Let’s all forget 2007 – ALP edition

Wednesday, 7 July 2010 

Anyone old enough to remember this?

Those in the Labor party who are joining the media’s politically convenient Rudd-bashing are forgetting one politically inconvenient fact – there has been no government since Federation like the one they are now in, that came to power so reliant on the one they are now trashing.

Labor’s centring of their campaign around Rudd was in many ways a follow-on from the tactic employed by Latham. It represented an attempt to substitute an exhausted political program of a party with the personal values of a leader. In Latham’s case, it was initially quite effective against a Howard government locked into a bogus left-right culture war. Latham seemed to slide easily from left to right, making it hard for Howard to pin him down. Such ‘values’ like reading to children seemed to the government trivial and meaningless, but in reality it struck more of a chord with some in the electorate than many of the culture war values that was apparently supposed to give Howard a lock on voters.

However, Howard still had the security issue around the War on Terror to counterpose against Latham’s free-wheeling and in the end Latham’s go-it-alone tactic came unstuck with his unilateral promise to bring the troops back from Iraq. Reinforcing Latham’s image as a loose cannon at the beginning of the 2004 election with the question of “who do you trust” (including on security), and the rest is history.

Beazley represented the lurch back to the swamp of the past, riding a union led anti-Workchoices campaign. But by 2006, it was on again, this time with Latham backer Gillard now behind the values-driven leader Rudd. Rudd scaled down the Workchoices campaign and this time Labor was running a campaign centred around the values of Kevin Rudd. This included a highly personal ad run by the ALP on Australia Day 2007, where Rudd could talk about childhood, Queensland, growing up and stuff. It culminated in Labor’s most personal election campaign ever, Kevin07, where the party practically erased its own name in favour of its then highly popular leader.

Centring campaigns around a leader is nothing new for the ALP, of course. In a highly amusing intervention last week, Bob Hawke, never reluctant to show us his stigmata, tells us that he knows more than others about how Rudd feels. But in his empathy, he sagely reminds us of that old political truism, that it’s the party who chooses the leader not the public.

Funnily enough, however, while remembering his own dumping, Hawke forgot that other Queenslander who he knifed to get to the top. It’s a shame because if he had remembered it, he would have also remembered the reason, which was for precisely the opposite reason to the political reality he is now claiming; namely that the ALP was uncertain of victory in 1983 under Hayden and needed to change leaders, because the ALP (and Hawke) realised that the public needed a new leader to vote for in order to win the election that followed a few weeks later.

Yet while Labor centred their campaign around Hawke, he did at least personify a program; an accord with the unions. When the ALP ran on Kevin07, it was really about little more than Rudd’s own values, whatever they happened to be – everything else was up for review. This abdication of power by the party gave Rudd a lot of flexibility. It meant he could support the army going into the NT indigenous communities, talk tough on asylum seekers and turning the boats back and generally bat off any of Howard’s favourite themes. In the past it might have caused problems for Labor, but the party was (is) so comatose that Rudd was pretty well free to make it up as he went along.

However, while Rudd’s aping of Howard was picked up by the media, they didn’t pick up the other thing Rudd did that made him more popular than Howard ever was. Rudd defused the issues, not just by tagging Howard on it, but by exposing that the whole debate was a fraud because there was little that could be done anyway. On the asylum seeker issue, for example, Rudd never convinced most people he would keep the borders secure. What he did do was raise doubts that the Liberals could either. In talking about there being ‘no silver bullet’ and constantly talking up the dependence on international cooperation, he was doing no more than describing the reality of patrolling a 25,000 kilometre coastline and that Howard’s claim that only “we will decide who comes and the manner in which they will come” was just a pretence.

This meant Rudd could get away with on the asylum issue what the media said he was not supposed to be able to, most notably during the Ashmore Reef incident when the press waited for Tampa to return, but in the end it was the Liberal Colin Barnett who had to apologise for daring to suggest the asylum seekers blew up the boat (as it seems they did) and had to arrange a hasty visit to the hospital to meet the victims.

This was an important difference between Rudd and Latham. While Latham could veer between left and right, Rudd preferred to undermine both sides of the argument. Under Gillard, it seems we are back to Latham’s left-right tactics.

Gillard claims to want to move away from political correctness on asylum seekers, but in fact her entire approach to the issue shares the assumption of the politically correct left; namely that concerns about it are such a powerful inflammatory force in the electorate that it must be made a big deal of. The favourite touchstone to support such a view is of course that election, now almost a decade ago, when Howard was supposed to have romped home on an issue that, according to that latte drinking intellectual David Marr, touched off “savagery and hatred” in Australian public opinion. As though the issue of the boats at a time when the world’s biggest military power was moving to a war footing against the type of people who were supposed to be in them, is the same at other times when we’re talking about a few hundred hapless refugeess coming over the horizon.

The reality of the asylum seekers is that no government can control the borders in practice, nor politically can they push them back and watch children drown, or bring them in and tell those who worry about such trivial things to grow up. As a result, we have asylum seekers stuck in the same endless bureaucratic quagmire produced by a government that can’t act politically or practically. It will be the same under Gillard as it was for Rudd, Howard, Keating and Fraser. Asylum seekers may be an issue for many people, but whether voters can work through such a mess and base their entire decision on who to vote for on the back of it, is a different thing.

The only difference is that now Labor has decided it knows what is going on in the western suburbs of Sydney, as it has demonstrated so convincingly recently, and that this means the asylum issue should be made a key point of action. Some may say she is causing problems for Abbott, but in fact she is legitimising him and his irrelevant attempt to restore Liberal values that never existed. As Mumble sharply noted, in doing so, Gillard is basically saying the electorate got it wrong in 2007, not only in electing someone as flawed as Rudd, but going along with the way he downplayed the asylum seeker issue. Until now the Liberals and the media have been doing that, it’s fascinating to now watch the government itself doing the same.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 7 July 2010.

Filed under Tactics, The Australian state

Tags: , , , ,


28 responses to “Let’s all forget 2007 – ALP edition”

  1. janice on 7th July 2010 9:37 am

    I have to disagree with you that Labor and its supporters are Rudd bashing. There are possibly a few bitter warts who maybe felt hatred for the man, but IMHO the vast majority of Labor people do not downgrade Rudd’s achievements and remain grateful to him for ousting Howard and his government in 2007.

    Having said that, I believe also that the vast majority of people have moved on from their shellshock of the leadership change and acknowledge with some sadness that Rudd had reached his use-by-date, mainly because he’d been mortally wounded by the vicious media/abbott campaign and also because he failed to recognise the importance of keeping his team onside by consulting with them and ensuring they felt they were an essential part of the governing process.

    There can be no doubt that the assylum seeker issue is one that needs to be addressed and neutralised as a political football. Julia Guillard’s speech to the Lowy Institute went a long way to putting some perspective into the issue and explaining to the Australian people what is really going on and what a Labor Government will try to do to solve a problem that concerns, not just Australia, but the whole region.

    In Julia Guillard we have a Prime Minister who is frank, honest and not afraid to tackle the hard issues. She has a wonderful ability to converse clearly and concisely so that her words cannot be misconstrued by those who peddle misinformation.

  2. James on 7th July 2010 11:03 am

    The public needs education about the asylum seeker issue. If it’s such a big deal for voters, why doesn’t the PM do an address to the nation about it to educate people about the realities? For instance, most people who are illegally in the country are students or backpackers who overstay and who arrived by plane. But most people who arrive by boats are fleeing the Taliban or escaping the devastation of the Sri Lankan civil war. I don’t hear outrage in the community about Scotish backpackers being in the country illegally. An address to the nation would stamp Gillard as a strong leader. If she arms her convictions with the facts, that may shape public opinion to her benefit and tone down the hysteria.

  3. JimCo on 7th July 2010 11:31 am

    Agree with Janice. I don’t see too much Rudd bashing going on. Any that is lurking about is no more than the normal distancing of a reborn government from the problems (real or perceived) of its previous incarnation.

    Regardless of the moral rights and wrongs on this, I think Gillard has done a smart political deal on asylum seekers of the boat delivered variety. There is something in the policy for both sides. She has reclaimed the advantage and neutralised the issue about as much as she can. Which is not good for Abbott.

  4. nick on 7th July 2010 12:20 pm

    Enjoyable read piping. Agree this really is a 2nd order issue.

    The Gillard govt don’t look to have any real policy agenda unfortunately.

    Govt simply hell bent on trashing rudd and his agenda.

    The whole thing is still no where near passing the sniff test two weeks after the act and I’ve seen no signs of a believable story or agenda that can be sold to the electorate.

    Sad state of affairs.

  5. Doug on 7th July 2010 12:34 pm

    The departure of Tanner and the recently announced move of Faulkner to the backbench after the election are not encouraging signs in terms of whether a Gillard labour Government will actually stand for anything poloicy wise.

  6. Paul of Berwick on 7th July 2010 12:57 pm

    “Oh”, say the media, “she’s just copying Howard”. Ipso facto – the Coalition did govern correctly & were right after all.

    Mmm – analysis or a meme?

  7. prunella on 7th July 2010 1:37 pm

    ‘Julia, dont call me red just call me redneck’ is neither frank or honest. We are talking about politicians here. They like to talk a lot, be paid a lot and change nothing. Gillard is afraid to tackle the hard issues. The hardest issue is action on climate change. Have’nt the bastard boys behind her rise and rise worked out the spin on that yet?. We now find out that it was Gillard who talked Rudd into shelving the CPRS. In the meantime us Aussies are pissed on with this Howard years recycled mush on refugees and border protection. Refugees needing papers,( ie you have to be a legitimate refugee) I am sure that most refugees from the post WW2 DP camps in Europe came into Australia with no papers or with forged identity papers.

    The rhetoric around so called boat people is redneck racism.Perhaps with exception of Tamil Sri Lankans who apparantly sail themselves to Australia without recourse to people smugglers.

    Why doesnt Gillard go all the way and invoke the white australia policy? Better still resurrect Pauline Hanson and admit that she had it right all along.Shame Gillard Shame

    If you want a good laugh watch q&A on ABC.

    Last week it was that grubby little schoolboy Bill Shorten, this week it was an even grubbier Tony Burke. I will watch it every week to see if the ALP can go forward from zero talent.
    Not that opinion polls have much credibility aShe has already been exposed as ‘not getting’ what the op

  8. Ricc on 7th July 2010 2:54 pm

    Nope, agree with Shrike, not the first few posters.

    The point being that this is a classic Rees/Iemma swap or a Beattie/Bligh swap by a bunch of union staffers who are looking for a short term poll bounce across the line.

    Fascinating that Tanner and Faulkner are going. Done their job.

  9. Ricc on 7th July 2010 3:04 pm

    TPS runs a great site, and maybe some of the newer posters haven’t read the old posts.

    The main theme is that the Australian political system has hollowed out and no longer represents any fundamental political interests. If you’ve studied Politics 101 you’ll know about interest group theory and how people with like interests band together to create political movements and represent their collective interests in Parliament, the media etc.

    Now we have union staffers and ‘university undergraduate amateur conservative/libertarian cranks’ banded together to represent union staffers and ‘university undergraduate amateur conservative/libertarian cranks’ in the place where the ALP and the Liberal/National Coalition used to be.

    Rudd made the mistake of representing himself rather than the union staffers and the union staffers and ‘university undergraduate amateur conservative/libertarian cranks’ and has paid the price.

  10. Graeme on 7th July 2010 3:51 pm

    Ricc: ‘Rudd made the mistake of representing himself’?! Do you mean ‘presenting himself’?

    I respect Shrike’s theses about hollowed out parties, a baseless leader-oriented Labor, etc – although this analysis has been around since at least Whitlam’s time.

    But Rudd was never going to turn Labor into a Berlusconi style cult of the individual: the Kevin 07 gimmick not only proclaimed its own built in datedness, but the t-shirt brigade barely kept its smirk down whilst embracing it.

    Labor out of power will turn, as ever, to its union affiliates to keep itself solvent. One doesn’t have to have much time for the current fragmentary (but not Balkanised) factions to be averse to labelling anything to do with the labour/labor movement intersection as a ‘swamp’. Tanner was a denizen of that swamp, yet is universally respected; ditto Combet and to a lesser extent Ferguson.

    True, Labor masquerades (to itself if not the electorate) as a Social Democratic Party, minus such an agenda. Where Labor has lost its way is in not articulating the language, let alone policies, of ‘social justice’. Rudd mimed this in his Monthly articles, but never developed it. It is left forever playing on conservatively framed turf, or playing half-baked service deliverer in public health and education (without giving either of those areas the priority they deserve if they are to be the grounding for social justice). In Rudd, we expected at least a Blairite or Deakinite radical centrist, whose policy wonkery might have generated some compelling, neither left-nor-right ideas. The closest we had was the NBN. Otherwise we had statis.

  11. Scott on 7th July 2010 4:22 pm

    It’s incredibly depressing to think that News Limited journalists and a few pollsters are determining the direction of the country. It feels like the Howard era but less subtle.

    And if I hear the term working families again, I’ll barf. And how do you define one anyway? If it’s working it would imply it’s functional but in reality that’s a moot point. Federal politics has turned into a sale at Bunnings.

  12. The Piping Shrike on 7th July 2010 4:35 pm

    Gillard is an excellent communicator but I don’t think she put the asylum seeker issue in perspective. Rather she made what I see as a minor issue into a major one. This may be of concern to people out in the electorate, but firstly I don’t think such concerns are justified and secondly, as shown by what she proposed (little different in practice from Rudd or Howard) I don’t see it as a vote changer. The only thing it does is legitimise Abbott banging on about it for the last few months.

    There are no doubt fine individuals in the labour movement, but that’s just it, they are only individuals. The program of the labour movement is pretty well had it, as seen by their acquiescence to Gillard’s highly anti-union industrial relations framework.

    Finally the point I wanted to emphasise here is that precisely because of the exhaustion of core programmes like the protection of union rights that it was the ALP that handed over control of their agenda to Rudd, not Rudd who took over. Even distancing itself from Rudd is a bit of a problem because there was little else on which they made a case for government.

  13. Will on 7th July 2010 5:49 pm

    You have put the problem with Rudd beautifully:

    “Rudd defused the issues,… by exposing that the whole debate was a fraud because there was little that could be done anyway. On the asylum seeker issue, for example, Rudd never convinced most people he would keep the borders secure. What he did do was raise doubts that the Liberals could either. In talking about there being ‘no silver bullet’ and constantly talking up the dependence on international cooperation, he was doing no more than describing the reality…”

    That is exactly what he tried to do but I don’t think that people maintained their trust in his “description of reality”.

    In truth the vast majority of people in this country do not believe the issue of asylum seekers to be resolved and by pointing out the difficulties of the topic he allowed the framing of the problem and the ‘solution’ offered by the liberals to solidify uncontested.

    It is a good thing to reopen the case because in the minds of most Australians the idea that asylum seekers and in general refugees are a ‘problem’ has become set in stone.

    Whether Gilllard is going to try to reconfigure the issue or going to offer a fake alternative is yet to be seen… At the very least Gillard understands that the PM is a leader offering solutions to problems [even fake ones]. Rudd however wanted people to trust in his ability to follow through on process when dealing with problems: He presented himself as a public servant instead of a politician.

  14. john on 7th July 2010 5:54 pm


    The Bligh-Beattie swap wasn’t like the NSW changes at all. Beattie could have kept winning for as long as he ran, and retired because he wanted to. He’s Old Guard, not AWU, so he selected his own successor, Bligh.

  15. Stan on 7th July 2010 5:56 pm

    Shrike, I am inclined to agree with your last comment on this thread. Julia would have been better to leave the whole asylum seeker thing alone. As an issue it was bubbling along, just part of the background noise, and useful only to people like Andrew Bolt, whose audience was not going to vote for Julia in any case.

    The fairfax press was not touching the story in any sort of comprehensive way; indeed, as the boats began to arrive more regularly, mentions of them in the Age and SMH declined in inverse proportion. That left the subject for the Opinion writers who, like the Boltoids, were preaching only to their own choir.

    As for the ABC, well it had been a decent job of keeping the debate in neutral. Barely reporting the boat arrivals and, when the topic came up, generally declining to add anything other than the thought (shudder) that Abbott would resurrect the Pacific Solution. Jon Faine in Melbourne was particularly useful at keeping the debate on the odious nature of the Liberals, rather than the three or four boats a week.

    The ABC was actualy wonderful at suppressing the issue for Labor. Recall the Ashmore Reef inferno, which saw asylum seekers burn their boart and kill quite a few of their party in the process. At Aunty and Fairfax, the narrative became the muscular response by Navy sailors, not the fire itself or who started it.

    All very useful for us as we prepare to face the voters.

    But now Julia has screwed us and herself. Her dog whistles to the Howard battlers (read outer suburban bigots) was counter-productive, as all it did was remind them (a) there is a boat person problem and (b) Howard stopped it.

    The Timor idea is too close to the Pacific Solution to win points for originality, so that is a loss.

    Julia should have kept those flat vowels in her throat, talked about something personal (her love for Tim 😉 perhaps) and kept the honeymoon ardor in top gear.

    I see that today in the Age and on the ABC, the commentators are doing their best to bail us out, but I fear it won’t be anywhere near enough.

    Win or lose this time, I don’t think Julia has the right stuff to survive at the top for too long.

  16. Marilyn Shepherd on 7th July 2010 9:59 pm

    What none of you understand is that Gillard has always wanted this policy and got rolled by Rudd on it.

    She has no understanding of the law and never did and she has not bothered to find out.

    She said in that stupid speech, they are few, we are many, they are suffering, we must stop them.


  17. adamite on 7th July 2010 10:57 pm


    The other way to look at it is that Julia has now shown that she can take on a very tough issue and redefine it on her own, comparatively rational and moderate terms, while in the process exposing the empty rhetoric of her political opponent. On the basis of this performance I cant see Abbot laying a glove on her in the election contest. Interestingly, despite all the focus on differences, Rudd and Gillard have both emphasised the need for a consultative regional approach to the boat people issue in contrast with Howard’s (and Abbot’s) opportunistic, unilateral approach. I think the difference is instructive.

  18. Thomas Paine on 7th July 2010 11:22 pm

    I agree with TPS and would add that this was totally unnecessary of Gillard. People have knows Labor’s position to always be on the left and it is already factored into their thinking.

    Gillard’s conversation has now legitimised the ‘right’ side of the argument and pushed the solutions to that side. Previously consider ‘harsh’ solutions by the right are now not so harsh. Any solution short of a Pacific type solution will in the future seem weak.

    By engaging this issue at the beginning of her honeymoon she has made Abbott relevant, and bought him into the spotlight and given him higher credibility on the issue and as a alternate leader. She has in effect muddied her honeymoon with a contentious issue and used language that had the affect of mollifying some but offending many on her side. She should not take Green preferences as read.

    By also moving her general conversation to the right she has aided Abbott and the Liberals, giving them relevance and oxygen, a leg into the debate.

    The E.Timor solution was quickly hashed and it will be easy to find dissenters in ET govt and others. It can be depicted as an almost immediate failure. And soon as the next boat comes Gillard can be depicted an immediate failure on her earliest policy.

    Another thing that happens when a ‘popular’ leader engages with the Opposition leader on an issue is to give them reflected value and relevance.

    Gillard could have cruised to this election on her honeymoon, notwithstanding boats coming over the horizon. People already know that Labor will agonise over it, they expect it.

    Gillard would have lost some Labor voters, Green prefernces in this and maybe gained some others….how many of each we will know.

    But I think she has wasted a honeymoon.

  19. Thomas Paine on 7th July 2010 11:29 pm

    On the issue of Labor’s Rudd trashing, which we see by their officials in blogs and by the occasional MP (see WA), it is unprecedented. Its function is to help legitimise Gillard’s power grab by diminishing the former. It also helps to put all blame for ministerial failures onto Rudd.

    It is an indication of how pragamatic and unclean Gillard can be if she wants to.

    If she had retained Rudd in a ministry coming up to this election she would have gone some way to keep those who voted Labor only because of Rudd.

    I also think we shouldn’t assume that Gillard is to the left of her conversation and actions. She will give away any ideology for the sake of power, and as we have seen that includes dog whistling.

    We await to see how ideologically damaged she is when we see her ‘solution’ to the ETS.

  20. Jovial Monk on 8th July 2010 10:23 am

    Rudd is gone, the caravan has moved on.

    35% PV and 18% Green vote meant Labor would have lost the election.

  21. stevie on 8th July 2010 11:58 am

    Who is the fat girl in the middle?

  22. JimCo on 8th July 2010 12:06 pm

    “The other way to look at it is that Julia has now shown that she can take on a very tough issue and redefine it on her own, comparatively rational and moderate terms, while in the process exposing the empty rhetoric of her political opponent”

    That is my take on it.

  23. Ricc on 8th July 2010 4:10 pm

    The polling seems to suggest Rudd would have done a Howard, with a pre-poll drop and a rally on the day.

    This focus on marginals seems bizarre. Is not Tanner’s seat also marginal (or Albo’s or Plibersek’s?) You could lose 3 redneck seats or lose 3 green ones. Sounds like the unions don’t really care about ‘seats’ as such, but who’s in them.

    Anyway my hope is that Rudd has fatally wounded the idea of government as having any legitimacy or strength. Make them truly into the pantomime they are.

    I liked Shrike’s post about Beattie quitting “Another hospital administrator retires” because it pointed out how empty these positions are becoming.

    The depressing thing is opening the UK or US newspapers and the issues are the same, just the name of the pollie and some of the terminology differs.

    Bracks staffing his office with No 10 rejects also showed how empty modern western capitalism/democracy has become that even the passport you carry means nothing any more.

  24. The Piping Shrike on 8th July 2010 4:46 pm

    There is an awful lot of history re-writing going on. Before Rudd was dumped, there was not a single commentator out there who was saying that Abbott was more likely to win. Certainly you could have got good odds on it! No doubt there was a feeling that when the election got underway, with Abbott looking out to lunch, that ultimately Rudd would prevail – as Howard did from much worse positions.

    Must say, Abbott is looking less out to lunch now. Apparently the right-wing pundits were right. He was tapping into what ‘real’ Australia thinks!

  25. The Piping Shrike on 8th July 2010 6:36 pm

    By the way, the general expectation that Rudd would still win was pretty understandable. There has only been one time that the Coalition has won on a primary vote as low as they were scoring when Rudd left, and that was in 1998. I don’t think the Green preferences would be running their way like One Nation’s were then.

  26. Thomas Paine on 8th July 2010 8:00 pm

    [I don’t think the Green preferences would be running their way like One Nation’s were then.]

    If JGillard keeps on with her John Howard act some of the Green preferences may abandon Labor.

  27. The Piping Shrike on 8th July 2010 8:27 pm

    I know, the narrative is now getting very confused. Rudd was losing support because he was backflipping on issues like asylum seekers and ETS, so the solution is to really backflip, or something.

  28. john on 8th July 2010 10:12 pm

    @Thomas Paine

    That’s a pretty reasonable assumption. Especially considering some Greens and Socialist Alternative voters already preference the Libs because they want to force the people, or Labor, to be better.

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