CANBERRA OBSERVED: by national correspondentNews Weekly
Labor leadership a poisoned chalice
, August 4, 2012
Kevin Rudd could be back in the Lodge as soon as late this year, according to various pundits.
Or, as his older brother and erstwhile Queensland Senate candidate Greg Rudd predicts, by February at the latest.
But is there an alternative? Is there someone in the Labor Party who could at least restore the party’s respectability in the electorate if not secure a victory?
The omens are certainly not good for Julia Gillard, with MPs — including the Government Whip, Joel Fitzgibbon — and various union officials rumbling that her time may be up.
For her part the PM has repeatedly failed to deliver on improved polling on so many occasions.
After having ruthlessly put down a Kevin Rudd challenge earlier this year, a fed-up Caucus is preparing itself to revolt.
Ms Gillard had promised them that Labor’s fortunes would improve after she revealed the details of the carbon tax legislation, after the measure had passed the Parliament, after the flow of tax cuts and reimbursements to pensioners and families began, and after the carbon tax itself was in action and Tony Abbott’s hyperbole had been exposed.
Things were always going to improve, but they haven’t.
Instead, Labor’s primary vote in the polls has remained contumaciously below the perilous 30 per cent zone, and far worse than at any time Kevin Rudd was prime minister.
In the meantime, the political commentariat has suddenly been struck with the blinding revelation that Ms Gillard’s is a left-wing government beholden to the Greens, and that it may even have been her fault that Labor came close to losing the 2010 election.
Yet a change of leader will only occur if Ms Gillard is prepared to step aside quietly — a seemingly unlikely event based on her past form.
It will also require that Mr Rudd is prepared to take back the top job, which in the current circumstances could well be a poisoned chalice.
There is also the problem of half the current Cabinet declaring that they cannot work with him, including Nicola Roxon, Stephen Conroy and Tony Burke.
One person who should know, Mr Greg Rudd, has warned that his brother is unlikely to change his political style or to have forgotten the people who dumped on him, warning that “hell hath no fury”.
“A leopard doesn’t change his spots, so Kevin is who Kevin is,” was how Greg Rudd summed up his brother to Fairfax reporter Jessica Wright.
‘‘As a brother, I get along with Kevin fine and I love him. Kevin is very mellow. In person, he is a top bloke, very friendly, charismatic and gets along with everyone. That’s why people who know him find it hard to believe that he loses his temper and throws things and yells and shouts. But as a politician, he has and he does.”
But if not Kevin Rudd, then who?
Bill Shorten is inexperienced, but working overtime in trying to build his national profile. Greg Combet is regarded as at least competent, but handcuffed forever to the despised carbon tax.
Stephen Smith has cruelled his chances by permitting the Cabinet to agree to the most ferocious cuts to defence spending in many decades.
A move to the younger generation would also invite comparisons with New South Wales Labor where the party machine decided to dump leader after leader in a futile effort to arrest its poor polling.
Apart from Mr Rudd, the only responsible possibilities at this stage of the electoral cycle are Simon Crean, who is enormously experienced and has extensive political skills, or his old ACTU running-mate, Martin Ferguson.
Ferguson is rarely if ever spoken of as leadership material, but has arguably been the stand-out minister in the Rudd and Gillard governments.
The Minister for Resources and Tourism lacks charisma and is not the kind of politician who gets invited onto ABC television’s cosy Q&A club.
But Ferguson at least understands old-fashioned mainstream Labor values; he understands the challenges facing the country, and he has integrity.
Labor would be likely to still lose the election, but a Ferguson/Crean ticket, in whatever order, would present to the electorate the best Labor has to offer after several years of poor government.
If not, the result at the coming election could see Labor wiped out for a generation with very few good people on the horizon able to replace them.