The leadership issue that won't go away
Labor MP Kevin Rudd speaks to the media during his visit to the press gallery at Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
LABOR supporters are rightly dismayed at the fortunes of the federal government. Social media, conveniently dismissed by too many mainstream race callers (and politicians) is rippling with white hot anger at journalists for focusing on the more inane elements of what increasingly appears to be a leadership struggle of mutually assured destruction between the Prime Minister and her predecessor. Especially when it overshadows the government's significant policy achievements and, as I wrote last week, the Parliament's initiatives on matters of profound national importance such as ''the gap'' between Aboriginal and non-indigenous Australians.
But the more hard-headed government supporters in the electorate are also willing to apportion some responsibility to the Labor MPs who, fearing a lemming-like conga line over the electoral abyss on September 14, are more openly than ever venting to journalists - and even to opposing parliamentarians - about the bastardry of Labor dissidence, about Rudd's alleged treachery, about Gillard's manifold tactical mistakes and about what they now see as Wayne Swan's incompetence and lacklustre salesmanship. Helpful. Not.
Witness the emailed sentiments of a Labor supporter - ''Mr Rudd, your disloyalty to your leader and party is shameful'' - that was leaked in an attempt to damage Rudd last week. There's nothing remarkable in that email. Indeed, it is similar to dozens and dozens that Labor MHRs and senators receive weekly from loyal ALP voters who are appalled at Labor's penchant for self-harm while Tony Abbott's opposition plays the game by its rules, assiduously avoiding policy scrutiny.
Both Gillard and Rudd continue to say publicly that the Labor leadership was dealt with decisively a year ago. And there is no denying that the caucus vote in support of retaining Gillard (71) over Rudd (31) was precedent-setting and very telling about what the party felt at the time for the member for Griffith.
Nobody - neither Rudd not Gillard nor the people who do their numbers - has any firm idea how many votes each would garner if the same ballot were held again today. To speculate is pointless unless - or until - another vote is scheduled.
The charge of disloyalty against Rudd is as easy to level as it is for him to deny - which he seems to be called upon to do now on a most distracting almost weekly, sometimes daily, basis.
Depending on who you talk to, he is driven by a desire for vindication as much as retribution. Perhaps they are the same, which is why the consistently reported line from his ''supporters'' (read, in some cases, the man himself) is that he will not rechallenge but would accept the party's overture to be redrafted.
What greater vindication could there be, incorporating, as it would, a large element of retribution against all of those who actively conspired against him in mid-2010 and again, rather more viciously, a year ago?
The chances of that might seem fanciful, even in light of the malaise and the fear that is gripping the Gillard government as the clock ticks down to the election.
Simon Crean, who knows a thing or two about being politically undermined, said it best the other week: ''I think he [Rudd] is an asset and we should use him, but it has to be a disciplined asset. And again, that's a judgment not just for us to make; it has to be for Kevin to make. And I think if that combination of discipline plus the asset can be agreed upon, it would be a fantastic boost to our fortunes, and I would certainly advocate it.''
Rudd has been notably more visible since Crean made this concession, although perhaps not always in the way Crean might have envisaged it. Sometimes Kevin is just there, to tell the media to chill when he makes himself all too available to be peskily asked if he's up for a challenge. Indeed, his mere presence has the impact of a mind-altering existential substance on some who seem to take the view that he is therefore he's running.
But all he says is give me a break fellas, get off the grass, have a cold shower. And what can you do with that? And then he'll re-emerge a day or two later just as the government is drowning while trying to spin its way out of the fact that the mining tax it redesigned as a sop to the billionaires has been a disastrous waste of time and energy that will raise sweet FA to help fund its laudable policies like disability insurance and education reforms and … Then Rudd weighs in. No doubt against his better judgment to not, under any circumstances, criticise those who replaced him in part because the big miners weren't going to cop the mining tax as it was under his prime ministership.
''Of course after the government's leadership changed, the Treasurer and the new Prime Minister elected to make some significant changes to the structure of the tax. I think we are all familiar with what those changes are. So, I think in terms of any future changes to the tax, given the fact that it has not collected any real revenue of any significance so far, that really is a matter for the Prime Minister and the Treasurer to consider, and I'll leave it with them …''
Imagine that! Well, I mean, you couldn't really imagine that he'd say that after being such a disciplined supporter of Gillard.
But, yes, he did, and it gets reported as Rudd criticising Gillard and Swan, and as evidence that he is (a) being disloyal, (b) ramping up pressure on Gillard and (c) preparing for another ''tilt'' at the leadership.
And to think it coincided with Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon saying elements of the tax under Gillard/Swan are ''untidy, inefficient and, I think, unsustainable''.
But that's no big deal, really. Joel is, after all, only Julia Gillard's whip. Heck, it's only his job to ensure parliamentary discipline - to knock on doors and kneecap the odd boofhead like Rudd (and himself) who criticise their government.
No. There's nothing in this Labor leadership stuff.
Get off the grass. Take a cold shower. Go back to the beach.