Monday, March 1, 2010

Joining The Chorus Of Condemnation

Not so long ago, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was defending the government’s record vigorously. It was his government that saved the nation from the Global Financial Crisis. It was his government which had delivered on its promise for workplace relations reform. It was his government which had been frustrated by a hostile Senate in its efforts to meet other election promises. It’s not so long ago that the home insulation scheme was a huge success delivering energy efficient insulation to more than a million homes, and any problems with the scheme were caused by a few cowboys and shonky operators who were doing the wrong thing. Not so long ago, Peter Garrett was a first class minister doing a first class job and the Prime Minister was standing by him just as he had done the previous week, and just as he would continue to do in the following week. Except that he didn’t.

Instead, the Prime Minister announced that the buck stops with him, that he took full responsibility for everything, and that he was disappointed with his own performance. Then, he demoted Peter Garrett anyway, when the logical thing to do would have been to demote himself. After all, he had just finished saying that everything was all his fault, and the truth is that it was Kevin Rudd along with his Deputy and the Treasurer and the Finance Minister who cooked up the scheme, while Peter Garrett was stuck with the job of making it work. Perhaps Mr. Garrett might have done things differently, but most reports indicate that he acted responsibly, dealing with problems as they were brought to his attention. But the fundamental problem was with the government’s apparent inability to recognize that there was a problem at all.

By stark contrast, Kevin Rudd now seems to have no hesitation in condemning his own performance, and that of his government, in some sort of bizarre effort to win back the confidence of the public. This might be a new tactic for Mr. Rudd, but it’s not a new tactic in politics at all. The former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie did this all the time. Whenever any kind of Government scandal erupted, Peter Beattie would call a press conference, stand behind the microphones with either a grim face or a big smile, whichever was more appropriate for the occasion, and say something like, “It’s wrong, it’s not good enough, and I’m going to fix it.” And he got away with it time after time. For some reason, people actually believed him. Of course, Mr. Rudd comes from Queensland, so he would know this only too well.

The problem is that Mr. Rudd is not Peter “Hollywood” Beattie, the self-described “media tart”. Where Mr. Beattie had a talent for salesmanship, Kevin Rudd is an entirely different individual, so it remains to be seen whether this tactic will succeed for the Prime Minister. There have been reports that some senior Ministers are concerned that he might be over playing the part and encouraging broad scale condemnation of the Government, undermining what they see as a strong record of solid accomplishments. Of course, not everyone sees it that way, with a growing perception that the Rudd Government has been long on talk and short on action. In the last few weeks and months it has become increasingly popular to criticize the Government and question its competence.

Being popular is something that seems to appeal to the Prime Minister, so perhaps he has just decided to join the chorus of condemnation so that he doesn’t feel left out.

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