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Why Gillard should lead


Rudd vs Gillard pages

Monday's leadership ballot will offer a much needed opportunity to clear the air and move on to a healthier, more open climate in Australian federal politics.

Whether or not Rudd contests, the result should begin to heal the deepening wounds the party has suffered from weeks of Machiavellian plotting and rumour-mongering. As Tony Burke said on Thursday, the vote will lance the boil so that healing may begin.

Most Australian voters of Labor sympathies will breathe a sigh of relief that the subterranean issues of leadership and thwarted ambition are out in the open. Now elected ALP federal representatives may freely make their final individual decisions.

Those decisions will be informed partly by self-interest (under which leader can each member of caucus best hope for re-election at the next national election?) but also, one hopes, by consideration of which leader is likely to operate cabinet government most effectively in the national interest.

I believe the right course of action will be for the caucus to support Gillard.

Politics in the Australian party system has to be a team sport. Players must stand behind the captain, loyally papering over their faults. They must not undermine them with disparaging judgements, either on or off the record or by leaking to others.

Things are at last being said in public about Rudd's record. Eminent Labor politicians such as Simon Crean, Wayne Swan, Greg Combet, Tanya Plibersek, Nicola Roxon, Tony Burke, Anna Bligh and Peter Beattie are saying in different ways that this saga must end now. These are not 'faceless men', but men and women with clear faces, opinions and responsibilities.

Rudd had acquired a reputation as PM for failures as an efficient decision maker and manager. He failed to show decent and productive respect and courtesy for ministerial colleagues and senior public servants. He was autocratic and unreasonable in his determination to monopolise power and exploit all the prerogatives of his office. These things were well known in Canberra.

The gossip out of Foreign Affairs since he became Foreign Minister is that those habits had not changed. Last week's leaked YouTube video tended to confirm this.

Rudd's was not a high-achieving government in terms of policy runs on the board. It was good at articulating messages of general philosophy and intent — how Australia needed to put the John Howard era behind us — and Rudd knew the arts of stroking and flattering the public. His government took Australia safely and calmly through the first stage of the Global Financial Crisis.

But it badly messed up the carbon pricing issue, leaving environmental reformers like Ross Garnaut marooned. It messed up the mining tax and pink batts. The style was high-handed and autocratic, but at the same time careless with detail, messy and inefficient.

When the supporters of Gillard moved to unseat Rudd in June 2010, they did so in the belief that the Labor ship was under serious threat from Abbott, but was salvageable. The election outcome of a hung parliament was a narrow shave. But it was a genuine election and a genuine outcome, whatever Abbott may say about it. His claim that this is an illegitimate 'unelected' government is nonsense.

Minority government has presented unique challenges to Gillard and her team, to which they have responded with dignity, clarity and efficiency. Labor now has real policy runs on the board: a carbon pricing system, a mining tax, health funding reform, and the start of education reform. The working style of cabinet is by all accounts collegial, respectful and far more effective than before.

Crucially, Gillard took the decision in 2010 to invite Rudd to stay on as Foreign Minister. He was given the opportunity to make a serious and continuing contribution. And generally, he did, as the Libya intervention and the well-managed Obama visit attest. (His record on relations with China is mixed — there is little doubt he lost Beijing's trust starting in 2008, and has never recovered it.)

But Gillard and her team have been forced to fight on two fronts, against relentless attacks from the Opposition and its media sympathisers, and from undermining forces within the party. The anonymous undermining can only have originated from those close to Rudd.

Burke explained it well on Thursday. Gillard's team had hoped for the best after the change in June 2010 — that Rudd and his backers would accept what had happened, and move on in doing their jobs. This did not happen. Other agendas were in play.

And here arises Labor's dilemma. Gillard's determination since June 2010 to publicly assume the best of Rudd left her until this week unable to articulate to the public the ways in which he was failing in loyalty to her government. A sense of decency kept her and her ministers silent on his failures as PM.

As a result, in the apt words of Eureka Street correspondent 'Pam' yesterday: 'Gillard is perceived as a good leader by the party and not by the electorate, and Rudd is perceived as a poor leader by the party and not by the electorate.' This is a problem of Labor's own making. Now, because Rudd's backers have fatally overreached themselves in recent weeks, it has the chance to set things right.

Gillard says that if defeated she will retire to the backbench. She calls on Rudd to make the same pledge. Clearly, there will be no more ministerial posts for Rudd under Gillard. Whatever the outcome on Monday, a chapter has ended. 

Now the party has a quick repair and public education job to do over the next few days and weeks, in reminding all Australians that politics as a team sport requires solidarity and mutual loyalty.

Tony KevinTony Kevin is an author and former ambassador to Cambodia and Poland.

Topic tags: Tony Kevin, Julia Gillard, Keving Rudd, Labor leadership, spill



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Existing comments

This article seems strongly biased and should have been balanced with an opposing view pro Rudd.

t.fitzgerald | 24 February 2012  

Brilliant piece......thank you Tony The question which continually comes to mind is why (with the individuals mentioned in the article on board who are articulate thoughtful reflective intelligent) cant this group of politicians get their message of success across? I know what a tremendous job has been done but the ALP hasn't got its message of achievement under difficult circumstances across to the electorate.

GAJ | 24 February 2012  

One thing that seems to be missing in much of the public commentary - and definitely in Kevin Rudd's pitch to the people - is to govern well. If the focus is kept simply on winning the next election, you know what (to quote the Great Man himself)? Labor will lose comprehensively because it won't have shown that it knows how to use political power productively. Yes, in order to govern a party has to win an election but right now it has had the last election decided in its favour (Tony Kevin's assertion is correct that it is legitimate)and now is the time for implementing all the remnants of the Rudd grand vision that he couldn't. Now, if only they could solve the asylum seeker problem humanely ... There's enough time between now and late 2013 even for that to be sorted out by showing that onshore processing is not unleashing the devil. Julia Gillard has proven herself across a very difficult portfolio brief to be capable and competent and unfailingly loyal. With this Rudd monkey off her back (if only!1) her communication skills might also improve. Yesterday was a very good start.

Elizabeth | 24 February 2012  

Whoever wins on Monday, Labor will lose the next election. I think many in the Australian electorate have found both Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd wanting. Julia's lies have even upset those who would otherwise support her.

Skye | 24 February 2012  

When you talk about loyalty and solidarity you must be talking about people other than Gillard and her followers. There can hardly, in the history of Australian politics, have been a more disgraceful episode than Gillard and the NSW hatchet men plotting against the then Prime Minister in 2010. Bob Hogg speaks of infamy - I would add perfidy, hypocrisy and betrayal. If you believe Gillard's protestations on Four Corners you probably believe in the Brothers Grimm. Let's not even talk about Gillard's attitude to asylum seekers which is as shameful and demeaning as that of Howard and the ridiculously, opportunistic Abbott.

John Nicholson | 24 February 2012  

Thank you Tony Kevin for your insight and clarity into this muddy issue.

Kate Maclurcan | 24 February 2012  

An excellent summary. I've been disappointed in Gillard but she has achieved much despite the dual challenges of minority government and the stealth campaign on her own team by KRudd who seems to be driven solely by a rampant ego, the clearest evidence that he has learnt nothing from his failures as PM.

Peter Johnstone | 24 February 2012  

Rudd is an excellent media manipulator but was a poor PM behind the scenes. This challenge shows Rudd doesn't fully realise what an absolute dog's breakfast he made of his last opportunity. His vanity, injured pride and ability to play 'poor little wronged Kevin' will make him a danger on the back bench as well. At the moment he is about as useful to his Party as a hat full of Lathams.

Eclair | 24 February 2012  

"There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead." Genuine election my foot!

MJ | 24 February 2012  

I understand your points Tony, but this is a clearly one-sided article. Gillard is not squeaky clean either, whatever the flaws of Rudd are. In the three months leading up to the coup of June 2010, Gillard pledged her undying loyalty to Rudd, and then knifed him in the back in the dead of night. This is why the Australian public has never really warmed to her. She lost a heck of a lot of credibility in the public's eyes by that move. And as Rudd said this morning in his press conference this morning, his handling of the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 was done with wide consultation, unlike some of Gillard's handling of recent major reforms. Everyone knows that if Gillard remains PM, Tony Abbott will be the next PM of this country. Rudd is streets ahead in popularity with the voters, who ultimately decide who is in Government. A major issue here is, do we really want Tony Abbott to be unleashed on the Australian people? Because that is a certainty if Gillard remains. If people don't think Rudd can change his ways, why should we think that Gillard will be any different? Gillard as PM will see more of the same, and Abbott being PM for at least the next two terms. Australia is too precious for that. Rudd is the only person who can stop that disaster from becoming reality.

Nils | 24 February 2012  

Indeed, Mr Kevin. Rudd’s hubris and complete lack of personal insight have sadly overwhelmed the fine instincts that led him to make “The Apology” of which he can be rightly proud. However, the Australian electorate voted in a Labor government, not a one-man band, and certainly not a man who has relentlessly tried to undermine his own team because they lost trust in him as their leader. We need a functional government which Gillard has shown she can lead, unlike Rudd. The supreme irony in Tony Abbott’s failure to provide a positive alternative, and his complaints about the role of the cross-benchers is that he also would have had to negotiate to the same position as Gillard did (carbon tax, anyone?). Abbott's hypocrisy is manifest, and his vision in the past – as much as one can determine the truth of any of his shifting positions on the things that matter.

Patricia | 24 February 2012  

The Machiavellian plotting and rumour mongering started early in 2010, before"Ceasar" Rudd was stabbed in the back. Et tu Brute?

Bill Barry | 24 February 2012  

Instead of focusing on who is or is not better to lead the incumbents in Canberra, we should all be quivering at the prospect of Tony Abbott becoming the next PM. Rudd, at his press conference this morning (Friday) has ceremoniously handed Abbott an electoral victory on a silver plate. In fact, one could say that he (Rudd) is a better Coalition Opposition leader than Abbott. To those who, since Gillard's ascension to PMship, have abandoned her, I say this: be careful what you wish for now that the bells have tolled for a reformist party that could have led us all to a challenging future. Be prepared to spend the next decade in a cultural and intellectual vacuum, Lazarus (aka Howard) has risen!

Alex Njoo | 24 February 2012  

The Liberal Party under Tony Abbott or anyone else no longer needs to provide a positive alternative to gain Government. Either Uluru or a Sydney blue gum could beat this Labour shambles at the next election regardless of next Monday's outcome.

john frawley | 24 February 2012  

Tony, have you forgotten the back-room plotting that knifed Rudd in the first place. He was the choice of the voters. Gillard and the caucus are not and never will be. The plotters, not Rudd, are responsible for the hung parliament. Rudd wears the opprobrium for the incompetence of many of the Gillard backers (e.g. the 'pink batts' fiasco.

M. Gilbert | 24 February 2012  

Thanks, Tony, for your kind words in the third last paragraph. I believe Gillard will win the leadership spill on Monday, but so much damage has been done with the public airing of the dirty linen, it's hard to imagine Labor regaining enough momentum to win the next election. Tony Abbott must be rubbing his hands in glee!

Pam | 24 February 2012  

MJ, you are unreasonable, and so are others who call Gillard's carbon promise a lie. She meant what she said, but she was speaking in a situation in which she could see two possibilities, winning and losing. If she had won she would have been able to keep that promise, but she needed the support of others, Greens and independents, and she had to negotiate.

Gavan | 24 February 2012  

Tony Kevin contradicts himself on the major issue of Rudd's term. He concedes that Rudd's "government took Australia safely and calmly through the first stage of the Global Financial Crisis" but then says that Rudd's "was not a high achieving government". This is just one of his several inconsistent and inaccurate pronouncements

frank hetherton | 24 February 2012  

The Minister for Foreign Affairs. That’s a big job. That job would be taking up all your days and nights. You would have to be across any amount of detail. You would have to know how to talk to anybody and everybody. You would be given enormous credit for all the great negotiations you were making on behalf of Australia. Why would you give that up to come back to Australia and destroy your career and that of many of your colleagues? Not to mention the credibility of the country. It doesn’t make a lot of sense really. I mean, is the former Minister for Foreign Affairs working for Australia, or what? I thought that’s what politicians were there for, to use power to make a difference, for the brief time in this life when they enjoy that power. Now he won’t have any kind of job with any power. It’s weird really. It’s worse than weird.


I suggest that the author and the readers of this article read Frank Brennan's very clear presentation of the Labor situation if they want a truer picture of the mess.

Anne Forbes | 24 February 2012  

Amazing! TK must be very close to the action to speak as if a first-hand witness. The example of Mr Wilkie confirming that, contrary to media reports, it had been him and not KR who had raised the leadership issue, and then only at the end of the meeting seems to me to suggest that there is at least doubt as to whether or not KR has in fact been actively campaigning. Whatever the merits, I think that the media (and so theoretically we the public) have chosen to ignore the policy issues and concentrate on the politics and the personalities. Traditional concepts of parliamentary democracy seem to be ignored and so are at risk.

Gary Fox | 24 February 2012  

Gavan, any which way you put it, you are only saying that she had a choice between keeping her word or staying in power. I know that you need one hand to count the number of pollies that have ever kept all their promises. However, on such far-reaching and fundamental restructuring of the Australian society as involved with the C02 tax, I am not prepared to give her a pass. Besides the same lack of honour was seen with Wilkie. With the defection of Slipper, she did not need his vote any longer so she walked away from her agreement on pokies reform. One of the reasons that she is so reviled by the electorate is because she is seen as doing whatever it takes to stay in power.

MJ | 24 February 2012  

circumstances change over time so julia cannot be blamed re carbon tax. On the other hand is kevin a jeckell and hyde?

david hogg | 24 February 2012  

Rudds' campaign is a genuine challenge not only to the incumbent but to the entire ALP culture - even though his motives might be venal - victory for either candidate aside a strong showing for Rudd based upon his comments over thelast 24 hours may well mark a watershed for the party. The thought of diminshed factional power resonates well, particularly with back benchers and the unaligned who often feel disenfranchised from policy development and decision making.

What happens Monday is if less significance than what might transpire over the term of the next government regardless of which party wins

Kym | 24 February 2012  

Tony, I am sorry to say I believe your article is rather one sided and lacks catholic perspective.

John Whitehead | 24 February 2012  

Forget Julia and Kevin. We need an ELECTION now. People are sick of the Alliance made up of left/right Labor, Independents and The Greens.A large majority of the population does not want a carbon tax and reject the government we had for the last five years.

Ron cini | 24 February 2012  

And the media acting like bunches of partisan snakes is really, really ugly.

Marilyn Shepherd | 24 February 2012  

Seems to me Jacqueline Maley nailed the issue of Labor's communication problem in her article in today's SMH: Gillard "speaks at us through wooly layers of 'messaging' and focus-grouped foam." The PM's minders have got her talking like a plastic life-sized Julia Gillard doll. So, human psychology being what it is, her message comes across as inauthentic, contrived and, by implication, untrustworthy. No-one's going to listen to what she has to say when she sounds as if she barely believes it herself. Gillard needs to take a risk and let herself out of the box if she is ever going to get Labor's message through to the electorate.

Chris Larkin | 24 February 2012  

If Rudd returns, it will end the Labor Party as a party. He has appealed over the heads of his fellow Labor MPs to the general public. If he wins, he will become a virtual dictator in the Labor Party because the caucus will have ceded absolute power to him on the proviso that he defeats Abbott. If he loses to Abbott he is finished but so is the Labor Party for the foreseeable future. Gillard is a far better Labor leader but a poor public performer. Abbott is a good public performer but one trembles at thought of his Prime Ministership. What a political disaster...

Hugh Dillon | 24 February 2012  

The article points to a fundamental flaw in the government - it has an incredibly unpopular leader and and aspirant who is popular, yet the the party cannot live with him again. A leadership ballot should resolve the matter, but will it?

This contest has been unlike many previous ballots in that it has taken place in the full blaze of the public. Normally Labor, and for that matter Liberal, leadership contests have taken place in relative quiet. This time not only the contestants have taken their respective claims to the media, but so have their supporters. However, one could not help but view the latter as self-interest - each holds ministerial office or would like ministerial office on the basis of who wins on monday. However, the big question is: have they just gone too far? It would seem by all accounts that Kevin Rudd will be defeated on Monday. Nevertheless, there has been a parade of ministers berating and indeed publicly garotting Kevin Rudd. I doubt it does not end Monday. because on Tuesday all these members of the government will have to work together. How can they work together? Especially unsettling for the government is the uniting of the left (leaving aside ministers)following the demoting of Minister Carr - which was a major act of political misjudgment by the Prime Minister. Already, one section of the Victorian Left was against her. The reshuffle ensured that the other side came on board thus giving Rudd the confidence to mount a challenge.

Also, you have got to wonder why the Gillard forces have been so strong in their public denunciation of Rudd? Presumably its to minimise his vote, humiliate him and leave him with nowhere else but the back bench. However, what they also know or should know is that Rudd has and has always had an ace - the threat of him resigning his seat and forcing a byelection. In this political environment Labor would be certain to lose and there is a strong chance that Tony Abott would be PM by the middle of the year. If this is known, and it should be, why do the Gillard supporters grind Rudd into the ground?

Ugly, vitriolic public debate within Labor was once the norm, but you have to go a long way back.

Another scenario that needs watching is what the Opposition is or could get up to. The potential for them pulling a coup rises in these circumstances. and their is a historical parallel or two. Menzies as PM in the early part of the war was in a similar position to Gillard, Labor was the beneficiary by turning two independents against him in the midst of signigicant rumblings on the conservative side of politics. Curtin was able to deliver stable government and inspiring leadership for the country. Gillard apparently offers Labor neither! Yet, it is quite possible that if it is not all over by Tuesday Tony Abbott could go to the Governor General to ask for a commission to form a government on the basis of unstable government. THis is a big prediction at the moment, but one that all the protagonists should consider the next time they choose to air their greivances in the public arena.

On the question whether Labor will have resolved its leadership problem. Probably not. THere has been no indication in the polls that Gillard has improved Labors vote. Gillard needs to clean out her staff - employ professional media officers and seasoned political advisers and speechwriters. Watching west wing or understanding the politics of US primaries is no subsitute for an understanding of Westminister or australian political experience. This single change could deliver major advantages for Gillard. Maybe in the end she cannot win an election - but there are things Labor could do to support her better.

However, that said a house divided cannot win an election. Nor should it. Australians want good government and not a continuation of the bloodletting. The damage may have already been done/ however the damage can also be minimised. Monday will be an anti-climax. The fallout of this blood bath will unfortunately not abate. If the protagonists started thinking of the public and indeed ordinary labor voters they might dampen the Inferno. But the fire has been started with no sign of a fireman. The arsenists seem to be in charge!

Watching from the sidelines | 25 February 2012  

Tony, I do not believe that you have made a convincing argument for Julia Gillard to continue as leader of the ALP and Prime Minister.
It is worth reading articles in today's 'Age' newspaper by Barry Jones and Amanda Vanstone, which put this leadership contest into sensible perspective. Most of the other media coverage is trivial and celebrity nonsense.
I believe that Kevin Rudd is a better choice as Prime Minister, but he will have to listen and manage his cabinet colleagues in a more inclusive manner.
The real issue for the ALP is to develop a culture of co-operation and inclusiveness at all levels. The ALP bureauocracy has alienated itself from most of the Australian community.

Mark Doyle | 25 February 2012  

This piece has failed to detail the nuances at the heart of the debate, and is a major disappointment. There are three distinct avenues of thought, of which only one has been explored. Firstly, the ALP must continue with Gillard and go on to the election in 2013 (the author's argument); Secondly the ALP must be led by Rudd and go to an election in 2013 and Thirdly that there must be an election now (which Abbott would almost certainly win. A proper article would have discussed the pros and cons of all positions. Many of the assumptions underpinning the article are not the assumptions that are held by the most.

The author has failed to consider important aspects of Rudd's leadership like the Apology and his desire to implement the ETS. He failed to nail why the Howard era needed to "be put behind us". He has assumed that the carbon pricing policy is Julia Gillard's policy and has not acknowledged her role in dismantling the ETS. He has also conveniently ignore the fact that Gillard had no mandate in introducing the Carbon Tax, which will ultimately lead to her downfall. He has not explored the reasons why most Australians simply want an election now, and desire, believe it or not for Abbott to be prime minister with an overwhelming mandate.

Neil | 25 February 2012  

This article does address the topic - Why Gillard should lead - but fails to enunciate who, what, when and to where.
One internal ALP issue Mr Kevan did not address was that of the factions. The Left faction, both at a state and federal level, is notorious for its ideological purity. Better to lose an election than lose a left plank in the party platform. The Right faction likewise is notorious for ruthlessnees in exacting loyalty to the faction's realpolitik. Ideology is for fanatics, power is the only worthwhile goal. The Centre, in as much as nervous Nellies can form a centre, is cautious and coy. Sometimes flirting with the Left and dancing with the Right.

One doesn't need to be a courageous captain to lead such trifurcated team, or a brilliant tactician to coach them, one needs to be a charismatic leader like Whitlam or Hawke or even Keating, who has the intestinal fortitude to say: "Come on, you bastards, follow me. It's crash through or crash!"
Being progressive is the ALP's strength - it can look ahead. It can dare to try new things.

Being progressive is also its weakness. Most Australians are short-sighted. Change frighens them.

Uncle Pat | 25 February 2012  

So many armchair critics; may I suggest that a rule change be introduced to require that the office of Prime Minister be commissioned for a three or four term only at the conclusion of each election. If the Prime Minister loses his or her capacity to fulfill the term of office then the Deputy Prime Minister assume the office of Prime Minister ie. the governing party continue to elect the Deputy Prime Minister in the interim but not the Prime Minister.

John K | 25 February 2012  

I loved Tony Kevin's article. He could have said even more on the misogynistic attacks on the PM by the media and too many of the commentators. But it is the Member for the Electorate of Kernot who has my vote on this. We ask ourselves, Kevin, why did you go there? Ego, hubris, or whatever? All for the sake of very little, and losing a wonderful job in the process. Simon Crean said it all when he predicted (accurately) how Kevin's return from the States would unravel in the limelight. KR loves the media far too much, and respects his Caucus colleagues far too little. That's not good for the nation.

Eveline Goy | 26 February 2012  

Evelyn, how do you know that what you say is true? Where is the evidence? Did anyone of the whiners this week come up with any evidence to prove their case? No they did not. The referendum Roxon claims Rudd just made up was party policy ticked off by her in the 2007 election.

Marilyn Shepherd | 27 February 2012  

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