OK, so Kevin Rudd is back in the saddle again, with Anthony Albanese as Deputy Leader. As I began writing this post it was not clear how many Ministers would decline to serve in the Second Rudd Government, let alone what would happen when Parliament meets today.
I did not expect this spill to happen, but it did. It was prefigured by what Leigh Sales of the ABC called ‘unexpected surprises’ (I wondered what expected surprises might be) — the decisions by the Independent MPs Oakeshott and Windsor that they would not contest their seats. There will now be several others who decide that it is time to go from Parliament. As the day wore on it became clear that a spill was being sought, and the Prime Minister brought it on at 7.00 pm.
I found it hard to listen to Kevin Rudd saying (again and again, because it kept being replayed) that ‘if we are completely honest…’ All I could see was a man utterly convinced that everything he says is honest, and absolutely in the interests of all Australians. As I said recently, he is a persuasive person, far more so than Julia Gillard, but in his case I am no longer persuadable. Maybe he believes that he can win the election that is coming. If that is the case he does not have a great hold on reality. I don’t think he can rebuild the ALP, either. That task awaits someone else.
What will happen now? Whatever happens in Parliament on its last sitting day before the scheduled election, the only real question is whether or not the election will be held in August, a little earlier, on September 14th, or a little later, perhaps in October. There are arguments in favour of all three options, and they don’t need to be spelled out.
The campaign context is almost unreadable. How bitter will the Gillard faction be? The Rudd faction did its best to destabilise the Gillard Government, and I would expect at least a fair share of tit for tat to take place in the coming weeks. And we should remember that the Gillard faction poured a great deal of scorn and personal denunciation onto their former Leader, and all of that is on the public record. We will hear it all again. It won’t be fun.
We should remember that the margin of victory for Kevin Rudd was just six people, which is what a majority of 12 means in a poll of 102. This is nothing like ‘an overwhelming majority’, and of course Kevin Rudd has had to explain why his supporters brought on a spill when no such overwhelming majority had come forth. His account of the reason is really nothing more than another version of ‘Kevin the saviour’, or a rebottled ‘Kevin 07’. But as I said in my last piece on Mr Rudd, this is not 2007, and Mr Howard is long gone.
How did Mr Rudd get up? In my view there were just too many members of caucus who could see their membership of the House of Representatives disappearing if Labor went to an election with only 29 per cent of the popular vote. I doubt that any of them thinks Labor can win the election (the new Leader aside), but if the popular vote were 39 per cent or 43 per cent, they themselves might be back again. That, and that alone, was the impetus. The last opinion poll might have been decisive.
Julia Gillard’s speech in farewell was for my taste a bit too long and a bit too full of what she saw as her achievements, but it was feisty, and not without humour. She made a number of mistakes in her time as PM, and she was handicapped by having to rely on the Greens and the Independent MPs. Having said that, in the longish list of Australian Prime Ministers she is by no means the worst, notwithstanding the spite and the unreasoning hostility she aroused. She is tough, intelligent and determined, and I wonder where these talents will take her next.
There are those who think that the Labor Party cannot be healed until both Rudd and Gillard are gone, and they may be right. But I don’t think that what we have seen over the last six years can be put down to either factionalism or personal rivalry. Some of it at least comes from the growing middle-classing of the parliamentary ALP. The elected members in many seats which one would have described in the past as ‘working class’ no longer have much feeling for what it is like to live in a heavily mortgaged house in which two incomes are needed to survive, child care rates are high, commuting is expensive and takes hours, and the experienced quality of life is much less than is desired.
One of Julia Gillard’s remarks was in praise of her Government’s setting a price for carbon, against what she described as (I think) ‘an extraordinary scare campaign’. There are some who would describe the Government’s role in this issue as being an extraordinary scare campaign itself, but what she entirely failed to grasp is the hostility people in the western suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne (and their counterparts in the other big cities) have towards what they see as an entirely unnecessary extra charge on their already difficult lives.
Wayne Swan said that he was driven by ‘social justice’, but he never said what he meant by that. It’s probably time I devoted a post to this slippery, vague and virtuous slogan. In the meantime, I await with interest the next instalment of this long-running Labor serial.