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.

No idea

Julia Gillard - Caricature

Image by DonkeyHotey via Flickr

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.

Just rewards

Labor leader :en:Kim Beazley (1996-2001, 2005-...Image via Wikipedia

It was nice to see yesterday Kim Beazley appointed as our next ambassador to the US.

Like most Australians I have a lot of time for Beazley. I think we recognise in him a genuinely good bloke, a rarity in politics and possibly why he never quite made it to the Lodge. While that may be a disappointment to him he has been a great servant to the Australian people, and I'm sure will make a very good ambassador.

He is a decent, kindly, man with the sort of jolly nature we associate with larger men. He is also a man of great intellect, greater than most of his contemporaries. It's a good package, but it just goes to show you need more than that to reach the very top. What Beazley lacked was ruthlessness, and that over-weening belief in self that views success as a God given right.

Years ago in the early days of his leadership of the opposition I wrote a stinging letter to the Labor apparatchiks explaining to them bitterly why Beazley would never be Prime Minister. As someone who despised Howard and whose politics were just left of centre I was deeply frustrated by this. While I admired Beazley for the reasons above, I knew then he didn't have what is need to reach the very top.

Much of politics is managing peoples expectations and their emotions. You can have the greatest policies in the world but if you don't inspire confidence then you're dead in the water. It's not that Beazley didn't have the tools – I'm sure he would have made a fine Prime Minister – the problem was that he was not perceived as being a strong leader.

It's ironic really, because Beazley is no weaky, unfortunately though he felt forced to play a role that was not natural to him. Whether he was poorly advised or he took it upon himself I don't know, but I remember watching his public performances with a seething frustration.

In opposition you have to oppose I guess, and to do this Beazley would wrinkle his brow and put on his stern face and harangue the government. It was totally unconvincing, and the public, as it always does, saw through it. The problem was that is was performance. He was acting the way he thought he should be acting, rather than reacting from his true self. The public will always give you some license to over-act, that's politics after all and much of it's theatre. What it won't cop is this contrived toughness, they'll laugh it out of court. You're tough or you're not, you can't pretend to be.

One of the things that led me to write was exasperation at the waste this represented. This wasn't working, was never going to work and furthermore didn't deserve to work. Yet here was a man universally liked by Australians of all political persuasions, a genuinely decent man of soaring intelligence, and with a nice bedside manner to boot. Wasn't this enough to be without trying to be something else?

I got no response to my letter and Beazley went on to lose the next election and the one after that. He got close-ish in 1998, but was blown out of the water in 2001 after the Tampa affair. That was a deplorable blight on our history, and no-one comes out of it looking good – including Beazley.

One of the reasons I despised John Howard so much is his obsession with power regardless of cost – the cost being to the country. Again and again he changed the political conversation – and ultimately the political culture – not for the benefit of the country he served, but to suit his cheap political needs. He was past master at exploiting things to his own advantage, even to the point of injustice, to dishonourable lengths. The Tampa affair was just another example of that.

In brief a ship carrying illegal immigrants foundered off the north west coast of Australia. A passing container ship – the Tampa – picked up the survivors as they sailed towards Perth. What happened then is the crux of this tragedy. Before they reached Australian territorial waters the ship was boarded by the Australian navy and stopped. Once they reached Australian waters Australia was duty bound to accept the immigrants as refugees. Howard didn't want that.

Leading up to a federal election he leapt upon the incident and beat it up in his inimitable way, claiming that Australia was being invaded by these illegal immigrants, that he was protecting our borders against  people who had no right to be here. He banged the drum hard, playing the fear card, the race card and incited outrage at this perceived 'invasion'. Come in spinner, and the Australian public were duped.

What then does Beazley do? Howard has ambushed him very cleverly. Beazley can either go along with the new rules of the game as set by Howard and join the chorus hoping to look strong on security. Or he could differentiate himself, could stand for what he believes in, could speak out against the injustice, the fear-mongering, the misinformation being spread. This was his chance.

I'm an idealist. That's probably clear. I probably couldn't survive 5 minutes in politics. I believe in things. In principles. In justice. In doing the right thing, in remembering that as Australians, as strong and rich in a world of weak and poor, we have obligations that cannot be denied if we want to be a moral and decent nation. Howard was over-turning all that for his own political ends – this was Beazley's chance to make a stand for what was right.

Unfortunately Beazley blinked. The tide was running one way and he went with it, putting on his stern face to do so. We'll never know what might have happened had he gone with his principles. He might have won the consequent election or he might have been absolutely flogged. We know that his decision made no difference, and was roundly defeated regardless.

I sound like I'm condemning Beazley, and I guess I am. Howard, for all faults was true to himself; Beazley was not. To be successful in pretty well anything you have to act with conviction. This comes from knowing yourself and being true to it. We have a right to expect of our elected representatives that they will stand for something. Once you take the oath you're fair game, it's tough but it's what you asked for. Beazley, an intelligent, good man, failed this test and the consequences were awful – 6 more years of Howard pulling his stunts and taking the country down a wicked road, SIEV X, the children overboard affair, and so on…

That's history now, and history will remember Beazley for his much broader contribution to Australian life. He's done a lot of good and I'm sure he'll continue to as our representative in the states.

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