CANBERRA OBSERVED: by national correspondentNews Weekly
Rudd leaps back into limelight and barnstorms country
, July 20, 2013
Kevin Rudd has perfected the art of a politician in perpetual motion — constantly coming up with new activities to keep him in the media and front-and-centre in voters’ minds.
The problem is that, as with Kevin Rudd Mark I and more worryingly for Kevin Rudd Mark II, many of his announcements designed to get media coverage are overblown. The activity rarely translates into delivery, and so many new jobs are half-finished before he moves on to the next shiny new thing.
Our peripatetic Prime Minister treats his job like that of a roving bureaucratic diplomat. Touching base with an important leader in one place, making a splash in another, holding a critical meeting in another place. Earnest activity aplenty, but often without substance and certainly with not much real change.
And so we have been handed down “the most significant reform to the Australian Labor Party in recent history”, whereby the mechanism with which Mr Rudd regained the prime ministership is never allowed to happen again, via a new “democratic” rule change in the ALP.
It follows hard on the heels of the federal Labor Party’s intervention in its New South Wales branch — a lightning 30-day effort to extinguish corruption and the influence of property-developers on ALP members.
What is more than a little worrying is that the Australian public have grown accustomed to the phenomenon of a kaleidoscope of news reporting — a style that suits Mr Rudd’s notion of governing.
The media loves Mr Rudd’s perpetual motion because it provides a constant stream of fresh stories and discussion points. And Mr Rudd loves the pace because it assists in burying last month’s mishap, and turns last year’s scandals into something in Labor Party history books.
And yet common sense would suggest the people will not so easily be fooled at the election, which is not a popularity contest but a democratic decision on which of the major parties is better placed to govern the nation for the next three years.
Certainly, Mr Rudd is a much more engaging, warmer and politically savvy prime minister than Ms Gillard. His language is assuring and seemingly sincere. And people like his intelligent nerdy banter, his third person critiquing of himself, and his “Kevinisms” — the faux ockerisms such as “fair shake of the sauce bottle”.
However, while Mr Rudd wants to play populist politics by democratising the party, the people who know him best cannot work with him.
Under Mr Rudd’s proposed changes to ALP rules, a leader who takes Labor to an election victory will remain as prime minister for the duration of the term. A ballot can only occur if 75 per cent of the Caucus sign a petition for a spill on the grounds that the incumbent has brought the party into disrepute.
While it appears to be democratic, the rule change will give an ALP leader enormous and unprecedented power. It arguably creates a far more presidential style of government, reducing further the power of the parliament itself.
The Labor leadership will continue to be open after a leader loses an election.
The part of the rule change that has captured most attention is the fact that, under the new voting system, the parliamentary party gets a half share of the voting and the party membership is given the other half. Candidates for election must be nominated by at least 20 per cent of the federal MPs, with nominations closing seven days after the calling of the ballot and votes counted 30 days later.
Theoretically, the grassroots membership can elect a leader the Caucus despises, leading to instability and lack of confidence in the parliament.
Under the proposed new rules, Mr Rudd would almost certainly have been prevented from replacing Ms Gillard last month as his 57-45 majority fell short of the 75 per cent requirement to trigger a ballot.
Furthermore, the grassroots of the Labor Party was overwhelmingly supportive of Ms Gillard retaining the prime ministership.
“Make no mistake, this is the most significant reform to the Australian Labor Party in recent history,” declared Mr Rudd about his reforms.
Former Kevin Rudd Mark I staff recall that Mr Rudd would become apoplectic if he saw the word “significant” in a media release announcing a new initiative. Instead, he demanded that superlatives, such as “historic”, “ground-breaking” and “momentous”, be used.
So, perhaps it is true that Kevin Rudd Mark II has slightly toned down the rhetoric from pledging to remedy “the greatest moral challenge of our time” (alleged global warming) to merely “significant” internal party reforms.
On the other hand, a leopard does not change its spots. The Australian electorate may be enjoying the spectacle busy-ness, but will be wanting greater assurances about stability and competence when the real decision takes place on election day.