By Chris Wallace
If you feel completely bamboozled by current federal ALP shenanigans, let me share some knowledge from inside the parliamentary triangle that you can’t possibly be expected to know unless you’re in it.
To the outside world Kevin Rudd is a charming, intelligent Cheerful Charlie. People can’t understand why he was dumped as leader in the first place and why there’s such a terrific battle being waged to stop him becoming prime minister again. Insiders know he is not what he seems.
The trouble with Kevin can be explained in three easy points.
First, Kevin never developed leadership skills beyond the command and control mode practiced in the China he studied so closely as a student and diplomat. That’s putting it politely. It’s the foul, chronic abuse he subjects people to behind the scenes – cabinet ministers, public servants, staffers and RAAF stewards alike – more than the F bombs accompanying it that make those who know about it feel he is unfit for office. Clinical narcissists don’t change their spots. It’s a character issue. Kevin’s character makes those who care about the sane operation of government in Australia desperate to head off a restoration.
Second, Kevin doesn’t have it in particularly for Gillard – he has it in for whoever is in his way. He is congenitally unable to play for the team. He only plays for himself. Kevin is and will continue, as he has from his arrival in the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party, to undermine the Labor leader unless he is that leader. Labor will indulge and reward his practice of permanent party terrorism at its peril. One would think it grounds for party expulsion rather than ascension to the Labor leadership.
Third, Kevin’s not the sophisticated high flyer people think he is. Kevin has a single undergraduate degree, only ever made it to the middling level of the Australian public service (APS) and never was an ambassador, only a relatively junior diplomat. He got promoted to the APS senior executive service in absentia while working for the Goss Government in Queensland. He’s either pig ignorant or wilfully dismissive of a system of cabinet government which has served Australia well for a century. After his systematic dismantling of it last time, no-one believes he will practice proper cabinet government if he becomes prime minister again.
Julia Gillard is not blameless for the current situation but she is being blamed for the wrong thing. Gillard does commit an inordinate number of political fumbles that obscure the achievements of what is a pretty functional government presiding over the world’s most successful economy. Gillard’s bigger problem is unerringly poor judgment about human beings. Where others instinctively seek out quality, she is drawn to dross. Gillard effectively made both Mark Latham and Kevin Rudd: in each case, it was her numbers that delivered them the leadership. Now she and Labor reap the whirlwind.
When the histories are written, Gillard’s clumsy moves securing Laurie Ferguson’s preselection in Sydney will be emerge as the defining moment when she got the NSW Right offside and sparked the emergence of a new, effective and unremittingly hostile factional leadership determined to square up. Combined with nervous newbie backbenchers who haven’t been around long enough to see governments recover from mid-term lows and be returned to office, and some youngish and talented caucus members of longer standing impatient with hanging around the greasy pole’s lower climes, it is a combustible mix.
Add the media who live for leadership contests, and who overweight political theatre relative to government outcomes, and you get an actual conflagration. But does the Labor Party have to go up in firestorm? Does Australia have to have restored to the prime ministership a man who proved unable to rise above his personality disorder before and is unlikely to do so again?
A few weeks ago two of the former Howard Government’s most senior ministers lunched and mused together that in eighteen months time, Australia will get its first DLP government – the Abbott Government. It’s the old story. When progressives tear themselves in two, the forces of conservatism benefit. Labor can stop and choose not to relearn old lessons the hard way. Alternatively, if Rudd and the Regurgitators get their way, Labor will have plenty of time under Prime Minister Tony Abbott to reflect on the sickness to which it temporarily succumbed.
This first appeared in The Australian on 21 February, 2012