Thursday, 14 November 2013 

Even down to the Hundred Days.

Even down to the Hundred Days.

The nation is calling on us, the politicians, to move beyond our infantile bickering, our point-scoring and our mindlessly partisan politics and to elevate this one core area of national responsibility to a rare position beyond the partisan divide.

Rudd, The Apology speech 2007

With the exit of Rudd from politics, Labor loses the only leader that has managed to win an outright election victory for the party in the last twenty years. The 2007 election result is now often seen as inevitable with the view that Howard lost to an “It’s Time” factor that comes to all long-serving leaders. Indeed, it is possible that had Beazley stayed on as Labor leader he might have also won in 2007. Who knows. But what we do know is that the polls showed that before Rudd took over, Howard was travelling more comfortably towards the 2007 election than he was towards his previous four victories. It was no wonder at the time that the overwhelming consensus from the commentariat was he was on his way to his fifth.

All that changed when Rudd took the Labor leadership in December 2006 and began what was to be the longest run of popularity of any Australian political leader since they began polling such things. Rudd’s popularity was not only remarkable because of its extent and duration, but perhaps even more so because of how little explanation there was for it. From the beginning it was assumed that Rudd’s honeymoon would fade like Latham’s, then, when that didn’t happen, the narrative was changed to explain his popularity and electoral success by Rudd being just another Howard.

That such contorted logic that claimed voters wanted to replace Howard as a way of keeping him was thought credible suggested the real reasons behind Rudd’s popularity were more awkward. Rudd’s popularity was not only an enigma to the political class, and to much of the media that follows it so closely, but, as suggested by Hawker’s latest book, was not even clearly grasped by Rudd himself.

Rudd’s popularity stemmed from two factors that have always shaped Australian politics but are uncomfortable for our political class and have usually been kept below the surface. The first is the influence of international factors. Despite the delightful conceit that Australian politics emanates from Capital Hill, in reality Australian politics is highly sensitive and reliant on international developments. Howard’s leadership floundered to plumb record depths of unpopularity until 9/11 and only lasted while the War on Terror did.

Rudd was an expert at capturing shifts in international developments, such as he did early in his leadership when he leapt on Howard’s comments about Obama being the preferred choice of terrorists in a speech that was a tour de force in turning into a positive what had been a long-standing negative for Labor. His ability to bring in the outside to disrupt Australian politics was something that he did right to the end as the Coalition continues to grapple with Australia’s northern neighbour today.

One of the reasons this blog was started in 2007 was frustration at what it saw as the under-estimation of international factors that would expose Howard’s grip on the political landscape being weaker than the media suggested. However, within months of this blog starting it became evident that there was a second more unsettling factor behind Rudd’s popularity that had always been present in Australian politics but he was now bringing to the surface – anti-politics.

The combination of a conservative left and a weak right has ensured anti-politics has always been prevalent in Australia. The erosion of the social basis of the major parties in the last twenty years has only exacerbated it and has been accommodated to by the major parties to some degree (especially the Liberals) and utilised by fringe parties and political figures. It is no coincidence that skilled practitioners like Hanson, Palmer, Bjelke-Peterson and Rudd have come from Queensland where, for historical reasons, the two-party system has long been weak.

But what Rudd did that was different to these other figures was to bring that anti-politics mood into the centre of the political system more successfully than anyone before. By pitching himself against the old politics but being firmly centred in it, Rudd was to kick off one of the most turbulent period of Australian politics since Federation.

It was anti-politics that allowed Labor to win an election by subsuming its brand under that of its leader in what Turnbull reminded us yesterday of that most presidential of campaigns, Kevin07. The campaign and victory would have only confirmed in Rudd’s mind that the party was an electoral liability and set him on a collision course that led to his dumping. But it was also anti-politics that meant after they did, and he was ostracised by his own party, it only made him more popular, resulting in his extraordinary return to the leadership despite nearly all of Labor’s power bases being arrayed against him.

The issue that best captured Rudd’s ability to translate both international factors and anti-politics to the domestic scene was climate change. As an international agenda, climate change was a direct challenge to Bush’s War on Terror and Howard’s resistance to signing Kyoto. But in the face of global catastrophe, climate change also more subtly delegitimised sectional interests like organised labour and business that had been the basis of Australia’s political system in the last century.

But the issue that most directly captured Rudd’s anti-political agenda was the deep sore point and failure of the Australian political project, the position of indigenous people, captured in the Apology speech of February 2008. The Apology speech was widely acknowledged by both sides of the House yesterday, but there are a few things that should be remembered about the speech that are now starting to be buried.

The first was that, despite the strong support for it from Labor at the time, it was a speech never made by either Keating, Hawke or Whitlam even though the Stolen Generation had been long known of since the forcible removal of indigenous children was stopped in the early 1970s. Secondly, while the Apology was seen as the culmination of a campaign of Reconciliation begum with Keating, it actually represented a sharp break from it.

The reason the apology took so long to make was that politicians were trying to work out how to make it without the blame being laid squarely at their feet. It was a problem to which the Liberals under Howard were especially sensitive and a reason why they refused to make it. Labor preferred to grapple with the problem but adopted what could be described as collective guilt, or by Howard as the “black armband view of history”, i.e. that it wasn’t just the political class that was responsible, but we all were (even those not born at the time).

But Rudd’s apology refuted Labor’s collective guilt approach, refusing even to blame those who implemented the policy. Instead he put the blame firmly on the lawmakers in Parliament. For Rudd, the Apology was intended to break up the political arrangement over indigenous affairs that he saw allowed such a policy to come into being. It was also why there was a third factor of the speech that the left today choose to ignore: he could make it while at the same time supporting that other assault on the political arrangement of indigenous affairs, the Intervention.

Attacking the political class while leading it was a contradiction that could not last both within his own party, when he was dumped, but also with the rest of the electorate on his restoration to the leadership. When Rudd returned from Elba, his last Hundred Days showed that he failed to fully understand the appeal in the electorate that forced his party to take him back. Yet despite that failure, what Rudd did do, even in that last short time, is hard to erase.

It was noticeable that the Liberals were far more eloquent in their valedictory speeches yesterday than the Labor side, which was still dealing with the trauma of the Rudd period. The Liberals were especially grabbing onto the Apology as they see it as continuing the shake-up of indigenous affairs started by the Intervention. The interest by Abbott in indigenous affairs is not just on the issue itself, but as a catalyst for a wider shakeup of issues such as welfare that was quietly started under Rudd. It was acknowledgment of the link between the Apology and the Intervention that led to Abbott making his striking criticism yesterday of Howard’s refusal to apologise as a “lack of imagination“.

But the Liberals will struggle to take this further because as Australia’s last political party, and especially under Abbott (as shown by his reaction to the expenses rorts), they are more vulnerable to the anti-political mood than Labor. While Labor’s discomfort is there for all to see, it is being forgotten just how much discomfort Rudd caused the Liberals. It not only led to Howard shedding pretty well everything he was supposed to stand for in the last months of his government, but went even further once they went into opposition.

The Liberals like to claim they were consistent on the Pacific Solution, but they dumped it in 2008-09. Howard may pretend that he was only joking about the ETS in 2007, but Turnbull was deadly serious on it by 2008. In fact by 2009, the Liberals were staring into the abyss and so concerned to protect their brand they elected Abbott, even if it meant forfeiting the 2010 election, which, despite the best efforts of Labor, they effectively did. Now in 2013, they are back in government but with the least popular leader and weakest honeymoon of any new government in living memory.

Labor yesterday preferred to focus on Rudd’s legacy of the party’s internal reform, a perfect summation of where it is at. Rudd’s departure will allow Labor to rest in peace and carry on the process of hollowing itself out even further under the name of “democracy” without the open threat to the power bases that Rudd’s electoral appeal posed.

Yet neither side will be able to recover its social base domestically, nor enjoy the single polarity of an international power as they did in the last century. Rudd’s departure does not mean the Australian political system will be any less vulnerable to an anti-political attack either from within or without. It’s just that it is unlikely next time it will be done with such panache.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Thursday, 14 November 2013.

Filed under Political figures

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32 responses to “Rudd”

  1. Michael (the other one who occasionally comments here) on 14th November 2013 10:49 am

    Hard to argue with any of that except the very last word. What “panache”? (Particularly if he only half knew himself what he was doing.) And even if there was “panache”, what good did it do him (and us) when he so clearly lacked administrative competence and, more importantly, political courage? The focus on The Apology is telling: it required neither of those.

  2. m0nty on 14th November 2013 11:04 am

    The main problem I have with this analysis is the recent election. Rudd was anything but an anti-politician. He used the same old tricks as the NSW Right has for decades: scare campaigns and gotchas, focus group driven and aimed at the Telly as if that’s the only media that matters. His talking points were tired and cliched. The title of his campaign was A New Way but there was no substance to it at all, no new way to be seen.

    Rudd burned himself out getting to the leadership. Once he got there, he had nothing new to contribute. He was just another politician.

  3. Laur B on 14th November 2013 11:08 am

    Panache is done with the blade . . .not a strip of thin tinsel … but as to what could be done with a strip of thin tinsel the blogging shrike chooses the word quite well . .except that I had never thought that in the flourishing of a strip of thin tinsel the word panache would appear on my vocabulary radar . .

  4. Danny Lewis on 14th November 2013 11:17 am

    I agree, Michael.

    The apology wasn’t Rudd’s baby (as many like to insist); it was Labor Party policy and had been for a while. The only reason it hadn’t been done before is that Labor had been in Opposition for 11 years!

    By all means talk about his legacy in relation to the handling of the GFC (no argument from me there), but let’s not try to put lipstick on the pig.

    Rudd’s overweaning ego, his micro-managing, his appalling treatment of both underlings and colleagues and his ultimate inability to follow through on his 1,000 policy brain-farts means his time as PM will be more broadly remembered as one of bumbling incompetence, rather than of anything approaching greatness.

    This is a shame and maybe with firmer handling from a trusted COS (a Credlin-like figure) his faults might have been wrangled in the same way Abbott’s have mostly been. This is the only way I can see that Rudd would have been able to follow through on the promise of his early years.

    And, seriously, can you talk about Rudd’s time in parliament without touching on his appalling behaviour after losing the PMship? I’m sorry, but any article which fails to mention that isn’t being politically or intellectually honest …

  5. David Rohde on 14th November 2013 11:57 am

    The source of my admiration of Rudd is actually the same that is widely described as his ‘great failure’. I think his attempts to influence the global talks in Copenhagen were quite inspirational. If the USA, China, India or Brazil had a leader with the enthusiasm and vision of Rudd, the world could be in a very different place right now.

    Although Rudd is partially responsible for the fumbling about domestic climate change policy, it is only right to acknowledge how difficult and ambitious a project he had. The energy sector and the public service at the time were widely talking about the end of coal, softened slightly by modest short term targets and investment in carbon capture and storage, but a huge change nonetheless. To actually end coal fired generation in a coal rich country like Australia is no easy task, and this is not so widely acknowledged.

    … but the international angle is in fact primary. For me the most disappointing aspect of the coalition’s direct action policy is not that it needlessly wastes money but rather that they are reducing their participation and credibility in international meetings.

    It is very difficult to accurately assign blame for the mistakes in Rudd’s final months in 2010. Certainly he was culpable as were Gillard and Swann, it made little sense that they should rise at his expense (in contrast a (say) Tanner, Wong ticket would have made at least some sense).

    Something that I haven’t seen any commentary on, but I think is worth speculating on a little is the fact that Rudd could choose his own ministry but he could not sack Gillard as deputy. This may have been a partial cause of the fumbling that occurred in 2010 before his removal.

  6. Siegfried and Rudd – Kevin the Illusionist Zipping Into A New Challenge | AusOpinion on 14th November 2013 1:51 pm

    […] things for The People by working from outside politics, rather than inside, as articulated here by The Piping Strike as well as here by Tad Tietze. Rudd’s position outside a faction helps with this […]

  7. bill rudd on 14th November 2013 3:17 pm

    The “Anti-Politic” describes best the mood in the electorate. Stark lack of voting choice for the electorate on election day as a choice between the two major parties, is excruciatingly frustrating to them.
    Clive Palmer demonstrates what is necessary to toss either side, and that is huge volumes of money.
    Time to dump the word Democracy: It is not a verb, and is not a doing word, unless invited into the inner circle, such as Eddie Obeid and his tight circle of friends in NSW Labor. Australian democracy is simply a “Hub-Club” of the inner circle, Clive Palmer is proof again for that point; demonstrated by the reformation of his own personal political base, following his expulsion from the Queensland LNP inner circle; but the expulsion from politics of the electorate, is a problem unsolved at present…!!

  8. The Piping Shrike on 14th November 2013 6:31 pm

    Interesting comments. Panache is a matter of taste, so won’t argue with those who disagree. It more referred to his political style than administration but then a lot of criticisms were politically motivated and getting through the GFC was a bit tricky, but anyway. Certainly I think the Apology was one of the more elegant speeches in Australian politics.

    Where I would take issue is that the Apology was little more than Labor policy. The Apology wasn’t enough of Labor policy for three Labor PMs before Rudd to make it. No one needed the 1997 Bringing Them Home Report to know what was going on, it was hardly a state secret.

    But it also misses the important differences between Rudd’s and Labor’s approach. Recall that there was mixed support for the apology before Rudd’s speech. I believe this to reflect the problems with Labor’s collective guilt approach that Howard exploited.

    Blaming everyone for what happened is a problem first on a logistical level given it happened more than thirty years before. But it also obscured what it was about.

    Indigenous “initiatives” invariably come from the state and political class because of the direct questioning of the Australian political project that indigenous identity poses, and that is where blame properly lies. It is why indigenous issue remains central for anyone who wants to do a proper analysis of the Australian state and politics, something that, of course, the Australian left has proved to be utterly incapable of.

  9. AshGhebranious on 14th November 2013 9:46 pm

    I did notice something else yesterday. Yes the speeches from the dispatch box by the coalition where lauding. But it was also aimed to focus the electorate on the last three years and how the ALP are ‘nasty’.

    But if you look at the coalition faces not speaking, there was a lot of concern. Steve Ciobo seemed to be gritting his teeth in anger. They had lost their pinata. Only this is not the type you hit. Its the type you hang for all to see and REMIND people who hit it.

    Today in the house, Abbott, who the night before praised Rudd, kicked the boot in when he could. And this culminated in tonight’s announcement of a royal commission into pink batts.

    The coalition will still hang Rudd high for all to see, but unable to want to strike the pinata, they will let Rupert’s media do the striking along with whatever findings a no doubt biased terms of reference will find.

    There will be no discussion about personal responsibility. No mention that one person stepped on a tool left by a colleague. No discussion about a person that used the wrong tool or the youth left to their own devices with no training. No talk of the man who died of the heat will be entered into as that will remind people of climate change, so his death is not considered in the three they are targeting.

    And any talk of haste will not mention the haste of small business as they rushed to get a slice of the cash and cut corners along the way.

    No. This will be a trial posed for Queenslanders and Queenslanders alone. A final way to discontinue their love of Rudd and as a result, the rush to the coalition. One final way to destroy what Rudd tried to do in Queensland and subsequently the rest of the nation.

    The southern states are still in anger over the way Gillard was undermined and replaced at the last hurdle, so they will no doubt gleefully watch as Rudd the Pinata is struck and struck again.

    Yet the result may not be what the coalition seek. What may result is general distrust of the established parties.

    So in a way, Rudd’s attack on anti politics may wind up ending in an attack on Rudd that creates anti politics.


  10. F on 14th November 2013 11:22 pm

    I thought all the lovely speeches in Rudd’s favour were quite bizarre, even if most of them were veiled attacks. All the sound grabs of the speeches from the day were highly positive towards Rudd, so any nuances were for Capital Hill consumption only. Do these people ever see themselves on the news?

    I think its remarkable that as one ‘anti-politics’ politician from Queensland bows out of the parliament, possibly the most ‘anti-politics’ personage ever enters it. Clive Palmer here, defending Rudd AND attacking the media establishment in the same sentence:

    Rudd on some level played the game. As you have said Shrike it was nigh impossible to maintain the illusion of “Attacking the political class while leading it”. Palmer does not play the game, and has no reason to start now. If Abbott was concerned about negotiating with Palmer & Co before this week, he’ll be shitting himself over it now.

    Oh and Ash….Pink what? I doubt that there is much appetite out in voter-land for what you describe.

  11. Dianne on 15th November 2013 4:59 am

    I don’t quite understand the anti-politics concept.

    Does it mean that the two major parties no longer represent themselves by a set of clearly defined, differing principles?

    If that is the case then all that is left is a brutal game of strategic power play. It certainly seems to be what the media is obsessed with these days.

    I am an innocent about these matters.

    I was not so naive though to see Kevin Rudd as the person to lead us wisely and well.

    PS, as you say we will never know if Beazley could have defeated John Howard. I suspect not. Beazley had been around too long like John Howard.

    I think Kevin Rudd represented real change and the country was jaded by Howard’s track suited Everyman caricature.

    But I think Julia Gillard could have led the ALP to a win against Howard.

    I think the popularity of Kevin Rudd is a myth.

    I am in the camp who believes he came to power because he was not John Howard.

    He came back to the leadership because he and Abbott did such a job on JG.

    His personal popularity did not last long and the vote he got in his own seat took a battering.

    As far as I am concerned his popularity is veneer-thin.

  12. Dianne on 15th November 2013 5:32 am

    Just to add ….

    I mentioned JG in a hypothetical sense. I recognise all the factional machinations in selecting a party leader.

  13. Political Animal on 15th November 2013 10:00 am

    Ugh, the Rudd love and misogyny still runs deep here!

    “Labor loses the only leader that has managed to win an outright election victory for the party in the last twenty years.”

    Geez, you think? And what if Julia had not been leaked against in 2010? Ya think she might now been starting her second term, esp if the King Rat had not whiteanted and destabilised her for three years?

    Loose the blinkers, PS, and you might be worth reading again!

  14. Political Animal on 15th November 2013 10:00 am

    “lose” not “loose” {sigh, damn typos!}

  15. Chris Murray on 15th November 2013 11:21 am

    Interesting and perceptive article. Hope both sides read and absorb.

  16. Political Animal on 15th November 2013 4:23 pm

    The polls were in Labor’s favor before the whiteanter took over from Beasley.

  17. The Piping Shrike on 16th November 2013 7:51 am

    You seem about as blissfully ignorant of what Gillard did very publicly and openly during Beazley’s time as you are on how to spell his name. Pip pip!

  18. Chris on 16th November 2013 12:27 pm

    Rudd’s legacy is too early to know, I think. Surely it will depend on how Abbott fares over the next three years and whether Shorten can make inroads.

    It seems to me that if Shorten was elected, when he would have been appointed by the factions regardless, that Rudd’s party reforms are the least of his legacy.

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  20. Dianne on 17th November 2013 3:41 pm

    Chris iI think Shorten will make inroads sooner than later.

    TA’s latest action in giving old navy vessels to Sri Lanka to stop people fleeing acknowledged persecution is sickeningly in marked contrast to David Cameron’s outspoken recognition of the ongoing plight of Tamils.

    It Is another indication that this govt shows every sign of being a cover-up operation. They came to govt by whipping up fear and concern and now they must tend the monsters they created.

    The Stop the Boats pledge has necessitated Abbott refusing to recognise the human rights issues in Sri Lanka. He has imposed a veil of silence about asylum seekers in general and the portrayal of the ALP as Tea Party loons is nonsensical.

    I doubt he has any plans for this country beyond dismantling and destroying.

  21. when the shrike jumped the shark on 19th November 2013 10:18 am

    “the Liberals… Australia’s last political party”

    Yes, let’s adopt a private ironic metaphorical theoretical discourse which sounds bafflingly bizarre to anyone who doesn’t already know the code.

  22. The Piping Shrike on 20th November 2013 7:53 am

    Jumped that one a loooong time ago.

  23. Ian on 22nd November 2013 11:06 am

    Pauline Hanson a ‘skilled practitioner’???

  24. Hartcher on Rudd and Gillard | PNCAU on 22nd November 2013 12:50 pm

    […] On links The Piping Shrike has a piece on the Rudd resignation. […]

  25. The Piping Shrike on 23rd November 2013 9:28 pm

    Well … she did quite well given how little she was running on.

  26. Riccardo on 24th November 2013 12:02 pm

    Interested in the comment about queensland, for historical reasons.

    Do you mean how qld lacked a capital, only had a seat of government at brisbane in the same way as most us states don’t have a capital?

    Is it the extremely right wing workers union and alp branch?

    I suspect the lack of a business community in a capital is the distinguishing factor, only a power struggle between a predominantly rural population of yeoman farmers and peasants and rural labourers, more like a southern us state. Alabama, not Illinois.

  27. The Piping Shrike on 24th November 2013 10:32 pm

    I more meant the decentralised low level of industrialisation in Queensland means that organised labour was less prominent and the two party system was weaker.

  28. Dianne on 30th November 2013 6:04 am

    Piping – Rudd is looking so old-fashioned. So yesterday.

    Internal ructions in the ALP don’t seem to matter much now.

    I would love to read something about the internal divisions in the Coalition. These have been brought into sharp focus with the GrainCorp decision.

  29. The Piping Shrike on 2nd December 2013 5:41 am

    A new post is coming. I sense a very strong desire to “move on”.

  30. atomou on 2nd December 2013 7:25 am

    Surely, it’s going to be ambassador to China!
    I mean, who else would have him?
    It would, of course be very cute, if the Uni of Adelaide offered him a job with so high a remuneration that he could not refuse! The Uni would be doing this, no doubt because of their sleek sense of mischief, evident already by employing Rudd’s colleague in the faculty of His Tory.

    But then, perhaps this new lot of thieves could open diplomatic relations with Taipei, now that affairs in that region are getting kitchen-ready.

  31. Riccardo on 3rd December 2013 9:24 pm

    Rudd studied in Taipei and speaks with Taipei accent all ‘se’ and no ‘she’, so making him our first ROC Ambassador in 40 years would be fitting

  32. atomou on 4th December 2013 6:34 am

    Thank you, Riccardo, I didn’t know that!
    The intrigue is gathering intrigueness!
    Let us see.

Comments are closed.