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Rudd right not to run


There's been a lot of messy politics in Canberra this week.

A complex series of bills was introduced to Parliament regarding media regulation without any cabinet scrutiny. The bills could not be debated in caucus because any suggestion of amendment would have been seen as a threat to the Prime Minister's leadership.

The Government said the legislation had to be passed within a week, and that no compromises would be considered. Going down to the wire, the Government then turned and tried to cut a deal with the Independent Bob Katter who wanted changes to the legislation. Yesterday, the key bills were abandoned. In short, the legislative process was thwarted at every turn. Government was proved to be dysfunctional and the parliamentary processes were perverted.

All this took place against the backdrop of irreversible division and antipathy within the Labor Party.

On Tuesday, Kevin Rudd sent a clear message: 'Unlike others who have used the phrase, when I say I will not challenge for the leadership, I mean it. That means Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or beyond.' Yesterday morning's Australian reported that 'Rudd is resisting pressure from supporters to mount a challenge and is adamant he will stick to his promise, made after he lost a leadership ballot to Gillard in February last year, not to challenge the Prime Minister'.

When Parliament resumed yesterday morning, everyone was on edge. In a rare show of bipartisanship, the House of Representatives adopted an apology to Australian mothers who had suffered the fate of having their babies forcibly adopted. Most members of parliament sat respectfully listening to the speech of Stephen Irons, the Liberal Member for Swan, who had himself been a ward of the state. He started speaking at 12.58pm.

You could hear a pin drop as he recounted, 'As a six-month-old baby, I along with two of my siblings was removed from my family due to financial circumstances. We went to stay in institutions. At that point, I was separated from my other two siblings. Growing up in the Irons household, I often thought about my family — "Where were they? What did they look like? Was I the same as them? How many of them were there?"

'I used to walk into shopping centres or football games and wonder if my brothers or sisters might also be in the same place I was and how close they might be. But I knew I would not know them even if I bumped into them.'

The respectful listening on both sides of the Chamber started to dissipate as officials handed notes to senior party leaders. Members started looking at their phones and Blackberrys. Something was afoot.

Irons was greeted with cross-party applause as he concluded his speech at 1.10pm. Those of us in the public gallery surrounded by citizens who had come for the Apology were in the dark until we emerged to find that Simon Crean was outside conducting a live press conference demanding that Prime Minister Gillard call a spill and that Rudd stand for the leadership despite all he had said about not challenging.

The Prime Minister called the spill for 4.30pm. Just before the meeting, Rudd appeared and announced:

When I say to my parliamentary colleagues and to the people at large across Australia that I would not challenge for the Labor leadership, I believe in honouring my word. Others treat such commitments lightly. I do not. I've been very plain about that for a long period of time.

Secondly, I said that the only circumstances under which I would consider a return to the leadership would be if there was an overwhelming majority of the Parliamentary Party requesting such a return — drafting me to return. And the position was vacant.

I am here to inform you that those circumstances do not exist. And therefore in the absence of any such draft, notwithstanding what Simon Crean had to say this morning, I will be adhering absolutely to the commitments I gave to the Australian people and to my Parliamentary colleagues.

Rudd concluded, 'I am not prepared to dishonour my word which I gave solemnly. I will therefore adhere to that word as I have said before.'

The day ended with Tony Jones on ABC Lateline asking a Rudd supporter if Rudd had 'abandoned his own supporters to their fate', 'ordering his troops to go over the top while staying behind in the trenches'.

Admittedly, I'm a friend of Rudd. But I wonder what political morality would dictate that Rudd not be true to his word simply because Crean, acting alone and without Rudd's knowledge or approval, had decided an immediate challenge was now the only available circuit breaker for the woes of a dysfunctional divided Labor Party.

And what would have been gained anyway? A narrow win to Rudd or Gillard would have resolved nothing. Unless there was a groundswell of demand from his colleagues that he emerge from his bunker and lead them, Rudd was right and sensible to stick to his word. Crean had no right to demand publicly that Rudd break his word, even if Crean had rightly read what was good for his party.

In Canberra nowadays, even the sacred words of Irons reflecting on his traumatic childhood count for little when political bad blood is in the air. Great damage is being done to the body politic, its institutions, and to our basic civility. Between now and the election in September, it will be even more difficult for truth to speak to power.

Frank Brennan headshotFr Frank Brennan SJ is professor of law, director of strategic research projects (social justice and ethics), Australian Catholic University, adjunct professor at the College of Law and the National Centre for Indigenous Studies, Australian National University.

Topic tags: Frank Brennan, Kevin Rudd, Simon Crean, Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan, Labor, leadership spill



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Existing comments

You ignore the fact that Rudd did not have the numbers. If he had majority support, do you really still think he would not have challenged?

peter gavin | 22 March 2013  

Paraphrasing an old comment: 'Democracy has many weaknesses but is better than any other form of government that has been tried.' One of the problems in a democracy is the difficulty that results when no one party has a clear majority. This is the current situation in Australia and, in a different form, in the USA. Unfortunately, opposition parties and/or independent politicians tend to put their own short-term tactics ahead of considering the country's overall welfare. Again, this is currently happening in both the USA and Australia. They are the people who deserve criticism.

Bob Corcoran | 22 March 2013  

I think it's a bit rich to imagine that Crean would have called for a leadership spill if he had not had Very Good Reason to believe that Rudd would stand. Instead, Rudd hung him out to dry.

Juliet Flesch | 22 March 2013  

Thank you for your commentary, Fr Frank. I have been surprised at how none of Mr Rudd's closest friend have been able to enlighten him about how destructive his behaviour has been. Repaying the political treachery served on him (justified or not) with more treachery is not the answer. Masquerading in a veil of honour now does not diminish his thirst for vengeance. Christ would insist that forgiveness and support for Mr Rudd's political enemies will serve a better outcome for all, including Mr Rudd.

David Lukas | 22 March 2013  

How is Peter Gavin so sure of his facts. i know this is spread through media but actually we do not know.

Brian Poidevin | 22 March 2013  

Meanwhile, "Rome" burns... 1,300 innocent refugee children in detention camps around Australia! Close Manus Island Concentration Camp!

Val | 22 March 2013  

I don't believe for a moment that Crean acted alone. There is absolutely no way possible that Rudd was not aware of what was going on in his name and on his behalf. His supporters now will rightfully desert him. His duplicity and cowardice in this matter are beyond belief and what most people would accept. He did indeed allow his supporters to out themselves in the caucus, making themselves vulnerable, and he then deserted them because by then he knew he did not have the numbers. In effect, he hung them out to dry. He gets to protect his 'virtuous' word and betrays his supporters and his own pretender to the throne platform. Sorry Frank, but I'm not with you on this one. I think history will be very unkind to K Rudd and his name will live on in ALP ignominy.

Stuart Edser | 22 March 2013  

In yesterday morning's Canberra Times, Barnaby Joyce wrote about our DEBT. His thesis was that this all started with the GFC. "Treasurer Wayne Swan ... spent billions on school halls, pink batts and $900 cheques with borrowed money..." He then goes on to lambast Labor - no acknowledgement that we, almost uniquely in the First World, escaped the GFC. But of course this all happened when Rudd was PM, so Barnaby sniffing the wind, incorrectly as it happened, got his hits in early. We have an outstanding PM, who has to put up with a cynical, policy-less Opposition leader and the thunder of an old man who gave up his Australian citizenship, but keeps control of the media. Democracy lost yesterday, but the winner was Rupert Murdoch and a simplistic media who can only see winners and losers.

Frank | 22 March 2013  

Rudd reminds me of Charles deGaul - waiting to be called upon - he has done untold damage to the ALP by his long campaign - he was a disaster to work with - replaced reluctantly but has hung around like a bad smell waiting to be called - move on Kevin.

Gary Lockwood | 22 March 2013  

I am always inspired by your articles but this one perhaps was not a subject on which you should have written. No one is naive enough to think that Simon Crean was acting without Kevin Rudd's knowledge, not even you. Politics is a dirty game and your friend is not above that game I'm afraid.

Carol | 22 March 2013  

Rubbish. KRudd did not have the numbers, that's all!

folkie | 22 March 2013  

Reports this morning from Bruce Hawker that Rudd had told Crean explicitly that he wasn't going to stand. To me it seems likely that Crean's actions were a monumental bluff, committed in the hope that the ensuing media circus would stoke Rudd's ego enough to persuade him to stand despite his previous assertions. It was such a bold move that surely it must have been motivated by an informed belief that Rudd would win, probably by a narrow margin. Those who sneer that Rudd didn't stand simply because he 'didn't have the numbers' are right in a sense, but 'the numbers' Rudd required - as he plainly stated - were unanimity or near to it; a narrow victory was not enough, and, as Fr Brennan points out, would have done very little to resolve the current party turmoil. Had he challenged, today he would be PM, and Labor would still be in chaos. All of this in-fighting is a great shame, because polls aside, the achievements of this government under difficult circumstances have been remarkable.

charles boy | 22 March 2013  

Oh please. The Labor Party assassinated Rudd. It has gone from bad to worse ever since. Now that there is no hope of winning the next election, they turn to Rudd; well some do. He wants them to beg. They won't. Rudd gets his revenge. Why should he return now when he must inevitably lose. Why would he want to lead them to a defeat not engineered by him. His inaction only makes them look as hopeless as they are. He is revelling in their ineptitude. What are the odds that he will not stand in September.

B TYNAN | 22 March 2013  

Carol, it is not a matter of naively thinking "that Simon Crean was acting without Kevin Rudd's knowledge". It is a matter of actually knowing that Simon Crean, acting alone and without Rudd's knowledge or approval, called for the spill and demanded that Rudd nominate. And he did it at a press conference when most of his colleagues were inside listening to the apology to women whose children were forcibly adopted.

Frank Brennan SJ | 22 March 2013  

My guess is that Rudd is intent on Gillard destroying herself so he can then enjoy unified support within the Party & that could happen even to within weeks of the election. I must say nothing during her reign has altered my rating of her ability since her incompetent administration of the farcical $16 B School Halls deal with two car garages at places such as Brewarrina, reportedly costing $300,000. Unfortunately she (& Wayne) have since done much the same with our whole economy . Father Frank, in declaring your friendship to Kevin R, I sincerely hope you will counsel him to instill as much Christian charity as possible into his strategy.

John Kersh | 22 March 2013  

I was horrified when Rudd was initially dumped - saw it as a cave in to all the press speculation. Then I learned about how Rudd treated Terry Moran, and also heard from family in Canberra working at a very senior level as to how Rudd treated very senior public servants. Gradually I came to understand how flawed and dysfunctional Rudd’s PMship had been. I admire how Gillard has managed to cope with Rudd’s undermining of her government, and still have legislation passed. What a sad, sad situation for Australia, given the state of the opposition.

Mary | 22 March 2013  

Kevin Rudd needs to stand up or shut up.

peter nies | 22 March 2013  

Rudd challenged for the leaderhip early last year - was beaten convincingly and he then stated he "would not challenge again". The timing of Crean's 'intervention' was very unfortunate, occurring on a day of apology to women whose children were forcibly removed. Altogether, a total fiasco and the winner - Tony Abbott. The loser - a proud Party with a history of great reform.

Pam | 22 March 2013  

Your loyalty to your friend KR is laudable, Fr Brennan. However, I would have believed in KR’s “honour” had he put a stop to the incessant undermining of Gillard’s government; his statement yesterday was mere cant. Despite his pious utterings and his blatant wish for revenge, he simply didn’t have the numbers, and he knew it. If one were cynical, one might imagine that given the wide-held view that the Labor government will fall at the next election, he was unwilling to be the PM who failed and was keeping his powder dry until after the rout. Malcolm Turnbull was correct; some members of the Labor Party were/are(?) pathologically more intent on getting rid of Gillard than they are on staying in government and implementing their policies. Shame on them. Those who vote for Labor must surely feel betrayed by their actions and deserve better.

Patricia R | 22 March 2013  

A thought provoking article Frank. My thoughts. As many respondents suggest it is hard to fathom K Rudd's motives. Is he seeking retribution, destabilisation, justification, or is he genuinely in there for the long haul? It is just so hard to say. Often we do not get to choose our friends - they just become friends in a subtle, undefined sort of fashion. But when we have friends we are sometimes required to counsel them. Kevin's friends need to be 'good friends' and let him know what they think about his actions and advise a better future. The ALP is dysfunctional - somewhat like our Church at times. But let's not desert either but rather hang in there where our strongest values lie and make them better through our efforts.

Mike Bowden | 22 March 2013  

Well, Frank, Kevin Rudd certainly gave Julia Gillard what she failed to give him: loyalty and trust. In the spirit of revenge he could have justified himself in plotting her end, as she did his. But he didn't. So I agree with you Frank.

DavidSt | 22 March 2013  

In response to Brian, Chris Bowen said this morning that they advised Rudd he did not have the numbers well before the caucus meeting. Chris Bowen is a straight shooter and has no reason to lie, given that he voluntarily resigned from the Cabinet this morning.

peter gavin | 22 March 2013  

Kevin Rudd did not have the numbers. Otherwise, he would have avalanched himself to take power. He has a thick skin, but he's biding his time. As for his "honour", I just don't believe him! He has never been known for his "honour". I don't think he really knows the meaning of the word; but if he does, he would throw it overboard if the leadership was within grasp. That's politics! There is no "honour" in politicians' behaviour. It's power that counts.

Nathalie | 22 March 2013  

She cares who leads this incompetent and untrustworthy government. Rudd showed clearly as PM that he wasted billions. Gillard couldn't run a hot-dog stand. She has made a shambles of government and told lies to win power. No principles!

BILL BARRY | 22 March 2013  

Rudd is 'ABSOLOOOOOODLY' right on this count. Crean made the mistake of announcing an issue that prompted Crean taking the moral high ground and demanding a spill. Crean did what he accused the PM about - i.e. "No prior consultation". I believe both Crean and Rudd acted with a high degree of personal integrity. Crean has a deep and abiding interest in the proper governance of the Labour Party, one he has served with distinction as 'the old guard'. Rudd, because he knows that, without the complete and total backing of Caucus, a spill at this time without it would only mean more political factionalism and the total destruction of s Self-Destructing Party. Loading the Labour Party with a strong 'coven' of Trade Unionists now works against Rudd, plus the enormous Ego's that tend to over-ride reality. One of the things that the "Whitlam Affair" brought to attention, is the relentless enmity that Labour Party Politicians exercise against the "Fallen comrade". An example was the treatment of the 'Old Hand' from Ipswich who argued, then wrote against the 'Dismissal' in favour of Kerr, and their treatment of their ex-leader Latham.

Karl H Cameron-Jackson | 22 March 2013  

On the subject of apologies, our "fearless leaders" might consider the Australian public for a change. Standards have reached an all time low and yesterday's farce says it all. I wonder if a 7 Week recess ( will provide our members enough time to reflect on their recent performances in Canberra. Constituents are treated with utter contempt and the anger & disgust in the community is palpable.

Andrew | 22 March 2013  

Frank, I am one with you on this. If Rudd had gone back on his word what would that have done to his reputation. We all know the avalanche of resentment to Julia Gillard's "lie". Now readers are saying that Rudd left his troops in the lurch.I am truly shocked with the comments here in regard to this matter. If a politician lies they are in trouble if they (Rudd) stick to their word they are cowards deserting their troops.

Ron | 22 March 2013  

Despite Rudd having adopted the moral high ground, I am certain he would have run for leader if he'd had the numbers. I have heard stories from so many credible sources about the dysfunctional way he ran his government and the poor way he treated people. He used his supporters yesterday and now they are paying the price for their loyalty to him.

Monique | 22 March 2013  

Interesting article - but what about the anomaly that Kevin Rudd has shown his word is not true in other circumstances (climate change and the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme)?

Moira Byrne | 22 March 2013  

And all this on Harmony Day...

Frederika Steren | 22 March 2013  

It saddens me that most of the responses to an article praising a politician for keeping his word express cynical disagreement. What hope is there for honesty?

Gavan | 22 March 2013  

The tide turned against a Federal Labor govt - any Federal Labor govt, led by anyone - a very long time ago, the signs were clear back in the Rudd era. Hear the wheel of Australia's historical political cycle grinding. All this manufactured rudderless-ness, all this panicked, desperate thrashing around, all this bleating and vicious trampling - it's sheep in the slaughterhouse pen.

NC | 22 March 2013  

I hope you are right Frank. I'm sick of Abbott looking like a goanna about to eat a week old chicken. I wondered about Rudd running. I thought it was a Gillard thing to derail his supporters. Alas there is no judgement and little faith in anyone.

jockster | 23 March 2013  

Rudd was not going to run, he promised Patricia Large the week before that under no circumstances would he upset their day. It's a disgrace that some here can still blame Rudd even after Frank has clearly explained the facts. http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2013/s3721555.htm PATRICIA LARGE: I think that Julia Gillard should now come out and say I'm deeply sorry for what happened in the Labor Party on your day, on your important day. I do think that Julia should come out now and say I'm sorry for the behaviour of these people and it should never have happened on your day. LUCY CARTER: Does Simon Crean owe you an apology as well? PATRICIA LARGE: Yes, oh yes, majorly, definitely, yes, yes. I knew that Kevin Rudd would not do anything on this day to us deliberately. He promised me a week before that there was no way he would challenge Julia, that there was no way he would upset anything to do with the Labor Party because as far as he saw it, Kevin said that this was our day to celebrate, it was our day to take in the apology and nothing should override it.

Marilyn | 24 March 2013  

Ever since his arrival, I have considered Rudd to be a locquacious charlatan. I have no reason to change my opinion.

Gray Lindsay | 24 March 2013  

The moment that I heard Simon Crean in the middle of his speech I said to myself. "This kite won't fly, Kevin has said he would not win unless he was drafted and the position was vacant." I have been wondering for months why there was even discussion about this and came to the sorry conclusion the nobody believes anyone who tells the truth and sticks by it. That is what Kevin Rudd did. He at least lived up to his principles.

Joan Winter OP | 25 March 2013  

Kevin will lead Labor into the next election. Ethical rationalism must not be allowed to confuse this issue.

Claude Rigney | 25 March 2013  

Thanks Fr Frank for a well-balanced and credible article. I have no reason to disagree with your assessment of the day's events and am happy to read the words of one of his true friends - I'm thinking you are both fortunate there.

Chris Halloway | 26 March 2013  

Watching media watch last night exposing the PG mob would have been funny if it wasn't so tragic.

Marilyn | 26 March 2013  

I believe that you, Fr Brennan, are a well informed and honest commentator. What I do not understand is, given the amount of rumours around the so-called leadership, why did Mr Rudd not release his formal, written statement a long time ago and allow the issue to be put to bed? Why did he continue to court the media and hog the limelight, when he knew if was fuelling the innuendoes against the PM?

Eveline Goy | 02 April 2013  

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