Leading article Australia

In praise of Kevin Rudd

13 July 2013

9:00 AM

13 July 2013

9:00 AM

No, we’re not talking about Labor’s improvement in the opinion polls. We’re referring to Kevin Rudd’s proposals to wind down factional power in the Labor party. If only we could read the facial expressions on the faceless men.

Not content with exacting his revenge upon Julia Gillard, Mr Rudd is also determined to do away with the very system that brought about his downfall back in 2010. His Labor party reforms, if approved by caucus, would have profound — and almost certainly unforeseen — consequences for Australia.

Of course, we’re not the only ones who see the irony and self-interest here. Had these reforms been in place earlier, they would have prevented the prime ministerships of Paul Keating, Julia Gillard and, yes, Kevin Rudd Part 2. Following the rollercoaster ride of the past three years, during which an increasingly despairing electorate has turned its back on the House of Cards-style backroom deals and backstabbing betrayals so beloved of the beltway, it is the Machiavellian master himself, Mark Latham’s ‘Great Saboteur’, who is manufacturing this exercise in populist politics.

It is also true that Mr Rudd has the most to gain from the new system. Should he win the forthcoming election, his job is safe for the next three years, affording him the opportunity to indulge in his numerous presidential-style whims without having to look over his shoulder and wonder when Bill Shorten will decide it’s his turn.

But consolidating either party’s leader would help end the pathetic media speculation about leadership. The Fourth Estate’s constant baying for blood, coups and knife-fights all too often define parliamentary politics in Australia. Compare our many Labor and Liberal leaders (11) since the terrorist attacks of 2001 with Britain’s (six) and New Zealand’s (five), and it’s clear our politicians, egged on by a bloodthirsty Press Gallery, take great pleasure in slicing and dicing our leaders.

In what has become a deadly two-step, disgruntled or ambitious politicians leak word of plotting to their favourite journos who then foment speculation that becomes self-fulfilling destabilisation. Similarly, the reforms remove the lazy option that has blighted state and federal politics of changing the leader in order to ‘change the conversation’. In the process, there is little serious focus on any real battle of ideas.

Mr Rudd’s reforms may be largely self-serving, and will certainly push Australian politics further down the ‘presidential’ road the public appear to enjoy. But an end to the debilitating effects of constant leadership speculation is of itself no bad thing.

Impugning motives

‘Emma, I really think they’re asking the wrong question,’ said retired Major General Jim Molan on ABC1’s Lateline. He was referring to the Labor government, but he might as well as have been talking about the ABC interviewer herself. The major general, who commanded a 300,000-strong coalition force in Iraq in 2004, was responding to Ms Alberici’s assertion that ‘experts’ had informed Labor that boats could not be towed back to Indonesia ‘safely’.

In an important contribution to the debate on people-smugglers, Major General Molan drew convincing parallels between successful wartime operations — and the relationship between political masters and the defence forces — and the chronic failures and fatalities off our northern coastline. He pointed out that Australia had already supplied Indonesia with an abundance of military hardware, yet ‘they haven’t got one single bloody ship in their search and rescue zone to the south’. He pointed out that navies have successfully been turning boats back for years. And he pointed out that doing so was an operational matter that, like any military tactic, should not be the subject of endless public debate.

Yet Ms Alberici preferred to focus on the major general’s personal political leanings, as she repeatedly attempted to paint him as a Coalition stooge. ‘Is there a political motivation behind your words?’ she asked. Never mind that Major General Molan voted Labor in 2007, when Kevin Rudd himself campaigned on ‘turning back the boats’.

It has become standard practice for several ABC journalists such as breakfast television’s Virginia Trioli to trade in motives as an alternative to asking serious questions. They would be wise to heed Sidney Hook’s rule of debate: ‘Before impugning an opponent’s motives, even when they may legitimately be impugned, answer his arguments.’ Perhaps Major General Molan’s argument for tougher border protection was so persuasive that it could not be rebutted.

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