Kevin Rudd: The Ultimate Media Sponge

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Well, in retrospect – surely one could have predicted this.

Past performances would tend to indicate that any time there is clear air in federal politics; the dark Rudd-clouds roll in from the north and quickly rain on the ALP parade.

The second day of the 44th Parliament (the first real day considering that day one was hilariously ceremonial) started relatively unexceptionally. Members of Parliament convened, argued about debt, foreign policy, climate change legislation and taxes. To summarise, the politicians debated policy. Gasp. But Rudd sat, biding his time. Knowing that he still had a revelatory ace up his sleeve.

It was not until early in the evening that Kevin07 / 747 / 24/7 rose to his feet and announced to the House of Representatives that he was retiring from federal politics. Tony Abbott himself had to rush back to the chamber in order to be present. Reports indicate that dear old Albo was the only one who had any idea of what was about to happen.

Seriously, Rudd had to wait right up until the start of the new parliamentary term to make this announcement? This was the first chance for real debate to be discussed and analysed in the media, however at the end of it all we were still talking about Kevin. The evening news and following day should have been devoted to debt ceilings (which, incidentally, are redundant in Australia as far as I can tell), asylum seeker policies and the carbon tax repeal – but instead we were forced to sit through painful tributes to the man who has been an attention-seeking missile for as long as I can remember.

Bill Shorten’s largely unscripted response (how tricky would that have been to craft with less than 10-minutes’ notice?) was made slightly less awkward by the fact that he had eventually supported Rudd’s return to the Prime Ministership only a few months ago. Surprisingly, it was the new Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s words that seemed to be most genuine, with a heartfelt thank you for the apology to the Stolen Generations.

Kevin Rudd’s path through the last seven years is strewn with the political carcasses of a number of people. These include, but are not limited to Nicola Roxon, Craig Emerson, Greg Combet, Peter Garrett, Simon Crean, Martin Ferguson, Stephen Smith (the ultimate shit-sandwich eater, poor guy) and of course Julia Gillard. Many of these people nailed their own coffin in the end, but they certainly weren’t hindered in that task by the Ruddbot. I wonder how many of them were throwing shoes at their television watching the footage of him tearing up and being applauded.

There’s no doubt that the Labor Party will see Rudd’s resignation as an overwhelming positive, although I don’t think they can realistically expect for him to fade quietly into the background. I’m sure he’ll be back in front of the camera in good time, possibly crafting a career as the next ex-politician media commentator. I can only hope that they pit him against Mark Latham on an Insiders-style panel show – now THAT would be worth watching.

Now, it really is time for me to … refrain from punching the television screen in frustration at having to watch Kevin Rudd saying the ‘zip’ line for the 100th time.

 

Gillard: The Telemovie

It’s not often that I say political drama is too much, but when it crosses the boundary into actual, proper, scripted drama – I have to protest.

The Australian has just reported this afternoon that Rachel Griffiths has signed on to play the role of Julia Gillard in a new television drama. The Melbourne TV production company WTFN (an appropriate name under the circumstances) has acquired the film and TV rights to Kerry-Anne Walsh’s book, The Stalking of Julia Gillard.

Oh dear.

Perhaps it is just me, but I can’t think of any form of film adaptation of the period of federal politics between 2010 and 2013 as being anything other than a tragi-comedy, particularly as those involved are still Members of Parliament and essentially employed to represent the Australian public. Film adaptations of historic political events such as Hawke and Curtin were made many years after the events in question – at least enough time had passed for the viewers to be able to disassociate from the story being told.

No doubt, there were some incredibly tense and dramatic moments during the Rudd / Gillard era – however there were also many points at which the entire situation descended into farce. I’m unconvinced that it will be possible to adequately convey the tension (and not to mention the clear confusion) within the Labor Party with all of the events so fresh in the minds of the audience.

Another interesting consideration will be in the details of the reasoning behind the various leadership changes. The drama would be inaccurate if it did not focus on the role of the factions and the intra-party politics in both Rudd1.0 and Gillard’s demise, however the inclusion of a Bill Shorten character will presumably be an extremely unappealing prospect to the Labor Party.

My final reservation is potentially a bit controversial. How do you portray the character of Julia Gillard without appearing to mock her? Presumably Griffiths will don a red wig, but what of the other physical (and vocal) features of our former Prime Minister? If you ignore them and just plonk the actress as she is in a two-piece skirt suit in the House of Reps with a standard Australian accent, the underlying message might appear to be that you could not convey the right dramatic tone trying to recreate the character too closely. This is akin to saying that Gillard as she is cannot be serious (and as such we may have hit upon one of the least fair aspects of her struggle to be taken seriously as Prime Minister).

The other end of the very pointy stick is that Griffiths in a body suit with a Crocodile Dundee drawl would almost certainly be ridiculous.

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All of this ends nowhere in particular, other than with the thought that perhaps we should let this particular history become a little less recent before we move in for the docudrama kill.

What’s certain is that this is just another distraction that the new opposition could do very well without – on top of all the campaign post-mortems, tell-all books, Mark Latham-spats and other hyphenated kicks in the teeth.

Dirty and Direct

News reports today indicate that Labor may be considering “recognising the Abbott Government’s mandate” and rolling over on the issue of the carbon tax.

Early signs from the new opposition tended to indicate that they would fight tooth and nail to keep the tax by blocking it’s repeal in the Senate, even if it forced a double dissolution election. However even during this posturing, there were hints, the merest of signs, that this may not have been the view of the entire party.

In my opinion, Labor would be unwise to do anything other than let the repeal of the legislation go through. The carbon tax has been nothing but a source of intense political pain for the government ever since it was introduced following the 2010 election. This is after its very existence was strenuously denied by the then-Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten would do well to take Julia Gillard as a perfect example of what not to do. Gillard was famously stoic in the face of intense criticism, however her judgement on when to dig her heels in was almost comically bad. Granted, I have the benefit of hindsight, but it seems to me that Julia had a knack for identifying which battles would wound her most grievously and then choosing those as the ones to fight most valiantly.

Kevin Rudd was of course the complete opposite. Running away from the ‘greatest moral challenge of our time’ was not his finest moment.

Shorten should recognise that, love it or loathe it, he is bound to the opposition side of the chamber for at least the next three years. During this time, he will have far more success tearing apart the Coalition’s Direct Action policy if he is not at the same time shackled to a tax that can be blamed for cost of living pressures. The beauty of opposition is that you can create stunningly detail-free policies that are not bound by the strictures of reality and claim that they will achieve pretty much anything. The next three years should be spent promoting a more effective and efficient emissions trading scheme (or whatever) that will far outstrip Direct Action.

The other benefit of ditching the carbon tax is that it is just one less link back to the dark days of Rudd / Gillard government. Obviously, Bill ‘Faceless Man’ Shorten would do well to erase as many of these as possible from the public consciousness. He’ll never get them all, there are still a few former ALP heavyweights yet to air their dirty laundry in public. Nicola Roxon gave hers a good shaking out a few weeks back and Bob Carr has just delivered his kick on the way out the door. Personally, I think Swanny’s will be a real treat.

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Shorten Get Down, Good Lord

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As Margaret Thatcher once said – in the face of all the recent scrutiny centred on the leadership of the Labor Party, there really was no alternative. Thatcher may not have been referring specifically to Bill Shorten rising to the rank of opposition leader when she first uttered these words; however I daresay she would have agreed.

After much refreshing of my Twitter feed and email on Sunday afternoon, it was finally announced that Shorten had won the contest against Anthony Albanese. With just over 60% of the caucus vote and 40% of the party members, Shorten triumphed with a final count of 52.5%. That’s not much, granted, but compared to the winning ‘margins’ of some new Australian Senators – it’s a positive landslide. These two results were nothing if not easily predictable. Shorten was always going to win the caucus vote. At the same time, it was clear that the party members were not going to be easily convinced that they should forget about his (very recent) past as a ‘faceless man’.

Shorten’s campaign in the lead up to the vote and the announcement that followed was a little bit chaotic. It wasn’t quite Kevin Rudd in the final week of the election campaign, but there were some definite thought bubbles expelled along the way. His lack of experience in campaigning for the public vote was clear – he’s only been in parliament since 2007 after all. That’s three elections in total. One win, one loss and one … well, 2010. Albanese, on the other hand, is a veteran of 17 years.

Where Shorten does excel, is in negotiating results. Hence the solid caucus vote (and his subsequent choice of deputy).

I feel sorry for Albanese. I daresay that he would have done a solid job as a reformer within the ALP and a valiant Tory fighter in Parliament. He’s so genuine, the ultimate underdog. But that’s just the reason it’s best he didn’t win. Albanese would have just been another step on the road to the inevitable ascension of Shorten. The Labor leadership speculation would have just continued, day in, day out. It’s been common knowledge for years now that Bill Shorten is Labor’s Prime Minister in waiting – speculation that Shorten himself has done little to dispel.

The results of the Labor leadership election will certainly prove problematic for Bill. Not having support of the party members (and having this known as fact, rather than just as speculation or the result of polling) will be seized upon by the Coalition. Christopher Pyne has already gleefully touched upon this during an interview with Annabel Crabb on 7:30.

Shorten needs to nix this one immediately and get down (no diggity) to the business of being in opposition. Questions about his family, likewise, need to be briefly addressed and then closed off. Governor General Quentin Bryce’s offer to resign following his ascension was not a smart move in my opinion. As far as conflicts of interest go in Australian business and politics, being related by marriage is not high on the rap sheet. Bryce’s offer only gave credence to anyone who had suggested that it compromised her, or his, position.

The fact that it was Tony Abbott who rejected her resignation isn’t much of a help. I may be biased in this particular matter, but it was refreshing to see that not all incoming governments immediately sack the current head of state when presented with the opportunity.

Labor of Love

The battle for the leadership of the Labor Party between Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese could not be more different from that which raged between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard only weeks ago. If Rudd versus Gillard was pistols at dawn, Albanese and Shorten is akin to a polite argument over who should eat the last Tim Tam at afternoon tea.

Granted, there are a few key differences. Rudd and Gillard were fighting bitterly over the Prime Ministership of Australia, whilst ‘Albo’ and Shorten are vying for the poisoned chalice that is the leadership of a first-term opposition.

The other major difference is that, in the current round, the party faithful get their say. Those 40,000 bedraggled Labor members who have continued to stump up their annual fee, despite the fact that their political representatives occasionally appeared to be trying to drive them away, are now holding 50% of the vote in their hot little hands.

It’s fair to say that, while the caucus may continue to vote along factional lines and in accordance with certain backroom deals, the rank and file members feel no such pressure. Therefore, one could argue that 50% of the vote will be made up of people who are actually going to vote for the person that they want to lead their party. This is a crucial point – they aren’t going to vote for the person who they think will save them the most furniture based on polling (Kevin Rudd) and they aren’t going to vote for someone, anyone who isn’t Kevin Rudd (Julia Gillard, obviously). They are going to choose the person whom they believe will best lead the Australian Labor Party in from the cold and away from the land of faceless men, grandiose narcissists, forgotten moral challenges and remembered taxes.

Hence the reason for civility.

Albanese and Shorten are also very much aware that a bitter scrap over the remnants of the leadership would only prolong Labor’s voter-imposed stint in the naughty corner for demonstrating that the party hasn’t yet learnt its lesson. This is particularly important for Shorten, whose involvement in the previous two leadership changes is still fresh in the mind of the public.

The other reason that neither candidate is openly criticising the other in their attempt to get ahead is that I suspect neither of them will be terribly disappointed to not be chosen. The role is a very important one, as the leader will be responsible for some serious renovation work on the structure and integrity of the party – however, the very nature of the work will earn this person enemies within the party (reform is never easy and political apparatchiks have long memories).

With the first of two public debates scheduled for Sydney tonight, it will be interesting to see just how reluctant each of the candidates is to make definitive statements regarding their opinion of the other. I suspect that it will be something of a love-in, with the only distinctions being drawn along the lines of exactly how they intend to rebuild.

It’s a pity, really. I do love an Albanese rant. He’s rather good at them.

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