Friday, February 24, 2012


Kevin Rudd is about to announce he's going to challenge.

Of course, he's saying he's going to "consult with his colleagues" first.

Ho ho. He's a joker, isn't he?

This is the form guide for the challenge . . .


Quite understandably, many Labor politicians have been coming up to me in the street and asking, “Nic, who should I vote for?” I tell them to search their own conscience – not because I think they'll find an answer, but simply because it sounds suitably portentous and informed. But the continuing demands for advice have become so insistent there appears to be no alternative. That’s why it's finally become necessary to provide a form guide for a race that began, quietly at first, last November.

But now the filly and the stallion have entered the final straight. Everyone knows that the race must finish by next Tuesday, the date of the next caucus meeting, because there's only room for one jockey on the podium. Julia Gillard, who just one week ago was cantering well ahead of Kevin Rudd has, once again, cannoned into the rails, lurched across the track and seems to have lost her sense of direction. Although she is well ahead no one should doubt her almost instinctive ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Nevertheless, even at this late stage the smart money remains hesitantly in the punter’s pockets. No one's quite prepared, yet, to wager large sums on Rudd returning to the dais. That wariness appears to increase the more closely acquainted individuals are with the man the party almost unanimously decided to dump just over a year ago. So let's turn to the questions in the hope of finding some answers.

Kevin Rudd’s been plotting to regain the leadership since the moment he was deposed. Should I reward treachery?

The only reason Rudd’s campaign to regain the leadership has received any oxygen is because of Gillard’s contributing stumbles and blunders. No one else can be blamed for the shambles her government has become. Rudd simply believes he can sell the message better than she can. It would appear difficult to disagree.

So Rudd deserves another chance?

He doesn't disagree he was a disaster last time, but says he’s now “changed". While writing an unauthorised biography of Rudd back in 2007, I came across numerous people who had worked for him in Queensland when Wayne Goss was Premier. At that time he exhibited all the same tendencies he later demonstrated as Prime Minister.

Is there another alternative?

One will emerge. Bizarrely, Gillard isn't yet willing to admit that she is fatally crippled. No one can recover from the dark place she now inhabits. The slow drift to Rudd is becoming a surge while her fingers are being prized, one by one, from the throne. The only power she has left is to be a kingmaker – to nominate her successor. If she dallies will be too late. It probably already is.

What should Gillard do?

The answer to this question changes by the moment, simply because events have now taken on their own momentum. Actions that just days ago could have been acclaimed as “wise choices" would now result in utter disaster. You can almost hear the slamming of doors as the seconds slip by. Each one represents another option that has been closed off to Labor.

So Gillard should sack Rudd?

This is the only decisive action she can take. Last week Gillard couldn't call a leadership ballot because it would have made her look weak. Think of it like a tennis match – you can't serve if you don't have the ball. Rudd did, but he knew if he called on the ballot Gillard would smash him. So instead he kept dancing around the baseline. Somehow she has to force him to bring it on.

The party has had leadership rivals before. Why can’t it just settle things the old way?

Those disputes were at least ostensibly grounded in rival visions for running the country. This time it’s difficult to understand exactly what would change. More critically, though, the entire process of government has stopped while everyone’s standing round, shouting “fight, fight, fight”. It’s pathetic. Do you really think the UN wants us on the Security Council when we can’t even organise our own government.

Can anyone ever treat Labor seriously ever again?

Not for as long as it remains caught up in this introspective vortex of back-biting and personal invective instead of putting policies forward to run the nation. That time will, in all probability, come. In the meantime the party is being torn apart by personal ambition. This fight has nothing to do with policy. And that’s why the current mud-wrestling match is so enormously debilitating.

Does any of this matter?

Not really. Labor is facing almost certain electoral disaster, although the current childish squabble is probably making it worse. No matter which figurehead is on the prow of the good ship Labor, voters have stopped listening. The crew is apparently unaware that the boat is beached high on the shore and that neither of the alternative “captains" has the power to summon the waves to refloat it again.

Personally I blame the media. Too much attention is being devoted to the leadership struggle, when really this should be completely irrelevant. Voters should be focusing on the policy differences between the rival candidates for the top job. These issues are far more important for the country than who happens to be living in the Lodge.

Thank you. But I’m afraid you’ll have to remind me; what exactly are those policy differences again?

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