Nicola Roxon has been chastised for her criticism of Kevin Rudd. Photo: Andrew Sheargold
Nicola Roxon has been roundly chided, not least by journalists, for letting it all hang out in her John Button lecture so far as the failings and the bastardries of Kevin Rudd were concerned.
She didn't tell me a thing about Kevin Rudd that I and most of Canberra did not already know. She probably told us a few things about herself, and her colleagues, that we had only suspected before - particularly about their spinelessness and lack of assertiveness against an overpowering Kevvie. This is very interesting, and worth coming back to, but my primary purpose is to draw attention to the way in which the new powers that be do not want any real inquests into what went wrong in the Labor Party over recent years. Even some of the press, by its manner of treatment of Roxon's speech, or by direct criticism of it, seems to act as a policeman telling her she has misjudged and to shut up.
Roxon is an insider, but the problem of her speaking her mind, at least to outsiders, is that it could invite counter-comment. That might be from Rudd himself, old staff members, Labor representatives who were of the Rudd camp, such as Anthony Albanese or Joel Fitzgibbon. This might start another fight and appear as signs of party disunity.
Adding further to the ''undesirability'' of such plain speaking is the fact that discussing ancient Labor history - particularly in colourful terms - has the capacity to ''suck all of the oxygen out of the room,'' to ''lead people to focus on the past, rather than the future'' or to ''have the Labor Party talking about itself,'' rather than the wickedness of the Liberals, the needs of the Australian people, or, perhaps, matters of future party policy or strategy.
Heavens! It might further lead to discussions about which frontbenchers, or people in leadership positions, had been assets, and which were duds during the Rudd and Gillard governments. This was clearly not resolved by the caucus election of a new front bench. Or it might inquire into the competence of Labor communications strategies or parliamentary tactics. Or even, perhaps, prompt discussion on the loyalties or capacities of particular players, many still in the game.
It is not to be assumed that Roxon's contribution to the party's fortunes will draw unstinting praise in such a dissection. Or Shorten's. Or Wong's. Or Conroy's.
Discussion of this sort would obviously be undesirable, in the open at least, for the shusher class of insiders, and not only from tenderness of consciences of people such as Bill Shorten, Anthony Albanese, or the league of former organisational hacks and tactical geniuses now occupying sinecures in the Senate. Best simply to shut up, surely Nicola.
One can imagine that a parliamentary team, wrecked and battered by the people's judgment, but also still bruised and bleeding from the intrigue, bastardry and verbal violence of the Rudd-Gillard years might want to agree. Has it not been drummed into them over and over that disunity is death? Are they not, and are not the people at large anyway bored out of their wits by years of endless and conclusionless speculations about what it was that made Kevin, or Julia, tick? Aren't we past all that?
We might all wish. It is, in many respects boring, and, in many ways even more unpleasant. Few people emerge with great credit. But it is unlikely that Labor can move forward until it looks back. Just as importantly, the public, and perhaps the party, will not forgive the inner sanctum, or the organisation, until it is satisfied that it has looked critically at what occurred, seen some of the errors of its ways and resolved not to go there again. At this stage, judging by what was said during the leadership campaign, it is not clear that Shorten (Roxon's former lover) has learnt anything from Gillard or Rudd's failures, or his own. He is on course to repeat their errors.
While Labor was in government, some good things were done, but their impact, even when good, was often suffocated by bad things, mismanaged things, or miscommunicated things. People may differ as to causes and effects, or about what was good or bad.
But they cannot simply sweep the continually bad odour of Labor, especially during the last three years, under the the carpet.
They pretend that Labor was not an active agent in its own fate - which is to say its rejection by the people.
Nor that we can, in Gillard's immortal words, ''move on'' without some discussion about what went right, what went wrong, why and how, and what lessons, good and bad, Labor is going to draw so as to avoid such mistakes in the future.
All the more so when it is clear that most of Labor's new leaders, including Bill Shorten himself, have judgment, and instincts whether on policy, character, ethics, people or things that are no better than Gillard's (or, probably Rudd's). It would take a miracle of reinvention for it to be suggested that Shorten was ever a restraining hand on Gillard's arm when she was doing things unlikely to endear her to the masses. Or to pretend that his own performance, communications skills, or use of people over that time stood in any attractive contrast to hers.
Just as importantly for a party additionally rejected in such states as NSW and Queensland for systematic corruption, cronyism, incompetence and mismanagement, is the importance of Labor being seen to reform itself, to rid itself of bad elements, and to show the public that the stables are now clean. Many of the worst conduct came from within power structures central to the power and charisma of Shorten. This is particularly embarrassing, not least when he has only ever paid lip service to the idea of party democracy, real reform, or a loosening of the power of those who control affiliated unions to ''vote'' those union's memberships as the captives of their control.
Shorten's authority in the party turns not on his logic or charm but from fear of his crude power. In Victoria, his own state, party preselections are effectively determined by three warlords: Shorten, Stephen Conroy and Kim Carr. Does anyone really expect him to surrender that power? Can anyone, even dedicated Labor voters, be confident that a ''safe'' and ''controlled'' private inquest and examination of conscience by Shorten and a few mates can sort things out?
Even people with no affiliation with Labor, or desire to see it back, have a real interest in proper review of its disasters, and reform of its systems. The better and more effective an opposition, the better a government. Perhaps even that is a pointer to why Gillardism was judged so badly by the country.