Rudd vs Gillard vs the Media vs the Australian People

And the winner is… you! – if you’re one of those people who own a national television network or a major metropolitan daily newspaper. Tony Abbott did ok too I guess.

You could be forgiven for thinking that last week Australians were captivated by the “political stoush” when Kevin Rudd challenged Julia Gillard for the leadership of the Federal Parliamentary ALP. Gladiatorial by all appearances. The truth, in the broad sweep of history and in living rooms across the country, is somewhat less sensational. Changes in the leadership of the ALP are not small things, changes in Prime Ministership make them all the more historical. A change didn’t occur though so not long from now this will be hardly a blimp on the radar of Australia’s political history, but even if a change had occurred it is doubtful this would rank in anyone’s list of moments in Australian history.

As the leadership contest unfolded last week Tony Abbott needed only to sit back and let the media do its hatchet job. He told us he took no comfort in watching the leadership of this country implode. Implode? Too strong a statement – it suggests making an impact. More like the inflatable Santa Clauses that are still bobbing around by Australia Day – just gradually collapsing into a pile of faded plastic and hot air (slowly escaping around its edges) while whoever put them up there in the first place has completely lost interest. And “Leadership”? That would suggest the country is behind the ALP.

It is already a quantifiable and qualifiable fact that both of these prime ministers are failed leaders. Julia Gillard differentiates herself from an ineffectual Kevin Rudd by reminding us that despite leading a minority government she managed to implement a price on carbon when Rudd, with a Parliamentary majority, dropped it like a defeated dummy. As right as the policy may be Gillard has relinquished any kudos she may have otherwise got from this achievement because she de-legitimised it by not selling it to the Australian people prior to (and incidentally not since) the last election. In an act of electoral gutlessness she in fact led the Australian people away from it, then implemented it by bargaining with independents (some of which she has since reneged on). Electorally the carbon tax is not a shining moment about which Julia can boast, no matter how right it may be in the struggle to reduce carbon pollution.

Here’s a quick multiple choice question. Which of the following historical statespeople and political leaders are remembered because of a tax they introduced?

a) Franklin D Roosevelt

b) Winston Churchill

c) John Curtin

d) Julius Caesar

d) Abraham Lincoln

f) none of the above

Gillard is blinkered by a political elitism underwritten by her background in law. A Parliament was voted for. She says a Government was formed by a majority of seats, irrespective of political ilk. Therefore when she got the Carbon pricing bill through Parliament it’s simply a sign we have a healthy functioning democracy. What she has disconnected herself from is the electoral mechanism of legitimacy and accountability. The Carbon Tax is the biggest fiscal reform since the GST, which incidentally Howard similarly implemented despite contradictory electoral promises. What makes her more electorally fallible than Howard (who went on to lead another decade) is that she has never won an election. Her Government sits on a knife edge, a coalition with independents. By not following through on promises about poker machine reform Gillard has treated Allan Wilkie and (though with less import) Nick Xenophon with insult. However as Gillard well knows, with this hung Parliament the independents are sitting in a once in a century position that they are loathe to relinquish. Gillard’s survival literally rests on this fact. This is the nature of her pact with the independents in parliament. What about her pact with the Australian people?

To have gone to the last election with a platform would have been and act of ‘leadership’. It would have not only legitimised the carbon tax but I would argue may have resulted in a clear majority in parliament. Rather than going out and selling her policy though she told the Australian people one thing on the Carbon Tax then did the opposite. To think that this will somehow be forgotten and not have an impact at the next election is disrespectful to the intelligence of the Australian people. And they know it.

There’s a reasonable chance this Government may not even last the full term. While Gillard has put this generational reform at risk through her disregard for the electorate and for the independents, she also has a member of her government who used a Union funded credit card to procure prostitutes.

Now to be fair to Craig Thompson – the NSW Police conducted an investigation and found that he had done nothing about which criminal charges could be laid. In the State of NSW it is not illegal to procure a prostitute. I’m paid fortnightly and what I do with the money I earn from my job is my business. If I choose to spend some of my private earnings hiring a prostitute that’s my business. My job happens to be with the State of NSW so my salary comes from the State Government – does that make a difference? No, because once that money goes into my bank account every fortnight it is mine. Some people’s remuneration arrangement with their employer is a little different however, and may include a corporate credit card with limited discretionary spending. The question of criminality pobably came down to whether money spent by Thompson using this credit card is part of his remuneration package or is official Union business. Because it could be either. The Murdoch media has trawled hard in their campaign to bring down the Government on this point. As former secretary of the Dobell FEC of the ALP a decade and a half ago, a journalist from The Australian even contacted me looking for dirt. He was very quickly disappointed because I had no opinion about Craig Thompson one way or the other.

The Federal Parliamentary Party are looking as though they may be fast-tracking their way to the depths that Kristina Kenneally inherited in NSW. The Bob Carr recruitment is ironic. It should have been a boon for the Government. The media however were given the opportunity to put the worst possible light on the negotiations surrounding it, which by and by were pretty benign. Of course there was going to be some jockeying for position. It is worth noting though that celebrity recruitment was not enough to prevent Mark Latham from taking the ALP to the bottom.

Or maybe gladiatorial after all. Who remembers the name of a single gladiator? Only statespeople are remembered across the millennia. In this country at this moment in time I don’t believe any exist. Churchill, Roosevelt, Curtin? A hundred years from now the names Packer and Murdoch are far more likely to be remembered than Gillard or Rudd. These are the times we live in.