CANBERRA OBSERVED: by national correspondentNews Weekly
Kevin Rudd living on borrowed time
, June 26, 2010
Kevin Rudd might survive for a few more months as Prime Minister, but he will do so knowing his legacy has been irrevocably tarnished, and that he is living on borrowed time.
Federal Labor MPs appear to have reluctantly decided that their best option is to give the Prime Minister one last chance to patch up the problems of the mining super-profits tax, and hope that these problems will be fixed with enough time for voters to refocus on other "positive" things the Government has done.
But Mr Rudd's leadership is now terminal.
The federal Labor Caucus has mentally shifted to the shape and form of a post-Rudd era. The only thing they don't know is whether that post-Rudd Labor era will be in Government or in Opposition.Rearguard action
A compromise on the mining tax will be found - even if it means going to the election with the big two miners (BHP-Billiton and Rio Tinto) still fighting a rearguard action against the Government.
Treasurer Wayne Swan will desperately attempt to ditch all the nasties in the tax, while trying to keep some semblance of the original design.
Resources Minister Martin Ferguson (who knew nothing about the tax when it was being devised) is working at a solution to the myriad problems that the tax has created. This is likely to mean different tax treatment for different sectors of the industry. For example, it was a monumental absurdity to tax on-shore gas fields at a higher tax rate than off-shore fields.
The problem for Mr Rudd is that the tax has had a galvanising effect in convincing all the previous Labor doubters that the former bureaucrat is constitutionally and vocationally ill-equipped to be a political and national leader.
There had been rumblings for two years about Mr Rudd's style as Prime Minister, including his controlling and overbearing behaviour, his interference in ministerial offices, of erratic decision-making and disorganisation, of trying to do too much, of having a dysfunctional office run by junior whiz-kids, of refusing to listen to MPs, pre-occupation with overseas travel, of being interested in process rather than delivery, and lack of understanding of the culture of the Labor Party. The list goes on.
Ministers have been run ragged by having "community Cabinet meetings" all over the country.
This novelty, dreamed up by Mr Rudd, was designed as a means of meeting the people and promoting good public relations for the Government as it got out of Canberra.
But ministers find it pointless because the real Cabinet process has been debauched and it is now clear that four people make all the decisions - Mr Rudd, Julia Gillard, Mr Swan and Lindsay Tanner.
But MPs were prepared to accept that there was a method in the madness and that Mr Rudd's phenomenal work ethic, which no one could question, would see the Government through.
They were also prepared to tolerate Mr Rudd, even after his cataclysmic backflip on an emissions trading scheme.
However, the mining super-profits tax has made MPs realise that perhaps the critics have been right all along - that being busy does not always equate to effective leadership, and that government is too complex to be run by one office.
The conclusion is that Mr Rudd is an extremely bright public servant who is interested in policy development, but is seemingly uninterested or incapable of selling the policy (which happens to be the job of a politician).
But Mr Rudd cannot be blamed for everything. In fact, the fatal mistake the Labor Caucus made in electing Mr Rudd leader was to overturn 100 years of tradition and permit the leader to select his frontbench.
In effect, this meant any Cabinet minister owed his job to Kevin Rudd rather than to his factional support base.
This single decision did more to elevate Mr Rudd's power than any other - and he has used it ruthlessly to run the Government largely by himself.
The Labor Party hopes now that once the smoke from the mining tax fire subsides, voters will look more critically at the choice they have if they vote Mr Rudd out.Antipathy
There is a deep antipathy within Labor towards Tony Abbott and they hope that this will be shared by voters.
Mr Rudd's office believes the Australian people simply will not countenance Mr Abbott as Prime Minister and is devising a campaign denouncing the Liberal leader as the "most extremist" in history.
It is a flimsy strategy to have going into an election.
A disciplined performance by Mr Abbott, matched with efforts to smooth out his rough edges together with some good policy work, and the Opposition could prove to be extremely competitive.
Elections are always closer than most pundits realise.
He may not realise it, but Mr Rudd was never voted in. The people voted John Howard out because he turned against the battlers he once championed with a policy called WorkChoices.
Mr Rudd has walked away from the policies he brought to the election on asylum-seekers and on climate change.
With doubts that Mr Rudd believes in very little but his own self-preservation, voters could turn on him as they turned on Mr Howard.