For the first time since around 1916,Australia has a PM and opposition leader both born in the UK. What happened to Australia coming into her own?
If you haven’t taken the time, I highly recommend you watch Kevin Rudd’s final press conference – his farewell speech if you will (part 1– 2). It’s quite astounding the amount of change he has led in such a short time. While not a political historian, it strikes me as an immense amount of progressive change set underway; wide-ranging, forward looking and fundamentally humane in nature. It really puts Howard’s efforts to shame. That said, to so directly attack the power-wealth elite of this country, rather than conduct a guerrilla campaign, was brave, but stupid Kevin. To give in to rent-seekers and then give up so easily on the ETS, was to underestimate the resolve of the majority of Australians on this issue, and the disappointment you would receive in return. Kevin, such a pity you brought more management than leadership in relating to your parliamentary colleagues, and were unable to sell the story that would help voters understand your reforms.
To quote Guy Rundle from a recent Crikey email:
…[The Rudd government] never really told the story that would put its reforms in context. That story was an easy one to tell — the Howard government had bought itself an easy ride by ducking the difficult task of building a better country. It had let government schools, non-elite universities, and public hospitals fall behind, because it was unconcerned about making people’s lives better. It had shown its true colours by attacking the centrepiece of Australian fairness — wages, conditions, arbitration — as soon as it had control of the Senate.
In its place, the story would have gone, the Rudd government was going to defend and extend the Australian way of life, against the attempt to introduce a US-style capitalism red in tooth and claw. In addition to that, it was going to restart the push to make the country fairer, better in terms of the education people would get to get them along in life. Fairness at work, tackling the health system, education. Enough, as a core programme, for two terms, let alone one. So long as it managed to tell a story.
For reasons best known to itself, the Rudd government never told that story.
And while I have great respect for our new PM Gillard, and a bucket full of interest in where she will lead us and how she’ll do it… the naked short-term, fear-driven move to oust one of Australia’s previously most popular PMs within their first term of government, really leaves me shaking my head. Sure the polls had dived badly, and Rudd deserved this feedback. But the polls also made clear that voters had stopped listening to politicians of any strip some months ago. Not just Rudd.
My blind spot as a futurist was the expectation that it would be impossible for the Labour party to dump Rudd during his first term. Surely they’d recognise the waste of talent and potential number of elections they could win in the future. Surely they’d recognise that Rudd had just crashed after the honeymoon, and was starting to pick things back up. Surely they’d see this as the opportunity to establish greater influence on the PM’s office, and contribute to him adjusting his style to listen more to his colleagues, and that this would be a worthwhile journey in the polling wilds on the way to winning the second term – which they should win, although not perhaps resoundingly. Surely they’d see their longer term self interest in being able to win the next election, and allow Rudd to see through many of his reforms, and then dump him for the fresh face, the new agenda and go on to win several more elections. The basic question I put to clients, I failed to put to myself: Is it really impossible? What if…..
So now, my hunch is that Labour has just chopped one or two election wins off their potential trajectory. But then, as Rudd’s achievements and Gillard’s accent shows, a week is a long time in politics, let alone a year, or a full term. I look forward to being surprised. I hope that Gillard’s approach recaptures the hope of the nation which brought Rudd to power. One example would be to move directly to work with the Greens on the ETS. A move to the left on that issue alone would be great for the country, the world, and Labour’s election prospects: if only to stop the protest vote moving to the Greens and eroding their power base to achieve the rest of their reform agenda.
Whatever Gillard does, well, best of luck Tony. I think you’ll need it.