Fear and loathing of Rudd was his own doing


No one moved against Rudd merely because he treated colleagues with total disdain. But it ensured that when the challenge came, success could be achieved at record pace. The margin, had a ballot occurred, would have been embarrassingly large. Faction leaders didn’t make caucus members hate Rudd; no, that was all Kevin’s own work.

Hate, by the way, was the right description. From lowly backbenchers to cabinet ministers, I have never come across such loathing towards a leader before, let alone a leader who achieved the biggest swing to Labor since World War II at the 2007 election.

Faction leaders can never expect to be loved. They will never be thanked by those who benefit from their actions. The media love to bucket them. Faction leaders are poll driven, disloyal, brutal and not nearly as intelligent as those who comment on them. The vanquished spit their venom in their direction and the victor makes sure he, or in this case she, must distance themselves from these terrible people.

Senator David Feeney, arguably the leader of the charge, told me three or four weeks ago that if the challenge actually happened, I would be staggered at how little support Rudd really had.

Obviously Feeney knew more about the caucus than his then leader.

Bob Hawke was smart enough to know that faction leaders could be useful. Factions perform one great, important function. They bring discipline to parliamentary life. When Gough Whitlam’s first treasurer took his first budget to caucus after the 1972 election, a couple of hours before it was due to be delivered, his caucus colleagues made several changes to Australia’s most important document.

That kind of disaster simply can’t happen any more. Those dreadful disloyal faceless mindless faction leaders have made certain that the leader and the cabinet almost always get their way. On the occasion when Labor leaders are defeated in their own caucus the state of the polls is taken into account and it should be.

If you have been in the Labor Party since your teens, if you have lived and breathed Labor all your life, if you care at all about those in this country without a quid, you don’t sit idly by and watch a Tony Abbott come to power.

For all the trauma it causes, for all the opprobrium it will bring you, you do what you have to do to make sure your party is in with a chance of victory. But not everything in modern politics is poll driven. Yes, the polls do help politicians know what Australians want. But that knowledge should also come from getting out of Canberra and meeting as many people as they can and actually listening to them.

And it has been virtually impossible to engage in any conversations in Australia over the past few weeks without being assailed with real invective against Rudd and his tax. That tax did him enormous harm. It proved the point that he was a law unto himself and that he would listen to no one.

What possessed him to think that he could get away with making such a big move against such a powerful dynamo in our economy without any consultation? Despite Rudd’s claims to the contrary, no one was asked to comment on the details of this tax, even when it began to turn sour. The consultation was only about the minutiae, not the threshold and not the rate.

Australians would want a greater share of the extraordinary profits achieved by the miners if it was explained properly to them. But they expect fairness and if there is no fair go, they won’t buy it.

One newspaper editorialised at the weekend: “Gillard is likable, and formidable. But what is disappointing that her first utterances – on the mining tax, and yesterday on population policy – seem to be completely poll driven.”

Inherent in this sort of arrogant analysis is the idea that if a big majority of Australians agree on something, they are probably wrong.

While the new Prime Minister might differ with that journal or her predecessor, it doesn’t mean she is wrong and it doesn’t mean she is adopting that position because of the polls. Bob Carr has been articulating the argument against a big Australia for a decade when there really hadn’t been a poll on the issue. Maybe people such as Carr and the PM can be given the right to form an opinion of their own.

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