CANBERRA OBSERVED: by national correspondentNews Weekly
Verdict on the Kevin Rudd experiment
, May 15, 2010
The race is now on for the Labor Party to get the election out of the way before the electorate wakes up fully to what its senior people inside the party worked out some time ago - that there is a serious problem with the Kevin Rudd experiment.
Internally, Labor is reeling from the aftershocks from a spate of back-downs, bungles and broken promises from a Prime Minister who is elevating himself to the title of the most erratic yet risk-averse leader to hold the office in the past five decades.
And the first Newspoll after the PM’s emissions trading scheme backflip shows voters are growing concerned at Mr Rudd’s fickleness and lack of principles.
In a sharp reaction to the abandonment of the ETS, Labor’s primary vote slumped to 35 per cent, with the Coalition ahead of the Labor Party on a two-party-preferred vote for the first time since Kim Beazley was leader.
The shock Newspoll may be an aberration and many of the voters walking away from Labor are likely to be the global warming true believers who voted for Mr Rudd because they really believed him when he said he was deeply committed to do something about climate change.
These voters are likely to switch to the Greens rather than attach themselves to the Tony Abbott-led Liberal Party.
The next few polls will be critical for Mr Rudd, with hospitals and the coming Budget playing a role in Labor’s re-election strategy.
Labor hardheads believe that voters are still prepared to give the Rudd Labor Government the chance for a second term, despite acknowledging that it has disappointed and betrayed voters on a number of key election promises, from FuelWatch to childcare centres to Internet filtering.
They know the junking of the ETS damaged Mr Rudd’s credibility, but believe it was, on balance, better than facing a full-blown scare campaign on a "great big new tax" from the Coalition.
The real problem for Mr Rudd is internal, rather than external.
The view inside the parliamentary party, that the choice of Mr Rudd to lead (as well as giving him unfettered power to choose his own ministry) was a mistake, is growing. Many now believe that he will have to be replaced by Julia Gillard, the woman who stood aside to get him elected.
The only question is when.
Adelaide commentator Christopher Pearson may have perfectly summed up "the Rudd problem" in a recent article in The Australian
when he described Mr Rudd as "a public servant out of his depth".
MPs are realising that while Mr Rudd is a good media performer, he is too pre-occupied with process.
They say he has spent too much of his first term in office initiating inquiries and talk-fests, micro-managing (some ministers say "meddling") in various portfolios, and in trying to avoid any decisions which might upset voters.
The result is that very little has been achieved and, now with a spate of broken promises, the question is being asked by everyone: what does he believe in?
Commentators have been particularly scathing about Mr Rudd’s recent performance, with The Australian
’s Paul Kelly describing him as a prime minister "without courage", while the Melbourne Herald Sun
’s Terry McCrann has described Mr Rudd as "running scared".
After Mr Rudd’s ETS retreat, Mr Kelly wrote: "As retreats go they come no bigger than Kevin Rudd’s delaying of his once-cherished emissions trading scheme, probably the most spectacular backdown by a prime minister in the past half-century."
And, following the minimalist response to the Henry Tax Review, Mr McCrann wrote: "Kevin Rudd is running scared - clammy palms, hair bristling on the back of his neck, whole body shivering: scared, scared, scared.
"If that wasn’t clear when he dumped his ‘greatest moral challenge’, the ETS, it was left in absolutely no doubt with yesterday’s mother-of-all damp squibs."
Of the 138 recommendations in the Henry Review the Government decided to adopt 10.
A further 20 recommendations would "never" be adopted, the government was keen to emphasise.
But even the few, which will be picked up, are to be phased in over a number of years.
Various comparisons are being now made with the government of Gough Whitlam and that of his predecessor, the hapless Sir William McMahon.Autocratic
The obsessive spin, the profligate waste, the pink batts and school halls fiascos, the inability to stick to a decision, and the inertia caused by Mr Rudd’s autocratic, process-driven style are becoming the hallmarks of this government.
The back-flip over the "greatest moral challenge of our time", compounded by the most timid response to the Henry Tax Review, has resulted in Mr Rudd being "found out" as a leader who appears to buckle under pressure.
The Prime Minister has also now twice threatened to call a double dissolution election - the first over the ETS, the second over the hospital takeover. Both have proven to be empty threats.
Labor MPs did not wait 11 years in Opposition to become a do-nothing government, and they will not wait long after the next election to look for an alternative.