Kevin let his “mates” takes the fall»

24 March, 2013 General news, Uncategorized0

Inside Labor’s leadership meltdown

Linda Silmalis and Samantha Maiden
The Sunday Telegraph
March 24, 201312:00AM

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Julia Gillard in question time on Thursday, just before the spill that never was. Source: The Sunday Telegraph

“UNDERSTAND the thunderbolt that occurred,” Kevin Rudd says of the moment Simon Crean went on national television to demand the Prime Minister call a leadership spill.

It was about 1pm, Thursday, March 21, the moment Rudd insists that Crean “spontaneously combusted”.

In the Mural Hall of parliament, Crean, a former Labor leader, fronted the cameras to reveal that he had visited the Prime Minister in her office and told her to stand down.

Crean had championed and mentored Julia Gillard during the Beazley years. Now, he sought to terminate her prime ministership.

But Rudd insists he had no idea what Crean was about to “tap” the Prime Minister, the method used in 1991 to rip down Bob Hawke.

“Nobody knew he was going out,” Rudd tells Agenda. “Between 1.30pm and 3.30pm, you are trying to work out which way is up.”

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JULIA Gillard and Kevin Rudd supporters both need to wise up to exactly what happened on Thursday, and why it happened.

Privately, some Rudd supporters are calling Crean “The Unabomber”.

But the truth is more complex.

For his part, Crean is disgusted. The Rudd plotters were disorganised, he says, and their candidate gutless.

“Chris Bowen was urging me on Thursday morning to bring it on quickly,” Crean tells Agenda.

“They seek to blame me now? They’re good,” he chuckles. “I got involved with what I believed to be the best interests of the Labor Party.”

Rudd and Crean were an unlikely leadership duo. After all, it was Crean who helped precipitate the premature 2012 leadership spill when he lashed out on radio at Rudd’s failings.

But, behind the scenes, Crean had been bagging Gillard over how she ran cabinet before the 2012 leadership ballot, and enthusiastically resumed transmission after she won. Gillard was flawed, he argued, and her fortunes would only improve if she listened to him.

Crean had been encouraged to run as deputy Labor leader by cabinet ministers Martin Ferguson and Chris Bowen. He was supposed to spark the leadership coup but went rogue on the timing. When he visited the Prime Minister, effectively telegraphing his punches, he didn’t tell the Rudd camp. Then he held his press conference despite Rudd’s entreaties to check with him first.

Crean and Rudd had held face-to-face talks twice in the lead-up to the foiled leadership spill. The first meeting was late last week, the second on Tuesday night. At that meeting, Crean again told Rudd he wanted the job as his deputy.

With Bowen as a witness, Rudd insists he told him he could not deliver him the job. “It was completely initiated by Simon,” Rudd says. “And I did not support it.”

Anthony Albanese, one of the few Rudd backers not to quit the front bench, was on a promise to become his deputy, Rudd insists. “Look mate, I can’t do that,” Rudd told Crean. But Joel Fitzgibbon and Bowen decided to back Crean as deputy prime minister. What they didn’t appear to have done was tell Rudd.

“Albo released them from any agreement to install him a deputy,” a Rudd camp insider says. Albanese’s view was that if push came to shove in a ballot, he could beat Crean, but he wasn’t prepared to play an instigator’s role, as Crean ultimately did.

On Thursday, after Question Time, Albanese advised Rudd he did not have the numbers. “This is madness,” he told Rudd.

The party whip Joel Fitzgibbon admits the numbers were finely balanced, the Rudd backers had 47 or 46 votes in the ALP caucus, close to a majority, but not enough.

Crean argued Rudd could not be resurrected unless he promised to change. Rudd needed to be a different, more inclusive leader and the Victorian argued he was an insurance policy, just the deputy, to ensure that that happened.

Rudd admits he sent Crean a frantic text message on Thursday morning after hearing he had fronted the Prime Minister in her office the night before.

Rudd’s text message was sent at 9.20am on Thursday. It read: “Gidday, Simon. I’m told you saw the PM last night. If that’s so and if it in any way touches the leadership, and if you are making any public comments, please give me a call beforehand. My position is as before. All the best, Kevin.”

Rudd’s message was that his public declaration that he would not challenge had not changed. Only a clear majority would get him over the line to be “drafted”.

But Crean never called Rudd back. Instead he called his press conference and went bananas. All of his pent up frustration with Gillard and Wayne Swan’s leadership and the lack of trust in cabinet processes tumbled out.

“People have got to believe we have conviction, that we believe in what we stand for, there is a coherence of message and we are determined to pursue it,” Crean said.

“I get so many people in frustration to me saying, ‘We are not going to allow that man (Tony Abbott) to lead this country are we?’ We’ve got to change it. I hope this circuit-breaker does this.”

During the confrontation with the PM the night before, Crean told Gillard her excuses about Labor’s dire poll numbers were about destabilisation. Leaking was a cop out. “You need to look at your own performance,” he said.

Victorians Kim Carr and Martin Ferguson, who lost their ministry jobs over the coup, insist Crean acted with honour, a reluctant conscript to giving the Labor Party the best chance at the next election.

“Simon Crean did a very courageous thing but no one followed him,” Senator Carr says.

Ferguson, a respected party veteran, quit his post not under the threat of sacking but despair over Labor. He urged the party to dump the class-warfare rhetoric embraced by Swan and Gillard’s British communications guru John McTernan.

Defending himself against allegations he chickened out, Rudd insists that it was his own supporters who insisted he should not run.

“I gathered my key friends and ministerial colleagues together … after Simon Crean’s statement and I asked for their views,” Rudd said on Friday. “I asked Chris Bowen for his views. I asked Anthony Albanese for his views. I asked Joel Fitzgibbon for his view, Richard Marles, Alan Griffin, as well as Kim Carr.

“And the truth is this, I asked them: ‘What are the prospects for us obtaining a significant majority?’ Their collective response was zero.

“Each of them said to me, ‘Kevin, I believe you should not run because it would divide the party’.”

In the bloody wreckage that followed, three cabinet ministers, a minister, three party whips and a parliamentary secretary – all Rudd backers – were sacked or resigned.

Some younger ministers had their fingers burned. Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare and SA Left powerbroker Mark Butler were both accused of secretly switching to Rudd before changing back. In a Facebook update on Friday night, Labor MP Laurie Ferguson accused Albanese and Butler of being “gutless wonders” for not quitting too.

NSW secretary Sam Dastyari was in the Rudd plot up to his knees. “Kevin was never going to challenge. Some members of his camp got over-excited, including Sam Dastyari,” one source close to Rudd says. For his part, Dastyari now describes claims he tried to bind the NSW Right to Rudd as “bulls**t”.

It didn’t seem the Right needed much urging, however.

Some in the Rudd camp were still at it over the weekend, insisting Gillard’s take-no-prisoners approach to terminating Rudd backers was not backed by Swan.

“Swan was trying to restrain her from doing all this. But she is on a jihad. A serious jihad,” one MP said.

Another claim was that Swan had been “planted” in Bill Shorten’s office during the leadership rumbles to babysit the Gillard-backer Shorten to make sure he didn’t stray. “Shorten is the biggest double- dealer in history,” one Rudd camp insider snipes.

But Shorten was doing the numbers for Gillard. He was one of the cabinet ministers dropping in on the secret council of war to sandbag Gillard’s leadership.

The location was Communications Minister Stephen Conroy’s office. In the midst of presiding over the bungled media reforms, the Victorian powerbroker was hosting frequent talks with Gillard’s numbers men office. In the midst of presiding over the bungled media reforms, the Victorian powerbroker was hosting frequent talks with Gillard’s numbers men Senator Don Farrell, SA powerbroker, Brendan O’Connor and Craig Emerson. Shorten and another “faceless man” of the 2010 coup, David Feeney, popped in to help.

The Prime Minister herself is businesslike, suggesting there was no great celebration after the ballot.

“How I felt was determined,” Gillard tells Agenda. “We’re moving on.”

As the challenge without a challenger unfolded on Thursday, Fitzgibbon, the party whip, had other coup management problems.

Dick Adams, the giant Tasmanian MP, was AWOL. Fitzgibbon had pleaded with him to stick around for the ballot but Adams had instead boarded a plane to a parliamentary conference in Ecuador. Some in the Rudd camp claim there was also a demand that Crean “show us the numbers”. They wanted Crean to send in the MPs he claimed to control in terms of votes so that they could “see the whites of their eyes”.

It was this delegation of Crean supporters that the Rudd plotters were waiting for before they wanted Crean to detonate.

But the Crean numbers never turned up. When Fitzgibbon heard that Crean had done a press conference anyway, he admits he couldn’t believe it.

“Oh mate, I thought. About what?” Fitzgibbon says.

And when Rudd was handed a note on Thursday afternoon advising him of the Crean explosion, Rudd was aghast.

“What the f*** is going on!” Rudd asked his supporters.

It was a good question.

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