2012 So Far (in Politics)

So, I decided to write something a little more serious than usual. It was mostly just a chance for me to formulate some thoughts on the ongoing political saga. Feel free to post your thoughts in response.

An Open Letter: Why I don’t want Kevin Rudd back

I used to be a big fan of Rudd, I have to say; I thought he represented a better, smarter Australia and was a man of vision. Like most people, his sudden resignation in the face of a leadership challenge came as a complete shock. I had to take a moment as I wrote that last sentence – most people don’t seem to realise it but that’s precisely what happened. The prevailing narrative, the one that has haunted Prime Minister Julia Gillard, has been one of betrayal.

She stabbed him in the back, they say.

Actually, she challenged him for the leadership of the party and he didn’t raise so much as a murmur in protest. Instead, knowing that his colleagues overwhelmingly wanted him gone after months of dysfunctional communication and ineffective governing, he decided to fall on his sword. At the time, it still seemed wrong. How could our Kev – our good little vegemite – be gone so quickly?

So it was I viewed the incoming PM with as much suspicion and distrust as the rest of the general populace. And then she got to work. She went about the business of governing and while it wasn’t all sunshine and roses  – far from it – she got Parliament to swallow the bitter pill that was the carbon tax and managed a resource tax while she was at it. She did what Rudd promised and failed to deliver and she did it with one arm tied behind her back.

Her popularity plummeted nonetheless, aided by an aggressively biased media and a brutally effective scare campaign by the master of negativity, Tony Abbott, not to mention a series of blunders on Gillard’s account. Her ability to front the media and sell her policies to the public has been nothing short of woeful, to the further detriment of her approval ratings. Her entire communication department ought to be sacked, really.

Soon the murmurs began (did we do the right thing after all?), the doubts, and bickering, leading us full circle with a resurgent Rudd declaring he wants his job back. For weeks the media had reported it was on the cards and for weeks the government tried to ignore the destabilisation, parroting the empty line that they were just “getting on with it” and everything was fine. Once Kevin threw down the gauntlet however, everything changed.

It’s the throwing of the gauntlet that has turned me against Rudd, on the back of weeks of behind-the-scenes campaigning that did nothing but harm the sitting government. He’s putting aside his party in favour of himself, once more reinforcing the allegations of self-obsession and an inability to be a team player while making an Abbott government all but a certainty.

Since then, we’ve seen an extraordinary outpouring of anger from cabinet ministers and Gillard herself – an outpouring most decry but that I welcome wholeheartedly. It’s not the personal nature of the attacks that I welcome but the anger. The pure, honest, unvarnished emotional reaction. Never have I seen the government so energised, with furious outbursts from Wayne Swan, Simon Crean, and just about every other cabinet minister it seems. Gone is the staid pretence, the shadow-puppetry, and stilted appearances – in hindsight, it would appear that the government has been barely held in check, straining against invisible checks and chains and is only now unleashed.

Lance a boil and the poison will flow, yes, no doubt it’s a painful process too but afterward you can finally move unhindered and the relief will be welcome. I can only hope that the ruthless precision and nature of the public attacks we’ve witnessed, the fast and furious responses to questions raised, is but a sign of what will be hurled at Abbott next. The government has seemed sluggish and weak in the face of a buoyant Abbott riding a wave of discontent and fear, never quite managing to deliver the resounding thumping and unequivocal responses needed to stomp his baseless negativity into the ground.

Now the fight for survival is well and truly on – if Gillard can put the spectre of Rudd to bed once and for all with an emphatic victory on Monday, then we can finally have an equal battle on our hands and one the policy-light Abbott is liable to lose. If she can’t, there’s only a speedy demise in store. In the unlikely event Rudd comes out ahead, it’ll be a longer, drawn-out defeat, which is another reason I don’t fancy a return to a Kevin Rudd Prime Ministership. Given the level of acrimony and scathing attacks from all sectors, I just can’t see him at the helm of an effective government.

The in-fighting and bickering will only continue, albeit possibly behind doors, giving more and more fuel to Abbott who will waltz into an election campaign facing a beleaguered Labor party instead of a rejuvenated government working on substantive reforms this country dearly needs.

The fundamental difference between Gillard and Rudd as I can see it is this: hers is a messy but ultimately effective government that manages to pass its desired legislation and his was an ineffective but cosmetically pretty government lead by a man we all found likeable and charming. Of the two, I’ll take the former. Gillard has her problems and challenges, no doubt, but this could be the shot in the arm she desperately needed.

There’s no doubt in my mind that she’s fired up right now and that’s exactly what she needs to be. Here’s hoping out of this ungodly mess, a fighting-trim government emerges to deliver a knockout punch to the Coalition. That’s optimism for you, in any case.

February 24, 2012
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