Grisly thud of kneecapped Rudd
Australians woke up yesterday with a political hangover, in disbelief at the upheaval that had replaced the prime minister they had elected less than three years ago.
One minute Kevin Rudd was on his way to the G20 in Canada, the next he was "blubbering" his way through a farewell press conference, his stricken wife and children by his side.
There may be euphoria that the new leader is the straight-talking charmer, Julia Gillard, and that she is the history-making first female prime minister.
But it is overlaid with a sickening sense that something very wrong has happened, that an elected first-term prime minister has been treated shamefully, assassinated by a cabal of unionists and ALP machine men, using media leaks to accelerate a murderous frenzy that may in years to come be seen as a colossal mistake.
The accidental Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, had suddenly acquired an awesome menace. He has claimed his first scalp, and with it, a newfound authority, bestowed by the ALP.
All hail the first female PM but you only need to look at the disaster of NSW to see the consequences of factional heavies installing unelected leaders.
For all Kevin Rudd's annoying quirks and policy failures, voters didn't hate him. And they are not happy at being cheated out of the right to vote out - or not - the man they voted in, judging by hundreds of grassroots comments posted on the Labor Party website.
"To humiliate a good and decent prime minister in this way, after all that he HAS achieved in the past 2½ years is an act of complete bastardry," wrote Janeb62 from Elwood, ACT.
"NSW Labor have … misjudged the depth of our disdain for bullies who abuse their power," wrote "Olbod" of Queensland. "I pray that your misguided indulgences don't result in the election of Tony Abbott."
Joh Allen of NSW: "This country is now run by union factions that have power in their hearts and on their minds. I hope the people of this great country put you back in your place. How dare you presume that as a party you can remove the leader of this country. That right is and should always remain the decision of the people of Australia."
Monica of Sydney wrote: "I was looking forward to Julia Gillard becoming a PM sometime in the future … I am disgusted with the way Kevin Rudd was treated. I will not be voting for Labor eve … The name 'Labor' will be associated with odious behaviour especially by the NSW Mafia."
Monica may, of course, forgive Gillard, with time. Refreshingly direct, with good instincts and a deft touch, the new PM is hard to dislike, and will benefit from a honeymoon with the media even though, as she admits, she shares responsibility for government errors.
She has given a passable impression of loyalty to Rudd almost until the end, and seems formidable enough in her own right to shrug off the "puppet" tag that dogs Kristina Keneally in NSW.
But she shouldn't have sold her soul to the same amoral, poll-driven, marketing-obsessed machine men who installed Keneally in the same senseless way. They are the same men who killed off the popularly elected NSW premier Morris Iemma, installed an untested, flailing unknown, Nathan Rees, and, after 15 months, knifed him and replaced him with the more appealing Keneally, who Rees described as a "puppet" in his bitter parting speech.
Rudd expressed similar thoughts more elegantly in his parting speech to caucus on Thursday, reportedly saying: ''We can't allow this federal caucus to have embedded in it the same type of culture in NSW where every time you make tough political decisions and polls dip you get up a campaign and cripple the leader. It's not good to bring that NSW culture to Canberra."
Former federal Labor leader Mark Latham and former premier Iemma came out of seclusion to say much the same. ''The architects of the wreckage in NSW have rolled out the wrecking ball in Canberra," Iemma said. "Their poor advice and poor tactical decisions saw [Rudd's] reputation trashed to the point of no return."
Reports out of the caucus say Rudd effectively blamed the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, and Gillard for the resources super profits tax and for the decision which most diminished him in the eyes of the chattering classes, dumping the emissions trading scheme.
The man pushing hardest for its dumping was none other than Senator Mark Arbib, the media-savvy former general secretary of NSW Labor, fingered this week as Rudd's chief underminer. The same Arbib who dispatched Iemma and helped finish Rees. The same Arbib who Rudd had entrusted with co-ordinating stimulus spending programs, who had weekly briefings on the disastrous home insulation program but never saw a problem.
In the end, perhaps, we should be thankful for the naked demonstration of power for its own sake we have seen exercised this week by the faceless and not so faceless handful of men who provoked their party to dispatch a first-term prime minister, like it was just another game.
And we should be thankful for the many failings of the Rudd government over such a short time. They have demonstrated spectacularly, in the home insulation debacle, in the sinful waste of Building the Education Revolution, in the farce of the ETS, in the risky and ill-considered resources tax, how useless and incompetent big, bureaucratic government really is.
We have seen the mindset that drives the central planning and expert bureaucratic interventions of modern progressive-styled government. They make grand promises and spend up big, encouraging all sorts of distortions and rip-offs and rent-seekers, placing naive belief in regulation, showing little concern about mounting debt, and covering up problems with spin and marketing flim-flam.
Then, when it all falls in a heap, and the polls turn sour, instead of mending their ways, they change leaders, with the aim of staying one step ahead of the electorate, a whole party of artful dodgers. It will backfire on them in spades. Even if they win, they lose.