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article imageOp-Ed: Australia: Revolt against Rudd will be ugly

By Paul Wallis     Jun 19, 2010 in Politics
Canberra - The image of Australia as a nice place for relaxed politicians is going to be on hold for a while. PM Rudd is in big trouble, and the sound of knives is being heard throughout the land.
A leadership revolt is in the air, and whatever happens, it’s not going to be pretty.
Elected in 2007 with a huge win, Rudd is nobody’s idea of a fool. He survived the murderous Labor competition to become leader, too, which is about as much fun as swimming the Pacific inside a shark. With great energy, he swung into major reforms, and got a reputation for being a hard boss. So far, so good.
Then, this year, the wheels fell off, all of them. In the greatest reversal of political profile and positions since Ben Chifley sent in troops against the miner’s strike, everything collapsed.
1. The Emissions Trading Scheme, a pillar of election promises, and no small amount of grandstanding about environmental credentials, went up in smoke.
2. The Home Insulation Scheme, another environmental initiative, was bungled, resulting in several deaths, and a major investigation into widespread fraud.
3. The 40% super tax on mining produced a ferocious response from the mining industry, which even left the Liberal Opposition in their wake in terms of attacking the government.
The result of all these merry misadventures is that Labor now has a primary vote of 35%, the lowest in decades. Labor's credibility has been maimed, severely. Rudd’s own popularity is now historic, in that many people now want him to be history. These setbacks have appalled the Labor Party, so much so that the convention of saying nothing negative about policy has vanished.
For those who don’t know, the Labor Party in crisis is about as squeamish as a chainsaw mass murderer trying for a personal best score. It has a left and right wing, both of which not very cordially loathe each other on occasion. Power brokers in the Labor Party aren’t known for their collection of Nobel Peace Prizes, either.
The choices of alternative leader are easy enough: Deputy PM Julia Gillard, or Deputy PM Julia Gillard, or perhaps even Deputy PM Julia Gillard. There isn’t anyone else, and everybody else is very strongly on the nose with the public at the moment. Treasurer Wayne Swann, heavily identified with the mining tax, will have to fall on his sword, or someone will help him fall on it.
That’s not all bad news for Labor. Gillard has done the almost impossible already, getting genuine respect as a hard case in Canberra. Her political technique is excellent, and not much gets past her in media presentations. If Gillard becomes the next PM, Labor can at least be sure it’s not getting a dud.
The real bad news for Labor is an unwholesome déjà vu. This is the second time in so many years that an Australian political leader has been hanged by a high profile issue, and left swinging in the breeze by his party. The other was former Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull, also hung out to dry in an absurd, indefensible position.
Coincidence, or have Australia’s political scientists been doing more than watching reruns of Lost?
The Liberal Party, unlike the Labor Party, is urbane to the point of being pretty revolting when it dumps its leaders. Its members give embattled leaders everything short of actual support as required, and then give their equally undivided loyalty to the next lucky leader.
Australian politicians as a species can be classified as mollusks when necessary. Thick skinned, bottom dwelling filter feeders. They only open their mouths to eat. Sleaze isn’t exactly unknown, and if you look in a pocket, finding a politician is no great surprise.
What’s a surprise in this case is that Rudd, who’s an ex-diplomat, and knows the game, has been left holding so many babies. Politicians don’t need to go looking for problems, and he would know that. Politicians, in fact, are often donated problems by their friends and advisors.
As a load of unsaleable garbage, the mining tax would take the cake as a prime example. Australians don’t lie awake at night hoping for a new tax. Particularly not at 40%. None of the usual precautions against a suicidal policy seem to have been taken in this case. There was no sounding out, no obvious sign of policy evaluation. That’s extremely suspicious. It's like a doctor not doing a diagnosis before an operation. It's not supposed to happen.
For the Labor Party to be genuinely that careless is a real concern. It’s not really too probable, because this is only a first term, and first termers tend to be more cautious. For it to provide a short pier for someone to take a long walk is much more likely. Like Turnbull, Rudd has found himself without support, and in mid air with an impossible issue.
Wile E Coyote had much the same problem, but he was syndicated. The question is, has Australian politics entered a new, virile, even more mediocre stage? Can we now elect people who can be removed at will by any tedious little maggot in a position to make policy? Or is this Canberra at its unhygienic best, a septic little country town full of no-hoper political time servers with nothing better to do than make Australia look like an idiot factory?
I ask because one thing is becoming obvious. Rudd and Turnbull both have one thing in common. They put in a lot of work. These nutcase slapdash policy approaches were obviously created by people who do very little work of any kind. Responsibility for errors of judgment or political naiveté is personal, but policy responsibilities are everyone’s business in politics.
Like Mr. Rudd, the Labor Party should be watching its back. If you want to trust anyone in politics, wait until you’re dead.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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