Thursday, 24 June 2010
Australia's first female Prime Minister....
In one of Australia's swiftest and most spectacular political coups ever, the Labor Party today elected Julia Gillard leader unopposed (pictured above with the Deputy Prime Minister-designate Wayne Swan, photo by Andrew Meares, SMH), after Kevin Rudd stepped down.
The end came swiftly
There had been leadership rumblings for a while in the face of a series of disastrous political decisions on the part of the Rudd Government. But until yesterday, they looked mostly like a typical media beat-up, the inevitable rumblings when the polls started to dive. Certainly Gillard herself looked convincing when she publicly rejected all attempts to persuade her to make a challenge.
Indeed, only a few days back, the Australian wrote an opportunistic article telling her that she had probably thrown away her chance to ever become Prime Minister by refusing to use the last scheduled meeting of the Parliamentary Caucus this session to challenge.
But that all changed yesterday. The straw that broke the camel's back seems to have been a media story that claimed that despite Gillard's assurances to Rudd that she wouldn't challenge, his office had been taking soundings of backbenchers to see if he retained support. Media reports claim that she was outraged at the display of distrust. Whether or not this is true, it is clear that the ongoing stoush with the mining industry amongst others, combined with disaffection on the part of Ministers effectively sidelined from decision-making processes all contributed to a collapse of Rudd's internal support, and led to key players cornering Gillard once again in an effort to persuade her to stand against Rudd.
Last night she met and a few key players met with him; he refused to stand down, but called the caucus meeting for this morning so that a vote could be had.
After a no doubt typically sleepless night, he resigned the leadership, and decided not to contest the ballot.
A sensible decision really since it is clear that it would have been a slaughter, with the numbers running at around 70:30 in Gillard's favour.
The causes of Rudd's demise
Mr Rudd has only himself to thank for his own demise.
From the beginning of his regime he rejected the idea of working with the internal power bases of his party, preferring instead to ride on his personal popularity alone. He disdained any role for the Labor party faction system (which may well have become overweaning, but does have some positive features in ensuring the party remains representative of its membership and promoting party discipline), and appointed ex-Liberal pollies to a series of prominent positions. Hardly the way to win friends among those who count.
And then, having grabbed the freedom to appoint his own Cabinet, he proceeded to sideline most of his Ministers in favour of an inner kitchen Cabinet and making virtually all announcements himself (unless of course it was bad news). Ego got in the way of good government.
His Office was filled with young, arrogant and inexperienced staffers.
And worst of all, it became clear that the reason the Government had no narrative, so consistent story about what it stood for, and that Rudd could speak at length without managing to convey any actual information whatsoever, was because Rudd in fact stood for nothing except power itself. He backed down on issues he had claimed to be the great moral challenges of our times, and was left looking nothing but opportunistic and incompetent.
No wonder then, that the party decided he had to go.
Will Gillard be any better?
Gillard is an extremely intelligent, highly competent parliamentary performer and Minister who has widely impressed (not withstanding some stumbles). A lawyer who has moved up quickly through the ranks and despite the handicaps of not being the most beautiful woman to grace our stages, and that voice, she does have considerable charisma, a special something that people do warm to.
The big question mark is whether her judgment is any better than Rudd's. She was, after all, his Deputy, and part of his inner decision-making circle. But given Rudd's autocratic and domineering style, it is possible that doesn't mean much.
The challenge she faces is enormous: to restore proper Cabinet Government processes, overhaul key policy directions, and go to an election in the near future.
Canberra bureaucrats will be rejoicing today at the prospect of getting some sleep at last.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott on the other hand, I suspect, is facing some sleepless nights as the prospect of him winning the next election look like slipping a lot further away.
Either way, it is heartening to see a political party (regaredless of whether or not you support it) effectively stand up and say that it does in fact stand for something. Whether that something is what we want to buy remains to be seen.
Should be an interesting few weeks and months ahead.
Oh and by the way, happy feast of St John the Baptist!