Paving the way for Rudd

Thursday, 22 December 2011 

We are us.

J Gillard

It is not so much that the Labor Party is now controlled as fiefdoms by factional warlords, as that the factional power struggles of the past have been replaced by . . . nothing. Nobody is in control here, if even anybody is actually at home.

Laura Tingle Financial Review

First the usual disclaimer. The possible return of Rudd would have little to do with opinion polls. It certainly would be nothing to do with policy. Any cigarette papers between the Prime Minister and her Foreign Minister have more to do with tactics than any policy difference. This is not leadership differences over policy differences, but the reverse.

There has been one underlying theme in Federal politics this year, and that’s the steady breakdown of the traditional power bases within Labor, and the return of Rudd would be a result of that. The year started off badly with the disintegration of the Right’s power base in NSW in March, and then proceeded to get progressively worse as the government, supposedly brought about to revive Labor’s fortunes, ended up doing the exact opposite. 2011 was the year that it became clear that the Labor Right’s electoral pragmatism, what had been the clearest sign of its social relevance, had broken down.

That Rudd’s return will be about the internal dynamics of the party than anything else is why, despite the end of the year showing little change in the government’s dismal polling, it was two internal events, the National Conference and the ministry reshuffle, that have brought a leadership challenge closer.

First, the Conference. Labor’s support for same sex marriage that it won’t force its MPs to vote for and therefore make a reality, can surely have pleased no one. Although Labor activists were celebrating; presumably on the fact that same sex couples can now get married in the ALP, if nowhere else. Meanwhile the leadership’s compromise will leave the Prime Minister having to cross the floor to vote against her own party’ platform to only remind everyone of a debate she lost. The idea from some Labor enthusiasts that this mess will now put pressure on the Liberals to allow a conscience vote is fanciful (besides the fact that Liberal party rules allows a vote on conscience against any policy anyway).

The uranium debate at least went more the leadership’s way. Not surprising, given the left’s opposition was so empty and stale that it is still centred on the NPT, a treaty that even the powers that drew it up are now seeing as an anachronistic. A treaty that says it’s OK for the US to have nuclear weapons, but not a major emerging democracy, was an easy target for the leadership, who made hay of reminding the left that current ALP policy meant sale of uranium was permissible to China, but not to India.

Understandably most contributions against the policy change steered well clear from the geopolitics of their argument and instead we had a carnival of anti-science fears about nuclear power. It reminded yet again that the left’s pro-climate change stance comes less from a “respect” for science than that it suits an anti-capitalist agenda, just as the right’s “critique” of climate change science is for the opposite reason. It was also a reminder just how politics has supplanted religion as the main ideological barrier to scientific development today.

The only decent contribution from those opposing the sale came from one delegate who asked that if the NPT was redundant, then why remain a signatory? This was a good point, but then it’s understandable that the US would be reluctant to abandon a treaty that gave it such a privileged position, even if geopolitical necessity to isolate China now made it necessary to make an exception for India. It’s contradictory, but then the Australian government has no choice but to follow the US, no matter how tortuous it may be.

If the uranium debate was as expected, the final important debate, that over the internal party structure, was even more a non-event than this blogger thought it would be. The Faulkner report was never released, except the bits that hurt Rudd, and we had the farcical creation of a directly elected non-rotating National President for three years that won’t have a vote on the National Executive over that time.

Adding to the powers of the National President, then taking it away, smacks of a botched compromise just as for same sex marriage. While Gillard got some flak for her performance at Conference, Laura Tingle put her finger on the real problem revealed; the operation of power brokers has broken down. With a dwindling grass roots membership that is certainly in no position to take-over, no matter how much lip service is given to party democracy, the real content of such democratic talk was revealed, namely the eroding power of the faction bosses with little to put in its place.

It was similar story with the reshuffle. While Gillard has retained Rudd’s power to appoint the size of the Ministry, the difference was that it would be with the approval of the factions that brought her in. But here again, while Gillard got the blame, the reshuffle highlighted that the normal faction dealings that would deliver the Prime Minster a working solution did not happen. Instead Gillard was left with neither a factional system that could deliver an acceptable result, or the authority to over-ride them.

At the beginning of this year, this blog suggested that the main question in federal politics this year will be whether Gillard manages to position herself clear of her backers. She hasn’t – and now the government, and her leadership, enter 2012 under threat as a result.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Thursday, 22 December 2011.

Filed under State of the parties

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10 responses to “Paving the way for Rudd”

  1. charles on 24th December 2011 7:16 pm


    The proof that the problem is not politics but the people that are reporting it.

    It got boring by about the 4th version last year. Can we move on to actually reporting what the government is doing.

  2. The Piping Shrike on 24th December 2011 8:15 pm

    That’s precisely what I’ve done here. I presume the reshuffle and the Conference were both the government.

    Or I could talk about pushing for the squalid little Malaysian solution for the 4th(?) time?

    I think you mean something nice about the government.

  3. charles on 29th December 2011 8:56 pm

    No Piping Shrike I don’t mean something nice. Couldn’t care less if we have on shore processing or the Malaysian solution. It’s just more of the froth and bubble.

    I mean reporting on the real legislative agenda.

    While you and those of your elk are focusing on the froth and bubble this government has legislated changes that will have as fare reaching effects as those implemented by Whitlam (should this government be followed by someone as competent as Fraser).

    And all we you can do is go over and over a period gone where manufacture was important and manufacturing unions mattered. Period gone.

    It no longer about the allocation of resources to capital or labor (which I think you have realized, your just assuming no one else has), it’s about the allocation of resources between nations, the fact that resources are limited, that we probable can’t burn the last drop of oil and keep a temperate climate, and the destruction of manufacturing profitability by the rise of China.

    In my view the Carbon trading scheme is a modest, but is a start, in encouraging economic activity in new generating capacity and carbon secretion.

    The NBN will give us the infrastructure we need for the future.

    The National disability Insurance scheme is on par with the medicare when it comes to changing how we fund these sort of things.

    Super profit tax and the things in funds is a large scale change to the tax system.

    Radical changes all, and you want to focus on froth and bubble.

  4. Thomas Paine on 30th December 2011 1:55 am

    “Radical changes all, and you want to focus on froth and bubble.”

    Nonsense. A carbon tax that is basically Rudd’s scheme that the Greens decided they had to support this time around. Nothing to do with Gillard whose position was always to can the ETS/Carbon tax from early on. She was forced into this one.

    Basically Gillard completed some of the stuff Rudd had on his agenda.

    But radical changes all? LOL

    You mean say something nice about Gillard. Well I could say she is more like John Howard than many in the Liberal Party. That is a nice thing to say, if you are on the right wing.

    Just how Howard must be laughing now that Gillard has gone full monty on his Pacific Solution. Howard wins on Gillard’s desperate need to finds ways to politically nullify issues, regardless. LoL

  5. The Piping Shrike on 30th December 2011 6:15 am

    To me this government has been “froth and bubble” from the word go. Gillard didn’t come to power over any serious disagreement with Rudd over the agenda. They sacked a sitting Labor Prime Minister because of internal manoeuvrings dressed up with a bogus electoral justification.

    In fact, if anything, the first thing Gillard did was to back away from the program you say this government is about. I agree that asylum seekers is not a major concern, but it was Gillard who made it the number one issue, while putting climate change action on the backburner. The only reason we have ETS legislation now is because the re-election campaign was such a flop that Labor lost its majority and so was forced by the Greens to bring forward the ETS to keep their support.

    I agree too that capital-labour relations and left and right don’t mean much anymore in current politics. It’s why I think this government’s constant scare stories that the Libs will bring back Workchoices are just empty scare-mongering and her idea that it’s “game on” with Abbott ring so hollow, as does the obsessing about him at every press conference.

    That the government might now be trying to make a virtue of an agenda that was forced on them is understandable, given that their manoeuvrings have been so disastrous. But it’s not only a major re-writing of very recent history, but to me just yet one more political manoeuvre.

  6. Riccardo on 30th December 2011 10:20 am

    The real issue in this country isn’t the decline of manufacturing or the rise of China, but why with terms of trade in our favour we aren’t profiting from it more (in the short and long term).

    It’s because Australia is a failed construct. Designed to legitimise British colonisation after the fact, and at a time when the British themselves could hardly care less, which is why we didn’t have to fight them like the Yanks did.

    The South East was intensively settled but apart from short run gold strikes there has never been that much demand for product from the South East, especially after wool ceased to be a staple textile.

    Reality is the profitable dirt and rocks for export are in the north and west, while the people are in the south and east. The political system is unable to readjust to this reality. Nor are we a Norway or UAE, either stuffing our bank account full of profits, nor finding alternatives to mineral/energy exports for the rainy day.

    This country endured several failures:
    -failure to recognise previous occupation
    -failure to settle in environmentally adaptive way
    -failure to thrive without government subsidies
    -failure to develop sensible internal political boundaries, now states with arbitrary borders
    -failure to grow in population (Europe cast off hundreds of millions of people from wars, persecution and famine, most ended up in North America. Others were not welcome here, as TPS has pointed out with George Mega)
    -now the bankruptcy of the political model, that originally was designed to accommodate divergence of trade versus autarkic orientation, then to accomodate capital/labour share of income, now purposeless.

    We could turn into Norway if we wanted to, and it isn’t a ALP versus Libs thing. It’s Left to the extent that we plan rationally to achieve collective goal; Right to the extent we need to live within means and be careful with our money.

    But no, like the farmer in the joke about the lottery, who is going to keep farming till the money is all gone, we are going to keep being Australian till its all gone 🙁

  7. charles on 30th December 2011 9:46 pm

    Piping I basically agree.

    My own view is this government has basically been a success, but I doubt if it would have been without the minority partners actually forcing it to have an agenda.

    The question is, in my view, who is using who?

    To my mind Gillard would have had a lot less power if she was running a Majority Labor Government. The independents have made it quite clear that if the Labor machine dumps Gillard they dump the Government (one of the reasons Ruddstoration is nothing but a press wet dream, and after the about the 10th round I am fed up with it).

    In the past I think the Labor machine has made it quite clear it stands for nothing, so I doubt we would have seen the changes from a majority Government, liberal or labor.

    Remembering that Gillard is an excellent politician (which means you really don’t know where she is coming from) and that she is from the left faction, I ask, do we have the fist Labor Left (what in the hell do I mean by that, perhaps reforming is a bitter word) Government since Whitlem with the left faction having little to do with it’s creation and the traditionally strong right faction powerless to do anything about it.

    I do find it difficult to see how you can blame Labor for making the boat thing important; too stupid to do the right thing and ignore the crap dished up by the papers and the Liberals yes, responsible for the circus no.


    Basically,your just another winging Australian, I don’t mean that as an insult, your part of a fine tradition. My own view is the mining tax was the best solution I have seen for the Dutch disease (, it’s a pity the Labor Machine did not follow through, but we are getting a second byte at the cherry, with the super profit tax, another radical and useful reform we might see, because this has been a reforming government. Another reform that has little to do with Labor/capital.

    Thomas Paine
    The boat people thingo and gay marriage thingo are part of the bloody circus; the former has cost us about a billion dollars so far, with the previous 4 governments being guilty of throwing the money down the toilet), the latter is nothing but froth and bubble.

    Personally I find it difficult to believe an atheist who lives with a bloke is going to be that fussed about the definition of a word in the oxford dictionary. I can see her being fussed about the difficulties the issue would cause in the Labor party.

  8. Charles on 1st January 2012 8:22 am

    Piping you might find this interesting.

  9. The Piping Shrike on 4th January 2012 12:27 pm

    Small “c” charles (apologies your comment got caught up in my trusty spam collector), I think Gillard has been successful in portraying the independents support as a result of her negotiating skills which has been to her benefit, although I think the real reason the independents supported Labor was that given by Windsor, i.e. that Labor were least likely to go to the polls and so change the current finely balanced Parliament that is so much to the independents’ advantage.

    I agree that the independents have given the government an agenda that the power brokers would have been reluctant to bring in. It’s an interesting idea that Gillard has used the independents against the power brokers to bring in something like the ETS and so delayed the need to take them on directly. But this assumes that Gillard wants to take them on. While I’ve no doubt that Gillard is an astute operator, I still believe from what she has said and written in the past that she is trapped in the mind-set of the existing power bases (especially accepting the “pragmatism” of the right) rather than going beyond it.

    Maybe now that the balance of has edged towards Labor in Parliament we will see more of the “real” Gillard emerge, but her performance in the brief period immediately after she took over and while she still had a majority was not encouraging.

    Of course I would agree that it was the Coalition that made the hoo-hah about asylum seekers, but the problem was that Gillard (but starting with Rudd in his last months) decided to join in.

    Big “C” Charles, I will have a look.

  10. fred on 15th January 2012 5:37 pm

    A concept and tactic relevant to this discussion.


    My recent discovery of BillyBlog and associates has been a revelation for me.

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