Tuesday, 21 February 2012

A party paralysed by ego and weak leadership

A party paralysed by ego and weak leadership

In my time I have seen political conflict, naked ambition, party room challenges, political positioning, skulduggery of various sorts, but I have never seen anything like the contest of Rudd v Gillard.

Until 2010, never had an Australian prime minister been stabbed by his deputy in his first term.

I know it is only one comment but when a backbencher says the former leader is a psychopath, you know that Labor has reached a new all-time low that reflects badly on Australia.

The Government is in paralysis. It has no authority to do anything. Yes, it can pass legislation but every piece of legislation is now under threat from a resurgent opposition. The leadership issue will have to be resolved. In the meantime there can be no sensible prospect of the Government making big decisions on issues like the referenda promised to the independents, school funding policy, and the urgent need to decide on a submarine fleet to protect our country in the 2020s and beyond.

The reason that Labor's faceless men, including the union heavies, installed Gillard was because Rudd's behaviour was erratic and he led a dysfunctional government and they thought Gillard would do better than Rudd. She failed to fulfil that expectation. The Coalition won more seats than Labor. Gillard ended up with a minority Government under the thumb of the Greens and a motley crowd of Wilkie, Oakeshott, Windsor and the left-wing Greens MP Adam Bandt. They all detest the Coalition; even Wilkie, who was duped and then unceremoniously dumped by Gillard, but they still support Labor.

The passage of time has exposed three critical aspects of this messy affair.

Gillard is not to be trusted; as evidenced by the promise not to introduce a carbon tax. This new tax was legislated after Gillard privately pressed Rudd not to proceed with his climate change policy and then campaigned against him for acquiescing with her position. Needless to say, the Australian public have lost faith with a PM who so blatantly breaks her word. Other examples, such as the private health insurance switch, have also dented public confidence.
Gillard is not in the same class as previous PMs. She could have survived as demonstrated by state leaders with initial minorities, who have gone on to build support. However her lack of authority and the inability to get on top of the job have undermined her position. Numerous examples, nearly on a weekly basis, have exposed her lack of political judgement. For example, her 'Toys R Us' speech at the National Conference last year contributed to the view that she is not up to the job and then the Australia Day affair showed that she can't run her own office, let alone the country.
Rudd has been tearing her down at every opportunity. It is laughable to say he has learnt from his experience as Foreign Minister and that he will be a better PM second time round. He has done one thing only since the Gillard coup; promote himself to revenge his overthrow. He is, if anything, more self-centred and more focussed on his own personal interest than ever. His return will tear the Labor party apart - not on policy but based on personality.
This is the real disaster for Labor. This contest has never been about policy because Labor no longer has a core set of values. Rudd and Gillard have both abandoned Keating's and Hawke's economic direction. As best as anyone can understand their view, they now adhere to strands of European democratic socialism but not with any coherence and, given the woeful state of European social democracy, not with any confidence. The lack of any philosophy makes Labor susceptible to pressure from minority groups, especially the Greens and the unions, both of which are further to the left than centre and right-wing elements within Labor.

An example of the 'suffocating' power of the unions was on show last week when the Government moved amendments to its legislation on the building industry. The legislation has deemed certain behaviour to be contrary to the public interest. The unlawful behaviour remains unlawful under Labor's changes but the amendment allows the private parties to agree to prohibit the regulator from pursuing unlawful behaviour. So the private interests are given the special right to nullify the public interest. The reason for the change has arisen because the unions have had to pay some huge penalties for unlawful behaviour. They don't like paying fines so Labor gives them the opportunity to coerce weak employers to agree to let bygones be bygones. It has escaped Minister Shorten that the point about a civil society is that the Parliament sets out standards and requires them to be observed. This incident reveals that Minister Shorten's insatiable ambition dwarfs his interest in upholding the rule of law; an unfortunate sign for an alleged rising star.

I do not know if Rudd will get back. But if his war against Gillard is successful then there are at least three options for Julia.

She could demand a Cabinet position. If she stays in Cabinet she will be forever taking notes and it will be for one reason only; 'Get Kevin'.

She could retire altogether. Kevin could make her High Commissioner in London. This would be the best outcome for Labor because if she stays then everything she says will be seen through the prism of leadership.

The best option for her personally would be to sit on the backbench for six months and not make any decisions about her future until she has had a chance to work out what she wants to do next. Making a decision in the heat of the moment when someone has just tried to finish your political career is usually problematic.

Whatever happens, it looks like an early election is well and truly on the cards. As Bob Hawke wisely once said about the Coalition, the party that can't run itself can't run the country. That is Labor's problem and a change is unlikely to make any difference. It seems that Labor has already sealed its fate.

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