard at the lodge and that is her fault so how many more stuff ups will Gillard preside over in this second term - not too many we hope! Gillard has had a lucky escape but if she goes down she wont be able to blame Krudd this time see the responsibilty is all on her now so heaven help Australia! lets hope we dont go backwards under Gillard! We want sound policy action not glib talk and girlie giggles! Bring back Paul Keating for a good PM to run Australia!

SCHOOL TEACHER | 27 September 2010  

"It may lead Rudd and Turnbull to dream once again of party leadership." If you have read either David Marr's Quarterly Essay or Nicholas Stuart's book, Rudd's Way, you cannot seriously suggest anyone in Labor would ever contemplate Rudd in a leadership position again. Both highlight that Rudd really was responsible for the parlous position Labor was reduced to before the election. The fact that this has not been properly analysed by many in the media still leads many to claim that he was owed loyalty by his Labor colleagues. The real problem is that they did not act earlier.

Kate | 27 September 2010  

School Teacher, are you really a schoolteacher? Do you teach schoolkids to wrote the sort of English you write? Poor buggers.

Gavan | 27 September 2010  

Thoughtful article, as always. Thanks, John. Let’s hope both Turnbull and Rudd continue to make great contributions.
Just one quibble: “The longer term goal … is to make sure that by the next election the NBN is seen as a failure, a larger version of the pink bats and school halls policies.”

Who, besides the federal Opposition and The Australian, sees the pink bats and school halls program as failures, and why? Independent analysis of the economic impact of these seems overwhelmingly positive. Joseph Stiglitz, as just one example, recently said the previous government “did a fantastic job of saving your country from problems" with these schemes.

The environmental impact of the insulation scheme for decades to come is also now being hailed as substantial. Refer Prof Rodney Tiffen.

Is the negativity because people were killed and houses destroyed in the implementation? Well, yes, these events were definitely tragic and should have been avoided. But do they automatically condemn the program?

How many lives were inadvertently but tragically lost building the Great Ocean Road, the Snowy Mountain scheme, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Melbourne’s West Gate Bridge and the Adelaide to Darwin railway? Are these schemes successes or failures? Why/why not?

Alan Austin | 28 September 2010  

It is unfortunate that even people who appear to be Labor supporters have accepted the Liberal rhetoric about 'pink batts'etc as an embarrassing indication of Labor's failure. In my view the Labor government was only at fault in that it displayed too naive a faith in the honesty of the private sector. Had it been true to its own roots, it would not have allowed mere opportunists or lazy shonky private operators to leap onto the gravy train.

It was those employers who allowed poorly trained novices to do work which required either greater training or closer supervision. They probably cut corners too in order to maximise their own financial advantages. The Government should have been more suspicious from the start, subjected them to greater controls and enforced more regulation on them. Then of course, the opposition would have started blustering about the dead hand of regulation which kills free enterprise. A Labor government which runs scared and tries to kow-tow to private enterprise is wasting its time and alienating its own supporters - hence the Green 'protest'vote.

Ann | 01 October 2010  

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