When Kevin Rudd was elected as Prime Minister in 2007 I was pleased – not just because it meant the end of an era of industrial relations disaster and increasing xenophobia, but because he seemed like a nice guy – competent, and capable of leading Australia forward.
Though interested in politics, I wasn’t as involved as I’ve recently become. Even so, I started hearing about unrealistic expectations of staff, high turn over, trouble adjusting to the increased scope of leadership, micromanagement and an inability to delegate.
When the ALP caucus decided that three years was long enough, and decided to install Julia Gillard as PM – over her protestations – I was pleased. I (very) tangentially knew people who knew her, and I’d received an impression of competence, intelligence, big-picture thinking. Most of all, she seemed to be a superlative negotiator – adept at dealing with individuals, groups and issues.
I had also heard that she had previously been involved with two married men. I’m no fan of infidelity, but I do also think the greater moral onus is on the married party, for all that it’s almost always the woman who’s apportioned blame. Australian politicians, like politicians the world over, aren’t universally known for their fidelity, so why this aspect was so often trumpeted by her attackers I’m not sure. I do know that we have had, and it’s rumoured we continue to have, men in positions of political power who drape themselves with family, give speeches with their wives prominently at their sides, while having a long-term affair. This is well-known to the press gallery, and is not only given as a reason why they’re unfit for office but actively kept quiet.
A woman of integrity, PM Gillard took Australian to an election after she was installed as leader – and her party won*, but only because the minority parties and independents sided with her. Without a clear balance of power, delicate negotiations and compromise are needed to pass any legislation.
PM Gillard not only passed a record number of legislative changes, she managed two major reforms – the creation of a National Disability Insurance Scheme to allow Australians with disability, and their carers, greater opportunities, access and equity, and the most substantial overhaul and funding change to primary and secondary education since PM Whitlam introduced free tertiary education.
In addition PM Gillard introduced a carbon pricing scheme primarily intended to reduce fossil fuel use, through financial disincentive. Critics point to the small amount of revenue raised, conveniently overlooking the drop in power usage – it was they, not the ALP, who called it a tax.
And throughout it all, on almost every day of her Prime Ministership, Ms Gillard was subject to attack on three sides – as expected, from an opposition that was relentless and personal; surprisingly, from a press gallery that was myopic and often partisan; and, destructively, from an ousted PM who refused to put his ego and ambition on the back burner for the good of his party, his government, and his country.
And, after three years, two challenges, and an election date announcement, Mr Rudd was reinstated by caucus. After three years of criticism of PM Gillard, his supporters admonished us to be quiet in the name of unity, to pull together and save Australia from the threat of a very conservative opposition, poised to win. Forget their own continual sniping, forget the fuel they heaped on a bonfire of speculation – we need to be as one.
And I, like PM Gillard, did. I tweeted that I was disappointed, that I mourned the loss of a PM who was not only our first female leader but also – and more importantly – a superlative one, and I expressed concern that the reasons PM Rudd was ousted were unlikely to have changed. They were, after all, aspects of his personality.
I worked for a Labor win – I tweeted, posted, blogged and spoke with friends; I appeared on a YouTube ad, and (though I haven’t seen it) a nationally broadcast campaign ad in the last week of the campaign; I door knocked in a marginal seat; I letter dropped; I attended a workshop at Trades Hall in Melbourne; and I hung fliers about the risk Mr Abbott poses to workers.
Throughout it all I promoted the history of both parties, their traditional ideologies, and the perennial risk of the Liberal party to workers, the disenfranchised, and those who already have the least. I pointed out that Labor had trebled the tax-free threshold, and would raise superannuation contributions. But I couldn’t bring myself to say anything about PM Rudd, because the truth would be damaging, and I won’t lie.
So a silver lining of the ALP’s defeat – which is, despite media coverage, a small swing and nothing like a mandate – is that I no longer feel constrained.
I do not hate Kevin Rudd, but I am disappointed that we elected a small and petty man to an office that should be filled by people of scope and capacity. I wish he had lost his seat, and was thus no longer an internal force for fracture and disunity – though I suspect he’d then be on any commentary panel that would have him, exerting what influence he held. And I blame Kevin Rudd for the disintegration of a party who’s strayed from their ideals, and their base, but who had the potential to win this election, restore itself to glory, and serve the country that I love.
I hope that I, like many Labor supporters, can move on from the acrid recriminations that have beset us of late, and focus on what unites us. The Left needs to emulate the Right in one way – as George Lakoff points out in his superlative book Don’t Think Of An Elephant, the factions of the Right long ago tabled their differences to concentrate on their mutual goals, creating linguistic frames that are only reinforced when countered by the Left. It’s well past time we did the same – look to the future, fight the worst that the Liberal party has to throw at us, and begin campaigning for the next election.
My next posts will return to this blog’s original themes – the state of the state of Victoria under a Liberal Premier, and issues of health care, industrial relations, unions, and social justice.
*I say “her party won” because – contrary to the apparent beliefs of many Australians, this is not America – we vote for local representatives and their party. The only people who voted for Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott etc were those people in their electorates, which is how we (unlike the US) can have a change of leader without reference to the public.