Last chance politics


I was sitting in the First Class lounge at Paddington waiting to board my train to Bath that I found out that Julia Gillard had been deposed as Prime Minister by Kevin Rudd. I had glanced up at the TV high on the wall broadcasting BBC news silently, and read the little snippet of news flash by at the foot of the screen.

I looked on, hoping for further details, more in rapt fascination than the relieved jubilation I might have felt. On the train to Bath I felt more feeling return to me. A full 18 months ago I had predicted the disastrous and inevitable course of events we have been witness to. It seemed clear to me even then that the die had been cast, and that the only hope of the Labor party surviving as a viable and relevant concern was with Rudd back in the job. I had been scathing of the Labor members too fearful to do anything other than bury their head deeper into the sand. Perhaps a miracle would transform their chances. Maybe the political fairy would listen to their fevered prayers and grant them a wish. Perhaps the world would end.

It’s fair to say there are very few politicians from either side I respect. I think Abbott is a buffoon, Hockey a gibbering fool, and Bishop a Stepford wife. There’s no possible way I could vote for them in their present incarnation. I was not about to vote for Labor either, until now, but still have serious concerns about the calibre of candidate on offer.

With the writing on the wall for so long their protracted refusal to accept it bodes ill. Either they’re dumb, hopelessly deluded, or have testicles the size of a freeze-dried pea. Probably all, though I’m certain that half of them sit down to pee. That they have finally changed  their tune does little to redeem them in my opinion – in some ways, just the opposite. Come the ultimate crunch it smacks more of self-preservation than public service. Public service decreed that this, the deposition of Gillard, should have come long ago.

A few days on, and having caught up with the details properly, I feel as if we’ve been granted a last-minute reprieve. It may only be a stay of execution, but we know at least that the disastrous hiding the Labor party was facing with Gillard in the job has now been averted. Defeat is still likely – though not certain – but if it comes it will be recoverable.

What are the odds? Slightly against I would think, though Rudd is a great campaigner, a far superior communicator than either Abbott or Gillard, and is much more popular than any of them. It’s all up to the next 6-8 weeks. Rudd needs to keep busy. He needs to show that he’s in control, and doing things. Certainly the Libs will be nervous for the first time in quite a while.

As for Gillard? I don’t want to be ungracious, but I have little time for her. Predictably, and hypocritically, many are coming out now about how unfortunate she was throughout, and how gracious she was bowing out.

Well, it’s all about getting the job done. There’s no doubt that she was a victim of sexism, primarily from the right side of politics, and in large swathes of the media. A more capable woman would have overcome that, and ultimately she is out of the job because she was not nearly capable enough. To claim, as some have, that she lost the job because she is a woman is reprehensible.

It’s interesting commentary nonetheless. Sitting here in England watching reports you get a different slant. In the jingoistic way of much of the press – even the quality press – it was claimed that a significant reason that she lost her job was because so few men supported her. Well, with an approval rating of under 30%, the reality is that clearly a substantial section of the female electorate wouldn’t have a bar of her either. On my part I couldn’t care less what the sex of our leader is, or religion or creed, as long as they can do the job. It will matter to some, but more most it’s all about the job.

Gillard was a victim of her own wretched judgement time after time. Too often she was strong when she should have been flexible, and weak when strength would have carried the day. She was a poor communicator, either failing to sell the achievements when they came, or else managing to put her foot in it. From the outside she appeared beholden to the union movement who put her in the job, and in the thrall to Machiavellian advisers very much out of tune with public sentiment. On a basic level lots disliked and/or mistrusted her. Her greatest moments came when she let herself go – such as her misogyny speech – otherwise she appeared stiff, even cold, and over-concerned with spouting the carefully contrived party line. Had she been bold enough to be her own woman then perhaps none of this need have happened.

By and large my greatest beef with her were the policies and perspectives that went against old-fashioned Labor principles, and common decency. She played politics with important issues that needed to be better and more humanely dealt with. The asylum seekers is the obvious one, but so too is same-sex marriage.

She did achieve things, much of which will be lasting unless Abbott comes in and acts the vandal. The carbon tax is a success; hopefully the Gonski reforms will become reality also. Then there’s the national disability insurance scheme. The NBN – a great nation-building exercise – was a Rudd initiative. The super-tax was a botched opportunity and failure of nerve.

That’s her forte I suspect, policy making, without the pressures of leadership or the need to play politics. As a deputy leader I suspect she would be highly capable; as leader she was a disaster.

 

It’s our party, and I’ll cry if I have to


English: Chart of the Australian Labor Party t...

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After the events of the last few days I realise I’m just about done with federal ALP. It’s been an unedifying and ugly spectacle watching as the minions of Gillard line up to take a swipe at Kevin Rudd. Clearly it’s intended to make him too unpalatable an option to vote for. It may work on that count, time will tell, but on a couple of other counts it has been a sheer disaster. Oblivious as they are of  the wider world this truth has passed them by in all too characteristic fashion.

What we’ve seen the last couple of days is political thuggery. That it has been a clearly considered strategy is without doubt, and once more calls into question the judgement of the PM and her cronies. In attacking Rudd as they have they’ve ripped to shreds the dignity and integrity of the Labor party. So intent on discrediting him they’ve overlooked how they discredit so much of what the ALP has stood for. Gillard may well win this vote Monday, which looks very likely, but her small chances of winning the next election have virtually disappeared in a puff of smoke. She may act all tough now – where has this been before? – but in the years ahead she may well become reviled as the woman who destroyed the ALP as a political force in this country. As you can tell, I’m pissed with her, and whatever respect I had is now forever gone. I wouldn’t vote for her if she was on fire.

I could say the same about her cronies. I’ve got nothing but contempt for them. These last few days they’ve come across as petulant and precious, more concerned with their hurt feelings than the greater good. So they don’t want to work for KRudd, well, tough titties. Here you are one of the elected representatives of the people earning a good living and theoretical respect of the nation, and instead you stamp your feet like a kid told to be nice to the clever geek who called you a nasty name. Do these people ever look in the fucking mirror?

Rudd is way ahead of Gillard in the popularity stakes, but I keep hearing how this isn’t a popularity contest. Well perhaps some of these people should listen up to what the people are saying, rather than the voices in their head. The people know a fraud when they see it, and they aint buying now, or ever. What these contemptuous characters need remember is that their responsibility is to the people of this country, and second to that the party which they represent. Their own wounded pride ranks a long way down the totem pole, and Joe Average doesn’t give a fuck.

As I said, I expect Gillard to win on Monday, and who knows what comes after that. Either Rudd gets drafted in some point down the track, or the party is ruined at the polls. I know I won’t be voting for them. In their present incarnation I’m a long way from ever voting for the Labor party again. Which means, unless Turnbull unexpectedly gets the Liberal gig, that I’ll be voting Greens.

The Labor party has been in decline from the day Gillard took office. If she ruins it now I’ll never forgive her. It’s our party, not hers.

Reaping what you sow


Gillard V Rudd | Rudd Says Still Foreign Minister.

Shaun Carney, probably the best political commentator I read, has it down perfectly here. This is the reality that all those red faced Labor ministers huffing and puffing their outrage at Rudd. They stare so deeply into their own navels – and the navels of their advisers – that they fail to understand or even comprehend a world about them. They’re like those geeks who spend days playing Second Life or World of Warcraft before staggering out into the sunshine to find a real world exists as well. Except these guys are still in their imagined construct.

Hello guys, wake up. First, all this talk of disloyalty is enough to make your head spin. For fucks sake – weren’t you disloyal to Rudd, your Prime Minister of the time? Secondly, there is a world outside of Canberra, made of people who live – mostly – in reality. They know what happened. Furthermore they’re smarter than what you think, if only because they don’t indulge in the same wishful fantasies you do. No Second Life for them – it’s all first life and a stiff mortgage.

Frankly, I can’t believe how dumb the Gillard supporters have been. Crean making unprovoked attacks against Rudd in the media left, right and centre, as if that will do some good. No, it has the opposite effect where it counts – the people. To the public it’s the bizarre sight of a grown man doing battle with the invisible man. The foe may be real to Crean and co, but to Joe Public who’s not seen anything himself of the disloyalty they complain of it seems unreal.

Now Wayne Swan has joined the party, which is unedifying all round. He’s gambled his future on Gillard surviving, but it’s a poor bet I reckon. It’s like getting the family dirty laundry aired in public – it’s ugly to do and no-one really wants to hear it. Incidentally I reckon his outburst tonight means that Gillard will call a spill for the leadership next week. She’ll win it, as she’s counting on, but the wound she’s carrying will continue to fester.

As for Rudd, he’s been masterful. He called their bluff and pulled the trigger. So clever. In the first instance he gazumped them. All those clever apparatchiks must have looked at each blankly when they heard the news and thought “oh shit”. They had all the running and thought they had the game all figured out except he did the one thing they hadn’t thought of. He turned on them.

In doing that he acted, he showed the intent which Gillard never shows because she’s too ponderous, or busy checking the polls. Once more he showed the wit and judgement that seems foreign to Gillard.

He took the high moral ground, pulling the rug from under Gillard – admittedly quite easy as she stands there stolidly oblivious as you tug and tug at the Persian. He was the one calling things to order. He was the one bringing things to an end. He was the one claiming others had been disloyal to him. And he was the one reminding Joe Public that those accusing him were those who had stabbed in the back. He was not a coward like that.

This is what will happen. Gillard will call a spill and win it with somewhere between 60-70% of the vote. Rudd will go back to the back bench. He’ll sit their biding his time until the next stuff up, and once more his name will be mentioned. There may be a clamour for him. No hurry though. Short of a miracle Gillard is cooked for the next election. As that bleedingly obvious reality dawns upon the mutton-headed Labor numbnut he’ll start shuffling nervously at the sight of the polls and begin to look at Kevin Rudd longingly. Others will do the same, “we need to talk about Kevin…” they’ll mutter. And the man himself will give them his cheesy Cheshire cat grin and put his arm around them, “comrade…” he’ll say, “let’s talk.”

That’s what I reckon. I may be wrong about the spill, in which case I think Rudd will go quietly to the backbench and scheme. I’m pretty certain he’ll end up in the top job, if only because it’s physics. I can see it, the numbnuts can’t. Yet.

He should be leader too, for all the reasons I’ve said before, and one other, very important reason. If he becomes Labor leader then the Libs must act. They’ll get nervous, and figure out that while Abbott is good enough to beat Gillard, he’s no match for Rudd. And maybe then they’ll up the ante with Turnbull. Now that’s a win-win for Australian politics, and a great positive for the country.

Wikipedia: World of Warcraft is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game by Blizzard Entertainment.

Them’s the facts


English: Kevin Rudd (right) and Julia Gillard ...

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It seems inevitable that sometime soon there will be a leadership challenge to Julia Gillard by Kevin Rudd. It’s been brewing for months as Gillard has lurched from one botched situation to another. In the last week it’s come to a head. Something has to happen now, and sometime in the next month I think. It should too, if only to get it out of the way and to enable the government – whoever that is – to get on with the job of governing. For my part I hope that’s Rudd.

I’m not especially fond of Gillard, but I have some respect for her personal qualities. She’s clearly a strong character, and without the scrutiny of press and media is said to be very personable and sincere. She’s a smart woman too, and in many ways she’s a good operator. What she isn’t though is a leader, not if you define leadership as being someone who will take hard decisions and communicate a vision for the future. Unfortunately at key moments she has failed the small tests set her, preferring to act on the flawed advice from her support staff – staff whose main concern is her political wellbeing, rather than the good of the nation.

Perhaps her biggest failure as Prime Minister has been her inability to sell to the Australian public the great narrative of the Australian economy – robust still, a success story in a world where great nations are failing and many of the strongest have become weak. As I speak we are either the wealthiest, or second wealthiest country in the world, depending on what you read. While there are challenges, we are still well ahead of our traditional partners. None of this is by accident. We are resilient because of good economic management, years of it from Keating through Costello, but also by Rudd during the GFC, when he acted decisively and with intelligence. Few of the people know of this, because no-one has told them – least of all the government. Instead they have allowed the opposition to manage the agenda and control the conversation. How this is even vaguely permissible I don’t know, but the lack of a firm hand at the tiller has wrought a huge cost.

For all that there are two main reasons I think Gillard should be usurped. In the first place is her supreme lack of judgement. She has no nose for prevailing conditions, and so on a regular basis does just the wrong thing. I wonder if it is a lack of confidence in her own judgement which sees her instead defer to the faceless advisors who live in high, windowless towers with no contact with the public. I imagine they think they are being clever, but the public sees through such charades – they’re not as callow as these minions believe. Still these mistakes continue, most recently the shoddy mishandling of Andrew Wilkie to the ridiculous decision to appear on Four Corners last week. Just dumb really, made worse by an evasive performance on screen when something more candid might have touched some sympathy in the public. She has a tin ear Gillard, and makes these mistakes again and again. It’s hard to have confidence in someone like that.

The second lament is that I’m pretty certain that Gillard is a person without deep belief. She has often admitted as a virtue her pragmatic qualities, but that pragmatism is also a vice. As leader of a Labour party in government she is also the inheritor of a tradition, much of which has been disregarded or even trashed during her reign. It’s a bitter reality for the die hard Labour followers, and is also the source of great disappointment in the more moderate liberals (of which I count myself as one) who have leaned traditionally to the left of the divide, and to Labour. That’s changed. Changeable policies based on political pragmatism rather than ideology has seen many – if not most – of those moderate liberals shift their support to the Greens. I suspect that if you looked deep into Gillard’s eyes you would see little of real meaning. She’s an able Lieutenant, but no leader. That’s tough for her, but it’s tougher still for the party she leads, for she is leading them into a wilderness from which they may not return.

To me it’s a no-brainer: Gillard has to go. I think given a level-playing field this would be obvious to every Labor parliamentarian. What prevents them from seeing it is a persistent animosity towards Kevin Rudd through large swathes of the party. They resent him, they fear him, they dislike him. To which I ask: would you rather be out of power with a leader you like, or in power with a leader you dislike? No doubt many fear personal scores will be settled if he gets back in, but the reality is that it’s all pretty childish. With Gillard as leader Labor have about a 5% chance of winning the election; with Rudd it’s 50:50, and it improves if the Libs keep Abbott as leader (Turnbull is a much better candidate).

Rudd is the only viable alternative to Gillard. I don’t like him especially myself, and I was bitter towards him when he was rolled because he’d lost his bottle (and would have survived had he kept it). He’s smart though, the smartest option on either side of the political fence. He has beliefs, even passions, which he swept us all up in during the first 12 months of his rule. I hear the criticisms that he wouldn’t delegate, that he was a tough task-master, even that he was a bastard. Well I’m not going to say who cares, but I might say grow up. Politicians can be awfully petulant: there’s a sense of entitlement that comes with the office which occasionally makes them churlish schoolchildren. If Rudd becomes leader I hope he holds true to his promise of having learned from his mistakes. We don’t need recriminations or dysfunction. We need a clear direction and a strong voice. As Australians we need someone to believe in. Above all we need someone to turn the tide of negativity that Abbott and his cronies spout day in, day out. Gillard is defenceless to it; Rudd is clever enough to turn it back on Abbott and smart enough to confound him.

I’m by no means certain of Rudd, but I’m hopeful. Gillard is gone, and has been for a while. Time to accept that. And to all those hypocrites accusing Rudd of disloyalty, best you first remove your knife from his back. It has to happen, and happen soon. With Gillard the Labor party is doomed; with Rudd they have a chance.

No idea


Julia Gillard - Caricature

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One of my major beefs about Julia Gillard as Prime Minister is her deeply flawed sense of judgement. How can I support a leader who misread the tea-leaves so poorly again and again, and makes one poor judgement after another? She has her virtues – honest, tough, fundamentally decent, personally capable – but her management of people and issues is generally hamfisted.

The latest example of this is the cabinet re-shuffle this week. As an observer outside of government you can only watch what’s happening and think Julia, what are you doing?

There is some justification for cabinet promotion. I don’t think much of Bill Shorten personally, but he’s capable and a good communicator. Tania Plibersek is very capable, and Nicola Roxon is generally competent and a good news story as the nations first female Attorney General. As for Mark Arbib, and the other sundry movements? Meh.

Out is Kim Carr, perhaps not the most charismatic of cabinet ministers, but immensely experienced and capable. He deserved better treatment than this, and not just because he knows his stuff. Robert McClelland likewise is no great shakes as a communicator, and just an average minister, and though you can justify a move from the attorney general role it might have been managed much better. Others have been shuffled around, with spurious and insubstantial ministries created for them rather than rock the boat too severely. It’s a bit laughable really, and ultimately only goes to demonstrate even further Gillard’s complete lack of authority.

Gillard has promoted her supporters, some of them deserving, and demoted those who where more borderline, some unfairly, to a raft of superficial portfolios.  As Gillard sees it she has rewarded her supporters, and weakened her arch-rival Kevin Rudd. In theory at least.

I wonder at that. In the first instance shuffling them around like this makes her appear weak, as if she had something to fear, and dues to pay. On top of that I don’t know that it really weakens Rudd. In fact I think it makes it certain that he’ll challenge again for the leadership next year. Rudd has little to be proud of in his arch manouevrings from the side, but there is little now to stop him from going on the attack. He has been sidelined, his disfavour made plain, and his supporters demoted. What has he to lose?

Far cleverer of Gillard had she made subtle changes made solely on merit. Shorten deserved his promotion, so fine. Carr should never have been demoted. Combet is smart, but is faction is being played. Arbib deserved nothing more than what he had (Sport), if that. As for the rest, some firm handling would have been more productive. You’re either in the cabinet or not, don’t inflate it with phoney portfolios just because you don’t have the balls to make a tough decision. As for Rudd, if you believe him to be de-stabilising and disloyal then sack him as a minister. Don’t muck around with coy phrases and the back-handed ploys removing his supporter base. Gillard would gain a lot more respect if she did the tough thing for once, rather than checking the numbers and pulling her punches again and again. Voters want to respect their leader even if they disagree with them. That takes authority, decisiveness, bravery.

Ultimately this is what makes me shake my head, and doubt Gillard. Is she so poorly advised that she can’t see the truth of this? I don’t have confidence in her for a bunch of reasons, but central is her lack of judgement. For a leader so concerned with public opinion she has a dud nose for it. With so much she does she’s always at least half a beat off. So much easier, and more honourable, to have a position and decisively act on it. Her failure is that she has no position, no centre as such, and hence without that foundation no authority.

This is just the latest example. For the first time this year she had Abbott on the run. The government has some good wins on the board (though dreadfully sold). The carbon tax is excellent legislation. The super tax is deeply compromised, and hence flawed, but better than nothing. Gradually as the year wore on Abbott’s shrill negativity was wearing thin on the electorate and the government gradually claimed territory. This silly re-shuffle though has negated much of that. It’s terrible and unnecessary timing. Why you wonder? Why? The public are smart enough to see through to the truth. They know, and Gillard pays.

I thought she might survive, might even make it through and win against Abbott in the next election (though don’t be surprised if Abbott gets rolled mid-year). Now I’m certain that Rudd will challenge her sometime in the first half of next year. I don’t know if he’ll win, but despite my antipathy to him he’s a better option than Gillard. And it’s all because of your fuck-ups Julia.

Wikipedia: sniper definition: to shoot at exposed individuals (as of an enemy’s forces) from a usually concealed point of vantage.

Bye bye Kevin


Julia GillardImage via Wikipedia

It's a big news day. As I'm writing this I'm listening to Kevin Rudd speaking after he has been ousted as Australian Prime Minister. Though he's been shaky for while this outcome developed very quickly.

When I first heard that he had been dumped by the factions and the unions I thought it was bad news. I'm no fan of Rudd, but believed that in this situation and so close to an election that some semblance unity had to be preserved. Then I learned more details and I changed my mind.

Julia Gillard is the new Prime Minister. Like many I have a lot of time for her. I think she's smart, honest and straight-forward, though with an unfortunate drawl. She's likeable as a person and impressive as a politician. I said to an England supporter earlier today in relation to the soccer that they'd be shitting themselves playing Germany next; well I think the same goes for the Libs now. I think they thought they had Rudd's measure, rightly or wrongly, but Gillard is very different. For me this move puts Labor clearly in front.

As for Rudd, well he got what he deserved. He's been a well documented disappointment for months. All the way through Gillard has supported him to the hilt. In the end it was his disloyalty to her that precipitated this crisis, and led to his downfall. He only has himself to blame.

He'll be remembered as a leader who promised a lot but failed to deliver on most. His great achievement, for which he gets too little praise, was steering Australia clear of the GFC. We're in good shape economically. Where he failed was on style and courage. He comes across as arrogant, rude and supercilious, the super-nerd who knows better than you. You cop that if he follows through. He had the goods too to make it happen, but ultimately he got scared.

Rudd is out of a job today because he lost his nerve. When he could have pulled the trigger last year for a double dissolution election he failed to act. Since then has back-tracked on promises and beliefs. That has been a fatal mistake. He's courted popularity and lost it. When he should have ploughed ahead with what was right he instead sought to curry favour with public opinion. He should have known better: for all of the mob-like qualities of the public they can spot a fraud a mile off. They'll rather disagree with someone they respect than be kow-towed to by someone of doubtful authenticity.

For all that I hope we don't lose him to politics. Despite his style issues he is a man of great ability, head and shoulders above the average pollie. What he brings to bear is clarity of vision and immense powers of concentration. As a plocy maker without the pressure of leadership I think he can do great things for the country.

Now it's Gillard though. I think she'll be very good, and hard to toss come the next election. She has the common touch that Rudd lacks, and is the more natural leader. I guess this also means she'll be lining up for the Bullies next week.

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Playing safe


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I watched bits and pieces of the French Open women’s final on Saturday. Sam Stosur, having swept aside more highly credentialed opponents leading into the final, found herself favourite against a journeyman (woman?) Italian, Schiavone. It was a no contest. Though the scoreline suggests otherwise the Italian was decisively better. She played smarter than Stosur, and she played the braver tennis. She deserved her win.

As an Australian hoping for a win to Stosur it was disappointing and frustrating. Gone was the aggressive power game that had led her to convincing wins over Serena Williams and Jankovic. Instead she was tentative and cautious. Leading into the final she played as if she had nothing to lose; in the final she played as if she had everything to lose – and thus lost.

This happens a lot, in sport, in life. With the spotlight on and everything on the line it’s difficult to maintain the precise focus that led you to this position. Rather than flowing with the moment one becomes stilted and self-conscious. Rather than just doing the mindset becomes negative. It’s not about achieving something more it becomes about protecting what you have. ‘Don’t lose’ becomes the mantra, rather than nothing to lose. It’s always easier being the challenger than the champion.

In the days after watching the final and reading the daily newspapers I began to see a parallel between what happened with Stosur, and what has happened with Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister.

It was not so long ago that Rudd had one of the best approval ratings of any Prime Minister. I don’t know if anyone was particularly fond of him, but he had the respect of most of the electorate. If nothing else he was perceived as a powerful intellect.

How things have changed. The newspaper headlines yesterday suggested that if an election was held now then he would lose. Given the lead he commanded and the ongoing rabble which is the Liberal party this is almost unbelievable, and a terrible indictment on Rudd’s leadership.

I haven’t written a lot about Australian politics lately because I share most Australian’s distaste with it. It’s a depressing battle of mediocrities. Abbott is a smart man but seems to lack the substance to be a national leader. For all his intellect there seems something lightweight to him. Unfortunately his policies and his public utterances – negative and reactionary – seem to lend credence to that view. He is a better 2IC than the man in front.

Then there is Rudd. He comes across as an obnoxious, supercilious pain in the arse, but you forgive that if he’s doing a good job. It’s not a popularity contest – or shouldn’t be – you want the best man for the job regardless of his airs and graces. For a long time Rudd got by because he had the confidence of the public, and because he did the right thing. (Despite the administrative incompetence we got out of the GFC lightly because of government action; and Australia has a robust economy now far in advance of our peers. We are healthy despite the doomsayers of the Liberal party.)

Then he bottled it. The turning point came when Turnbull was deposed as Liberal leader and the ETS was defeated in the senate. Rudd had the chance to pull the trigger then and call a double dissolution election on the back of it. Had he then he would have won comfortably; instead he hesitated and then failed to act. Like Costello before him when the moment came he wasn’t equal to it.

Since then it has gone from bad to worse. It’s been a litany of broken promises, of weak non-decisions, of playing politics rather than the situation. Like Stosur Rudd has attempted to hang on to what he has, to mitigate the damage by doing little. The poetic irony is that it has had just the reverse effect.

Rudd was manful at the Copenhagen conference. He was passionate and driven. He had described climate change as the biggest moral challenge of our generation and there was nothing in his actions that suggested it was anything but sincere. Then he fumbled the ball when his proposed emissions trading scheme bit the dust last year. Ok, that was disappointing, it was weak, but then he really fucked it up when he dropped it altogether.

Far from being the greatest moral challenge, climate change was now a political hot potato. In April this year he deferred any action until 2013. 2013! Not surprisingly this created a stir. How could he change his mind so radically? Was it hyperbole after all? And if it wasn’t then how can one change core convictions so easily? Either way it was damning of his leadership and of him as a man. He was either a cheap political opportunist or a man of shallow conviction. In any case the Australian electorate made their judgement, and he’s been paying the price ever since.

Sitting on my couch Saturday night I urged Stosur to put more muscle into her shots, to go for the line. She did but rarely. Instead she played it safe and the match slipped away from her. Rudd faces the same situation. The match is not lost for him yet, but if he is to fight back he needs to stand for something, he needs to drop the bullshit and say it like it is. He needs to regain the respect he’s lost. He’s never going to be loved, but trust counts for a lot.

I suspect Rudd will survive by the skin of his teeth. He’s still the preferred PM even if the party trails. He’ll have a scare though, and is lucky that the opposition is so ordinary – if Turnbull were the Liberal leader then he’d have my vote. That’s not the case though. When push comes to shove I think most Aussies will vote for Rudd. I reckon the polls are registering a protest element that will disappear come election day. Still, he needs to pull his finger out, and pronto.

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Screwball politics


Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the OperaImage via Wikipedia

Like much of Australia I've been watching the Liberal party slowly come apart in recent days. You know when you're watching a horror movie and the creepy music is playing and one of the characters is moving through a darkened house in which the murderer/monster is lurking and your heart is in your mouth and you're on the edge of your seat when they turn to do something you know is fraught with peril and you feel like yelling at the screen "don't go there", but they do anyway and get slaughtered? Well, minus the suspense, it's pretty well been like that for the Libs in the last week. You watch and wonder why they would do such stupid things, but it's great entertainment. 

The answer is that they're out of touch with reality, otherwise known as the electorate. Their own ambitions and petty squabbles have blinded them to the ruinous course they've taken. One writer, Alister Drysdale, a former advisor to Liberal heavyweights claimed that for many Australians the result yesterday exposed the Libs "as a conservative cabal of misfits, deniers, naysayers and idiots." It's hard to argue against that.

Let's rewind a little. For the last few months the contentious issue of global warming and the governments proposed emissions trading scheme (ETS) has been subject to cross-party debate. Kevin Rudd sought bi-partisan support for the scheme and in any case needed the Liberals onside for the legislation to be passed. The Liberal leader, Malcolm Turnbull, was a supporter in principle but looking to negotiate on some of the details to make it more business friendly. In the meantime the kids at the back of the class were becoming increasingly fractious. In the last couple of weeks the whispered dissent became a full-blown rebellion by some of the more maverick members of the opposition.

There should be room for dissent, but where the Libs parted from common sense is how it was expressed, which was at times disgracefully disloyal, and in substance of their dissent. Strange to think in the world we currently live in that there are people – senior members of the Liberal party at that – who believe the so-called climate change is a left wing conspiracy. 

Leading the charge was Nick Minchin, the Benedict Arnold of this affair. Minchin is one of the right wing conservatives of the party. Turnbull, the prime minister, is more progressive and traditionally liberal. These guys are never going to settle down for a convivial beer at the end of a long day, but that shouldn't matter. Unfortunately for Turnbull Minchin chose this issue as the opportunity to de-stabilise and ultimately unseat him. No matter how you characterise it – and many have called it Machiavellian – Minchin set out to undermine Turnbull and kill the legislation – as it has turned out, regardless of cost.

In the wings were other climate change sceptics. Andrew Robb stood up to stab Turnbull in the back; Tony Abbott, a long time arch-conservative but all over the shop on this issue; and the usual collection of right wing ratbags and stooges.

To cut a long story short Turnbull's position was made virtually untenable by this behaviour and the orchestrated resignation of part of his shadow ministry. He was virtually held to ransom while that bastard Minchin no doubt had a laugh in the background. Turnbull resisted, Abbott stepped in, and it was all being orchestrated towards a single end – the replacement of Turnbull by the acceptably moderate Hockey, and the demise of the legislation.

This is where the horror movie strangely splices itself to an old episode of the keystone cops. Or is it the Three Stooges? A leadership spill is declared and a vote takes place in which the popular favourite, and only real option, Joe Hockey is eliminated. This leaves a head-to-head contest between the fatally undermined incumbent, and the hardline conservative, electorally unpopular Tony Abbott. Which is the lesser evil? Even the Libs don't seem to know as the vote takes place and Abbott wins 42-41 with one critical donkey vote by an obviously frustrated and disaffected member. So that's that: Tony Abbott is leader.

Now Tony Abbott and I are poles apart when it comes to our politics and beliefs, but unlike most I don't mind him. I admire his commitment and I think he's one of the sharper pollies going around. That doesn't change anything though. By electing him the Libs have effectively committed electoral suicide on the strength of murky and misguided principle and the shameful shenanigans of the back room operators.

Whatever the truth of climate change it's not an issue that's going to go away. Most people are believers even if the science is sometimes confused and the politics doubly so. No-one wants new taxes, but most are inclined to err on the side of caution when it comes to the issue: no-one wants to see the earth erupt into a ball of flame and if a few taxes along the way may prevent that then that's fair enough. The real sceptics are at the margins of society – mainly elderly conservatives, reactionary ratbags and the odd Liberal party leader.

Unfortunately for the Libs that is now their constituency: ratbags and old codgers who are going to be dead before too long. The great rump of the electorate and the decision-makers of the next generation want something done – and the Libs have now sidelined them.

What all this means is the Libs are heading towards political irrelevancy and electoral oblivion. They have elected a leader who is an electoral hard-sell, are clinging to a concept nobody really believes in anymore, and have torn themselves apart publicly. Really, why would you want them running the country when they can't manage themselves? The answer is that you wouldn't – and so it's hard not to believe that the Libs have wiped out their chances for years to come. Labor are looking at a landslide victory next election which may well secure them the balance of power and ensure a margin that will take years to erode.

Despite the looming defeat of the proposal Rudd is doubtless delighted with this turn of events. He shouldn't be though. All democracies need a credible dissenting voice to keep them honest. What is bad for the Liberals is bad for the country. Rudd is already at fault for not properly explaining what his proposal is about, and for watering it down in the name of political expediency. Don't expect anything to become any clearer or any more sensible in the near future. 

P.S. The photo is not Tony Abbott, though many will be excused for believing so.

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Being right, not popular


Federal Labor leader Kevin RuddImage via Wikipedia

There's something about Kevin Rudd that really sets my teeth on edge. Had I gone to school with him I'm sure I would have been tempted to give him a regular smack on the back of his head. I'm sure he got a lot of that. I can picture him sitting at the front of the class thrusting his arm up at every opportunity, "Miss…miss…" There is something in his manner highly disagreeable, and to many others too, rightly or wrongly.

I've been reminded of my distaste by a sound bite on radio this morning where in his typically prim and smarmy way he defends his decision to get the Indonesians to intercept a boatload of refugees. Putting aside my ongoing opposition to policies like that, it's his manner and his transparent need to be popular that gets my back up. I know a lot of politicians do it, but more than most he plays to the crowd. This has resulted in some very ill-advised interventions in cultural debate – the Henson affair for one, then describing Gordon Ramsay as a lowlife.

This a personal reaction to him. I don't like him particularly, but even if I don't agree with everything he does or how he does it there is a bigger picture. I don't expect to find a leader in my lifetime with whom I'm perfectly attuned. I take that as a fact of life, and if the worst thing I feel is a personal antipathy then it can't be that bad. (And I think his wife is a gem.)

That's the paradox here. I wouldn't want to be in the same room as Rudd, yet I think he is a pretty good Prime Minister. I don't agree with everything he does, but by and large I respect his intellect and determination. The government's handling of the GFC has been first rate, and Rudd particularly has taken a leading role in the G20 in tackling it internationally. I suspect he's good deal more intelligent than most world leaders. I support his ambitions to find us a bigger role in world affairs – I think we've earned it. If there was a vote tomorrow I would put aside my personal objections without a second thought and throw in my lot with him once more.

That decision, if it came to it, is much easier given the abject rabble the opposition have become. What an immature, irresponsible lot they are. I have often thought that politics has a lot in common with the school yard, and the Libs at this moment epitomise that. I tell you, they're kidding themselves if they think they are a serious rival to the government. They're a long way off that.

What I find so annoying right now is the internal debate about emissions schemes. Self interest has trumped national good. Ratbags from every section of the party are getting up on their soapbox and saying their piece. Their leader is undermined by this disunity and indiscipline to the point that his position is becoming untenable. What then? Another leader? And for how long? The local scout troop could show them a thing or two about teamwork and working with a common purpose. They're a joke.

Putting aside the politics (ie members terrified of offending their electorate) the debate boils down to whether the greenhouse effect and climate change are scientifically proven realities. It seems a tired argument these days, but there are still a few hold-outs who refuse to acknowledge what is plain to most of the rest of the world. They're the ratbags, the extreme edge holding the rest of the party to ransom. Then there are the nervous nellies without any particular opinion, but unwilling to commit themselves to anything. Let's wait for the rest of the world to do something, and we'll follow. Right.

By far the minority view in the party at the moment, as personified by their leader Turnbull, is that this is a reality that Australia has to deal with. He is trying to get agreement to take a bi-partisan approach to the issue and to get some resolution in place before the Stockholm talks. Just between you and me I figure climate change is big enough an issue that politics should be set aside and a common approach forged. Except it looks very likely that Liberal bickering means they will be left behind.

In the meantime it looks likely that the government will forge ahead, leaving the Libs behind and making them look very silly. Don't they understand that?

Once more, I'm not in agreement with everything Rudd has done in regards to climate change – I think there could be greater effort (and investment) to find alternative energy sources – but by and large I think he has done a good job, and taken a leading role internationally. I think it is imperative that Australia comes up with a scheme we can take to Stockholm, and be on the forefront (and front foot) when it comes to tackling this huge issue.

Just in conclusion it's worth making reference to a subject that has reared its head again lately: nuclear power. Australia has the largest stocks and is the leading exporter of uranium in the world – yet we don't have one nuclear power station. Historically nuclear power has been very much on the nose here. A strong green sector have successfully made it seem an unpalatable evil. That was easy while Chernobyl and Three Mile Island lingered in the public's consciousness.

It's different now though. There are over 400 nuclear power stations worldwide, and many more coming online. They are cheap, much more efficient than coal burning stations, and obviously a hell of a lot cleaner to – which in this age of environmental alarm is a very big tick.

The fears in the past have been about safety and in disposing of the used plutonium. Technology has advanced to the stage that there has not been even the slightest issue for many years, and that disposal of waste is a lot safer and secure than it used to be.

I'm of the view that given the environmental constraints – as well as our geographical limitations – that Australia as a nation must consider the nuclear power option. It is irresponsible not too look at it at least. I doubt that will happen though, and perhaps I should close with that thought. Nuclear power is a political hot potato unfortunately. No matter which side of politics may propose it you can be guaranteed that their opponents will oppose it on principle, seeking the political capital to be made by taking the populist option. Australian politics has to be better than that. Unfortunately I see this as one of Rudd's big deficiencies – we need someone strong enough to champion what is right regardless of popularity. We need a statesman, not a politician.

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Wishing for my country


CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 3:  Prime Minis...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Earlier this week Kim Beazley was dethroned from the leadership of the Labor party by Kevin Rudd. This was a long time coming, and much overdue in my book. I’ve been a long time and very vocal critic of Beazley. He’s tried to be all things to all people and ended up being nothing to no-one. He’s a three time loser, a considerable intellect and once a superior minister, he lacked the natural authority or strength of purpose to carry off the role of leader of the opposition.

His replacement Kevin Rudd is not a man I’ve found it easy to take to. Too often he has appeared to me as supercilious and self-satisfied. He is smart, and knows it, and he looks like a suburban accountant – but as our PM is cut from the same physical cloth that may not be a disadvantage. To use my oft quoted criteria, I doubt I’d want to have a beer with him. So in that is revealed a personal prejudice – he is not my style of man; I would not be his.

He is smart though, and it is that we now count on. He has ideas, plans, both absent for years now on the Australian left. Perhaps he even has a vision, time will tell. His style not be the big confrontation, rather I think he will seek to slowly unpick the government and its policies. The governmeant has been running a program that should have been easily dismantled – it is testament to the incompetence and lack of direction on the left that that never happened – instead the government has flourished, despite all.

Right now I have a growing faith in Rudd, and his deputy Julia Gillard – or perhaps it is just hope. I do believe he is a man of substance. He is ambitious but that is no bad thing – if he carries with him a better future then he justifies it. Right now he is making the right noises. He speaks of compassion, a traditional Australian virtue long lost in the scaremongering rhetoric of John Howard. We need to return to that, need to return to what we have always been.

I wrote the other day of myself, that somewhere along the way I had lost myself, what I meant and what I stood for. Australia has been like that, steered away from what is innate and true. We have to reclaim that just as I have to reclaim it within myself. You cannot go forward when identity is in doubt, when you act contrary to nature.

Today is also David Hicks day. David Hicks is the man held in Guantanamo Bay these last 5 years without being charged with anything. This is a disgrace. It is one reason this government will be damned, and is a blot on our society because it is wrong. Wrong, indisputably wrong.

Our society is built on the rule of law. Central to that is that a man is innocent until proven guilty. Distastefully compliant, the Australian government has waived that central law our society is based on. Effectively they have sacrificed the rights of David Hicks, have given away his life, to get in bed with the American government. That’s an equation that never adds up.

More than that he is an Australian abandoned by his country. Guilty or innocent, any Australian citizen in any part of the world should be extended all the support the Australian society can provide. He is one of ours, he is innocent until proven guilty – and should he be proven guilty then he should be still supported as much as the law allows. Anything less than that is a betrayal. We have betrayed him.

One day John Howard will burn because he has used a human life for political advantage. This must stop.

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