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Ruddology - inside or outside the tent?

Nick Bryant | 05:11 UK time, Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The talk in the papers is of new eras, what with the election of a new premier in New South Wales, the country's most populous state, and the appointment of a new cricket captain, filling what is often referred to, semi-jokingly, as the country's second most important job (the first, needless to say, is the chairman of the selectors).

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd 10 March 2011

But what struck me this morning when I flew back to Sydney after a few weeks' absence was how the news agenda was pretty much the same as when I left. There's a new poll out showing that Labor's popularity continues to fall, this time plunging to its lowest level since 2001 in the aftermath of the Tampa crisis. There's another row over asylum seekers, with the government announcing the opening of a temporary new 400-bed detention centre in Tasmania to relieve pressure on the overcrowded facility on Christmas Island. And a couple of rugby league players are in trouble again - it seems almost mandatory - this time for public urination.

What gave the papers even more of a recycled feel was the presence on the front pages of one Kevin Michael Rudd causing more trouble for the woman who deposed him, Julia Gillard. Were we to borrow Lyndon Johnson's memorable aphorism, I suppose you could call it public urination of a political kind.

When I left, the former prime minister stood accused of essentially running his own foreign policy, with his open calls for a no-fly zone over Libya which at that time put him at odds with the US president, and thus the Australian prime minister. "He's out of control," one of Julia Gillard's advisors reportedly told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Now he has appeared on ABC's popular Q&A debate programme, and said that he was wrong to delay the emissions trading scheme, a decision that arguably cost him the prime ministership, and that unnamed cabinet colleagues wanted to ditch it completely.

Rudd has been accused of breaching cabinet confidentiality. "I do not believe that it is proper to discuss confidential discussions between cabinet colleagues," said Julia Gillard this morning, in a clear rebuke. The opposition has gone further, suggesting that he is "applying to be prime minister," in the words of the shadow Treasurer, Joe Hockey.

For Australian Ruddologists this is a key moment. It is right up there with his statement last month that he stood more chance of becoming the coach of the Brisbane Broncos (rugby league team) than recapturing the prime ministership, a caustic reprise, perhaps, of Julia Gillard's oft-quoted quip from May last year: "There's more chance of me becoming the full-forward for the Dogs (AFL team) than there is any chance of a change in the Labor party."

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard 9 March 2011

Clearly, their relationship is deeply dysfunctional.

Of course, strong governments can withstand poisonous personal relationships at their very heart, as evidenced by the Blair, Hawke and Howard administrations in their pomp. But what about a minority government that is slipping in the polls? It is not a good look.

Has the time come for Julia Gillard to decide whether she wants the man she deposed inside or outside of the tent?


  • Comment number 1.

    Well, I’ve got to say old Rudd was right about the no-fly zone but being right isn’t necessarily a guarantee of success. Being a Pom…, er, a person of British extraction, I recall the comments of Ted Heath after his replacement by Margret Thatcher. What an incredible sulk that was but I suspect it’s a useful parallel.
    Could it be that there’s a cunning plan to replace Julia Gillard with Kevin Rudd just in time for the general election, he romps to victory, or maybe limps, then he’s ousted again and we have Julia back in a sort of rotating Premiership.
    To be honest I’m not too worried about this sort of thing. Politicians, of all hues, come and go but many of them seem quite shocked when they do. They seem to forget that’s it is the nature of democracy to replace them and the nature of politics that sometimes it’s unfair.
    What concerns me at the moment is the $205 million trade deficit that’s come to light today. We really need to take care of the place particularly as I’ve just become a citizen.
    As for those naughty rugby players don’t they know Australia has an online public toilet map, I’m not joking, it’s here; . Surely they must possess fancy mobiles that would guide them to their nearest convenience. What a great service, what a great country.

  • Comment number 2.

    Welcome back have returned to interesting times.
    The short answer to your question is PM Gillard has no choice but to keep FM Rudd inside the tent...better to observe him from there than have him outside the tent.
    However, FM Rudd's comments on Q&A are part of a bigger picture which doesn't necessarily align with your comment "the news agenda was pretty much the same as when I left".
    Both major parties and the individuals within them are skirmishing to be ready for July 1, the date when the new Senate comes into play/power.
    PM Gillard's attacks on The Greens are an affirmation that Labor is very focussed on having the upper hand in the upper house.
    As well, in the event of an early election, Labor has rightly surmised that the only way to retain power is to regain the voters they lost to The Greens in the last election...therefore, the brand differentiation and the "stick".
    On the other side, many in the Coalition are clearly wondering if Tony Abbott can ever get to be preferred PM let alone become PM.
    Seems there is growing support for the return of Malcolm Turnbull.
    All of this will only be resolved AFTER all parties have had a good look at how the new Senate will operate.
    It is worthwhile noting that FM Rudd made his comments on Q&A AFTER PM Gillard began her attack on Senator Brown, and AFTER NSW's Labor and its Sussex Street gang, the faction most responsible for the demise of PM Rudd, were defeated.

  • Comment number 3.

    Nick, it's clearly a very different country (politically) to the one I left a year ago. So hard to believe that Labor could have screwed up enough that Tony Abbott was close to becoming PM, let alone taken seriously as a credible opponent.
    You can see why Gillard kept old silver hair around, she clearly isn't keen on foreign policy, but he would appear to be pushing his luck somewhat. Time for my former MP/PM to go? I reckon so.

  • Comment number 4.

    Stranger things have happened than a Rudd comeback however as he was even less popular with vast swaves of his own party than in the country I won't be laying any bets.
    Cainsy - love the Heath/Thatcher anology. Will this one run for years?

  • Comment number 5.

    Welcome back Nick. Debate has been recycling itself a lot recently I agree.

    On Rudd... Rudd got his first win since the Kevin '07 campaign through being a small part of the push to get a 'no fly zone' in Libya. Many political commentators have been saying he needed a political win as early as '08... it's finally come in 2011. So, what will Rudd do after his first political win in four years? It seems predictable... He'll let his head swell with even more delusions of grandeur than already exist, he'll bring up every single grievance he continues to bitterly hold onto and evoke the concept that he is the most hard-done by, poor chap who's ever wandered the halls of Parliament House!

    Rudd blame Gillard for suggesting he postpone the ETS, he blames the factions for turning off him quickly, he blames the media for not helping to sell his ETS etc etc... Rudd will blame everybody except himself. This behaviour is classic Rudd, he hasn't changed and he will never change.

    That said, I do believe Rudd has many abilities and as a minister, he has definitely achieved in the past and no doubt will in the future. However he fails so miserably on leadership and objective self analysis that his time as PM will never be able to escape the tagline of 'chaotic'. And for that reason, I believe Gillard did the entire nation a huge favour in taking the leadership from Rudd.

    It is no surprise Rudd hadn't had a win between '07 and '12 because it was during this time that he was the out-and-out leader... and Rudd is simply lacking in leadership abilities.

    P.S: Since when did 'thou shalt not publicly urinate' become one of the ten commandments? I reakon public urination sounds like something convicts would have done more often than not. All getting a little hoity toity I reakon

  • Comment number 6.

    The same truth unites both politics and bladder management: timing is everything.

    Kevin Rudd has seized the moment with both Julia Gillard dropping in the polls and Labour in NSW beaten at the ballot box, to cause maximum mayhem. He clearly is a liability for the PM, but does she ditch him now or hold on for a better moment? Anything goes in politics but even wars and natural disasters haven't stopped Labour's decline in the polls. So its hard to see what else could result in a turnaround in their fortunes. Perhaps a major disaster inside the Coalition's ranks is too much to "cross one's legs" for?

    In the main its not a single issue that sinks a government at the ballot box, but rather a death by a thousand cuts. Over time the NSW government had accumulated a catalogue of failings that individually could have been withstood. So much depends on how many policy setbacks is Gillard willing to endure. And which policy dilemma will trigger that moment between Gillard and Rudd - who stays and who goes?

    As for public urination, a genuinely unlucky sod could get away with being "caught short". But add a few more things into the equation like: highly-paid, high-profile sports with a recent bad PR problem, particularly relating to alcohol and women, being caught in a dark alcove with trousers down in the wee (sorry) hours of the morning does not add up to a favourable outcome.

  • Comment number 7.

    Gillard and the party obviously didn't take Machiavelli's advice in regard to half- hearted action against political enemies,that is, ensure that Rudd was too far from the tent to make mischief.

    Both Rudd and Gillard are poisoning Labor's electoral chances,so I'd recommend a slow boat to Antarctica for both of them,the party should sack them before the voters do. Labor has amazingly, replaced one politically inept leader with another,and,to compound the disaster, they're feuding.
    I'd agree with the idea that an indicator of their sheer ineptness as politicians is the fact the Tony Abbot got within a seat or two of becoming PM.


    If you are worried about a paltry $205 million trade deficit I'd advise you to never,never,never check on Oz's private foreign debt level.

  • Comment number 8.

    I've said it before, but Australia lost two highly able party leaders in Kevin Rudd and Liberal Party leader, Malcolm Turnbull. What those two guys learned to their folly is that Australia isn't the parliamentary democracy they thought, but a quasi-presidency.


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